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  • Writer's pictureKyrby Brown

Churchill Fellowship Day Two: A City of Two Faces

Woke up at 4am, fully awake and there’s no reasoning with my brain so I got up and began the day.

Day started with breakfast (at 6:30am!) which was a slightly odd affair. We were asked for a voucher upon entering the hotel dining room. Despite paying for breakfast with our room we didn’t get given a voucher so we had to toddle over to the front desk, obtain said voucher and then toddle back to the breakfast room, strangely pointless…

Anywho, the breakfast host asked us how we wanted our eggs, whether we wanted sausage or bacon and what type of bread we’d like for toast. I had no idea what to expect. The only beverage available was coffee so that’s what we had. I quite enjoyed my breakfast although I would like to say that fried bread and toast are remarkably different things and what we were served was certainly not toast!

After breakfast we decided to venture out into the this new strange land (at 7:15am!) and explore the locality using the Metro. All the metro trains in Phoenix are fully accessible and easy to use, after a quick orientation visit outside Ability 360 (one of our key conference locations), we decided to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens. This involved a couple more Metro stops, a cheeky Starbucks and then a short bus journey, all of which was fully accessible. I would say that accessible toilets (restrooms over here) appear to be in quite short supply along the transport route, however we were saved by the kind owner of a Mexican restaurant who allowed me to use his loo.

Travelling around Phoenix this way was truly eye-opening, and not always for the best of reasons. Like many US Cities, Phoenix was hit hard by the opioid crisis and the effects are clearly still evident, no more so than on public transport. As a potentially vulnerable Disabled traveller I felt the need to keep my wits about me and, if I lived in Phoenix, you’d never find me travelling on the the Metro alone. This goes to show that whilst having a truly fully accessible transport infrastructure is pretty awesome, it cannot alone. In this case the infrastructure removed the fear of being stuck or stranded but there’s a lingering trepidation regarding the safety of the system. Two extremely vulnerable groups of people who could potentially clash in the most devastating way. Whilst I will admit to some fear and caution, the whole experience made my feel both extremely lucky and grateful, both for my own life and for the opportunity to witness these opposing faces of America.

Image Description: Metro station in the early morning with a beautiful blue sky behind.

The Desert Botanical Gardens were quite the juxtaposition to the City outside. They had wide, neat lightly surfaced paths leading to various displays of Desert dwelling plants. For me the best thing was the variety of lizard, bird and other animals that the gardens attracted, including stunning little hummingbirds. The overall accessibility was good, despite there once again being no dedicated Disabled toilets (what is with that?!). This tourist trap offered a space to relax and enjoy some unique sights. Our time at the garden was somewhat limited by the extreme 36°c heat that beat down around midday. Finding this a little too warm for comfort, we set off again in search of some groceries. This search took us back to the reality of Phoenix’s diverse streets, feeling like a bit of a slap in the face compared to the instagram-ready gardens. A short trip to a ‘Trader Joe’s’ to retrieve some snacks and alternative breakfast items found is a little mind boggled by it all, America really does have a way of making you feel small!

Image Descripton: me rolling through an archway of spiny trees in the Desert Botanical Gardens.

I guess my overarching thought here is: it’s great to have strong accessible infrastructure but if you’re community is not thriving then it’s pointless. Fear is just as much a barrier as bricks and mortar.

After a fair bit of time out and about it was nice to return to the air-conditioned safety of our hotel. That’s where I’m sitting now, comfortably in my PJ’s processing my day. Who would have thought that a culture with so much in common with my own would raise so many complex thoughts and feelings?

Time to sleep on it, I think. I’m curious to see how the rest of the trip will feel and differ, and whether my perspectives will change as we travel.

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