“Go to Rome” they said… ‘It’ll be fun’ they said… My first “real” international trip. ( I don’t count the cruise 2 years prior because I didn’t even have a passport then.) I remember thinking “It’s time for my first stamp!” Excited and wide-eyed, I rolled off the plane and ( #wheelchairlife lol[sic]), my friends and I grab our luggage. I go outside, take a deep breath, and my first words on European soil… “IT’S HOT EH HELL” . It was like 85 degrees and it was only 9am!! But nonetheless, we headed to the hotel and then let the adventure begin!
Was it a funny experience? How would you describe your first “real” international trip?
It was most definitely a funny experience. Being black in an European country was an adventure within itself. People randomly walking up to us in restaurants and saying random rap lyrics, ‘My friend, My friend… I got 2 phones.. I got 2 phones *In Kevin Gates voice*’ lol[sic]. But being black AND being in a wheelchair, you would have thought Julius Caesar himself came back from the dead the way they were staring at me! My friends and I would laugh and joke around and say “we should stare back and see who looks away first”.
Any tips for black travelers? Disabled tips?
My tips would be:
Those cobblestone roads and step San Francisco-like streets are no joke. Lucky my friends were in shape and they would take turns pushing me up those mountains they call streets. They would complain every day that their legs were tired and I would simply reply, “AT LEAST YOU CAN FEEL YOUR LEGS.. NOW PUUUSSHHH!!!” lol [sic].
In Rome, their definition of “wheelchair accessible” is having stairs but on the rail they would have some old lift-like contraption attached that would move up the rail. Kind of like those chairs old people put in their house when they can’t walk upstairs anymore. The Vatican, my hotel, and several restaurants had these weird lift things. Two things wrong with this idea; since I am paralyzed I am in my chair at all times , I would have to transfer over to the rail death trap seat, someone would have to carry my chair up the stairs, then once at the top I would have to transfer out of it back to my chair. The entire process would take like 15 minutes. This was virtually impossible to do after leaving the nightclub at 3am on a 2 for 1 Long Island Ice Teas night. Lol[sic]. My friends decided that was too much and just carried me and my chair up the stairs. They had to carry me up and down these stairs every time we left or entered the hotel. [Shaking my head]. So my tip is to tell the hotel to send you a picture whenever they say they have an “elevator”.
What lesson/s did Rome teach you?
I learned a lot of lessons in Rome but one of the biggest is how bad we eat in America. Literally like 90% of everything we ate [in Rome] was fresh!! From the Bruschetta to the lobster pasta to the cannoli. A funny story .While we were at a local restaurant hanging out and eating bruschetta, my friend takes a bite and immediately spits it out. The waiter asks what’s wrong and my friend replies “These tomatoes are super fresh. They taste like dirt.” The waiter responded “They are fresh. I picked them this morning in my garden. Americano no like fresh?” I was crying laughing! We are so used to processed food that fresh tastes nasty lol[sic].
Did you have mixed emotions during your trip?
Mixed emotions? Not really! I was very excited the entire time! My friends and I have this “we are just gonna figure it out when we get there” type of attitude! The glass is always half full! Positivity can be found in any situation! Whenever we came to an obstacle regarding my wheelchair, we would just figure it out! We were just happy that 4 Black 26 year old Memphians had the funds and opportunity to go to Rome, Italy and experience things most people from where we are from will never see! ‘Go to Rome’ they said… ‘It’ll be fun’ they said…THEY WERE RIGHT!!!!!!
By Fletcher Cleaves, The Wheelchair Nomad