(This is my quickest blog post ever. Excuse syntax errors.)
For as long as I can remember, going backpacking has been my number one pipe dream. Since childhood, I have dreamt of my grown-up self – lean, tanned and inexplicably able-bodied – travelling solo across exotic countries, diving into oceans, hitch-hiking in dusty pick-up trucks across countries I’ve never even heard of.
Yet my life has largely been defined by cautiousness. I have poor balance, and if I fall over I’ll almost certainly end up in plaster for six weeks; I am, I think quite reasonably, careful about every step I take, every crack in the pavement or step on a staircase. I never lift anything which I think might be heavier than I can manage. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I monitor every movement I make which might break my body.
When I arrived at university, I took risks. I walked further than I ever had done before. I went out dancing in crowded clubs. I walked on cobbles. Once, I even ran (shoutout to Somil for holding my hand all the way around Cripps court in case I tripped). The risks didn’t pay off: my legs began to crumble, and I now use a wheelchair almost all the time. By the end of my degree, those dreams of travelling seemed further away than ever.
I’m not sure exactly what changed, or when, but in February this year I decided that I wanted to go to Vietnam, and somehow I convinced myself that this was something I might actually be able to do. Vietnam is not a wheelchair accessible country. I don’t know any disabled people who have been there, and can only find two accounts of wheelchair users visiting the country online. I don’t know what their hospitals are like. I don’t speak the language. I don’t know how to say ‘brittle bones’ in Vietnamese.
What I do have is a broad-shouldered, nearly-six-foot-tall brother who has been looking after his ‘big’ sister pretty much since the day he learned to walk. I am so grateful for all the people and events which have given me the confidence to make this trip, and above all I am so grateful for the brother who will help me get there. In Vietnam I will be completely dependent on him to carry both me and our bag, and to push and carry my wheelchair. I’m not sure whether he’s brave or mad, but I know there’s nobody I trust more.
I don’t expect the next few weeks to be dreamily easy, but I have everything crossed that nothing goes disastrously, and that we are taking a risk which might just pay off.
I won’t be able to update my blog in Vietnam, but I will write about my trip once I’m back for other wheelchair users who might want to make a similar trip!