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Monday, November 19, 2007


Icons, Tinos Greece

I am writing this from the point of view of a traveller who has often landed in countries where I did not speak the language. Often times the airports can very intimidating and especially for a solo traveller as I so often am, a bit frightening. I have memories once of landing in Istanbul, with only five English pounds in my pocket and no return ticket. I'd come there to meet my Turkish boyfriend and had no idea of where I was, having left England quickly on his request, and hoping he'd got the cable telling him I was on my way. I knew nothing of the country let alone the language, and a woman alone arriving there (in the mid '70's) was a dodgy affair. All I can remember is all those men's eyes looking at me and realizing I was in a totally foreign place. Not only that it was the early days of terrorism and the Istanbul airport (which was mostly a collection of quanset huts) was completely surrounded by armed tanks and soldiers. (Remember "The Midnight Express"? That episode had taken place not long before this so they were not only looking for drugs but for arms as well as a plane had recently been hijacked. Fortunately for me, my friend was waiting for me. Otherwise I have no idea what else I'd have done. The closest Canadian embassy was in Ankara, some miles away. And I didn't even have enough money on me to get into the city let alone find a hotel.

That was only one of my many travel adventures. But I can say this, nowhere in the world was I abandoned, left alone in the airport without someone offering some help, or at least someone who I could ask for help (for somehow there is always someone around who might speak a little English.)

Monument, General Cemetaria, Santiago Chile

I have been on long, long flights and know the exhaustion you feel when arriving at your destination. So when it's a completely foreign destination, and you don't speak the language or know the customs and routines, it can be very daunting.

For this, I could relate in many ways to the unfortunate Polish man, Robert Dziekanski, when he arrived alone, after his very first long, long plane trip from Poland to my city, Vancouver B.C. Canada, so very far from his home, and got here to find nobody could speak to him (where where the interpreters that should be at an International Airport), nobody offered a helping hand to guide him, nobody offered him food, water or assistance while he waited for hours and hours stuck inside the arrivals and immigration control while his poor desperate mother looked for him in the arrivals lounge. Nobody offered her any help either, and in fact told her that he hadn't arrived so after more than 10 hours of fruitless waiting, she returned to her home in another part of the Province. Meanwhile, her confused, frightened and desperate son grew more and more agitated until airport Security was called. Did they help him? No. They turned their backs on him. So the R.C.M.P. were called and the rest has been recorded on a video camera by another traveller and by now has been viewed around the world. Instead of helping the man, who was clearly in a state but threw his hands up submitting to the cops, they tasered him several times, jumped on him (four of them) and in a very few minutes he was dead.

This horrifying scene has been played out time and time again on the T.V. and pictured in the newspapers. Every time I've seen it or read about it I cry. What a terrible thing to have happened. What a disgrace. This man was immigrating to Canada hoping to start a new life. His suitcases were full of geography books and atlases. He had high hopes of finding employment and enjoying a new start with his mother who had waited for so long for him to come. He was not a terrorist. He was not a dangerous person. He was not drunk or on drugs or mentally ill. He was simply over-tired, hungry, exasperated, unable to communicate in English and nobody employed at the airport tried to help him except one woman who spoke quietly to him and had him calmed down just before the police arrived and tasered him, not once, but perhaps four times. And not only that, the airport did not call their own medics but phoned out so there was a long gap in time. Nobody tried to resusitate him. They left him to die.

Is this the kind of welcome you would want or expect when arriving in a foreign country?
Certainly not. And we should be ashamed of what happened to this man and make sure this never happens again.

Sunset over English Bay

There have been memorials for Robert Dziekanski. One was held in his mother's city, Kamloops, and another was held at the Vancouver International Airport. Hundreds of people came to remember him and grieve over what happened. I couldn't be there, so this is my memorial. Rest in peace, dear Robert. And may your mother somehow find comfort knowing how much we all cared.
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