Posts Tagged 'Paris'


After a mostly sleepless and short night on the plane to Charles de Gaulle I am waiting for my colleague who is flying in from Los Angeles. The waiting at CDG is usually not that bad as I have access to the AF lounge where the catering is quite good.

I ran into a colleague from another organization that we sometimes collaborate and sometimes compete with. It was more than a decade that we worked together in Lesotho. She had not heard about MSH’s layoffs, that was clear when she asked about one of my colleagues who was laid off several years ago. Her organization is also experiencing tightening budgets and everyone is tense. And she hadn’t even read the questions that Trump’s transition team had asked USAID about development support to Africa. Although the questions per se are not bad and could have been asked by anyone serious about development bang for the buck, there is clear undertone that does not omen well (why would we spent $$ on people in Africa when we have kids in the US who need our support, something like that). At least he has poor children in the US on his radar; that, all by itself, is news.

We are all wondering whether he will re-instate the Mexico City policy (aka the gag rule). Reagan invented it, Clinton repealed it, Bush re-instated it, Obama repealed it. This policy has serious consequences for poor women living in Africa, Asia and Latin America: less reproductive health care, less access to family planning, more unwanted babies and botched abortions. And if you sketch this out as a series of causal relationships, then eventually you end up with more young men who will try their luck in Europe. Everything is connected to everything.

I can’t help but eavesdrop on a gentleman sitting at a desk behind me. He talks loud, too loud, on the phone.  He speaks English with a thick Arab accent about a strategic planning consultancy in Dubai. And so, even though I am only hearing half the conversation I learn something about Dubai’s future (vision: ‘’Dubai, happiest city in the world”) and the consultant’s approach (smart governance, smart infrastructure and a few other smarts). All the key words in the strategic planning lexicon are there: communication strategy, input from key stakeholders, strategic this and strategic that.  Compared to other places in the region, Dubai is probably already the happiest place in the world if you are an Arab and have money. For the people who are building the city (Pakistani, Bangladeshi) it is more likely to be the unhappiest place in the world. I wonder if he is including them in his stakeholder groups.

On the road again

A colleague of mine calls the AF salon in Paris her CDG office. I tend not to work here but rather relax and eat as there is much good food to be had.

I spent the day preparing for my trip while Axel was the official photographer at the Manchester Club’s annual golf tournament in Peabody and so we said our goodbyes in the morning.

Axel is not a golfer but there are two golf courses that make him wish he was one – this one in Peabody and another one in Jackson New Hampshire up the road from the valley golf course – he prefers the one higher up where we have skied in the past.

Axel being unavailable to drive me to the airport our friend Andrew jumped in, saving me, and the American taxpayer, a taxi or bus fare.

I tested a new chemical to knock me out during night flights and it worked beautifully; it is like Nyquill but without the medicine. As soon as we had departed it kicked in. I woke just before we landed. Managing sleep during this trip is important as I choose the last possible departure date – leaving no time to catch my breath before it is show time in Kinshasa. I have no regrets – this last summer weekend was perfect – I would not have missed it for anything in the world – I have missed too many perfect summer days this year.

A long wait

And so I spent Saturday morning, tired from the interrupted sleep and distracted about Sita, with my friend A and his wife at a lovely beach restaurant, relaxing, eating fish brochettes and drinking fresh pineapple juice. We talked about his plans to start a rehab center in Cameroon and how to get ready for the big jump to actually set it up. It would mean leaving his paying job with ICRC and risking the savings from friends and family, his salary and savings, career for the sake of a dream. I encouraged him and added bits and pieces from our course to the conversation. I have never taken such a jump and am not sure I’d have the courage. But then again, I pointed out, just about everything around us, except for the sand, the wind, the flora and sea, started as a glint in someone’s eye. I pointed at his latest model iPhone, yes, that one too. It also carries the message that you don’t get to the supermodel right away, so start small to show that one can deliver the dream in reality. It was a wonderfully inspiring conversation. I promised to support him in whatever way I could.

We left for the airport in the hotel shuttle. A few miles before the airport we encountered a huge crowd of cars (with the opponent of the President at the head, who had apparently just come in on the plane I was to leave on). He was followed by thousands of followers, in cars, in trucks, on motorbikes and on foot. Many were dressed in orange, the color associated with Dutch football fans, playful and dedicated. But these people didn’t look so playful. They stared at us, white folks stuck in the crowd in our little bus that could easily be upturned. I kept hoping that the generally good natured Togolese would stay that way. Still, it remained unsettling to find oneself in an immense crowd of people. I know crowds can easily go from friendly to nasty – we see this over and over on the television.

There was no visible presence of people representing the law; no uniforms anywhere in sight, only self-appointed traffic regulators with whistles in their mouth. But then, as quick as it started, the parade had gone by us and we resumed our trip to the airport. Our very alarmed French passenger let out a sigh of relief. I fear that in the excitement I dropped my travel (smart) phone on the floor. That my phone was missing I discovered too late after having gone through all the security check points. The receptionist at the lounge was not helpful and refused to let me use her phone to get in touch with the driver.

The phone was supposed to receive the signal that the baby had arrived. Now some unknown person has gotten that message, unless the phone is still in the bus but I am not counting on seeing it ever again. I can only hope that whomever found it, if not willing to part, will erase all names and phone numbers. If anyone who reads this gets a sketchy call from Togo, beware. It is not me.

And now I am waiting to board my flight from Paris to Boston. It will be about 14 hours before I will see the new baby. It seems an eternity.

Yawning in Paris

After the dishonest taxi driver in Ulaanbataar my luck turned with having an entire row to myself on the flight to Moscow. On the AF flight to Paris I got a seat on the last row before the business class curtain. Technically speaking it was not business but premium economy (my row didn’t have the middle seat blocked) but the flight attendants treated all first 8 rows the same and this meant a nice lunch, good wines and lots of chocolate. I probably shouldn’t have taken the wine because ever since I have been yawning. It was getting increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open during the 7 hour wait in Paris.

Luckily there is the AF lounge which is as nice as the Moscow lounge, with showers. Unlike the showers in Amsterdam, where you have to put your name on a waiting list, here you can simply try your luck and see which showers are free. The showers are entirely wheelchair accessible – I am sensitive to this now: wide doors, a folding bath seat with rails if needed and lots of room to move around, with wheelchair or without.

In the evening France was playing Greece in the World Cup which made for big excitement among the natives and travelers alike, especially when France won. Even the usually serious and proper ground staff had French flags painted on their cheeks and forehead. Bands of young men draped in French flags and singing the Marseillaise moved noisily between gates. Bread and circus (in this case, croissants and World Cup wins) keeps people happy when there is otherwise much to be unhappy about.

After boarding the plane I realized my luck continued even with my eyes nearly closed from lack of sleep. The flight was packed with families and babies. I had already resigned myself to a seat in the tumultuous main cabin, when I noticed my row was in the premium cabin, something not quite business class but more spacious and quiet than the main cabin. There were only 3 of us in a 21 seat section. When the large man sitting in back of me was pushed forward to the (also empty) business class section because he didn’t really fit in his seat, the flight attendant told me and the third occupant that it was only fair if all of us got pushed forward. She apologized that we wouldn’t get the business class food – but who cares when one has a nearly flat bed for the last 7 hour night flight on a 30 hour journey.

May 2018
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