It’s the season to go on vacation. I won’t go this year, of course – I’m too busy doing stuff for Nijmegen -, but I rarely go. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but for me, they’re extremely stressful. I remember one particular vacation, which is the worst-ever vacation I’ve had. I’m speaking about a summer camp in Russia I went to in August, 2000.
This camp had about all the problems a vacation can have for me, except that I didn’t need to plan it myself. The planning thing is the main reason why I haven’t gone on vacation ever since my parents stopped planning vacations for me.
The first problem is with an unfamiliar area. I am not the best cane traveler in the world – and at the time of this particular camp, rarely used a cane -, so I can’t travel unfamiliar places independently without it draining my energy resources. In some places, it’s even draining to walk sighted guide, like in Rome in 2004. On the camp in 2000, I walked sighted guide almost all the time, and was shuffled aroudn between camp leaders and fellow participants, with the camp leaders more often than I’d like remarking that I should learn routes and the fellow participants getting increasingly weary of me. This is, however, likely also due to my behavior, which I’ll get to later. I didn’t like being dependent in the first place, and liked it even less when I felt others were feeling bad about guiding me. However, using my cane for mobility drained my energy even more – and still does. This is a reason why I don’t like going to unfamiliar places. Other blind people may have better travel skills, but I don’t.
Another problem was that the vacation was very unstructured. I tend to do better on vacations that are centred around a certain theme – particularly, one I like -, such as ICC. The Russian camp, however, was more of the standard summer camp type of setting. There were a few scheduled activities, but you got to have a lot of free time and many activities were also optional. For example, there were workshops about every day. I chose guitar lessons, but quit after coming only twice, cause I didn’t like guitar and the workshop itself was pretty unstructured, too. So, aside from mandatory activities, I spent most of my time in my room recording journal entries on tape.
Then there was the issue of social conventions. While I didn’t even grasp social interaction between my fellow Dutch campers, I had much less understanding of social conventions that are different from what I knew to be Dutch social rules. For example, one day when we were in Moscow, I was instructed to speak the few words of Russian I knew because we were encountering police. Years later, I learnt that Russian police are corrupt and they would’ve picked us out (and not let us go our way till we paid them) if they’d known we were foreigners, but I curtly defied the instruction at the time. I also didn’t know that it was expected of me to start eating at mealtime as soon as the food was on my plate – and couldn’t watch anybody do so. As far as I could tell, it was polite to wait till everyone on my table had their food, but my camp leader got frustrated with me cause I wouldn’t start eating till she told me to.
To the other people who went to this camp, the most notable about me were, obviosuly, my behavior problems. This camp, in fact, was the first time anyone ever questioned me about them, and I crafted one of my paradigms about their origin. While I do think the fact that I didn’t like to be dependent, contributed, I also think I suffered from quite significant overload and unclarity at the time – but I didn’t understand any of these concepts then. You see, I often throw a tantrum when I feel my planning has been disrupted, and this happened quite frequently – and, well, basically, a vacation is a disruption of your planning on a large scale. Also, I noticed from later vacations, that it’d often overwhelm me to need to do several things at once: walk an unfamiliar route, take note of the things there were to be enjoyed, and socialize. When I was in Rome in 2004, I freaked out quite majorly and later found myself explaining to a teacher that I felt traveling and sight seeing were already enough of a workload, so I couldn’t chat at the same time.
Another thing was that some of my fellow participants had gotten so sick of me cause of a few tantrums I’d thrown, that they started openly making fun of me. This, obviously, only led to more frustrated and curt reactions and tantrums, which kept the circle round. While this is always a problem, it adds up to the draining from the other difficulties in vacations – while, as I said, vacations are meant to be relaxing.
Even though I didn’t go into details about my disabilities here, anybody who knows about them, can tell that quite a bit of what I describe above, could be explained by my blindness and/or my autism. However, I do not want to imply that everything that can go wrong on vacation, has to do with one’s disabilities. I was, for example, also the youngest Dutch participant (the camp had participatns from Russia as well as the Netherlands). I have little experience with camps or vacatiosn specifically organized for the disabled – this one was meant for the visually impaired as well as sighted, though I was the only blind participant in the Dutch group -, and wouldn’t know if those are better. Maybe I’ll find out sometime.
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