2 June 2007


So one of the aspects of my trip I’d been looking forward to was flying on the Dutch airline KLM. I really enjoyed taking British Airways when I went to Tanzania (that was almost 2 years ago!) and heard from other American students that KLM was great too. American airlines are so crappy in comparison, even for domestic flights: between Dar Es Salaam and London, British Air served a really delicious vegetarian meal with limitless wine and offered loads of TV shows and movies and music; the flight from London to New York, run by American Air, kicked off with a two-hour delay due to a fire in the galley and the best thing about the flight was how few fellow passengers I had. In my experience, foreign airlines (well, British Air, KLM and Ethiopia Air) are the Cirque du Soleil to the American airlines’ monster truck rally.

Just before we boarded the plane to Amsterdam this time, there was a cart stacked with complementary copies of 10 or 15 different newspapers in English, Dutch and German. The stewardesses wore very stylish blue uniforms, and the one covering my section had a crazy beehive-ish thing happening with her hair and has perfected the politely snappy manner of dealing with annoying passengers. For instance, we taxied around the runway for a while before we took off, and the woman in front of me was bitching about it, and Ms. Beehive goes, “Well, I can see how it’s my fault, can’t I?” Ah it’s snappier when you are Dutch and speaking English with a British accent.

A few things about Shiphol Airport in Amsterdam…it is gorgeous. I felt like I was in a resort terrarium. There is a freakin MUSEUM. The bathrooms near the museum feature analysis of Van Eyck paintings on the inside of the stall doors. The small milkshake at the McDonald’s is, seriously, about two-thirds the height of the average ballpoint pen. There is an area with a bank of beautiful ergonomic lounge chair thingies.

A few random things I thought about during my time in the terrarium… Watching families stream through the airport, I got the feeling that the parents were living out primordial Viking fantasies through their children’s flowing blonde mullets. How is it that snackeries worldwide are haunted by ghostly world music? About Global Northerners venturing to the Global South: at what degree of material and free-time wealth does the mindset become less interested in consuming things and more interested in consuming the context in which they are found? Am I imagining that some people travel to be amazed (tourists) and some people travel to prove that very little can amaze them (serial expats), and to what extent is this difference an ethical and/or aesthetic divergence? And what is the connection between these cultural phenomena in the West and the situation pointed to by Numbers Guy columnist Carl Bialik in my complimentary Wall Street Journal by his remark that the “$1 a day” poverty benchmark was, effectively, a stroke of marketing genius–which seems odd until you realize that international aid is indeed a lucrative business for Western NGO workers (an important part of Dar Es Salaam aristrocracy) as well as Third-World government officials–the point being that part of the “vicious cycle” is that the people paid to alleviate poverty benefit significantly from the ongoing existence of poverty.

…This is probably the primary reason I don’t really have an interest in being an international aid worker anymore.  As long as salaries are used to realign incentives, the whole thing is a racket.  Nyerere got a lot of things wrong, but he saw this one coming from a mile away.


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