Ready or Not

I am sitting in the airport lounge at Kupang in West Timor waiting for the plane to Jakarta, we are already two hours late and the plane still hasn’t arrived.

I came to Kupang to conduct interviews for a Access to Markets specialist. This is a new position which will assist poor farmers and fishermen gain higher prices for their products on some of the islands to the east of Java. Two days travel for one day of interviews seems like a big investment but one I am hoping will lead the way in developed market focused approaches in some of our rural communities. One of the applicants for the Market Facilitation role was named ‘Antonious Rape Within’. He didn’t arrive at the scheduled interview time, we phoned him to see if he was lost but it turned out he was 17 hours by ferry away on the island of Flores. I wonder out loud if his name is not a little odd, the staff here have serious looks and don’t think so.

Through the full length glass windows of the single story terminal building, I look out to the runway and across the runway to a wall of palm trees on the other side. The wind is wild, pushing them around, tormenting them, bending them, messing with their fronds. Bad hair day for palms. Then behind the palms, forested mountains somehow unfriendly with the storm approaching.

The clouds are rolling in from the south, bugger. Not the white puffy kind, this is the wet season. These clouds are the dark foreboding kind that bring thunder and lightning, howling winds that throw big things around and sheets of rain. At this time of year it doesn’t rain on you, it explodes a mayhem and you become very small in that storm and not separate from it.

I shouldn’t be here in the terminal now, if the plane had been on time I would have been in the air two hours ago and nearly back to Jakarta, instead of watching the storm build and mulling over a range of unpleasant options. Maybe the plane won’t be able to land, maybe it will land and won’t be able to take off and I will have to spend another night here. Maybe we will take off in the storm and…. another sharp crack of thunder.

I am thinking whatever happens this afternoon, this is my life and this is not a rehearsal, it is the real thing, the main act. My life is not actually separated into the parts I am ready for and the parts I am not. The countless hours I spend travelling, to projects in big white World Vision land cruisers or in taxis stuck still in acres of Jakarta traffic and even waiting in sad airports lounges like this one watching a storm unfold, are all more than just the “bridging” spaces between destinations. These times are also , part of my ‘main event’. This is not about doing office work on planes but about dignifying these slices of time altogether differently, paying more attention to them, folding them into the work of my life rather than thinking of them as inconveniences.

It is 3 pm and the light has gone grey yellow, a man sprints down the main runway, there is only the main runway. He running fast, but there is an exaggerated ‘Mr. Bean’ motion to his running against the wind. He is chasing a red and white golf umbrella that must have been torn from some boarding passengers hands and is now half floating half bouncing down the runway. I am sorry when he catches it. The rain has started , big drops and building, the mountain is gone in a grey mist of this approaching rain.

There is no flight call but the door attendant gave some invisible sign and somehow we all know and surge for the terminal door in a rag tag body, people pushing and maneuvering, I am at least a head taller than everyone, and just allow myself to be pushed with the crowd. Through the door, are a few red and white golf umbrellas on the concrete, I grab one of the last for the 200 metre walk along the runway to the plane. It doesn’t help much , the rain has gone horizontal.

At the top of the portable boarding stairs the flight attendants are using small brooms to sweep the water out of the cabin door as the passengers are trying to board, and the rain is following them into the cabin, and the attendants are all smiles and legs and tight flight attendant skirts and tangled up with wet passengers, wet hand luggage, soggy boarding cards and there is stress and determination and relief all together .

I am in my seat, dripping wet from the thighs down. Good sign, the plane doesn’t have ashtrays, that means it was probably commissioned in the last 15 years.

The full force of storm is on us now, the plane is rocking and there are deep thumps and rumbles as the luggage is loaded below and the thunder rolls above.

We will fly over quite a bit of water on the way back to Jakarta. The attendant goes through the life jacket demonstration, and I pay a more attention today. “Firmly pull down on the straps on each side ….and when leaving the aircraft in Jakarta please do not take the life jackets with you ……., please leave them under the seat in case they are needed by passengers on the next flight…..thank you and enjoy your flight with Sriwijaya Air.”

Indonesia does not have a reputation for the world’s safest airlines. In fact all Indonesian Airlines are banned from landing in Europe and America. A couple of my World Vision colleagues were in a crash here in 2007. They survived with cuts and bruises but the plane burned and they lost their laptops and luggage and now have a lingering fear of flying. Which makes me think again that the travel is more than a bridging event, in terms of our lives, it may in fact be a very main event.

I tell the English mining engineer next to me, that I hear no one has ever survived a large jet aircraft crash at sea, and that instead of life jackets, it may be more useful if there were Bibles and Korans under the seats! He doesn’t laugh. I try to turn on the overhead reading light , but it doesn’t work, and my arm rest is only half attached.

In the seat pocket in front of me I discover the official Sriwijaya “Invocation Card” in English and Bahasa Indonesia. In case you haven’t come across an invocation card before , it provides pre-prepared travelling prayers for Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists, the five faiths legally recognized in Indonesia. I am wondering whether these poorly translated prayers work just as well as grammatically correct ones, and whether making all the prayers to all the faiths might provide a broader protective coverage but on the other hand could work against me; or even that the collective prayers from all the passengers from all the faiths could all cancel each other out! We take off, the air-conditioning is set to “arctic”, I’m clutching the innovation card, fussing with the loose arm rest, and feeling happy we found a good person for the new Markets role, and I thinking that I might even take a little nap.

Jock Noble

Kupang Indonesia April 2009

About jocknoble

I have worked in thirty countries with most time spent in India, Kenya, Indonesia, USA , Australia and Armenia. My current role with World Vision International is as a Livelihoods Advisory based in Manila. Before this I spent 4 years based in Armenia leading an economic development learning hub for 10 countries across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I spent 8 years with World Vision Australia where I founded and lead the Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Unit (SEED), a team of economic development specialists,to establish and support innovative initiatives in poor communities from Africa to the Asia Pacific, Senegal to Timor Leste.. I believe the reason people are poor is that they do not have enough money and our challenge is to help instill hope and a genuine sense of self-belief, starting with those of us who somehow work in development. I was the founder and CEO of Diversity@work Australia Inc, a social enterprise developing innovative models, strategies and educational programs to strengthen companies through diversity and inclusion. I hold a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and a Masters of Strategic Foresight from Swinburne University in Melbourne, post-graduate studies in Not for Profit Management at Georgetown University and Negotiation and Conflict Management at Latrobe University Melbourne. I was the Carey Medal winner for 2007 for exceptional and outstanding service to the community. So it goes Published Books: 'Postcards - What am I doing here' (2016) which is a collection of my blogs along with selected photographs, and Stores from the Road - Ten stories for workers in international development (2016)
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