as small as a world and as large as alone

Maggie and Milly and Molly and May by E.E. Cummings

maggie and milly and molly and and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

I’m no literary buff so I took to the web to learn what this poem was really trying to tell me. And I found this analysis:
Maggie, Milly, Molly, and May went to a beach in this poem and each found a different thing. The beach seems to be representative of the physical, while the sea itself is the deep core. The last two lines of the poem, ‘for whatever we lose(like a you or a me)/ it’s always ourselves we find in the sea’; seems to say that if the girls, or if anyone had gone deeper and into the sea, they would have found something greater. To find oneself means to go beyond all the good the bad and physical, and dig deeper.

What do you think?

Worldwide Caution

Last night news channels went ablaze from the State Department’s travel alert.

The State Department has intel on a serious potential Al Qaeda threat. This is more than just the heightened terrorist chatter, typical for the end of Ramadan.

There was some news coverage about the Al Qaeda affiliated group in Yemen. This threat carries the weight of al-Asiri, the bombmaker responsible for the underwear bomber and others.

The State Department said this was just a precaution, “out of an abundance of caution”.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The alert expires August 31, 2013.
  • 21 US embassies will be closed tomorrow (Sunday, August 4), primarily in the Middle East. If and when they will reopen has not been addressed.
  • This threat is against Western interests, not just American.
  • The UK is also closing it’s embassy in Yemen and is urging all it’s citizens to leave that country.
  • Register your travel plans with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Through this program the State Department can keep you informed and assist in the case of an emergency.
  • Download the Smart Traveler App by the State Department for “frequently updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more”

Despite the focus on embassies after last year’s September 11th attack at the Benghazi embassy, it is important to remember mass transportation systems and landmarks are also favorites.

The State Department has really hit the media hard with this story. This is encouraging to me. Most people with an opinion on TV say that this alert will have the secondary benefit of scaring the terrorists, letting them know we are on to them. But I think the benefit of the entire public knowing (not just the die-hard fans of the State Department’s site) could mark a new day for how we handle threats.

I think most people don’t “need” to know the specifics but appreciate being in the loop. People will keep their eyes open, and if they see something they will not just chalk it up to their imagination but take it seriously.

As a side note: The fact that they made this alert public and gave so much air time and attention to it is a good sign. From where I sit, for every sentence of information they make public, they have at least 1,000 pages worth of information they are not disclosing. So in that regard, the more they say… makes me feel slightly more at ease.

I predict this open strategy will demonstrate that the general public can be an asset, and will facilitate a better relationship with (and approval towards) the intelligence community.

Have a wonderful weekend and be safe.

Related Sites:
State Department Site
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Smart Traveler App
CBS News report

How to slow time down

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.   ― Pico Iyer

infinity clockYou know how when you were little, cookies took a year to bake. The time between when you got hungry and when you got food was at least a week. A lifetime passed before Christmas would. Summer was always at least an eternity away.  And a driver’s licence…you couldn’t even conceive of the length of time before you could get one of those. Then life happens and the older folk find that time is just flying by!

I heard a really interesting theory when I was traveling.

I kept a journal of where I went and what I did on the trip. It didn’t have to be anything super exciting, maybe just a little note about the couple I met on the train, a place I found myself when I was completely lost, watching the sunset from a new horizon. And at the end of that trip, I could have written a whole book!

In this past month, I’ve done enough noteworthy things to fill a post-it. No wonder Year-End Newsletter’s are phasing out: it takes an entire family to come up with enough interesting to fill a short letter.

postcardsIt doesn’t make any logical sense, but somehow the 2 week trip you took provided you with more memories than the rest of the year. Even though while you are physically sitting in traffic it seems that it will never end, looking back the two weeks will feel longer than the other 50.

The idea is that by experiencing new things you slow time down. Routine speeds time up.

This makes sense when applied to the young and old. For children, every experience is a new experience. Older people have already experienced so much and have established a nice routine for themselves.

Ah to be a young fool.

Tropical Accessibility

There are many things I thought I would never see happen for wheelchair users that I turned out to be wrong about…

  • I never thought skiing would be wheelchair accessible, but it is.
  • I never thought African safaris would be wheelchair accessible, but they are.
  • But what I REALLY never thought would happen: wheelchair accessible eco-tourism. I am once again blissfully wrong!

Brazil has put effort into Accessible Tourism programs. These don’t just let you look at the amazing landscapes from afar, but actually engage in nature!

Different communities are making changes to vastly improve accessibility to nature. Now there are a wide variety of locations and activities disabled travelers can participate in. There are accessible hikes, beaches, and even water sports like rafting! Even the coral pools off Pajuçara Beach have become accessible using specially equipped boats.

Wheelchair accessible dirt ramp on ecotourIt is really neat to see how these groups take initiative and ingeniously make nature accessible while still respecting and conserving nature. For example, this ramp… I’m sure it would not stand up to ADA regulations but it preserves the environment, culture, and integrity of the entire experience. It’s these types of efforts that are so amazing to see (for me! at least!!)

This is such a good example of using resources you have available to make creative solutions. It in no way detracts from the natural beauty, but rather incorporates the beauty of a raw incarnation of human ingenuity. It stays true to the spirit of eco-tourism and offers disabled tourists an authentic experience.

What other opportunities have surprised you for being accessible?

Travel is fatal to prejudice

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

Before writing about the mother who threw her disabled baby off a bridge, I thought I understood what this quote meant.

I thought it meant that by traveling I will have the experiences necessary to better myself. I will meet new types of people, appreciate different culture and the struggles they face. I will see there are many “right” ways; my way isn’t the best one to happen to this world.

Now I know that I’m not the only one who is bettered by the experience. I think that it is a two way street. I see and experience new things, but so do the local people who meet a mysterious outsider like me. Suddenly I’m a representative my entire “people”– whatever others perceive that to be, whether is people from my country, with my coloration, education level, my unusual height, with my condition, share my fashion sense, or who thinks FRIENDS was the best sitcom ever, etc. etc. etc.

It’s not just about race and religion! It’s about letting others experience a different way of life through you! You’re example can not only advocate for different abilities, but can open minds. And just like that you’ve become a vanquisher of prejudice!

I think it would be really fantastic to see more people with disabilities travel, not just for their own personal satisfaction, but for the betterment of the world.

If that mother had met an individual with Down Syndrome, leading a full and fulfilling life, maybe she would have chosen to embrace her daughter’s differences instead of tossing them away. She is just one of the many people in this world who Mr. Twain would say sorely need travel.

So if you are considering traveling but are on the fence, just think of it like this…you’d be doing with world a public service. 😉

Happy Friday!

Travel on the cheap: A solar powered journey

In 2010, Haidar Taleb started a 200 mile journey across the United Arab Emirates in his power chair.

Inventor of the solar powered wheelchair, Taleb put his invention to the ultimate test, and challenged the way we see disability.

By taking-up this journey, I want to raise awareness about disability and tell people that we, despite our disability can achieve anything as an individual, if we are determined to try and have courage to do so. — Haidar Taleb

This is a really cool way to make travel accessible to everyone. I for one would love to see disabled and able-bodied road-trippers alike, flocking down the bike lane off to their next adventure.

I mean, if you’re going to vacation in a sunny paradise, might as well–right? Moral of the story, sunny states, countries and tropical islands need to adopt a pedestrian/solar powered lane on all their big roads to facilitate such roadtrips!

All in favor say “roadtrip!!”

Frequent Flying Genius

Next time you are on a plane and you get grumpy with the person sitting next to you who is hogging the arm rest, snoring or can’t stop showing you pictures of their great grand kids…

…consider you might be sitting next to a genius. Like Mr. Jason Lichtman.

Former frustrated frequent flyer, Lichtman struggled to get any sleep on board. And when he did manage to sleep, he’d undoubtedly miss the beverage service and awaken parched with no flight attendant in sight to help his poor dehydrated self.

Being a genius, Lichtman designed a mask so he could fall asleep in peace. Like any sleep mask worth your time, it blocked out light. On the strap around his head, you can store ear plugs.

But his truly extraordinary brain cells had a field day and introduced a whiteboard to the design. The whiteboard further blocks out light while allowing you to leave instructions for flight attendants. “Wake me up for beverage service”. And thus was born the Total Eclipse travel mask.

Total Eclipse flight mask whiteboard

For me, I have a few other uses in mind. For example…

-leave love notes to your fellow passengers: “Your hair looks really good today“.

-leave advice for your neighbor: “Sorry if I fall asleep on you. Just push me over, I’ll be fine. PS. I drool.

-and if you’re having a really bad day: “Don’t you dare disturb, unless we are going down.”

I also imagine it would be great fun to bring on a group trip, especially if you generously let someone borrow the mask without telling them you have the pen. The possibilities are endless!!

If you had one of these masks, what would you write?

Handicap Parking around the world – Part 2

After finishing Part 1 — on handicap parking in the US — I was a little concerned about what I might find in other corners of the world. But I think Europe has embarrassingly out-shined the US on this issue.

In my humble and online-research-based opinion, the US makes it far more difficult to travel between 50 “united” states than Europe does for it’s near 50 countries. Let’s ponder this for a moment…

USA: 1 national language

European Union: 23 official languages
(Not to mention there is an entire extra tier of beaurocrats to every decision-making process.)

Let’s figure this out.

In 1978, the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) agreed to grant the same parking privileges to people with disabilities (from any ECMT member country) as they offer their own national citizens. To put that into perspective, the US signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requiring handicap parking, in 1990.

In 1997, the ECMT expanded it’s scope to include “Associated Countries”: Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the USA. This move was likely responsible for the ECMT’s name change to International Transport Forum (ITC) in 2007.

Today, there are over 50 “member countries” in the ITC–see the complete list here.

The only requirement to get these special privileges is to have an official badge displaying the international wheelchair symbol. The trick is, you still have to familiarize yourself with the specific privileges for each country. For example, Denmark and the UK require a parking disc (aka “clock”), in addition to the badge, to indicate parking time so that time limits can be enforced.

If you will be road-tripping in Europe, this concise pamphlet will give you a brief overview of handicap parking rules in each country.

handicap parking spot

And if all else fails and you get ticketed, just start yelling at them in a language they don’t speak — you are after all traveling. And, if you don’t know a different language, make one up! 🙂
The coolest person I know did that in a different but effectively similar situation, so it has my stamp of approval. 

Handicap Parking around the world – Part 1

After seeing handicap parking spaces in Italy, I became curious about how different countries handle the issue. I started my research in my own back yard. I thought I was informed about these policies in the US, but it turns out I had a  thing or two to learn.

Handicap Parking in the US:

1. People with a permanent disability or a chronic illness can get a blue placard or have the International Symbol of Access specially marked on their license plate.

2. Temporary disabilities (ie. from an injury/surgery) can get you a red placard.

3. Some major cities allow free parking at city parking meters and exempts time limits for disabled motorists.

  • California exempts both meter fees and time restrictions, currently. This is a major motivator for the abundant handicap placard fraud and is causing issues, to say the least. There is talk about ending meter fee exemptions like Washington DC and Philadelphia (and others) have already done.
  • Michigan has a two-tiered placard policy. Only the most severely disabled applicants receive fee exemptions (about 2% of applicants). The second tier does not receive this benefit.
  • For more info on these points, read this wonderful and informative article.

4. Your placard may or may not be valid in other US states

  • California requires out of state visitors to apply for a temporary placard (about a 2 week process). Also, Californians must apply for a 30-day travel placard if they plan to use handicap parking in other states. Read it here.
  • New York City caused a lot of controversy in cases of out-of-state visitors being denied placard privileges. Apparently NYC only recognizes New York and New York City placards. I went to NYC’s site  and it mentioned nothing about out-of-state placards being invalid. It did however say that the New York state placard is “valid in all other states and Canadian provinces”. The New York DMV site also talked around if other states’ placards are valid and this time said that the NY state placard is valid “in most other states”.
  • Other state DMVs also claim their placards are valid in every US state. But refer to the bullet on California law…

It’s really a mess. I think the best thing to do is visit the DMV site of whichever state you plan to visit. And keep in mind that if it’s hard for you to understand while doing all this research; I’m positive there will be more than one cop who isn’t informed. So print the webpage that states your rights in that state or the name of the person you talked to at their DMV. Better safe than sorry.

Alabama handicap placardCalifornia handicap placardIllinois handicap placardWisconsin handicap placard

Sicily Wrap

Every good trip must come to an end. And to celebrate the end of this one, here’s a recap of how much fun it’s been to discover how accessible San Vito Lo Capo is!

This was a common site for me throughout the trip. Speedy locals leaving me in the dust! They owned the streets and rode off into the sunset many a time, while I made my way at a snail’s pace. It’s pretty lucky that I was able to snap even this one photo of the elusive scoooter rangers; they are many in numbers around here, but they are fast!

IMG_2655

Though they are hard to spot, there is evidence everywhere of their existence:IMG_3065

Getting down to business, here is the ramp to the City Hall. The ramps around the city aren’t just to make the beach and tourist sites accessible. Even official buildings are stepping it up. I was a little surprised to see this since the building is…well, it’s not new. And accessibility regulations are new, so I was expecting something a little less friendly. But this is probably the most friendly ramp in Sicily. Isn’t that a looker?

IMG_2904

There are also handicap parking spots designated on the street. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to handicap parking abroad before seeing this, but I think that’s going to be a super interesting topic to learn about!

IMG_2947

Finally, this was the last photo I snapped of the No Limits Marathon, and one of my favorites. These two were taking a stroll along the beach, holding hands. For all the effort that went into making the city accessible, seeing this makes it all worth it, don’t you think?
IMG_3061I’m pretty happy with how my research has gone in San Vito. I found so much more than I expected and I think it’s only going to get better.

Arrivaderci for now!