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From the Ashes

August 2018.

I’m getting ready to leave for Costa Rica. A couple of months earlier while I was still in London, I spoke with Usha of Womben Wellness about photographing the Wild Womban Intensive she holds deep in the Caribbean Jungle, and the time has come now to fly over there. I can hardly wait; I couldn’t think of a more perfect job if I tried.

While we were living by the beach, we had wandered into a tiny shop near our home, filled to the brim with cute objects and jewellery, and Raul had fallen in love with a pair of earrings in the shape of the sun. I had gone out for a walk on my own the day after and snuck back to the shop to get them for him.

I place them on his desk now, for him to find when he gets back home from dropping me at the airport. So he knows that though I might be travelling far away from him, I’m always thinking of him.

I feel a bit uneasy as we make our way to the airport; like there’s something just a little bit off that I can’t put my finger on. Like the fact that I’m living with my soulmate and am on my way to being flown to my dream job in the jungle is all just a bit too good to be true. But I shrug it off, putting it down to the nerves I always feel before undertaking something new, and the fact that my bleed is due any day now.

It’s so hard to say goodbye to Raul, so odd to think I won’t see him for so many days. We’ve only been together for a couple of months but it’s already so hard to imagine life without him. It feels like we’re one; in sync on every level. But I’m so excited and so honoured to be a part of this Intensive and meet Usha and the other women taking part.

I pass through security and sit by the gate, waiting for my flight to São Paulo; the first of 3. After a while, the electronic board lets us know the flight has been delayed. People start to get annoyed, and complain loudly about the airline. A member of staff comes to tell us that the flight has been delayed because of the rain. People calm down a bit. Time passes. Other flights come and go.

But after about an hour, the flight is cancelled. We’re told it’s due to a malfunction in the airplane. People start getting angry, outraged at the cancellation and the misinformation. I can’t believe this is happening – is this what that feeling in my stomach was before? Not nerves but intuition?

But there’s still hope. We’re all told to queue up outside to be reassigned a flight. When it finally gets to my turn, the man at the desk tells me to come back at 9pm for the next flight. I tell him I can’t, I have international connections, I have two more flights after this one to get. I show him the printout of my trips, every flight, every detail. He tells me there’s nothing he can do and insists the only way is to come back at 9pm. There’s nothing else I can do.

I don’t have a phone, and the free Wifi at the airport only lasts an hour. I have just enough time left to email Raul and let him know my flight has been cancelled. It’s still early in the day, so I decide to head back home and see if I can call the airlines. It takes me 3 buses to get there.

Raul is relieved to see me, having seen my email and not known what to do since he couldn’t get in touch with me. We call the airlines, but no one seems able to help us, and it gets later and later, and my hope starts to dwindle. Nobody can tell me if my other flights will be rescheduled because of the first cancellation, and they all keep telling me I have to go to São Paulo to find out. I finally break down, sobbing into my hands as Raul holds me.

Was it intuition that I had felt earlier or did I somehow manifest this? Will I still be able to make it to Costa Rica in time? I can’t bear the thought of not making it to the Intensive. Of letting Usha down and not being present at this gathering I’d dreamt about for so long.

I’m grateful for Raul’s calm, soothing presence. He tells me everything will work out, and he’ll come with me all the way to the airport again.

I land in São Paulo at midnight. Along with everyone else who got rescheduled onto the 9pm flight, I’m led to a tiny office room in the empty airport. We queue up in the dark, tiny corridor. What feels like centuries crawls by. A couple who were behind me in the queue at the airport are there too. They tell me that after I left, a colleague of the man who spoke to me and told me to come back at 9pm told him that he shouldn’t have said that; that it was the wrong protocol.

Disappointment and grief floods me. I want to cry, there and then. I had pushed for what I knew was right, but it still hadn’t gotten me anywhere. Because of someone not following the correct protocol, I’m potentially about to lose out on the best career opportunity that has ever manifested itself to me.

It finally gets to my turn. I explain the whole situation, over and over again. No one really seems to know what to do. I was told I had to come to São Paulo to see if I would still be able to be put on the connecting flights. But now I’m here, they tell me I have to come back in the morning to find out. They give me a food and a taxi voucher, and put me up in a hotel. It’s gone 3am by the time I get there.

On top of all the emotional and physical stress, my period has come. I take a hot shower, and when I step out and see my body in the steamy mirror, I’m surprised at how womanly it is, how womanly I feel. Despite my exhaustion, I take some self-portraits to capture this moment, this feeling.

I try to charge Raul’s mobile phone, which he’s lent to me so I can be in touch if I need to. But the sockets here are different, and his phone won’t connect to the wifi. I go down to the front desk and ask if they have an adaptor, but they don’t. They tell me that maybe the hotel shop will have one in the morning. There’s nothing else I can do, which seems to be the recurring theme of this ordeal. I go back up to my room, curl into the single bed, utterly depleted, and finally fall asleep.

I wake early the next morning to get this situation sorted as soon as possible. I’m waiting for the transfer to the airport when suddenly I’m overcome with a feeling a of gratitude. Gratitude for this ordeal, for the lessons I’m learning and the strength I’m discovering within. This is the worst possible situation I could dream of; I’m bleeding and sensitive, having to be firm and pushy with everyone, potentially facing a big loss, and still, despite everything, holding out hope. But I know I’ll make it through. Whatever happens, I’ll have learnt and grown from the experience.

After hours back and forth from counter to counter, talking to people and managers, being redirected every which way, it becomes clear that there is no way I can make it to Costa Rica. The earliest I would be able to arrive is 3 days into the intensive, which is not an option.

After all of that, I have to head back home. And to add insult to injury, I have to pay for a same day flight. I can’t believe what a waste of time and money this has been. I can’t see the reason for all of this happening, I don’t know what the lesson here is.

In the queue for the flight back home I sit on the floor, typing out every last detail of this saga for my refund claim. The sooner I can be done with all of this, the better. I send Usha an email to let her know what’s happened, the hardest email I’ve ever had to write.

I am tired, I am heartbroken. This incredible opportunity escaped from my grasp, crumbled to dust before me. But from those ashes a new woman will rise – and she is fiercer and stronger than ever before.

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