a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘Tanzania’

my love affair with airports…

At some point I may actually finish my thoughts on my last trip to London but I have been working every minute to get to this point so no time for fun stuff like writing.  I am sitting in Terminal B of Frankfurt airport as I write this.  It’s almost 11am in Germany, 2am for me and I got more or less zero sleep on the ugly flight over.  No crush on Lufthansa.  Not quite sure why I couldn’t choose my seat ahead or why they changed it to the worst seat on the plane I think, amidst crying babies with not even a seat pocket to call my own.

But now I am here… in one of the many airports I know like a second home.  This one is likely the most special one for me.  A lot of interesting events in my life have transpired as I transited through Frankfurt airport.  I’ve never even been to Frankfurt.  But this airport…  I knew we would be landing in Terminal B and I would have to transfer to A.  I noted the really cool boutique where I once bought a pair of shoes now has an accessories shop as well.  Apparently I am not the only one who shops at the airport 🙂

I think some people find airports stressful… or boring… I do enjoy the final destination more but I am rarely grumpy in an airport.  And love just watching the action while I wait for my flight… airports are never dull.  Why I have a soft spot for the film Love ActuallyFour Weddings and a Funeral in my top ten but it was what Richard Curtis said about airports that really resonated with me… especially about airports and love stories…

I don’t make it a policy to date long distance… it just seems to happen… so I definitely know about airports and love stories… it’s one of those tales that is the reason I am in Frankfurt this time but that story will be told a bit later when its storyline has been satisfied.  Right now I am thinking of other airports and other stories…

The very first airport I ever entered was in Winnipeg.  And I was flying to Ottawa.  On my own.  I was a teenager and it was my first flight ever.  It was exciting and scary all at the same time.  Luckily for me, they were both super easy airports.  No one brandishing a gun at me who didn’t speak English very well.

plane landing serengeti

That was in Kilimanjaro.  Last year.  The point at which I thought airports were a piece of cake and if you dropped me off at one, all I had to do was follow the signs to get from the domestic terminal to the international terminal.

And had I been in Dar-es-Salaam it likely would have worked that way.  But Kili is a small airport, international only because of all the tourists flocking in to climb Kilimanjaro or see the Serengeti.  The tour company had offered to take care of me but I knew that would not be happening for free and I thought it would be dead easy…

Not so much… getting dropped off was easy and it was clear I was in the domestic “terminal”… but there were no signs for the international terminal where I was supposed to be going to catch my flight to Amsterdam.  And I had hours to kill…

I asked at least five different people, following the directions I got without any success… which is how I decided to walk around the building to the other side.  But that’s when the guy pulled the gun on me so I didn’t push it and went back to try for a sixth time.

And finally – success!  I DID need to walk around to the other side of the building – but I had to go THROUGH the building via an unmarked maze rather than follow the perimeter.  There was no lounge or duty free shop and they didn’t open the small, non-air-conditioned holding area until about an hour before the flight.  So I ended up on a cultural adventure.  There  were two open air spots outside to hang out and wait.  I had a packed lunch from my luxury tour company so I ate that and ordered a local beer.

The price came down each time I ordered another as I became a “local” instead of a tourist and I observed people coming and going.  It was fascinating.  It became obvious why I had confused everyone trying to find the international terminal.  Little white girls did not just wander around the airport on their own…  All the white people came and went in packs, wearing their shiny new safari gear, led by their local guide, until he had placed them safely on the plane.  More interesting were the local people who showed up, dressed for a special excursion, sipping Coca Cola out of vintage glass bottles and talking on their mobile phones.

Hanging out at the airport isn’t always such a fascinating cultural experience and many of my best memories are tied together with the early stages of grand passions.

My new NYC investment banker boyfriend driving my car to the airport on his first visit to Vancouver.  We were so wrapped up in our passionate good-bye I forgot he had my car keys!  So, just as he was about to go through security, I yelled, “you have my keys!”  In those moments in life you are oblivious to the greater world but obviously some people had been watching because, as he handed me my keys, the guy at the gate said, “you’re going to have to kiss her again now.”  And we obliged 😉

Equally memorable was my sprint through Frankfurt airport almost ten years ago.  It was the kind of passionate affair you know can only really last in a bubble and isn’t a realistic view of romance unless you think you are a vampire 🙂  But it’s really worth feeling like that at least once or twice in your life.

It was another long distance thing so he could only meet me in Vancouver for a few days after my business trip to Germany so getting on the plane seemed critical.  First he called me long distance from North America to make sure I didn’t miss my wake-up call… when we got to Frankfurt the plane was late and it looked likely I would miss my flight… but if I ran at high speed through the airport I just might make it.  And I did.  And seeing him smiling and sweeping me off my feet at the final destination made the airport marathon totally worth it.

I totally appreciate that I have watched too many films.  I treasure a dramatic arrival or departure.  I spend most of my time in airports alone watching the human condition.  But being one of the stories to watch.  Anyone can have a moment worthy of the cinema.  I think some of it is the magic of climbing into a giant bird and flying vast kilometers in a way that until about 100 years ago seemed as impossible as a man on the moon.

Sure it’s cool to send your mother in North America a text to tell her you have arrived safely in Tanzania.  But it lacks all the drama and romance of your actual arrival and departure from Kilimanjaro International Airport.  Armchair traveling will never compare to hearing the wheels roll up or down and the plane glide into the air or clunk onto the ground.  And then navigating your way through the maze of people and services that will take you from the plane through the airport into the real world.  And, if you’re lucky, someone will be waiting at one end to scoop you up and kiss you just like they do in the movies.  Keep it dramatic – but not gross… and you will be the envy of the other passengers 🙂

money makes the world go round

Money gets a really bad rap.  The root of all evil?  I thought that was overly religious Republicans… or the crazy Muslims who thinks Jihad is a good idea.  There is no shortage of crazy, evil ideas – and people with access to guns or explosives – in the 21st century.  So money – be it in the form of cold, hard paper currency or even colder and harder gold – seems benign by comparison.

And money has done at least as much good for the world as modern medicine or the enlightenment.  So says Niall Ferguson in “The Ascent of Money”.  Nothing makes my heart beat faster than a smart guy who combines great articulation with a reverence for facts.  Both sadly too easily fluffed over in the 21st century where anything over 200 characters is deemed too hard.  What happened to the idea that we have BIG brains, not small ones?

And those who exercise their brains in the same way Olympic athletes with great abs do will appreciate that money is not inherently evil.  It really is the stuff that makes the world go round and is a greater force for potential good than almost anything else.

But it is also the currency of the Antichrist… so you gotta think about how you are accumulating and spending those dollars, whatever their format.

I am a big proponent of the concept of money as a force for good.  And even more important than money is markets.  And jobs.  But none of them exist without money.

Money.  Risk.  Markets.  They drive our daily life.  But most people yawn when they hear any of those words.  People in the developed world yawn.  But people in the developing  world may not be able to articulate the words, especially in English, but they have a much more personal feeling about what they mean.

One of the travel experiences I know I will never forget happened last year in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.  It is one of the most spectacular geological formations on earth and chock-a-block with the closest thing to tame wild animals.  You still shouldn’t pet the lions – but the animals will mostly not run away.

Just being there would have been enough but since I was travelling alone I had spent the previous evening having dinner with our ranger Alex so we were chatting when we stopped for lunch amid all the other tourist vehicles.  He had been reconnecting with friends and it was a familiar scene in an unusual setting.  Because we had become more friends than ranger/tourist by that point, he introduced me to his friends and noted how happy everyone was and how fun it was to catch up… because they had jobs.

There has been lots of talk about unemployment in the developed world over the past few years – and I have been there so I know how it feels.  But unemployment when you have been born into the privileged part of the world and unemployment when you have been born into a part of the world where having a good job is like winning the lottery are totally different things.

When I was in Tanzania, I travelled with &Beyond and I would encourage everyone to do a trip with them.  I have never encountered an organization that gave capitalism such a great name.  They make a profit.  They are well organized.  Their employees love them.  They give back to the community via a foundation that does everything right.


Money is not evil.  Only people are.  So use your money to make the world a better place.  Think when you spend.  Help to create markets that make the world a better place.  Read Niall’s book.  He is a fantastic writer.  The book is subtitled “A Financial History of the World.” 

A bit ambitious?  Without question.  The message that I took away was how important finance has been to human development.  Just ask a gorilla to break a twenty dollar bill 🙂   But what I think we all need to embrace is how we as individuals can create jobs, markets and world prosperity every time we leave the house – or go on-line to buy something.

Money can make the world a better place.  Finance matters.  Money can be evil.  Money can buy guns, slaves and votes.  But money can be used for microfinance loans, for medicine and for education.  In the developed world we are all rich people by world standards – what kind of rich person do you want to be?  Let your spending reflect your conscience.

kiva is a little healthier than heroin :)

One of my best friends introduced me to kiva.org a while ago.  I am one of those people who knows a thing or two about numbers so I have been aware of microfinance for a long time.  I first encountered the developing world in 1991 and saw the dynamics and wondered how I could help.  I really think kiva is definitely one of those solutions.  As part of my 50th birthday party, I decided to set up a planetm team on kiva as I have tons of stuff so don’t need any gifts.  So far we aren’t a very big group but I made some loans to encourage others.  And today seven of my loans had their first repayment so I had credits to use!

The concept of kiva is making loans to people in developing countries – loans, not aid.  You can loan as little as $25 so it’s viable to any person in the developed world.  And anyone who has travelled will recognize that while $25 might get you a glass of champagne in New York, in Tanzania it can really make a difference.

I have found the process to be addictive 😉 It’s a well-designed site run largely by volunteers I gather.  First, you read people’s stories about what they need the money for.  You can select someone based on your personal values or interests.  I have made lots of loans in Tanzania because I travelled there recently and fell in love with the country.  One of my friends with a degree in agriculture made a loan to a pig farmer in Cambodia.  I grew up on a pig farm so that made me smile 🙂

Just $25 will make your day.  You get to join a bunch of other people to fund the loan and once it is fully funded, you will get an email and can go on and see who participated with you to make a difference in the world.  According to the friend who got me started, the default rate is almost nothing so, as I have just discovered, you will have the money you have lent returned really quickly and you can re-lend it and continue to make a difference in people’s lives.  Pretty powerful stuff.  An addiction with no regrets.  And no need for rehab…


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