Flashe in Canada, [Eh]: Montreal Edition- Part Un

2016 Forum Social Mondial (World Social Forum), Montreal, Quebec Canada

I got it. One of those super hot days back in June I received an email from the World Social Forum saying that I’d been selected to be one of the interpreters for the international conference. ME. I was going on my first international trip (Mexico doesn’t count because Texas is just the annex of Mexico so, you know, same place lol) and I was traveling solo. WOW. Actually, I was so stressed before the trip that I didn’t realise that I should have been stressed about traveling alone. I was sleep-deprived, hungry, and my body ached from speed walking with my cane through Austin’s airport trying not to miss my flight. Thank you, Priceline, for not telling me that the first leg of my Air Canada flight was powered by United Airlines… or giving me the option to let them know I’m mobility-challenged.

Jour 1- Mardi (Tuesday)

Putting the passport to use. Still don’t have any stamps though!

I arrived at the airport in Austin at 4:30ish am for my 6:00 flight. By the time I got on the plane, all I wanted to do was sleep. Seeing that I hadn’t slept in more than 24 hrs, I needed to rest before I made terrible life decisions.

The United flight to Chicago wasn’t remotely full, but for some reason they put all 30.75 of us in the same section…right up on one another. Fail #1, United. The airplane was freezing, which typically is my prime temperature, but I’d packed my cardigan. Not much time was spent thinking about this minor technicality before my body started to shut down though. However, I wasn’t asleep for long. The elderly couple in front of me wasn’t having it- peace, darkness, silence…..NONE OF IT. As soon as the sun breached the horizon, their window shutter came up, pouring sun rays on my bitter face. THEEEN the couple broke out their Kindles from 1970, the ones powered by the first operating system to ever exist, the ones with no back light. They turned on ALLLLL of the overhead lights. I had a choice- move to the front of the plane where nobody was and shiver back to sleep in the dark, or stay there and end up being arrested by the air marshal for throwing someone else’s property….and not wearing my safety belt. I’d already missed snack time and whatever free gift they’d given out (that flight attendant didn’t want me to succeed.) I had nothing else to lose. I moved and got solid 3.5 minutes of sleep before landing in Chicago.

REAL Canada Dry on the Air Canada flight

Someone saw my souvenir bag from Montreal earlier today and asked was I from Canada. The Air Canada flight alone made me want to say yes. The staff made sure I got to my Air Canada flight AND helped me to the bus stop once I got to Montreal. I got light snacks and beverages (we all know how I feel about that.) I got free earbuds to watch the complimentary in-flight movie. The flight attendants probably felt sorry for me. By 11 am I looked like Job from the Bible- no family, friends judging me, they’d killed all my livestock… I needed a friend. So I say to those lovely ladies, “Thank you for being a friend.” (TM The Golden Girls)

So, we get to Montreal a little after noon, EST. I pay for my bus pass and head out. Here’s the thing- I don’t speak French. For those just tuning in, Montreal is in Quebec, also known as French Canada. Luckily, the gentleman who helped me get on the bus explained to the driver I needed to get off on stop 7 to get to the Hyatt. At stop 6 I signaled. Then I fell asleep. Then I woke up at stop 10. Monsieur! Dude told you I didn’t speak French and where I needed to go! The driver’s solution was for me to get off and ride the bus back the other way. Sir, I have no idea where anything IS. I can’t read the signs. *sigh* I took a restroom break at UQAM (University of Quebec at Montreal), hoping to get help since they were sponsors of the conference. After finding help and the new bus stop, telling the new bus driver I needed stop 7 (which technically didn’t exist on the way back to the airport), and miraculously getting off at the right space, I wandered around downtown Montreal looking quite conspicuous for 15 minutes until I spotted the Hyatt through some trees. My heart rested. But not for long.

Night view from my room, 232, at the Hyatt-Regency, downtown Montreal

I hobble up to the elevator and find the floor for check-in. I’d called ahead to make sure my room was reserved because the World Social Forum had not done a good job at communication. A week before the trip they notified us that we’d have to pay for our own plane ticket and then be reimbursed versus them paying for it straight away. If it had not been for the kindness of my community, I would have been sitting in Austin weeping and eating my own rendition of poutine, wishing I was breathing the clean Canadian air. I received an email confirmation and spoke to someone on the phone to make certain. I couldn’t be homeless in another country. Mumzy wasn’t driving to Canada.

The Lounge in the Hyatt-Regency Montreal

The receptionist at the desk was swift and kind. At 2 pm EST I was FINALLY going to get to shower and sleep. I didn’t have to check in with the conference until after 6 pm. All systems were go… until she asked for a credit card. Umm, mademoiselle, why do you need a form of payment? The WSF is covering this. $200 for incidentals?! Yeah….. you need to call someone. She called the organizers. No answer. Called again. No answer. She offers to lock my stuff up in the office so I don’t have to worry. I take her up on the offer because I definitely was falling asleep. I move to the lounge area of the foyer so strangers can stop staring at me. Thought I was safe. I was not. I was awakened by Spanish chatter. For some reason a Spanish-speaking family of about 10 didn’t realize I was there (did you really not see the big, homely Black lady sitting by the synthetic fireplace in the middle of the day) and stopped by for a loud photo opp. When I started shuffling around, they were startled and declared (in Spanish) they hadn’t seen me sleeping and should probably find a reason to exit. It was just weird all around. They didn’t know I speak Spanish so I hear them speaking about me as if I’m not there. Awwwkkkwarrrd. Anyway, I trot over to the desk to see if I can get my phone. I need to look for the email from the organizer who’d messaged me. I couldn’t take one more group of tourists crowding me and commenting like this was the San Diego Zoo. The receptionist directs me over to the little office. I hand my claim ticket over to a young Haitian man. At the time it didn’t dawn on me that Quebec would have an extensive Haitian population because it is a French province. Hmm. We have a weak conversation in broken English and broken French. His face beamed the entire time. It’s quite the confidence builder for someone to be drawn to you even when you look like you trained with the Turtles down in the sewer with Master Splinter. After retrieving my purse, I jump down off the proverbial pedestal he’s created and handle my business. Calls, emails, and bargains (no, mademoiselle, I’m not even paying $50). Finally, at 6 pm, after a war of the worlds, I get the keys to my room- #Winning. And guess who skipped my bags up to the room for me? The cute (albeit YOUNG) Haitian man. I tried to look for a tip for him, but he was so nervous that he puts my bags down, giggled like a school girl, and darted out of the room. Eh, I’ll find him later.

By now, I need food. Other than some moderately expired beef jerky I stole from BFF Erica’s fridge before leaving Houston and my Canadian Canada Dry, I hadn’t eaten in almost 48 hours. I was delirious. I took a quick shower, changed into clothes that looked like I did care about my life, and hit the streets. I didn’t know much about food at the time so I tried something safe- Dairy Queen. Don’t you judge me. I’d had enough adventures for the day. I needed a safety net. Well, as close as I could get. American restaurants aren’t the same in other countries. There were at least 3 types of poutine at Dairy Queen, and there was a completely separate space in the restaurant for frozen treats (apparently folk ain’t about waiting extra time for soft serve.) After 20 minutes I make my way into the street. There was no searching to the conference- it found me. Night 1 was an outdoor concert right outside the hotel. I find the check-in for volunteers and make my way up the stairs. I won’t get into it, but of course nobody knew where the volunteer interpreters were supposed to check in. I decided I wasn’t about to even go there. After the haggling to get to Canada, the bus trip, and sleeping in the lobby like home girl did at the bus depot on Adventures in Babysitting, I was going to just enjoy the warm air, the people, and the show. I’d be able to withstand the disorganization better when I’d had sleep.

Photo cred: Google

And that’s what I did. I made a friend and we sat and talked about life. She was from Central America, but lived in the States. Her passion for life was infectious. We enjoyed the international concert- acts from India, West Africa, Eastern Europe, Native Canadian tribes- well into the night. Finally, I tapped out around 10:30. My cane and I hit the ole dusty trail. I got back to my roommate-less room and gave up. I found an episode of The First 48 and climbed into bed with a nice cup of lavender Earl Grey tea. I’m sure I messaged some folk and checked some emails, but I don’t remember much after the tea. Earl Grey is magic.

World Social Forum Village, downtown Montreal

Well, Day 1 of Flashe in Canada definitely lived up to true Flashe form- full of adventures. If you think that was a roller coaster of events though, stay tuned. The other days include a stalker, another Haitian admirer, my first experience with poutine, and offers (with an ‘s’) of random sexual encounters.

Flashe out!

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