20 October 2014

Dwarfism awareness #13) As George Takei would say, ohhh myyyy! I got behind, yes I did. Why, you ask? Because I was traveling, so this post is going to be about just that: traveling while short.

One of the things that I love to do is travel, whether it be around the U.S. or other countries. I love to experience new places and cultures, and with that comes those new cultures and their reactions to me.

As a French professor, the country where I have traveled the most extensively is, of course, France. I love it, oh do I love it, but it can be a difficult place to navigate a disability. It’s hard to retrofit a medieval fortress, if you know what I mean. They’re working on it, and they finally got around to creating an ADA-esque law in France on 11 February 2005 (la loi du 11 février), which stipulates all sorts of equal opportunities and access for the disabled. However, it’s still not as easy as the U.S. (though the East Coast isn’t great either).

While I’ve been to France before and after 2005, I have to say that I really did not notice a big difference until my last trip this March. Honestly, I think most of that had to do with having Max. He made up for the inaccessible old museums. For example, when the Pantheon didn’t have an elevator, I was ok because Max was able to brace for me to get up and down those old, and tall, stone steps so that I could see my beloved French authors. Usually, when I travel to France, I just accept that my body is going to take a hit every day, and every night will be a struggle to sleep with the ensuing pain. This time, however, Max saved me! Not only did he make things easier, he also made my disability more visible.

Yes, I know that it’s obvious that I’m a dwarf. What I mean by “more visible” is that more people realized I am disabled and offered help or a seat on the bus. As I said previously, some dwarfs consider themselves disabled and some don’t. I think that some people just see the dwarfism, the odd body and the short stature, and don’t think about the other conditions that result from that body. Max is a visual reminder that I identify myself as disabled. It’s been great in the U.S., and it was great in France.

Beyond France and other U.K. and Continental European destinations, the most exotic place I’ve been has been Kenya. I did not have Max to mediate my disability then, but the people of Matoso were very warm and welcoming, though very curious. Though, I do think that most of the curiosity came from my blond hair, blue eyes, and very pale skin. The dwarf thing was an added bonus. I felt like Princess Di: always a cluster of children following me around. I didn’t mind so much there, though. The curiosity was more about me being a disabled mizungu (foreigner) rather than disabled; mizungus are just plain fascinating, especially to the very rural fishing village along the shores of Lake Victoria. Disabled people, they have. Blonde ones, not so much.

This brings me to my next journey, which will be to India in December. I have never traveled to a non-Western country with Max, and I am nervous. You see, there isn’t a “loi du 11 février” or ADA in India. In fact, service dogs are just becoming a presence in Mumbai (Bombay), and they aren’t allowed everywhere like they are elsewhere. In addition, there is a serious feral dog issue to consider when traveling to India. The North is better than the South, but Jeevan Sekhar’s family is in the South. We faced a tough decision when we decided to head off to India: do we brave Chennai (Madras) with the feral, and somewhat often rabid, dogs? I emailed Canines Can Care, the organization currently training service dogs in India, for some advice. Their counsel? Stay North. Our decision: visit New Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra; hire a driver; don’t chance the streets. Our visit will be short: only one and a half weeks, but we figured that if it was miserable, we could handle 10 days of that misery.

So, why don’t I leave Max at home? This is a question I also got when I decided not to go to Belize because Max wasn’t welcome in one of the hotels. The thing about a service dog/handler team is that it is a bond like no other I have had with other dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my dogs, as you can tell from the number of posts about them. But, leaving a service dog just isn’t fair to him or me. We need each other. I’m his job. He knows it, and loves it. We haven’t spent more than 7 hours apart in almost 2 years, and that was while I was on the operating table. He would be frantic with worry for two weeks, and I would be more “handicapped” by his absence. I have learned to depend on him. When I had this last surgery, Jeevan went to help me down the stairs, and I instinctively said, “I want Max.” It wasn’t meant to hurt his feelings; Max just knows exactly what to do, and we trust each other. For now, this means that some of my travels might be limited, but when I do travel, a whole new world opens up.

Tune in tomorrow for two, yes two, installments! I will catch up, I swear!

For more information on Canines Can Care and service dogs in India, read this article: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/canines-can-care-mumbai/1/156563.html

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