Saturday, March 29, 2008

T5 and me...

I hadn't intended to have anything with the opening of Terminal 5 but I have always had a secret dream (you're going to be deeply disappointed by my mundane dream life). The dream goes a little something like this: I am the sort of person that possesses skills that are so inherently valuable, marketable and desirable that NGOs call me up and say, 'Get on the next plane to [insert foreign capitol here]. We're arranging everything but you must go now! It's extremely urgent.' Of course it's a fantasy as most organizations plan their staffing well in advance and avoid the cost of next-day plane flights. And, of course, I do not possess a skill set such that organizations fly me out the next day. However, sometimes...sometimes (!!) an emergency does arise and it is in the small hope that they will turn to me that I have continued to foster the dream.

Well, much to my delight an organization did need me urgently last week and needed to me to come and interview for a job. 'Fly to Geneva,' they said. 'Now.' They said. 'I have meetings in London,' I said. 'Just come for a day,' they said. 'We'll arrange everything,' they said. Two hours later my flights, train and taxis were ready to go, all pleasantly arranged by a woman with a lilting French-Swiss accent I could listen to all day. I was to fly the following day. Al Gore would be ashamed of my carbon footprint that by now is knee-deep but sometimes you just have to live the dream - even if it means future generations of school children having to ask...'what was the 'Arctic' again?'.

The next morning I turned up at Terminal 5 just as it was opening. This might not excite you because, well, you are a normal human being with a normal life and interests but it did excite me. You see, T5 (as we 'insiders' call it) is the new terminal at Heathrow - an airport I would despise landing in if it meant that you were arriving in any place besides London. But, T5 was supposed to be the answer to all Heathrow's problems - the over-crowding, the ugliness, the long waits - but it then failed to deliver on any of these in a beautifully understated, passive-aggressive way that was nothing less than quintessentially British.

At 8:00 in the morning the cameras at passport control weren't working well, the scanning system at security is so high-tech, badly designed, and persnickety that it refuses to operate in, well, standard operating conditions. It is as if no one expected that there would be, 1) planes, 2) passengers, or 3) luggage to ever use the terminal. My initial flight was delayed 1 hour 40 minutes because they couldn't get the luggage to the plane.

But, Starbucks was giving out free mugs so it's not like it was a total loss.

After several hours of meetings in Switzerland I returned to the airport. There were lines of people at the British Airways counter. They were yelling at the staff. The staff were yelling back. The friend with me said that she'd never seen anything like it...except in movies, and then it was Americans. It was unbelievable. We learned that there were 10,000 people stuck in Heathrow because the new terminal had gone into meltdown. 12,000 bags had piled up before anyone grasped the extent of what was going wrong. Bags couldn't reach the planes so planes couldn't leave meaning they couldn't get to their destinations in order to return. I would have to stay in Geneva overnight. Worse things have happened and, luckily, I had no meetings early the next morning but there were stories of people missing weddings, and elderly people with nowhere to go sleeping on the floor. The place did look like a homeless shelter when I returned.

And returning was not entirely uncomplicated either. We managed to arrive on time but sat for 40 minutes on the runway because they couldn't find a gate. We spent another 40 minutes waiting for them to figure out how to get the jetway attached to the airplane so we could disembark. So, my advice is avoid Terminal 5 at all costs. Heck, avoid British Airways. They're not all that great either. The following day I had to fly from Terminal 4 to the States and that had become chaos because they have switched flights back from T5 and rebooked people.


I would like to say that all of this hasn't left me so inwardly bemused and happy but it has. I did get to live a secret dream and schadenfruede runs deep. America might have Iraq but Britain has T5. And it looks like it might take both of us just as long to extract ourselves from each situation as it does the other.

Monday, March 17, 2008

On any given day you'll find me gone...

Well, tomorrow we're going to call it a rap on the past six months in Indonesia. Headed for London and then the States wherein I will - most likely - sink into the blogging doldrums. When I have a new job somewhere I'll be back. Here's some random pics from the last months (if you look at one a week you might not notice that I've stopped blogging):

Meulaboh Grand Mosque:
Playing Frisbee: Closedown Coordinator Extraordinaire: Kids with their Disaster Risk Reduction Placards:
Party at Marcela's:
Our Easter Egg Houses: Our organic chili project:
What 'alleviating poverty and suffering' looks like: Fishing boat on the beach:
Caden Jack! How did you get in here? (see...told you I might become one of 'those' people!)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Oh hell no!

Rumours of the demise of gingas has been greatly exagerrated...

This means you can stop forwarding the articles to me. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Life lessons...

So I was walking along today and out of the corner of my eye thought I saw a snake. 'Hmmm...' I thought, 'this is a good life lesson. If you see something that looks like a snake it probably is.'

I'm making this life lesson number #1. For posterity, I will now record other life lessons learned in the field - in no particular order:

#2: Do not stand on well covers.
#3: Everything is better with bacon.
#4: You are not as good a driver as you think you are. No one is.
#5: You are not as good a swimmer as you think you are. No one is.
#6: Never say, 'it can't get any worse' because it always can.
#7: The best time to use the toilets on a plane are immediately upon boarding - or within the first hour.
#8: Everyone can survive without washing for at least 4 days before becoming offensive to yourself and others.
#9: Television is overrated.
#10: Headlamps (torches) are not.
#11: Almost no one ever knows what they're talking about.
#12: When something says it's 'waterproof' it probably isn't.
#13: You can live without pretty much everything. But take your own pillow and coffee press anyway.
#14: Anything that is a local 'specialty' should be avoided.
#15: Rats are everywhere. Learn to get along.
#16: Malaria sucks. But then again so does, dengue, cholera, TB...
#17: Always pretend you know what you are doing but not, necessarily, where you are going.
#18: 4WD ROCKS!
#19: Blue tack and/or duct tape holds the universe together.
#20: People are crazy.