You can’t make this stuff up: Nairobi Airport, post-fire

As luck would have it, the day of the international news headline Nairobi airport fire… was the day my family and I were supposed to fly out of Kenya.

My family’s route deserves a post of its own. They eventually made it out a few days later. I ended up having to wait until the following Tuesday, 6 days after my planned departure, to fly out.

My friends and my colleagues like to use this statement: “You can’t make this stuff up.” Often in reference to an experience or a story so bizarre it can only be true. My experience out of Nairobi airport, the reopened version fit right in that category.

I gave myself three hours before departure for commute, airport back up, and check in process.. It was sufficient.

First was the sheer traffic getting into the approach to the “terminal”.. it’s jammed and there is barely any length for cars to pull over and drop passengers off. Cars are not permitted to loiter, but given the little room to work with and the likelihood that foreign tourists will travel heavy, delays were inevitable. The cars crept once approaching the airport.. some passengers just unloaded early and dragged their suitcases by foot, weaving between the vehicles.

The drop off / pick up point looked like this from the car:

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We had to push/pull our bags through what would normally be the driving in area of the international terminal. It was quite a scenic route. First, the Kenyan Airways checking tent and waiting area, for the domestic flights:

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And, of course, I wasn’t going to not at least attempt to get a snap of the infamous building, even with the fire out. Apologies for the blurry nature of the photos.. my p&s was dying with the focus not working as well as it once did, even in low lit situations.. this set of photos would be its last job.

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We actually checked into our flights at the actual international departures building. We just couldn’t get to the upper level where the “secure” area would have been. We went to our airline counters, checked in as normal, then queue up for the longest line to immigration.

A few passengers tried to cut the line, especially when an airline representative came around calling for Swiss passengers and that the flight was boarding. Surprisingly, the immigration officers snapped at the passengers who abruptly rushed up, stating firmly that there was a line and they were to respect it. Honestly, it was unexpected in a culture where rushing up en mass was not unheard of. Fortunately for those harried passengers, the rest of us in line told the immigration officer we were fine with letting them go ahead of us to catch their flight.

After passing immigration, we had to backtrack into the check-in hall, walk to the end of the building, and run our bags through x-rays before walking through a rather obscure door… that was where it got fun…

Because the door was normally used by the baggage handlers:

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Our “lounge”, and, yes, there was even a sign indicating that, was a large banquet tent pitched in what is normally Gate 9 for the plane to park.

Someone with a megaphone would yell boarding announcements.. most of which was garbled because in addition to a thick accent, he was placing the mouthpiece too close to his mouth. So of course no one understood him. A friend commented “Maybe that’s the point?” Passengers for announced flights would step forward from the tent. Depending on where the plane is, passengers would either walk or be bused over once their boarding pass is checked.

British Airways was the only airline that had its special set up to include an x-ray, after passengers queued up and got their tickets scanned at a kiosk. I can’t blame them. I found the x-ray “after” immigration to be lax. Heathrow and BA had every right to insist on a check. They not only x-rayed all bags, but also selected every second or third person for a manual bag check, which was quite thorough.

I was impressed. Vastly amused initially, but ultimately impressed. Passengers didn’t throw temper tantrums or demanded answers with hostility. There was a lot of confusion given the lack of signs and the gibberish announcements but people were surprisingly patient with the situations.

Likewise, the ground staff were amazingly organized. All wearing reflective jackets, if they didn’t know answers, they directed us to someone who would. They approached every passenger emerging from the secret wardrobe door to ask which flight, which airline and directed the individual where to walk. Not that much of it made any sense, but they didn’t wait to be approached, but were proactive in approaching us.

Our flight departed 10 minutes late.

Dulles and Heathrow do worse in a fully functioning airport with a clear weather day.

Year in Review: 2012

I put one of these slide shows each New Year’s (see 2011, 2010).. but with this week’s Photo Challenge topic, I’ve decided to publish this year’s a few days early.

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As you can see, I had a fantastic year. Hope you all did to, and that 2013 would be a continuation of a wonderful adventure.

Remembrance Day at American Cemetery on Normandy Beach

I suppose if I were ever to make one, this is as close to a pilgrimage I’ve ever made, to the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. Living in DC, I had the Arlington Cemetery literally at my doorstep. But, Normandy? It’s not an easy trip from most Americans to make, let alone time with a milestone date like Remembrance Day (Veteran’s for us).

The day before was a slew of miserable cold rain. But if living in the UK has taught me anything, it is that this morning will be started with a thick mist. How splendid a photo that would make! So I’ll make an early morning of it. Except I found myself facing a closed gate with a sign that read “0900 – 1700”. Blimey. At quarter to, they let us in. Guess that security camera is there for something.

There was a small ceremony held early in the day. Very small. Four men bore flags, and a gaggle of local dignitaries came in to present bouquets to the memorial. Inspection later showed each bouquet represented a local village as their thanks for the American soldiers.

I am overwhelmed by the sheer mass of graves. Cross after cross. Names etched but barely visible unless given closer inspection.  A few stars of David scattered for those acknowledged to be Jewish. Plots went up through J. I walked though, venturing onto the lawns by the tombstones. Most people stayed on the main pathways. To me, many of these graves barely see visitors as it is harder for their loved ones to visit. Walking between the graves, reading the names aloud as I go, that was my respect, my honoring all the men who never made it home.

The cemetery had a paved walkway to the beach, the very stretch these men lost their lives for. It actually took me a while to realize it, as I had been so focused on the graves and crosses, that the cemetery overlooked the channel. The clear day we ended up having, the water was so blue I almost didn’t see the dividing line of the horizon between the water and the sky. What a far cry from that fateful day it is today. The stroll we took to get to the beach must have been seeped with blood and fragments. The miserable stormy weather that caused General Eisenhower to agonize over whether to cancel invasion. According to witness accounts, bodies washed ashore for weeks.

The survivors, those who still live today, we see as grandfathers. They were so young then. They were- are- someone’s son, brother, and father. We honour them as heroes today. They were. The acts of courage and resolve it took to storm this beach in the face of such odds and with comrades being cut down left and right, many of us will not understand because we never had to be tested like this. Yet, how scared they must have been.

I have an extremely vivid imagination. I don’t need graphic movies like Saving Private Ryan to help me visualise how things may have gone down in history. I’m not a history or military strategy buff; I don’t read much about World War II and know little beyond what I was taught in high school American history class. Yet, I walked away shaking and sombre. It’s a wonder how the whole generation of men from the war returned home and were able to resume some semblance of a normal life. I have no doubt we lost unknown numbers to post-traumatic stress, an undiagnosed and unrecognized condition.

Hindsight allows us to label this the “good war,” with victory on our side and a just cause of ending the Holocaust. The reality is most people didn’t believe or were in denial of rumors of the Holocaust happening. I cannot imagine how any war happening would be considered by contemporaries as “good,” regardless of which “side” you are on. Walking around the cemetery like this, how can anyone not realize how much warfare costs us.

I am not a pacifist in the sense that I would think war is never right. But the empathy I have for our military family runs deeper than ever. Lest we ever forget what the men and women serving are sacrificing. Lest we ever  underestimate how much their families go through.

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Yangon: Schwedagon Pagoda

Yangon’s highlight is Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist site- Schwedagon Pagoda. According to local folklore, it is over 2500 years old. Not a tile looked that old, though. The temple has been maintained, built up and along, all these years. The main pagoda is enormous, rising  and reflecting above the nearby buildings. The n itself has expanded to include many smaller pagodas and shrines.

I went after dark, hoping to capitalize in night lighting while avoiding the heat at the same time. I was richly rewarded. The temple ground were still bustling with activity.

I assumed the place would be strung up with tacky Christmas lighting or stadium lights. Not the least. Street-lamp style posts were strategically placed and the reflection of the gold did the rest of the work.

I cannot imagine how jam packed it is in the morning hours if this was considered light traffic. Monks lounged around, socializing with one another and laypeople. Locals gathered in their prayer groups. Elders gossiped, probably having started since dawn. Pilgrims strolled their rounds, half praying half take photos with their cellphones.

For the first time since arriving to Yangon, I finally felt like there’s a place for peace and sanctuary. Despite, or because of, all the people milling around, there still was a subdued tone. It wasn’t quiet, not the least. But the hum of activity was unrushed, unhurried. Despite appearances of the people acting more social than devout, the reverence was in the air.

 

An unexpected self-portrait

Regardless of whether you call yourself a photographer or not (I don’t), the usability of digital technology has made photography far more accessible to the common hoards than before. Looking at many tourist locales, the sight of masses of people trying to up one another on getting that awesome shot sometimes becomes the attraction in itself.

I recently hosted two friends who are just as photo-crazy. I found myself bemused in watching them, especially when their obsession is on taking photos of food. I would wait a good while after our meal is served for the ladies to finish their photographic frenzy.

It took only one meal to spot the opportunity. I turned them into my subjects. Enjoy the photo journal!

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Thank you many times over to ellenita and Tingers for being such good sports with great senses of humour and for letting me post this up on my blog.

After watching them over several days it occurred to me… I probably look like that, too! They just were so amusing to watch especially since both of them do the same things, magnifying the effect.

My 2010 Year in Review

In summary: 

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Many of you may recognize this. It is a public version of the slideshow I post on Facebook at the end of every year. I hope you readers enjoy this as much as my family and friends do. I may continue this as an annual post.

Happy New Year. I hope your 2010 has been as wonderful as mine.