Casablanca Airspace, Morocco
4 March 2017 | ~ 1200hrs Local Time (UTC)
I am listening to Tchaivosky 1812 Overture, reading Ron’s Black code (2003) on my laptop after the cabin crew announced the plane has reached safe levels to use electronic gadgets. I am thinking how the new definition presented on globalization in this paper would fare alongside Comin’s technology diffusion model and the role of supply factors in technology adoption.
Out of nowhere, the cabin crew asks all of us to fasten our safety belts, keep away gadgets and remain calm. Apparently, the flight captain has communicated with ground crew in Casablanca about a possible technical failure and we would need to fly back to Casablanca (after being in flight for almost 30 minutes).
Okay. Now what? I have been in over 100+ flights but I don’t even know how to apply the safety guides perfectly. My mind freezes.
As the plane tries to find its balance, it keeps bouying up and down. The turbulence does not help matters. The horror in that compressed cabin up in the sky! Up up then dooown! Some decent humans scream. I see a man pull a health paper and vomit. It is getting real.
This is how it ends, I contemplate. Not with family and loved ones around my bed in my 90s but with a bang, in Mediterranean skies. With so many loved ones flashing through my mind, my 10 month baby girl grips my imagination.
I don’t know how I start thinking about the flight captain. Is s/he/their sober? Is his/her/their communication channel with the flight control systems working? (that is when you realize you do not even see many of the humans you trust your life with to be sure whether they are s/he or trans. Because it does and should not matter.
That is when you start to realize how your very existence is connected to factors beyond your can. Human civilization is truly held together by trust.
You trust the plane engineers did their work just like they trust the kindergarten staff are handling their babies in the right way, just like those KG staff trust their management has their best interests at heart and so on and so forth.
Plane sound system rings.
We are landing – safely – I understand, and hope.
“Apologies for the technical problems. We will be getting you going in an hour’s time.”
I look at fellow passengers getting their bags out of the lockers but you can smell the cocktail of tension and relief in the cabin.
I secretly think, “these would be my death-mates.”
People who I did not even say hi to this whole time, apart from one woman and her young boy we made small talk on the security queue back at the arrivals.
After alighting with our hand-luggage, we start general comments on how close that was, waiting for the bus. As we drive back to the terminals for operational procedures, four of us hurdle together in the bus. Even the expected inertia as the bus starts off makes us clutch tighter on the safety handles, with some people making fun of the situation.
“…due to a technical error…” jokes Kyla, as I now come to know her name. She has these long locks and quite a happy personality. She asks where we are going and interestingly, three of us are attending the same event in Valencia and the fourth is a Jazz performer based out in Valencia! C, the other freshly minted friend, jokes that Tim should have played his trumpet as we embraced for impact in the skies. Tim does not seem to entertain jokes at this point and rather recommends good hangout joints for us while in Valencia.
We are now back at the gates, relaxed and having genuine talks, at least from my experience, about what each of us is doing and such “we should keep in touch”.
I break my coffee-fast at a cafe nearby. They do not swipe cards and I do not have local currency, only the good old Benjamin, which is fantastic, I hear, and apparently will be made great again. As I ask the attendant why my change is 52 Euros for a latte from a 100 USD cash, a motherly traveler comes along and asks for latte and water. The waiter starts attending to her before concluding our bilateral, and so I am left there following their conversation. The old lady draws out her Visa card to pay for her purchases.
“We only take cash”, says the waiter.
The lady, very disappointed pushes the latte back slowly. She says she has no local currency in cash.
I step in.
“Please charge me for her purchases”, I tell the waiter.
“Five Euros”, the waiter quickly responds.
The lady refuses my offer to pay for her drinks in a language I do not quite understand. I insist. Twice. She accepts.
She goes on, still in a language I do not understand, but from the feel of it, I connect with her genuine appreciation for a latte from a stranger she just met at a cafeteria counter.She sips once, shakes her head in a manner likely to suggest satisfaction, then disappears into the crowd.
Back to my bilateral with the waiter.
She is busy serving other customers but I can see she is trying to wish me off. I insist to know how the Mediterranean latte algebra functions because from my simple calculation, I could just have paid 30 Euros for my latte only. From where I come from, spending such kind of money on something as common as latter is filed under treason.
After realizing I am not giving up, she comes with a big Casio calculator and staring up slightly, I imagine to invite the algebraic gods to the occasion, tells me 100 USDs exchanges for 60 Euros at their cafe. I have checked online by throwing in “100 USD to Euro” on DDG (a privacy respecting search engine). It throws back 100 USD = 90 Euro.
This cafe, or to be precise, this waiter, has a difference of 30 Euros in the exchange rate. By the time that was sinking in, I realize she is already serving other customers and I was blocking the cash register.
I slowly withdraw to my place in the universe, feeling conned, just because I did not have time to go to the exchange bureau in Nairobi and convert KES to Euros or Dirhams and, and this is important, because the cafe did not swipe cards that most travelers have trusted with currency exchange rates.
I sip my 30+ Euro cup of latte questioning whether it is coffee I was drinking in the first place, seeing how my trust on the waiter got eroded by an exchange rate crisis moment.
As we take the bus back again to the plane, we joke its more or less a ‘take two’.
We trust that the technical team was keen and did their job. We do not even confirm whether they repaired it. Where do you even start as an average human on matters aeronautical engineering? (I hope I got that pronunciation right, seeing I had to say it out slightly louder in Gatukuyu syllabic fashion a-e-ro-na-u-ti-ko). The closest you ever come to inspecting objects that look like wings is in a restaurant eating chicken wings.
We just trust them. Or may be we confirm the integrity of their work by taking off again in the same same plane back into the skies of Casablanca.
Thing is, there are things, no matter how critical they are to us, we must depend and trust on others to guarantee their integrity.
As I am writing this, we have just crossed the Mediterranean sea and are somewhere in Spanish skies, hoping I can post this impromptu write up once we land in Valencia and connect to the Internet. Then for the next week, get to work and facilitate discussions and demos and panels on how to extend the boundaries of human freedom using Internet technology at the Internet Freedom Festival. How do we trust companies and governments and fellow humans with a technology so central to our lives? We cannot verify every engagement just to be sure we are safe online; that our online purchases will be secure, our email was read only by the intended recipient, that our droves of information stored in servers in places we have no clue about will be safe.
We got to trust someone, somehow. How then do we bake in trust in society seeing how a breach of such trust can cause chaos in our systems? Someone got to trust someone to do the right thing. Otherwise we are all gonna crash!
That was a scary but beautiful moment in the skies for it brought my attention back to things that matter – like trust, and family. And may be travel cash, because not all places swipe and not every waiter is to be trusted with forex.
Then I see Valencia from the skies! Oh Sweet Valencia. This traveler has never known relief like seeing this city.