I watched a movie today about 22 year old Susannah Cahalan who was stricken with a rare autoimmune illness called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Watching the depiction of this young woman suffering the nightmare of being stolen away by this illness brought back painful memories for me. I did not have the same form of encephalitis that she had, but in 2010, I did suffer from a nasty bout of encephalitis, although the doctors were not able to decisively determine which kind of the illness I had. One big difference between Susannah’s experience and mine is that, while she suffered a slower, steady encroachment of this illness while doctors struggled to figure out what was attacking her, my pre-hospitalization period was brief but also traumatic, and happened while I was in the Gaza Strip.
I had gone to Gaza for the third time in August 2010. I wanted to be there for a few reasons; I had met online in 2001 and then married in 2009 (in Gaza) a man who I believed to be who he portrayed himself to be; I was deeply interested in knowing and understanding more about the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbours in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; I loved to learn about and experience other cultures and this was my chance to really do so; and I wanted to make a difference for the children there so I organized a child-focused delegation of people who also wanted to go.
When I was purchasing my airplane tickets, the travel agent asked me if I wanted to purchase medical insurance. I laughed and explained that travel insurance very specifically states that it will not cover any injuries due to war or to terrorist actions. Because of my destination, and my current state of good health, I really believed that my only risk was from activities that the insurance wouldn’t cover anyways, so I declined coverage.
I landed in Cairo, excited and eager to continue with the next leg of my journey, but first I had to get our groups’ paperwork in order. This meant finding a translator to translate all of our letters from English to Arabic, taking everything to the appropriate government office to confirm the approval that I had been given weeks earlier by phone, and then getting everyone onto a bus that would take us from Cairo, through the Sinai to the small border town of Al Arish, Egypt and from there, to the Rafah border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, by taxi.
I had made this trip twice before but had never been the organizer. I had observed the process on my prior trip so felt comfortable enough with the steps to proceed on my own. Everything was in order. Or so I thought.
When we got to the Rafah border, the border guard started telling me we had to go back to Cairo because of some problem with our paperwork. My translator, Ayman, was nervous about arguing with the border guard but I pressed him to explain that our paperwork was, indeed, in order and that the border guard needed to confirm that without sending us all the way back to Cairo, which is approximately a 6 hour trip back through the Sinai. That would delay our entry to Gaza by at least a few days, days that we were not willing to waste on unnecessary red tape. I knew I had everything that was required and I also knew that it was common for Egyptian officials to interrupt people attempting to travel to the Gaza Strip.
My translator reluctantly relayed my replies until the border guard called his office in the border terminal and we were finally granted entry.
(to be continued)
Everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page in the story of your life. You can not choose the circumstances which surround the events of your life, but you always have a choice with your responses, your mindset, the development of your skill-sets and the people you surround yourself with. Choose to believe in you!
Remember, you have something special, you have GREATNESS within you
I just had my 35 year grad reunion. It was an event that was so full of love, it was amazing.
Being me, I had to write about it to express my thoughts and feelings. Here is what I wrote:
Seeing you all again has really touched me, so much so that I need to say this:
When I was growing up, we moved a lot. I started out at Carleton School where I was classmates with some of you. Then I moved. A few times.
I came to Killarney in 1979, in time to start grade 10. By then, I didn’t know that I knew anybody. I was starting a new school – again. And I felt so alone, again. Then I started noticing familiar faces. I had been out of the loop for years and I had learned not to get too attached to people because we were just going to move again. I did move again, right after grade 12. And I continued to move, never quite feeling like I had one place to call home.
Throughout the years, I have experienced things that I really needed to have friends to call on, but didn’t know that I had those friends. When I was recovering from my illness and brain injury that went with it, I was so vulnerable and afraid. I pushed through it.
Last Thursday, I suddenly got very nervous about going to the reunion. I was afraid I’d be alone in a room of people who didn’t remember me, to be honest. My whole life has been a continuous series of “passing through”. I told my daughter to make sure I went lol She’s a good kid and made sure I got to the reunion.
Then I walked in the room and saw familiar faces, friendly faces, inviting faces. As the night wore on and we talked and laughed and caught up, it was a feeling of true connection that has been such a rarity for me, but felt like an oasis in what has too often been a parched desert. My daughter even texted me on Saturday night to make sure I was having a good time. I assured her that I was having a GREAT time!
Having old friends gives life a depth; a solid and safe harbour, so that we know that no matter where we roam, we always have a place to come home to. Seeing all your beautiful faces has given me that and I can’t thank you enough.
I know we’re all busy and have busy lives, but I do hope we can plan yearly events, at least, and whoever can come will and whoever can’t, will come next time.
If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that YOU, those old friends we grow up with, are some of life’s finest treasures.
I am so grateful to have connected with you again.