Ben Oostdam story # 257

FOREIGN AID and FOREIGN TRAVEL


First, the Foreign Aid part, which was my dream of early this morning and could have lasted but a few seconds.
U S AID had invited me along with some 40 others to attend a Fair somewhere in Inner Mongolia where three competing groups of experts were to demonstrate and strut their wares: Russians, Chinese, and Americans.
It was held somewhere on a plain between high snowy mountains, on an old giant unpaved dusty market plaza. There were thousands of Mongolians not milling around, but marching in groups resolutely and diagonally across the plaza and from one corner to the next of the surrounding giant monotonous and dull looking concrete buildings attesting to some former bureaucratic construction boom.

There were many youth groups who were tightly packed in dark blue sportsuits and jackets with hoods. They all looked extremely serious and clone-like. They looked at us Americans with disdain but also slight curiosity. There was practically no interaction possible because they spoke no English and we no Mongolian.
An American contractor with whom I had hooked up was there to deliver a sample of a living trailer which he could supply for a measly $ 4,000 each: it was only 40 feet long, he said, in contrast to the 60 feet and over he usually built.

We were now in the middle of a sea of shacks at the outskirts of the town. He was about to cell-phone his men to tow in the trailer when a surley Mongolian pickup truck driver backe up 20 foot container into the designated space in a corner between two sheds. After lots of confusion, it was explained to us that this Mongolian man had just purchased this prototype living quarters from the Chinese for $ 80, and that it was quite adequate for the living needs of his large family - he did not need the luxurious 40 footer, in other words, even if it was free of charge.

Later that evening I saw the pickup driver in a mainly empty restaurant and he signalled that he wanted me to join him and a few of his kids. There was no service, so he sent two of them to get us some food, and they came back each with a pile of rice pilaff in their bare hands, which they piled up on the table in front of us.
I do not know why I felt suddenly so involved in the international, financial and humanitarian aspects of this matter, so I decided to wake up, and mill over the whole affair trying to see what inspired me to dream it and then to record it, but in the course of all of this I recalled what I will make part two of this story: Foreign Travel. At least that is a true story.

When our kids were still very young, Benny four and Erika two, I took them from PA to Holland just after Christmas,
flying by Icelandic Air to save money.
I sometimes carried them around grabbing the backstraps of their Tyrolian leather pants as if they were suitcases. For the flight back, I had booked KLM from Amsterdam to Luxembourg from which the Icelandic Air departed to the USA. There was a bad snowstorm, however, so we were diverted to Frankfurt where we were put up for the night. The next day we found out that the Icelandic plane had also landed there, but had to fly back to New York without passengers because they did not have a license to carry passengers except from Luxembourg!

So we were loaded onto a bus that took off late in the afternoon and took hours through the Christmassy scenery to arrive in Luxembourg shortly after midnight. We were all very tired, hungry and thirsty, but were told that the hotel restaurant had just closed down for the night, soi there was nothing available. I complained and asked if thy could not make us something, even if just popcorn... and the lady, who appeared to have a good sense of humour, promised she would look into it. She came back a few minutes later with a giant bowl of popcorn which she handed to me. Most other fellow passengers were just hanging n their chairs waiting for their rooms to be prepared, but little Erika just got her second wind and proceeded carrying around piles of popcorn in her bare hands to offer to the sleepy crowd.

Anyhow, small kids love what we consider problems and delays when we are traveling. That reminds me of the PA turnpike snow problem yesterday, for which Governor Rendell personally apologized. Also of the people sitting in parked airplanes waiting to take off for ten hours or more.
To Benny and Erika, the two nights at the end of their Dutch Christmas vacation were most memorable because they stayed in these strange hotels and were even allowed to swim in the (indoor (!) pool in Luxembourg.
And I will never forget how I had to send little Erika, with her US passport in hand, across the wide empty space in front of the counter for US Citizens, while Benny (South African passport) and I (Dutch) had to wait in the long line for Aliens and Immigrants; there walked this little two year old proudly toward her destination, stopping halfway to triumphantly turn around and wave to us!
BLO fecit 20070218 (happy jirje, Carla!) - stories