Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reversing My Reservations About Reserve

Every 7 months, every cabin crew is given a month off. Sort of. What I mean is, they aren't given a roster. Instead, they're expected to call The Powers That Be every night at 6pm to be told if / what / when they are working the following day. The results can be as follows (in order of preference):

1. Rostered for a flight. Hooray! Check the weather, pack your bags, organise sleep times and things to do on the layover. Earn money. Ticks all the boxes.

2. Day off. Yay! Roster stalk friends, find out who's in town, make lunch / dinner / drinking / tanning / shopping plans. Relax.

3. Home standby. Throw a variety of things into a suitcase - one side for warm weather, the other side for cold, because realistically you could end up anywhere. The important thing here is to keep them separate though, so you can pull out the things you don't need at the last minute and throw in more junk that you may (but still probably wont) need instead. Prepare DVD collection. Get settled because you are unable to leave your house during this 6 hour time slot. Listen carefully for the phone - if you miss a call you will be marked as absent. It's also handy to avoid curry or too much fibre beforehand (you don't want to listen helplessly to the phone ringing out from an awkward position in the bathroom).

4. Airport standby. Pack suitcase for anywhere, for any kind of weather and for anywhere between a day and a week. Don't forget anything important - this is the most important thing not to forget. Glam up in uniform, proper hair and make-up, and drag your behind to the airport to sit in a small room with 15-20 other people for 4 hours, just in case someone else calls sick or doesn't show. Bring food - you'll get hungry, but you can't leave.

As you might guess, without a roster, the whole month is a lottery. You might do a hundred flying hours. Or you might do zero. So far, it's the 20th of the month and I've done one flight, which I'm going to be really upset about when it comes to next month's payday. My last reserve (in February) wasn't much different - and I hated it. I've been dreading this month since then.

But I've been determined to be positive this time. Make the most of it; see what I can get out of a quiet month. After all, there are so many people that complain that they don't have enough time off, or time for themselves in between sleeping, flying, and sleeping. I'm going to use this month to do those things that I miss out on other times.

I had the time to go to the US Consulate in Dubai and organise an operating visa for US flights, something I've wanted to do for ages. It's difficult to organise because you need a couple of days off to do it, as they hold your passport while they finalise the visa. Reserve for me means plenty of days off. Now I have a pretty blue and red visa in my passport that is going to allow me to get back to New York - and get paid for it.

I had a friend from home come visit on her way back from Europe. I had the opportunity to hang out with her for a couple of days, bum around on the couch (hey, she's been backpacking for 5 months - a couch is a simple luxury and yeah, ok, I'm just lazy and happy to bum on the couch), take her out for dinner. We even had a nice extended (7 hour) lunch the day before she left. Unfortunately I got called out from a home standby for my flight on her last day here (after the big lunch - ouch), but we had a couple of great days which made me really happy to have been here while she was - something that may have been more difficult to organise if I had been flying.

I've seen more of my friends in Dubai than I have for months. It's generally difficult to catch up when everybody is flying at different times, but this month I've been here on everybody's off days. After my New York adventures, my purse strings are a little tighter than normal, so it hasn't been a crazy party month (with the exception of a 7 hour lunch which was a little out of spending control), but boy am I working up one heck of a tan. Pool dates, beach dates, I'm happy as a pig in, errr, 'mud' with any. Summer is definitely over in Dubai, thank god, and the weather is still hot and sweaty but not so unbearable as it was 3 weeks ago. So tanning is right back up on that priority list. The things I love most about tanning are a) it's free, and b) it requires no effort for you to see results (unlike the gym - blurrgh).

I'm learning a language. Ok so I actually haven't gotten around to this part yet, because I tend to sleep through most of my home standbys (right next to the phone, of course), and this was when I was planning to do my lessons. But I bought one of those CD's that teaches you a language and I plan to get onto that in the next couple of days. Spanish, for those who might be interested. Because I'm going to Spain in 2 weeks and I don't know a single word. Neither does the Boofhead that I'm going with.

I've even managed to improve my domesticity skills - I have used my kitchen TWICE this month (which is I think twice more than I've ever used it before) and cooked meals for myself that have actually been edible. And, thankfully, salmonella-free. My apartment is cleaner than normal, and my laundry basket is empty. The extra days off from flying are allowing me to build some semblance of 'normalcy' in my life.

So I still don't love reserve. I don't think anybody ever will, just for the fact that it's so uncertain and it's literally impossible to make plans more than a few hours in advance. I don't love it because it's quiet for my entire fleet, and I rarely get called out for flights, which means less money on pay day next month. But I'm trying to focus on those few positives that I'm finding, like being able to hang out with my friends and work on this tan so I'm not the most pale person in Spain 2 weeks from now. I think I'm going to try and refer to it as The Month of Spontaneity, instead of Reserve Month. It's so much more positive, and a lot more fun. Three cheers for spontaneous living!

... Now give me a flight.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, Two-Thousand-Whenever

No matter how many times I have watched those planes burst into flames and those towers crumble like a stack of Jenga blocks, it never gets easier. It's not like a horror movie where you watch it over and over again and the scary gross bits are eventually not that bad anymore; these images are burnt onto my brain and only get harder to see.

I can't believe it's been 10 years today. We've been watching these pictures, dealing with this catastrophe, and mourning those that were lost for so long now.

I've been to Ground Zero only twice - once in 2008, the other last week. The difference between the gaping concrete hole that existed 3 years ago and the new emerging skyscraper is huge, and so was the memory. In 2008, there was no commercial 'memorial' and gift shop. There were items in the church across the street, where volunteers slept, ate, and were treated for injuries, which had been set up as a memorial to those who sacrificed what they could to help victims. It was a lot more real, and a lot more touching, than the store that they've established now. Don't get me wrong, it's still a horribly emotional experience, visiting the timeline, the photos, letters, and 'missing' posters that have been put on display in the new one. But when you reach the gift shop, you realise that after so long, it's not really about grieving anymore. It's about memory, yes, but it's also a commercial opportunity to keep people interested in, and emotionally affected by, these events.

Because how else can the war in Afghanistan, still going on, be justified? It began as a direct retaliation for the Taliban government harbouring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. It has since cost the United States alone (never mind the other countries involved) a trillion dollars and the lives of more than 2,700 Coalition soldiers. A trillion dollars - I only ever thought that amount of money existed in the same places as amounts like "a gazillion" or "bajillions". And throughout the Global Financial Crisis, the slow recovery of the US economy, and it's now-rapidly-expanding debt, over one hundred billion dollars a year has a lot more useful ways it can be spent - and I'm no economic genius. The Taliban government were deposed. Osama bin Laden is (supposedly) dead, along with many other al Qaeda leaders. I understand that the purpose of war is to bring peace; you can't just waltz in, set off some bombs, kill some bad guys and bugger off again. I understand about establishing stable government, infrastructure, judicial systems, open and honest political systems to keep the citizens safe and so on. But enough already.

Because a "war on terrorism" was never going to be able to do these things. Waging war on an idea, on a method, on something so intangible - well, to me it about sums up the intelligence of George W. B. There was never going to be a day when a military leader would be able to turn around and say, "Well, we've got rid of that there 'terrorism' for ya George, whatcha want us to do next?" There are always going to be people fighting for ideals, and for values that are different from others. There will never be one global government, or one global religion. The world doesn't work like that, because people are different. And there will always be extremists - from all sides, nations, religions - who are willing to take innocent lives to scare or to shock people into their way of thinking.

No matter what your viewpoint on 9/11 and what's happened since - stunned observer, conspiracy theorist, Muslim, Christian, fundamentalist, atheist, outraged, affected or impassive individual - you cannot argue that this fight does not have an end on the battle field. By the time the US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan - 2014 at this stage - 'terrorism' will not be gone.

"the people there are dead because we want them to be dead."
(Professor Marc W. Herold, University of New Hampshire, http://cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm)

No, Osama bin Laden did not say this. A Pentagon official did, in relation to the deaths of almost 100 residents of an Afghanistan farming village killed in an airstrike by the US.

September 11, 2001 - the catalyst for the ten years of war we have seen - almost 3,000 people were killed. The world is outraged at such a massive number of innocent civilian deaths.

Afghanistan - in the first 6 months of the war there are civilian deaths estimated between 3,000 - 3,400. Only part of the world knows or cares.

I have learnt a lot from my almost-year living in the Middle East. I've met a lot of people, from a lot of different backgrounds, and I understand a lot more about the world than I ever did from reading books and writing essays about it. That's why today, I'm sad because of the memory of September 11, but I'm also just as sad because of the series of events and deaths that have been inspired by it. These are the ones that are forgotten in the media hype and sensation, in the heart-wrenching documentaries and interviews with those affected by 9/11. Do we see the consequences of her husband's death for the Afghan widow left with a farm blown to pieces and a family to feed? There's more than one side to every story, and in the case of today there are thousands of individuals with a story to consider.

"When they put bombs in cars and kill people, they're uncivilized killers. When we put bombs on missiles and kill people, we're upholding civilized values. When they kill, they're terrorists. When we kill, we're striking against terror."

What is the difference?

NB - I just read over this and it makes me sound like I am against the US. I am not against the retaliation for the events of 9/11, just against the way that it was structured and executed. I have a great deal of sympathy for those Afghani people who were against the Taliban, and who have suffered ten years of wartime because of the decisions of a regime which they did not even support.

I do not support terrorism, terrorist tactics, violence or military tactics designed to cause civilian deaths. Actually, I don't support death at all, civilian or military.

I believe that war has rules, and an old-value set of ethics attached to it. I do not believe that a "war on terrorism" ever had the potential or ability to meet these guidelines.

I am not confused. I know there is also a war in Iraq. To me, although it has been declared under the umbrella of 'the war on terrorism', the invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism or September 11. I deliberately chose to not mention it because then I tend to get angry, and upset, and go on and on ... and on...

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Holiday That Wasn't...Then Was...Almost Wasn't Again... But That Was

Continuing on with my New York Saga, I'll pick up after the events of the hurricane. Sorry, storm. Yeah, this was totally not the Helen-Hunt-'Twister' event that the news media had led me to believe was coming. It was a bit of wind, a bit of rain, and it was gone. SO not that big a deal.

Irene passed us by on the Sunday. On Monday, I said farewell to my hurricane-host and moved downtown, to the apartment that I'd booked with my friends, hoping like anything that they would manage to get there soon. The storm wasn't as bad as predicted - subway lines and public transport in NYC were all reopened, surely they'd open up all travel in and out as well?

Of course not.

One of my best friends, coming down from Montreal (where I was originally supposed to be), had about as many problems getting to New York as I did. Trains were cancelled until at least Wednesday. A direct flight is going to cost upwards of $1,000 (you can't be serious?!). Greyhound's website advertised overnight buses from Sunday night, arriving into New York Monday morning. Hooray, a shining light! Oops, no, just kidding, those buses aren't really running. But from Monday morning. Definitely. Being that the bus depot was an hour and a half from where she is staying, she did the responsible thing and called them Monday morning.

"Your buses to New York are definitely running?"

"Yes, all buses to New York are back on schedule."

Lies. All lies. She was forced to sit, amongst the chaos of hundreds of other stranded travellers, at the Greyhound station for the better part of a day, clutching what she was then told was a non-refundable ticket, and hoping that they would eventually send a bus. They did not, and she was forced to navigate French-speaking Montreal (without a word of French) back to where she was staying - not an easy task.

Meanwhile, in New York, I was determined to make the most of my holiday, solo and traumatised as I was. More as an "up yours" to the travel gods than because I wanted to - let's face it, I was over it. But I went exploring on Monday, blissfully ignorant of what was occurring in the Montreal Greyhound Depot, and thinking that I would not be spending another night alone. Things were looking up. I decided that I would go and see the photojournalism exhibition at the International Centre of Photography, it was running until the 29th (last day). I get there, greeted by a sign on the door stating that the exhibition finished yesterday but please, browse in our shop and spend your money anyway. I silently shake my fist at the travel gods.

Fine. I will go to everyone's favourite, McDonald's, and use their free wi-fi to get in touch with my friends and find out what is happening in Montreal, and in Dubai. The free wi-fi fails me, and I am forced to endure dry chicken nuggets and overly salty chips for nothing. I want to cry. Is there nothing that will go my way?! 

Toughen up, I tell myself, the sun is out and life could be worse. I go to Central Park and I find a grassy knowl to sit down and contemplate the past few days. A quick nap in the sun and I feel recharged and happier. It will be ok.

I am going to go and see a Broadway show. Alone, which is a little depressing, but less depressing than sitting in an empty apartment in the middle of New York by myself. I buy tickets to an off-Broadway production of Rent. I am killing time, when I wander past a hotel and realise it is where my stepsister is staying - I go past to leave her a note with my number and nearly fall over her in the lobby. The highlight of my holiday so far, I have never been so excited to see anyone. We make plans to catch up - I'm going to go and watch her compete in the Police and Fire Games the next day, hooray! I continue my walk, stumbling across a cheap and amazing Japanese restaurant for dinner. Delicious. Things are definitely looking up. I just have time to grab some money from the ATM to pay for my night's accommodation before I head over to catch my show.

Things are not looking up. I take out money, I walk out of the foyer of the ATM trying to locate my wallet, and then spend the next 20 minutes trying to locate the money I have just withdrawn. It is gone, vapourised in my hand. I do a perfect impersonation of a stunned mullet for a little while. I check my bag. I check the ground. I check my pockets, to discover I do not have any pockets. I approach a policeman standing on the corner.

"Excuse me, umm, hello. Umm. I think I have just been robbed." 

"You think you have been robbed?"

"Yes, well, you see, I had $200 in my hand when I came out of the ATM but it's not there now."

"You think you have been robbed?"

"Um maybe. I think maybe someone took it."

"You think? Did you see someone take it?"


"Do you know what they look like?"


"So you think you have been robbed?"


Honestly, it baffles me. But this money was in my hand, and then it was gone. Somebody very clever and practised has taken $200 straight out of my hands, almost without me even noticing. My helpful policeman friend, aside from thinking I was the dumbest person to cross his path that day, could not provide much assistance. I was free to check with the Bank if they had security cameras but, realistically, if I could not identify the person...well, it's New York City. Bye bye $200.

I make it, bewildered and a little late, to my show. Yes, thieves, you can take my money but you cannot take my ticket. Rent is awesome. Simply awesome. I forget my $200 for a little while. Until I get back to my apartment and discover the door does not close and lock properly, that is. Then the matter of 'personal safety' begins to remind me that I am in New York City, home of perpetual scumbags such as the one who stole my money. I have visions of Law and Order, bodies dumped in garbage cans over an iPod. I don't want to die for an iPod. I don't even own one.

 I make it through the night, without much sleep but also without being attacked. Tomorrow will be better - my friend will be here. And if she does not get on that bus, I am on the first plane back to Dubai because this holiday sucks. So it's going to be better. I fall into the world's most disturbed sleep. I wake up to discover that my friend is on the bus, NYC bound. It's going to be better. I am going to watch my sister play soccer. I head off to battle the subway uptown.

Two hours later, I am definitely lost. I am walking around the Bronx with no idea where I am going, or how to get there. I take a path through a park, before I realise it is not a park. It is a government housing block with a small triangle of grass at the front to make it look 'homely'. Bronx. Government housing. Recent victim of robbery. Shakes fist at travel gods.

After spending my morning wandering around, looking for the Games and being hopelessly unable to locate them, I cut my losses and go back downtown. I spend the day wandering aimlessly and avoiding ATM's until it is time to collect my favourite from the bus terminal. Finally. I am with my friend in New York City. Finally. We celebrate by going to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. Life is good - this is the holiday I have been looking forward to.

We spend the next day frolicking about New York, doing some shopping, seeing some sights, eating cheap pizza slices and drinking ice tea (which is nowhere near as delicious and refreshing as it looks, mind you). Two more friends arrive to complete our party that night. Finally.

Thursday is spent sightseeing on the big red bus. We shamelessly tote cameras through Times Square, and hang off the side of the bus to get the best views of buildings, sights, people. We take the ferry past the Statue of Liberty. We molest the bull on Wall Street. We visit the 9/11 memorial and WTC site, just a few days before the 10 year commemoration - it is eerie, and sad, and I am outraged that they have a GIFT SHOP in such a place (seriously, that's disgusting). We sing Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" because we can. This is what the last week is supposed to have been like but hey, better late than never!

Friday morning we are up ridiculously early. We go to Rockefeller Plaza for a free Lenny Kravitz concert. Top of the Rock follows. We eat bagels smothered in cream cheese and visit Starbucks - there is a ratio of one Starbucks for every 2 people in New York City. Ok this is not a verified fact, but it's got to be close. We shop more. We visit the Magnolia Bakery and indulge in delicious treats. We spend our evening at Yankee Stadium, watching a game we don't really understand but cheering when the Yankees win anyway. We buy beers, and merchandise. The two are not disconnected. It is amazing and fun, and I am glad I stuck it out in NYC because I have had an awesome couple of days with my friends around me.

I am supposed to fly out Saturday morning, but the flight is full. I have another day to spend in New York, which I am happy about, but it means I miss one of my best mates from home, who leaves Dubai just a few hours before I land, and this I am sad about. He is not happy with me, and I am sorry. I wish I could be everywhere in the world at once, or maybe just pack you guys up and stick you in my pockets and carry you around with me. But if you read this blog, you'll have noticed by now that when and where I travel are not necessarily within my control - one of the 'benefits' of staff travel. Still, I am sorry I missed you Camel. Will make up for it when I am home next, whenever that might be.

I join the girls on their outing for the day. We go to Central Park and have a picnic. We visit Strawberry Fields, and get irritated with the people who choose to stand ON the John Lennon memorial for photos, feeling that it's a little disrespectful, plus you are ruining our photos. We go to the Met, so that we can pretend we are in Gossip Girl and sit on the steps eating frozen yoghurt. Unfortunately, we do not have Blair Waldorf's minions to fetch us frozen yoghurt, and there is nowhere there that sells it. We have to settle for pre-packaged ice cream treats instead. They are still delicious and we still feel hilarious and cool in a dorky kind of way. We finish the day at the Billabong store in Times Square, where professional Aussie surfers Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson are doing some form of autograph signing. Ten years ago, I had no doubt in my mind that I would someday marry Taj, and that Parko would probably be in our wedding. I haven't had much to do with surfing since then (too scared of sharks), but it didn't stop me from being a nervous, giggling teenager when I got to meet them. Luckily they are very nice blokes, and did not draw attention to my stammer, embarrassment, or childish ways. I was so completely stoked. It was a great way to finish off The Trip That Almost Wasn't, seeing a dream come true (the meeting, not the wedding), and reconnecting with 16-year-old-Kim, who apparently still lives inside me. We had fun.

All in all, it didn't go smoothly. It was not easy, and it was not always fun. But I will definitely never forget this holiday. I can look back and laugh at my misfortunes, thankfully, because at the end of the day it could have been a lot worse (hurricane, mugging, etc) and I got out of it pretty unscathed - although RIP my $200. In saying that, it's hard to be miserable in a place like New York, and I'm lucky to have such great friends to share it with. It would have been a very different holiday if those 3 girls hadn't made it to salvage the last few days.

I bought a t-shirt: I heart NY.

Despite the dramas, I do.