I seldom publish book reviews here, but I’m making an exception for this book by Judy Norbury about her adventures travelling in Pakistan and India in the Fall of 2007 and the Winter of 2008.
I’ve known Judy Norbury for decades. Our daughters are long-time friends, and in their youth were roommates in the Commercial Drive area of East Vancouver. Judy is a neighbour and has been since 2002 when we moved to Cumberland, BC on the eastern slopes of the Beaufort Range in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. I also know Judy as a performer. She has a wonderfully powerful voice, played guitar and sang for some time with Joanna Finch, another Cumberland resident and singer (they still perform together on occasion). I always knew Judy as a talented, warm, generous human being. However, before reading Sometimes I Kiss My Feet I had not known Judy as an author. I was surprised to learn that Judy had published two other works in 2008 or thereabouts, both available on Amazon. Reading Sometimes I Kiss My Feet confirmed for me, once again, Judy’s wonderful creative abilities.
Norbury was born in the foothills of the Himalayas at a place called Mussoorie in Uttar Pradesh. At four years old she contracted a severe case of polio after which she was left unable to walk. Following her recovery, she and her family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, travelling via Britain and France. There she went to school and grew up as any other kid would. Still, she had wanderlust and travelled often with her family and later with friends. She did not allow the fact that she was wheelchair bound to dampen her enthusiasm for travel, even for camping. In fact she writes: “…my disability has taken me to places I could never have gone were I able-bodied.” This can-do attitude is what allowed Norbury to plan travel in North America and eventually to Pakistan and India.
In 1996 Norbury, accompanied by her partner, Ross, and her twelve-year-old daughter Belinda, returned to India for three months. That experience, after she got over memories of how difficult and distressing it can be to travel in India where life is so completely different from what it is in North America, where disabled people are considered the lowest of the low, and where sanitation and rodent control are not high on government priority lists, she recalled the joy and friendliness she also encountered in India even among the poorest and disadvantaged inhabitants. Travel can be crowded and unpredictable. Indians are not always the most law-abiding travellers. Still, she longed to return to the unpredictability and the adventure of travel in India.
In 2004 Norbury and Finch were asked to perform at the Disabled Peoples’ International World Summit in Winnipeg. There she was with two thousand disabled delegate from all over the world. There she met Ghulam Nabi Nizamani who would figure prominently in her return to India, this time via Pakistan, Nizamani’s home, in the winter of 2007. Nizamani is the vice-chair of the Disabled Peoples’ International, Asia-Pacific Region and he had plans for Norbury when she arrived in Karachi, Pakistan at the mouth of the Indus River Valley, especially when, by chance, Norbury and her husband, Ross, would be in Pakistan on December 3rd, the UN-designated International Day of Persons with Disabilities. She (and Ross) would be expected to give speeches and attend functions as head table guests. Norbury is the consummate storyteller as she describes being driven to venue after venue, she and Ross making speeches, meeting dignitaries and disabled people in Karachi and in Nizamani’s hometown some rough kilometres away. After a month in Pakistan, Judy and Ross packed up and headed to India and Mirzapur, a city with which she and her family had close ties.
I will not retrace Norbury’s adventures here one by one. Instead, I encourage you to buy Sometimes I Kiss My Feet and discover for yourself how Norbury masterfully weaves stories of filthy, often wheelchair inaccessible toilets, barriers to wheelchair access at every turn, rude, uncompromising able-bodied travellers and crowds everywhere. Mixed in with the nasty, frustrating aspects of touring northern India, Norbury never wants the reader to forget the generosity and kindness she and Ross experienced everywhere they went. She gets in the odd dig at the Indian government’s failure to accommodate the disabled. This book is more than a retelling of the frustrations of travel in a wheelchair unfriendly country. It’s also a love story and an understated political statement about social justice and the value of human life. Buy the book. I couldn’t put it down, I expect you won’t be able to either.