From Notes from 39,000 Feet
Georgetown, Guyana, June 2006
On the Glamour of it All
This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.
I found myself sitting in the Georgetown, Guyana airport at 4:30 in the morning wondering if it was not time to start looking for a new job. I'd been in worse airports, but this one wasn't great. I got up at 2:00 a.m. to have enough time to check out of the hotel, take the forty-five minute taxi ride to the airport, check in, get my boarding pass, make my way through passport control and catch a flight to Kingston. I had packed the night before and got little sleep. I stood in the line at passport control (yes, there was a line at 4:00 a.m.), but I hadn't realized there was an Airport Departure Tax (you should always ask before getting to the airport!). The nice man at the passport desk kept my passport and sent me back to the Departure Tax window where I discovered I didn't have enough Guyana cash. That nice man sent me out of the airport to a rundown café across the street with two sad looking customers where a not so nice woman gave me Guyana dollars for U.S. dollars. Her exchange rate was breathtaking.
This trip could have gone better. My schedule: London to Barbados to Georgetown (where I discovered half the people in the meeting thought I was there for an entirely different reason); Georgetown to Kingston (where I inadvertently offended one of my colleagues because I was too damn tired to get up early the next morning to see him in his new ministry - remember I had started that day at 2:00 a.m.); and finally Kingston to Havana (where I was robbed of all my cash on a late night taxi ride from the airport to the hotel).
It was the connecting flight in Barbados on the outward journey that got things off to a bad start. I arrived in the airport at around 3:00 p.m. and was told I had to go through passport control and customs (thus entering the country) even though I had a connecting flight. It took me an hour to get through the system at which point I walked five minutes back to passport control and then into the departure lounge (thus exiting the country). I think I spent ten minutes in Barbados before re-entering the "non-place" of the airport departure lounge. Once in, however, I still had three hours to wait for my flight, which did not come. There were no announcements, no explanations. I finally heard two airport employees discussing the fact that the runway lights had mysteriously gone out and there were no flights landing or taking off. By 10:00p.m. a crowd of people wanting to get home to Guyana were furious. A man in a bright orange shirt rallied the crowd and marched them to the information desk. I followed assuming this would be at least entertaining enough to kill some time. And it was, though I really felt sorry for the woman at the desk. She simply had no information as the airline was apparently unable to tell her, or us, where the plane was, whether parked on the ground somewhere or flying high in the skies.
At 11:00 p.m. we finally boarded, being told to take any seat we could find. I arrived in Georgetown at 1:00 a.m., made my way through the system and grabbed a taxi. The driver told me to sit in the front and started a running commentary the moment we drove off. At first I wanted him to shut up; I was tired and had no energy for a taxi driver conversation (you really do have to be in the right mood). But within ten minutes he had won me over and it was a great ride to the hotel. By the time I checked in, unpacked, and showered, it was almost 4:00 a.m. I had a meeting at 8:00 a.m. with a 7:30 a.m. pick up.
It is fair to say that the ministry of international relations is perceived as something far off and for the very few, understood by most people as church executives "swanning around the world" to meet other church executives in exotic places. I have often said that you need to deal with at least two of three things to do my job: the non-places of airplanes, airports and hotels. I can still tolerate airplanes and I often like hotels, but I hate airports.