18 April 2010

Part One: It’s Go Time

“Sir, I can confirm you on a seat to London April 29th, assuming the volcano stops erupting,” Anne from Emirates airlines told me over the phone. That was twelve days from now. A group of five of us had been camping out in my room at the Millennium hotel in Sharjah for several hours now brainstorming other ways to London. The notion of flying directly to Europe’s busiest airport in the face of such obstacles as an Icelandic volcano spewing ashing across most of the Continent seemed grim. “I know! We could take the Orient Express! Or maybe go to Africa then ride camels across the Sahara, cross the straight of Gibraltar then travel north through Spain and France to the shores of Calais, where we can hitch our way across the Channel with some truck drivers.” We all began to laugh hysterically. “Yeah, like we’d ever have to do all of that.”

It’s now seven hours later and we’ve turned my Dubai friend’s office into a situation room. Emirates is on speaker phone, the calming “hold” music offering incessantly irritating background to the chaos that has ensued. Someone else is coordinating with a few people still at the hotel. Pat, our host, is handing out apple cobbler and ice cream to keep us going. I’m on the computer confirming flights to Tunisia then onward to Barcelona, making our once absurd trek about to England a reality. At this present time, it seems, the fastest way to London is via Africa.

“Yes, you’ll be refunded Dubai to London,” we’re told. Knowing that, we book Dubai to Tunisia over the phone, simultaneously click “buy now” on the connecting Tunisia to Barcelona flights and “BOOM,” we’re at least on the Continent. After two days of watching the hot Arabian sun rhythmically rise and set over the artificial expanses of Sharjah while the Emirates airlines offered us no information on what was happening on the outside, we’re all desperate to feel like we’re moving in some sort of direction. We’ve been eating hummus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a public stoning of a woman tomorrow that has been suggested as an afternoon tourist activity. It’s time to go.

Those legs booked, we get in taxis and head back to the hotel. The new challenge is booking a train from Barcelona to Madrid then a bus from Madrid to London. The Spanish websites won’t seem to process our purchase. A quick glance at the clock confirms that it’s now 3am. We have to be up and out the door by 6am to make our Flight to Tunisia. What should take five minutes has now dragged on for three hours, the mighty Emirati firewall doing all it can to keep us from London.

I decide to bring in reinforcements, skyping a friend in London who then g-chats with a friend in Barcelona who then wakes up her Spanish boyfriend who then calls the bus company in an attempt to make a booking. He’s relaying info to his girlfriend, she’s relaying it to London in text, and she’s sending it back to us over skype. It’s globalization, social networking, technology, and inefficiency dominating our lives in a shockingly annoying way. Unable to confirm anything actually in Spain, we shot down the chain of communication and decide to manage the situation once we’re on the ground in Europe.

By now it’s 5am. Time to take a shower and pack for the airport. No matter what, we’re on a plane to Africa by lunchtime. One step closer to London.

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