I awoke early. I was going on another adventure. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was actually going to another country. I was supposed to be in the lobby to meet for the tour at 6:30am. My telephone rang at 6:15. The front desk told me my ride was here. What did she mean that, “my ride was here?” The tour was supposed to meet at 6:30am in the lobby. I rushed down and the desk pointed me to a man who did not speak English. I took my tour ticket to the front desk and asked if this man was the ‘tour.’ It did not make sense to me. Where were the other people? Why would our tour guide not speak English?
Juan, at the front desk said he did not know anything about a tour. There were two men in the lobby speaking to each other in Spanish who looked my way. The bellhop asked, “Are you Rebecca Cooper? This man is asking for you.” I asked the bellhop if he would translate. I asked, “Is there anyone else going on the tour? It is only 6:25am and we are not even suppose to meet till 6:30.” The bellhop and man communicated some more and I was told I was the only one going.
The tours I signed up for months ago were advertised with the conference I was attending in Argentina. There were 5000+ people attending this conference and I was the only one going on a tour?
I went out the door. It was still dark. The driver opened an unmarked regular car door. Ok, maybe it was because of my first taxi ride day in Argentina that I started feeling apprehensive or else something was terribly wrong. I got into the car and prayed. “How do I get myself into these things? Is it because I am just too fearful and worrying or should I be afraid?”
We drove along a disserted street where all the stores had their iron garage doors shut over the storefronts. There was trash in the streets and a few people milling around. It looked familiar; like the place where the taxi driver took me to steal my money. Up ahead I saw blue flashing lights. Later I noticed that all the police cars have their blue flashing lights on all the time, not just when there is something wrong. My first thought was, “Should I jump out and get into the police car?” The taxi pulled up behind the police car at the red light and the police car drove through the red light.
The driver finally stopped at the shipping docks. I asked, “Where do I go?” He kept waving towards a door to the left of me. I was glad to get out of this car, but where was I going now? I had imagined being on a tour with other mental health professionals from around the world getting to know each other and listening to a Translator, who also interpreted in English, about the sights we were seeing.
I entered a huge terminal for ships with long lines of people waiting their turn at the windows. Now what? I had hoped there would be someone there with a sign with the name of the tour company or my name. But no, no one was looking for me and there were no tour signs in sight.
All I had was a ticket that had been emailed to me. No one there knew what the ticket was for. No one around me in line understood English. I got to the window and they kept asking for my ticket. This one didn’t seem to be the right one. An English man standing in another line came to the window at that time. He heard me trying to make sense of all this. After he finished his transaction he came to me and looked at my ticket. He said, “This ticket says ‘flight,’ was I suppose to be flying to Montevideo?” I hadn’t a clue.
This was not like any tour I had ever been on. The ticket agent took my passport to her supervisor. I could see them talking. They looked up my reservation with my passport number and yes I was in the right place. I was taking a boat to Uruguay and I needed to go to the immigrations office and go through customs. What?
After I finished my blog yesterday I realized I would be late meeting Ruth. We had arranged to meet before the first session in the lounge area to the right of the hotel’s reception. I emailed her that I would meet her after the session instead of before, in front of the door to the conference room. The session was about spirituality and it was one I did not want to miss. The title of the session was ‘Spirituality, Culture and Mental Health Prevention.’
Because I was late all the headsets had been given out. I did not think that the lady understood that I wanted a translation headset, but she did understand me and was trying to tell me there were no more headsets available. Some one behind me understood my English and translated it to me. I was so disappointed.
Why were things becoming so difficult? Was it my negative thinking? Most of the last few years of my life things just seem to flow. In fact I call this “living in the stream of goodness.” I realized I was still in some fear, which I believe is the absence of faith. I made a mental shift or as some people in 12-step meetings said I “let go and let God” or “turned it over.”
I actually thought of attending the session anyway because just the energy in the room would be good. I have found that a crowd of people assembled for spiritual purposes have a healing kind of energy as a group conscious. I have attended 12-step meetings in different parts of the world where I had not understood the language, but I always could make out some of the dialogue and had an uncanny feeling of peace. I have experienced that same sensation in cathedrals, mosques, and temples and especially in the old city in Jerusalem.
This year has been such a blessed experience. In February I was asked to present at the 2013 Israeli Association of Eating Disorders Conference in Jerusalem, Israel on Eating Disorders and Food Addictions. One day I hired a tour guide to take me around the city and show me the sights. You see so much more with a guide and also get an explanation of the historical value of what you were seeing. We went through little allies and down old worn steps to see places where Jesus walked. There were some places in the old city that I felt like I could just drank in the energy of those places. The old city is a wonderful place where the four great religions are all residing inside the city walls and working peacefully together.
It feels safe there even with the presence of young military men and women standing around with machine guns. The citizens are required to serve two years of military training. It was a somewhat tense period in world affairs at that time; the Egyptians political unrest and other happenings of the ‘Arab Spring’ was in progress, but I was told that I would be safe in the old city.
I had an amazing experience on top of a building there that overlooked the entire area. There was a group of soldiers listening to their commanders. In the background the Dome of the Rock was in full view. I took a picture of a soldier wearing a Yakama with his gun strapped to his side gazing at the Dome of the Rock. What a contrast in themes; the Holy of Holies, a place that is supposed to be the most holy place on earth in the background with a soldier contemplating his military missions. Over history there have been so many religious wars to possess that site. Sometimes religions just do not make sense to me. Why kill one another in the name of spirituality?
While I was standing in that position with my camera, church bells started toiling, at the same time I heard the Muslims call to prayer over the loud speakers. A flock of birds ascended into the crystal blue sky at the same time. It was truly a magical moment to experience that I will always remember.
As I turned to walk away from the session I had been so excited about attending, another person who apparently understood English said, “This lecture is in English.” There are not many of us who are presenting in English here, but the translation headsets have completely removed that obstacle.
As I entered the conference room I spotted only one seat across the room. I sat down and then there was a rush of new people wanting to attend. The chairman of the session told the mass at the entry to come in and sit on the floor like they had done at my session the day before. Argentina evidently does not have ordinances about total occupancy allowed in a room. Then there was another wave of more people assembling at the door. The chairman again told the people to come in. There was not one more place to sit even on the floor.
The room was packed with mental health professionals from all over the world from many beliefs and religions. This was truly amazing to think about. All these diverse mental health practitioners who were in the business of healing were coming together to learn about different worldviews. There would be an opportunity at the end of the session to ask questions. I thought that would be interesting.
Because of the overwhelming majority of professions in the room who spoke Spanish, the presenter decided to speak in Spanish instead of the scheduled English. Everyone clapped. My heart sunk. The lady sitting next to me saw my disappointment. She took off her headset and handed it to me with a beautiful smile. I too smiled back placing my hands together and nodding my head with gratitude. It is amazing how you can connect with another without using language. I thoroughly enjoyed the stimulating lecture. I need a whole blog just to talk about what I learned.
The session went over the scheduled time by an hour. I had missed Ruth again. She had emailed me that we could connect at another time. I decided to have lunch before my tour in the afternoon. During the last few conferences I have taken some time off to see the country I am actually visiting. I spoke at a conference in Portugal a few years ago and never saw anything but the hotel. What a wasted opportunity. I vowed to never do that again, at least not if I had traveled to a new county.
On the tour there was a couple from Arkansas and the tour guide also spoke English. I was able to share my experience about the taxi ride from the airport. The tour guide said she felt terrible that this had happen in her country. “There are some bad people in my country, but not all,” she said. I told her it was not her fault and we too in the United States have some of the same kind of people.
The couple told me that they had been warned to only use taxis that said “Radio Taxi” on the door and on the top light. The other taxis look identical but have these words missing. You are able to get these taxis reserved inside the airport. I went outside of the airport where there was a very official looking black and yellow ‘Taxi’ area where I went to find a taxi. I told them where I was going and asked how many pesos it would cost. I should have had enough pesos, but of course that was not what happened in my previous blog. A man picked up my bags and motioned to his cab. I got in and he said something in Spanish. I said, “Lo siento, pero yo no hablo español.” (Sorry, but I do not speak Spanish). We proceeded in silence for most of the way as I enjoyed the scenery of Argentina.