Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tourist

You know how it is when you have a house-guest visiting from out of town? Not your best friend, but a random friend, an acquaintance? You try to show them a good time, introduce them to your close friends and hope they'll integrate well, make them feel at home in your residence, and at the same time you have to continue with your own day to day responsibilities.

They've done their Google-ing and Yelping and maybe they've even brought a travel guidebook along. Therefore they ask silly questions—about your town and about you. They are armed with random facts and tidbits so obscure, academic or irrelevant to daily life that you either have to do your own share of Googl-ing or more fun—make stuff up. The quantity of questions after a couple of days is closely proportionate to the ounces of alcohol I have to consume in order to keep my sarcastic answers to minimum. I have a low tolerance. Then when you duck away to go to work you can only hope your answers, their search results and their Encounter guide will keep them smiling on their daily adventure.

I have not yet had the pleasure of having a house guest in Fountain Inn, in-fact I've had very few visitors in general, so I get a little more-than-usual of my entertainment fix from movies. Last weekend I called my sister to come over and watch a movie with me, but her husband and kids were away for the weekend so she opted for some much-needed alone time. When I asked her if she wanted to come over and watch "The Tourist" with me her response was nothing short of amazing. She asked, "Is that what we're calling Grandma these days or is that the name of a movie?".  I laughed harder that I had in a while, mainly because my sister was serious, but also because it hit me how befitting it is to an Alzheimer's patient trying to get by in "our" world. They really are mostly lost most of the time in a foreign land. And the trains that run back to a safe, familiar place, do so with decreasing frequency, sans schedule.

From what I've read and have been told by friends who have experienced this horrid disease with a family member, my Grandma is just like the rest of them. It's like they all took the same tour, and came away with the same food stained T-shirt. They also all have the same guidebook printed in a language that most of the rest of us can not understand. And their questions and comments—wow...all day long. Where are the kids? Are those cars or cows? Look at all the cars! Look at how tall the trees are around here! Have you seen the kids? Is someone crying? I'm 94 years old. I'm 54 years old. I AM NOT 94 YEARS OLD!!!! I want my Mumma! (One can age decades and find the fountain of youth all within a matter of minutes). I wonder where everybody is. Where is everybody? Are you gonna take me home? (Asked every time we return to our house, where just the two of us live, after going anywhere).

And then there are the stories "from home" that they like to tell. My grandma told me the other day about the time I got shot when I was a baby and how she cried all the way home. And of course there is the repeated story about the lady at church who shot grandma in the wrist, and how the priest punished the woman. The other day grandma was shot in the mouth and then there was the time my grandpa got shot in the field. If you listen long enough you'll probably find you've taken a bullet or two yourself (or you'll want to by the time you go home).

As anyone who lives in a famous city and the well-traveled know, there are travelers and there are tourists. And we've all been tourists. Whether it was our first trip to California or our first trip to Japan, there is that time either you realize (or you don't, but everyone local realizes for you) that you are wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, taking too many photos of the signage and menus, or worse, you actually can't figure out how to use the toilet. At a point in life when I felt I had earned the status of traveler, pretty much internationally, (yeah, ignorance is bliss) I became the worst kind of tourist. Driving across the middle of Bali on the way to the east side of the island, I had to make a two-sie. We asked our driver, Katut (of course. now knowing), to stop at the nearest toilet. He pulled over on the side of the road next to a shack where a woman was doing field work. After smiling and smiling and asking for me in Balinese if I could use the toilet the woman replied and smiled and smiled and pointed me toward another small shack. I crossed a small field, walked in, two chickens ran out.

I had to go bad.  It was blindingly bright outside. There was no door to the shack, but the little light that leaked in and the contrast in the otherwise unlit shack made it hard to see exactly what was going on with the two troughs of water, one with a wooden ladle. I doubt a light would have helped my western-toilet reasoning mind much anyway. There was no tp, of course. I had absolutely no idea what to do. I still don't, so to this day I am horrified by the thought that I most likely defecated in their drinking water or at best used their dirty toilet water to wash my bum, with the wooden scoop that may have been their drinking water ladle. I can image the stories they tell (if they are still alive to tell stories), and I imagine tourists taking photos of the sign in the middle of nowhere that reads, "No Public Restroom", in English.

There's nothing like a foreign restroom to turn one into a tourist. In fact Grandma encounters this on a daily basis. I drive the wheelchair up to the narrow bathroom door where she has to disembark and use the walker to get to the toilet. Nine times out of ten she has to ask for directions, and when the trip involves a twosie, well, let's just say it's one of those adventures-gone-wrong, but everyone gets out alive, if not weary. And thank god for adult diapers.

I apologize for the potty humor and the detail and the fact that there is likely to be more in the future. Hygiene and restroom duty is a major part of care-giving. It's a reality that many of you will be faced with in your life, kinda like getting your "junk-touched" by airport security.

I could run with this Tourist/Alzheimer metaphor ad nauseum, but this tour guide needs to eat. You are now free to move about the interweb. Please come visit us.

1 comment:

  1. laughing out loud over here.
    great stuff.
    love ya!