Monday, May 27, 2013

May 27th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Continuing from last week: With passports, visas and tickets in hand, you would think that travelling with young rural folks would be easy… well…

Even at the airport, and ready to travel, the airline can still refuse travel if they don’t like your paperwork – so make sure it is right before you go to check in. Assuming your baggage is reasonable in size and mass, you will soon be issued your boarding passes and on your way to the start of a string of new experiences…

The escalator ride to the first floor may well be the first escalator that our traveller will encounter, and it needs a safety briefing! Immigration will look at paperwork, for the first time traveller this is getting old – how many times in twenty minutes will somebody check their papers! The security screening and pat-down can cause quite a stir, even if you have warned before-hand. Such activities are not normal in the rural parts. A request to remove shoes, run hands over your body and look inside personal belongings is a NEW experience to the first time traveller, and one that can feel very invasive, especially to a young woman who has never experienced this before.

After a seemingly endless wait, one is invited to board the aircraft, but first there is the bus ride. The final cramming of the bus ride to the plane, the fight for seats and a place to lodge the luggage aboard feels totally normal – that makes everybody feel at home! It is just like a tro-tro!

Imagine you have never been on an airliner. Accompaniers will have to explain the inflight entertainment. A personal TV and personal food table, not sharing space with others is very new… Then, there is the looking out of the window - there is so much to see – for the first ten minutes. Airliners fly above the clouds – and for extended, boring, periods.

The time taken to reach the destination is long and it requires a great deal of attention to the enquiring minds of first time travellers. With luck they will sleep – but then there is the food and drink. The food is presented in a new way. It offers international flavours and ‘lacks spice’. The in-flight catering is not aimed at young people from rural places.

As we drop through the clouds to land there is a renewed excitement – things to see – and that renews the vigour of the day. Touchdown, and the disembarkation is smooth. Travellers are tired, and HUNGRY. The luggage has to be delivered on a conveyer belt – and it appears as if the luggage is never going to show. Impatience and complaints about the bitter cold, even inside the terminal building and wearing the ‘free’ blankets from the aircraft, pulls the spirits down. Finally, baggage arrives and spirits are lifted, until outside. HOW COLD it is… and the shivers start (it is 15C).

Our first time travellers will have to wear layers of clothes to sleep in. They will discover the duvet cover and look for all the world like fat caterpillars waiting to transform into chrysalises. Little forlorn faces pleading for more heat in the world, and resisting leaving the bed, disembodied by the masses of clothes and covers used to preserve precious heat.

Bathing is also a challenge. In Ghana we are used to just one tap – a cold tap – but not cold like in Europe! Ghana’s water runs from the tap a pleasant luke-warm, a refreshing temperature!

The two taps of Europe must be managed together to avoid cryogenic storage or lobster boiling moments. Be ready for the travellers legs. ‘Our legs look like old lady’s legs’ will be the comment. The lack of warmth and low humidity leave’s the skin looking wrinkled and dry. Thermal leggings are a good solution.

Despite the shivers, the happy moments will exceed the challenges. Seeing new things, discovering new ideas, witnessing smooth roads and well maintained cars. Then there are the little things: the cows are bigger and fatter; the corn is all the same height; there is order; there is rarely rubbish on the streets; the sheep have their coats shaved off to make warm clothes for humans; the sky is a different colour; the clouds different; people dress using less colourful cloth; that is a train; that is an old person with an electric buggy going shopping - the list is interminable, and the enquiring minds must be satisfied. You must remember that almost everything is new. The information flow is constant…

All of this experiential knowledge is being poured onto the young person’s brain, via eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue – and some of it seeps in. The information overload is so great, yet the information continues to pour over them. In all of this they cannot change a thing.

There is the comfort of ‘food’. Food that reminds us of home, can trigger a comfort reflex in our whole body. When we cannot find something to satisfy our ‘conditioned since birth to a particular type of food’ tummies, we become grouchy. Very grouchy. No matter how magnificent the food on offer is, when we overload our ‘sensory systems’, we need to latch onto something that is solid.

Food is important for young travellers. Everything is out of their control. The temperature, where they go, how they go there, what they see, even their clothes are not their regular ones. Food is a place of solace.

In European restaurants the food is generally designed to please the tongue more than fill the tummy. Flavours are more important than quantities. Freshness more important than stodginess. For young travellers I find that the company canteen is always a winner, ‘working man’s food’. A big chunk of fish with a thick sauce and a bundle of rice, accompanied by a spicy soup that hits the ‘bingo’ mark of food memories. Number two is the ‘pub grub’, again the large plate of meaty chunks with lots of sauce! Number three is the Turkish Donna Kebab joint – meat with spicy sauce!

Bottom of the ‘yummy’ list for those I have travelled with is ‘the posh restaurants’, regardless of the asparagus’ tender attempts at savoury seduction, it is too far from home. The small portions, and the meat that still has a little pink in the middle, is outside of the ‘acceptable’ zone for somebody on their first trip. A sharp tasting vegetable such as rocket can trigger a loud ‘yuuuuuuk that tastes like neem tree’ response.

The most common complaints we have encountered are FOOD, COLD and TIREDNESS (mainly from learning so much in such a short time).

Being aware of these things can help to smooth such a trip. Despite all the challenges, it really is worth it. Knowing that they will now have the ability to speak with confidence and conviction about ‘how it is outside’. They are empowered – and that was always the aim of travel exposure. If you get the chance to accompany young people on a first trip abroad, embrace the moments – and enjoy being a part of the change in thinking that such a trip will make.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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