The Story Begins

Epilogue

If you missed Chapters 1 – 3, which precede this post, you can find them here:

You’re Never Gonna Make It

With a Minute to Spare

The Plane is Coming Back?

And in case you’re wondering, “How long can she drag this story out?” I guarantee you that this is the last in the series about getting on the plane, but I had left the moral of the story untouched, or at least inexplicit, if there is one at all.

None of this was clear to me while I was writing the story, but I realized that during the whole journey from NC to Bolivia, I was balancing two contradictory emotions: panic and trust. Is trust an emotion? For me, at the time, it was. It was a force I could call on, not from outside of myself, but not just from inside of myself either. I would like to say I knew all along that it would work out, somehow, miraculously, meaning some fluke would allow me to defy the odds and make it on my flight, but really, I think I just knew that it would all work out even if I missed my flight and ended up stuck.

How nice that I have that security, even if sometimes it might be misguided. How lucky I am, truly lucky, to be able to have faith in humanity and in individuals, to help me if I am in a bind.

Here’s the thing about the panic: I could have skipped it. I could have proceeded with my plan, read SkyMag on the short flight to Miami, leisurely strolled down the deserted aisles, and arrived at my gate, right as the woman on the intercom was calling us over to let us know that the plane was re-docking.

I’m not advocating for panic. And since this experience, I’ve learned how to calm it down, and reassure myself in the moment that if I am feeling that trust, I can lean on it, and know that even if it doesn’t go according to plan, I’ll be able to make it work. But yet at the same time, emotions overtake us and sometimes hold on with a fierce grip. I didn’t breathe until I got on the cart with Jose and as we were racing, so to speak, towards the gate, I felt that people really wanted to help me, that I wasn’t alone.

With each kindness my panic subsided a little bit more and the glowing warmth of trust that I felt grew bigger. My path was validated by each point at which it seemed unfeasible.

On the plane, making my way to my seat, all emotions stepped aside so that I could experience pure elation (and exhaustion), which I have to say is one of my favorite states to be in. When I found my row, a man sitting by the aisle got up, looked at me quizzically, like, “Where did you come from?” and then let me pass. I flopped down in my window seat. He turned to me and said, “Are you just now getting on the plane.” “Yeah!” I said and smiled. “Yeah, it came back for me. No I mean, there’s technical difficulties I guess, but I missed it, and it came back.” “Wow, you’re the only person who’s happy about this” (talking about the tech issues, which at this point we had been informed were being addressed). I just laughed. Usually I would have explained but I didn’t even really understand what had happened. So we just talked about the plans we had for our trips and our work and lives back in the US. This person would become a friend who I would run into, by chance, two more times during the course of my trip.

The story didn’t end when I got on the plane; really that’s just where it began. Looking back, it seems like the interdependent lucky breaks that I caught were tailored to fit together in one precise pattern, like a code to crack. In truth, I suspect other versions of the story that would exist had one thing been different, would also have been rich and meaningful. But the blessed nature of my departure and take-off carried me through the challenges of travel, and reminded me that I was on the right path.

We all, each day, comprise the narrative of each other’s lives and write our stories together. Today I’m thinking about how we are a community even as we are strangers. Today I’m thinking about how the difference between apathy and compassion sometimes lies in simply looking people in their eyes.  Today I’m remembering the power of helping someone get where they need to go.

 

 

The Plane is Coming Back?

First, I want to recognize MLK Day and my gratitude for a day of remembrance, action, and unity.

Chapter 3

“I’m here! I’m here!” I shouted as I leapt off the airport go-cart.

“Hi, hi, I’ve got to get on the plane, I’m the last passenger” (I’m not sure when I decided this fact), I said as I stumbled over to the airport boarding and security person, my backpack flopping to and fro.

“Goodbye Jorge! Thank you!” I turned and yelled to my friend who shook his head at me and motored the cart a few feet away.

“You’re too late. The plane is gone. Nothing we can do.”

The airport guard said all these statements in a rapid montage that I like to call, ‘The most painful one-liners a hopeful traveler can hear.’ It was as if he’d practiced the exact combination of phrases that would shut down all hopes the quickest.

I was crushed, like a peanut shell on the sidewalk. Yet, shockingly, I remained undeterred by this obstacle. Somehow, the run had made me confident in my choice to get on the plane to Miami and embark on the first leg of my journey. The adrenaline coursing through my veins made me feel like I was in the sort of adventure where the protagonist overcomes incredible odds and ultimately completes her goal.

I said, “Nooo!”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “I have to get on that plane. I have to go to BOLIVIA!”

“I said there is nothing we can do. The gate is closed. The plane has left. You were too late.”

At the repetition of those words I was filled with shame. I had let the plane go by. I was too late.

The moment passed and I decided to try arguing again.

“But I can see it! I know it’s there. I can see the plane!” I exclaimed, pointing out a foggy wall-length window.

“This is an airport. That’s not your plane.”

I realized then, the flaw in my argument. I realized too, how fixated I had become on this goal, as if it were the only way that my plans, my life, could work out.

I began to sob. Heaving sobs. I think it was that I hadn’t been able to really breathe for some time now. That and, up until this man, everyone else had been SO supportive, as if they were sent to help me along on my journey. Now suddenly it felt as if he’d slapped me in the face with a wet fish of reality (just trying that metaphor out).

“Stop crying. You don’t need to cry. People miss their flights every day. It’s not like somebody died, you just have to go over there and rebook your flight.”

Now this struck me as simultaneously cruel and also useful. He had reframed what was a complete disaster, to me, as a normal, everyday ‘oops’ from which there was a recovery protocol. And it was, right over there, at a counter where I noticed a little more than a dozen other passengers talking anxiously among themselves.

I looked back at him. “I do need to cry. I appreciate what you’re saying, and I’ll go to do that, but first, I just need to cry for a second.”

At this I saw his eyes soften, almost imperceptibly, but it was there. He walked away as I exhausted the rest of my adrenaline, still strapped to my backpack in one of those little hard blue chairs. I looked over to see Jorge, staring at me with sympathy in his eyes from the other side of the hall.

I thought about going in search of food, or to make some calls, or something before jumping right back into the mess that I’d created. But instead, after a few minutes, I got up, blew my nose (and then washed my hands because I was in an airport and that’s the right thing to do), and walked over to the ticket counter. I was in line behind a beautiful couple who were holding what appeared to be a wrapped painting as their only carry-on. I sniffled as I listened to the conversations around me in Spanish and tried to contact my friend in Bolivia (who I actually hadn’t met in person yet) through Whats App.

Lo perdí (el avion)…voy a ver que pueda hacer ahora. Hay muchos aqui que perdieron.’

She replied: ‘Que pena.’ I agreed.

Estoy en Miami. No se adonde esta mi otra maleta…’

‘Que complicada – no creo que puedas viajar hoy en Bolivia.’

The other problem was that my friend was flying from her hometown to the capitol, La Paz, to meet me. She would have been on the verge of going to sleep to wake up just a few short hours later for an early morning flight. And by early, I mean 3 am.

‘Estoy en la linea para hacer otro vuelo, pero no pienso que puedo volar hasta manana.’ – 10:33 pm

I heard another Whats App message come in from her, but I was too distracted by the sound of an airline employee speaking into her walkie-talkie: “What? What about the plane? Pasajeros a La Paz! Passengers going to La Paz! Passengers going to La Paz, come over here.”

That was me! I ducked under the stretchy cord that was creating our queue, got stuck because of my backpack, fell to my knees and crawled, heaved myself up, and made it to her, right behind the elegant couple with the painting. It was just us three. She wasn’t looking at or acknowledging us at all, but rather, still communicating over her walkie-talkie: “The plane is coming back?” she queried into it. “Well, should I send them over?” “Send us over!” I said, quietly, but audibly, eyes wide. “Yeah, send us over,” said the man with the painting. She finally looked at us. “Ok, I’m gonna take you over to the gate. It looks like the plane may be coming back. But nobody get excited.” I was NOT excited. Promise.

We got back to the gate, and she walked us up to the yellow tape line. She said, “Nobody step in front of this line. If you step in front of this line, you’re not getting on the plane.” We stood several feet back.

I heard her talking to a male airline employee who looked to be dressed for a technical occupation, building, repairing, etc. He was very nice and started to talk to us, in Spanish, and by us, I mean the couple in front of me. He looked at me and asked if I understood. I said yes. I had called my friend in Bolivia on Whats App as we hurried over to the gate moments before, to tell her that I thought I was maybe getting on the plane, and so, to not cancel her flight and to continue on with the plan as we’d laid it out. I told her I would let her know. I also told her that the plane had come back just for us. That was, after all, the only explanation I could think of. I wondered if my tears had anything to do with it.

“Problemas tecnicos,” the airline worker said. “El avión tenía problemas tecnicós.” Technical difficulties. Hmm. In one way, this was extremely lucky, in another, a little disconcerting.

The woman reappeared. She said that the plane was now back at the gate while they fixed the issue, but they had to check to see if there were still seats available (plausibly they had given away our seats to standby passengers because we were late).

The man of the couple put me in between him and his wife, which I thought was one of the kindest in the string of kindnesses I’d experienced that day. Obviously, they were not going to split up a couple.

The female airline employee found a seat for woman of the couple and she walked through the door, which had reopened, to board our plane. The employee looked back to her computer. A minute passed, I was sweating. She looked at me, and she said…

“Are you ok with a window seat?”

I would have been ok sitting on one of those fold out platforms that the flight attendants use during shuttling and take-off. I would have been ok pushing the carts of beverages up and down the aisle. I probably would have sat for 8 hours on the lid of the toilet in one of the bathrooms. So I said, “Yes, that should be fine.”

I stepped onto the jet bridge and was shortly followed by the man of the couple who’d also been found a seat. Moments later, at 10:55 pm, I sent the following Whats App message: ‘Estoy en la avion!’ Which means, sort of, ‘I’m on the plane!’

I was on my way.

Stay tuned for the epilogue (as it currently stands), coming soon.

You’re Never Gonna Make It

Well I’m snowed into my apartment in North Carolina, so I think it’s finally time to tell the story of the time I missed my flight to Bolivia and got stuck in Miami, and then, miraculously, how the plane came back for me.

Chapter 1

It was 4 pm on a Tuesday in June, and I sat in the Raleigh-Durham airport next to several women dressed for the beach. A woman on my left read the paper, the news showed the latest escapades involving Donald Trump, who at this point hadn’t become President. Reality still felt somewhat trustworthy, and I expected soon enough to hear over the loudspeaker that my plane to Miami would board.

I was albeit, quite early, having left my house around 2 pm for a 6 pm flight, driven to the airport by my friend Sadie, who escorted me all the way to security at which point she waved goodbye dramatically. We wouldn’t see each other for at least three weeks, which was far longer than any other separation we’d had since becoming friends in grad school.

Sadie sent me several WhatsApp messages while I waited at my gate. I was going to Bolivia, where text messaging wouldn’t be possible, so we’d already assumed the new mode of communication. She told me to be careful, to have a safe flight, implying that I was somehow in control, which seemed doubtful.

Things still felt very normal, but I was on edge, as I am before all big things that involve a dramatic leap into the unknown. In this case, this trip, involved several layers of unknowns, from the people I would be working with to the culture and landscape I’d be entering.

And then the first text message arrived from American Airlines. My flight was now set to depart on time at 8 pm. This was not on time at all. My connecting flight from Miama to La Paz, Bolivia, was set to depart on time at 10:25, which meant that if my flight was leaving RDU at 8:00 and arriving in MIA at 10:05, I would have a layover of 20 minutes. Miami is a large airport, but I did not know this at the time, and even were it small, the gates close 10 minutes (at least, I would learn) before flight time.

I saw people around me lining up at the counter. I, flustered, quickly followed suit.

When it was my turn, I explained my situation, and the airline professional explained theirs right back. There had been heavy rains in Raleigh, making landing impossible for a while, and all the flights coming in, mine included, had been delayed. However, now flights were arriving on time. There was nothing they could do to get me there sooner. However, she looked at my itinerary and said, with a slightly detectable accent, “Oh, you’ll make it, you’ll be fine.”

I went and sat down. “I’ll be fine,” she said. I tried to remain calm, or rather, become calm again, which I hadn’t been for several days. I thought about eating, but I had stress-eaten an apple while trying to interpret the text message, and now my blood sugar would be soaring because I hadn’t thought to give myself more insulin until after I spoke with her, so I decided to wait.

A beautiful woman with lush black hair sitting near me, was talking about her crumpled plans. I guessed she was returning to Brazil, but I found out her destination was actually Argentina, and they had told her a similar explanation of why, but that in fact she would not be fine, and would have to reschedule the second leg of her trip because she would never make her connecting flight with such a short layover. I asked her how long her layover had become, and she said her original connecting flight was set to leave at 10:45 PM. My brain registered a problem.

I went back up to the counter where the woman with red lipstick and perfect scarlet gel nails had told me that I would be just fine. I recounted my situation again, almost verbatim, with the caveat that although she told me it’d be ok, I just didn’t see how that could be true. She clicked her nails on the desk and asked for my boarding passes. “Oh no! You’re never gonna make this. Sorry.”

“What?” I asked, or said, because I had heard her, and really didn’t want to hear it again.

“Yah, no, you’ll never get from that gate to the departing gate in, what, 20 minutes. Nope.”

“Ok, well, can you offer me some other options?”

And then she starts looking at tomorrow’s flights, and she’s talking about how I can leave in 24 hours, from here, this gate, and just do this whole thing that I’ve been waiting for, for months, tomorrow, instead of today. And tomorrow feels so far away, in fact, so far, that it doesn’t even exist in my mind. Tomorrow is supposed to exist in Bolivia, which is a place I can’t even imagine, and that I would learn was totally different than even the small imagining I had been able to do. And I couldn’t imagine, going back home. Going back home to my apartment where I had eaten all of the food except for half of a carrot because I wanted to make sure I could leave everything closed up like a book I had finished and come back fresh from this journey. The house that I had checked four or five times to make sure that the dryer, and coffee pot, and oven, and lights, and sinks, and all of it, were turned off, that the door was locked, the blinds were drawn. I couldn’t go back.

“I can’t go back” I told her.

“Well if you go to Miami, I mean, you might be able to get on a flight tomorrow at 11 AM instead of 6 PM but….”

“No” I said, “I have to get to Bolivia by tomorrow morning.” (I was scheduled to arrive and meet my friend in the airport in La Paz at 5:30 AM).

I began to look more and more frantic. My eyes were wet, I was crying a little. I heard her speak Spanish to a co-worker as she turned and took a break from me. She looked back.

“What are you doing in Bolivia?”

I responded in Spanish, which was a good move, it turns out. I explained to her about the children with Type 1 Diabetes I would be meeting and talking to. Her eyes looked wet too. Suddenly a flurry of google searches, she was really trying to help me. I had become ‘Mamita,’ which I felt really good about. But…there were still no good options.

“What if,” I started, “the weather gets bad in Miami,” and then the planes can’t leave or are delayed from there?”

“Nah, it’s not as hard for them to leave, and your second plane is already there, sitting at the airport. Not gonna happen Chica.”

“Ok, ok, well what if my first flight gets in earlier than expected, I mean that happens right? And then I run like crazy to the next gate and at that one, maybe they know, at the airport, because y’all could give them a call, and tell them, that it’s not my fault but I’m going to be just a few minutes late..and…”

“Mmm, look, if you get on the plane to Miami, you better make sure you have some backup once you get there. Because since this is weather, and we can’t do anythin’ about that, they’re not gonna pay for any accommodations for you either.”

I go sit down. I get on Facebook. Miami in the search bar. I know no one. I start to send text messages fervently. I realize I know two people who know two people in Miami. Neither can promise me outright that those people want a house guest who may, or may not, be arriving at 11:00 PM and leaving early the next morning, but it’s the best backup I’ve got.

I go back up to my friend at the counter. She says hello, with sympathy in her eyes. I explain the situation and I say, “What would you do.” She meets my gaze and says, “You’re never gonna make it. But you could go for it.”

This was the whole truth. I was never gonna make it, but I could postpone that realization by several hours and accept it once I was alone in Miami. So that’s what I decided to do.

To be continued.

The best laid plans

imageWhen one is traveling, going with the flow is essential, de acuerdo? I think the same with diabetes. I actually missed my flight to Bolivia. But the plane came back for me, as it turns out. We’ve visited so many amazing families who have fed us some amazing Bolivian delicacies. It’s been necessary for me to take more insulin than usual in order to aprovechar de la experiencia and also deal with the stress of last minute changes and running to throw our luggage onto buses. Also, blogging, probably not going to happen much. But I did spend a 6 hr bus ride trying to photograph an alpaca or maybe a llama, for my friend Ms. Boffa, and I finally succeeded. Continue reading “The best laid plans”

Heading South for the Winter

I’m so excited that in a couple of weeks I’ll be traveling to Bolivia to explore the Altiplano and do work that is very near and dear to my heart. Once again, I plan on blogging intermittently about my experiences traveling with diabetes. In the past I’ve lived in and traveled around Costa Rica four months and through France, Switzerland, and Austria. With international travel there is always a little bit more to consider. For one, I have to pack all the insulin and medical supplies I’ll need for the whole trip, or at least I have had to in the past, because getting these abroad can be a challenge. Then there is the altered schedule and different food options that traveling presents.

photo (9)
Bedtime reading for the next two weeks (although I should also be studying Quechua, Aymara, and other indigenous languages).

The way I’ve decided to blog this trip is by one picture a day while I’m there. I’ll post again at least once before the trip, and I’ll be reading blogs to find out what others with T1D have done when traveling in South America. This is new terrain for me! Thank you in advance for any comments you have that might be useful tips for a person with T1D managing blood sugars at high altitude. Or if you can recommend a high quality, affordable digital camera!

Oh also, about the title of this post, it’s going to be winter there. I’m anticipating a nice cool down from the glorious, yet humid NC summertime.