I’m getting close now; the plane I’m on has just crossed the end of the African continent and we are over the Indian Ocean getting close to the island nation of Madagascar. It’s been, well, it’s been many hours since I left Saint Louis. I’m so exhausted I’m having trouble doing the math as it’s 9:20 Paris time, 11:20 in Antananarivo which means it’s maybe 1:20? So 26 hours ago I got to Lambert International Airport in Saint Louis and my body has reached the point of not being able to do time math or also maintain control of my emotions. Before I get to that I do have to mention that this flight has been one of the most comfortable as one of the perks of flying so much is reaching status levels with airlines and I never expected an upgrade on an international trip as my primary airline I fly on in Delta doesn’t offer those but on this Air France flight, when my boarding pass was scanned, I was moved from the main cabin to the premium cabin. This by no means is the first class section on an international flight as that’s five rows in front of me with all sorts of walls and curtains to prevent the normal traveler from knowing just what sort of wonderful comfort those travelers get. However, I’ve had in rather awesome as the seats here are such that I can stretch all the way out as which means that, for the first time in my life, I slept a good chunk of the flight. This, however, wasn’t a restful sleep but rather a time passing sleep which did pass six of the 11 hours this flight is.
So I mentioned emotions. I’m exhausted and the typical filters I have to fend off emotions is no longer there. This is very much akin to the emotional exhaustion I experienced when I was in school so whether it’s a happy thought, or a sad thought, I’m moved to tears. I’ve thought about my life and how it’s changed since the last time I was in Antananarivo as well as the motivation for choosing La Réunion. (Writer’s note: From this point La Réunion will just be written as Reunion as my keyboard isn’t that well equipped to make the accent mark.)
Back in 2006 when I left Madagascar prematurely with my dad there was, on the adjoining gate at the airport, a flight leaving to some place called Reunion. I had never heard of such a place and for reasons I can’t explain I became fascinated with the concept of this small island in the Indian Ocean. By no means did I do research on it and it wasn’t a true Kansas, but I would often look up how much a flight would be, as well as a first class ticket on two days’ notice which would often exceed $40,000. Obviously that’s downright absurd (do those people five rows in front of me pay anything close to that? If so “yikes!”) but I remembered the feeling I had when I left Antananarivo that I told myself, “If I ever make anything of my life I’m making it a point to go to Reunion.”
In a way this is a culmination of the past decade of hard work I’ve done. A decade ago would I have imagined my life would be like it is now, with a book published and a sought after speaker? Most certainly not, much less going there on a project as ambitious as this Aspie Traveler project, but the thing is I have made it, but this flight, and the whole day 1 and day 2 have been a reminder of my true calling.
On my first flight yesterday, which is my today, I had a conversation with a man about Asperger’s and the state of diagnosing and the difficulties I saw within some doctors back when I started my job when I would visit pediatricians offices and some doctors had never heard of autism or Asperger’s. He didn’t believe me in the slightest and he said, “my ten year old daughter knows what it is” and I said that this is very much true and when I present to schools and the question of doctor’s knowledge on the subject comes up I state, “after hearing me talk for 20 minutes you know more about autism than some doctors did back in 2010.” I have to hope we’ve made progress on this front, but the conversations for the day weren’t over as on this flight I’m on now I had a conversation with a woman from Belgium who has lived in Scotland for the past several years and is going to Madagascar on an anthropological project, as she’s an anthropologist, and the conversation I had with her about a friend she knows that deals in the field was just remarkable.
Here’s the thing; I think back to when I traveled when I started flagging races on the national level in 2010 and when, on the rare times I would talk to those around me, few knew what Asperger’s was. Often times there would be a foggy notion of what autism is, but the fact that it is a spectrum and that can vary so greatly within two people just wasn’t common. However, now, there seems to be a greater level of not just the awareness but the understanding aspect. I feel I could almost have a new book project simply being, “conversations on a plane” as the amount of info people have that have no direct contact with the autism spectrum has impressed me. When I was first diagnosed the first person I told that I had, “Asperger’s” asked me, “Wait a sec, did you say you ate a hamburger?”
So with all this I’m emotional. I think of the state of myself a decade ago and now that I have the ability to open up with people seated beside me on the plane and continue the progress of raising the understanding. I never could’ve imagined this but, in a way, I’m also sad as this upcoming week is, as I think I have mentioned, my birthday and I always have felt alone on my birthday but for my 33rd I don’t know if I could’ve chosen a place I would be more isolated.
It won’t be long now as Madagascar is coming up quickly on the flight map. The hotel I’m staying at said they’d have a driver awaiting my arrival but we were one hour late departing Paris due to a “fallen down loader” so I have to hope they’re aware of that and my ride is still there. If not this could be an interesting night as I don’t know if there will be taxis at this late hour or if the currency exchange place would be open for me to get local currency to pay the taxi driver. However, those are worries I can’t control right now so I’m going to continue to reminisce about my life used to be like and the dream I used to have about going to Reunion and that now that dream is going to be fulfilled. In a way, while this book is about these travels, I’ve been on a long journey traveling within myself to get to where I am today.