He wiped the sweat off his brows as he looked up at the glaring sun. He squinted his eyes in the heat and looked at the number of people ahead. “200 people to go”, he muttered to himself. He looked over his shoulder as he heard a scuffle and saw that a little fight had broken out between a young lad and an older man. “Get out!!! this was my spot”, yelled the older man. “No way, old fart. Get back in line. This is all first come first serve. You snooze, you loose.”, retorted the younger boy.
With a wry smile, he shook his head. “Desparate times, indeed”
The queue was moving slowly but the good news was that he could hear assuring words up ahead. He looked towards the tree on his right and smiled at the sight of his kids. They were playing hopscotch in the burning sun and seemed to not care about the heat. His wife was sitting on the side, holding her head in her hands and just staring into space. He whistled. It was a special whistle between the two of them, meant to catch each other’s attention. His wife looked up in his direction. “Oh! how much I love her… “, he thought to himself as he waved her and in gestures asked her to relax. It is going to be a while.
He was now moving up. He could feel the people behind him getting anxious and pressing themselves up against him. He couldn’t do anything. They were his brothers now. He couldn’t yell back or ask them to back off, as he would have done, back home…
back home in Syria.
It has been 6 weeks. Mansood*, his wife Zaria* and his two boys have made the perilious journey from their hometown in Syria to this place, that they want to call home, Berlin. Mansood couldn’t stop thanking all his stars for having his entire family besides him despite all the perils they faced on their way here. The hunger, the thirst, the heat, the dinghy, the moment when Zaria almost died in Turkey… he shudders at the memories that were still fresh.
But it is all over now. They were now in a place that felt safe. And comfortable. And yes, the kids are still in the same clothes and playing on the dusty pavement and yes, Zaria is feeling like there is no hope now, but Mansood, Mansood is feeling positive. He is feeling alive. He is feeling like it is all going to be ok because he is now only 150 people away from getting asylum in Germany and rebuilding a life with his family.
He smiled as he wiped the sweat from his brows again and crossed his fingers.
Note: But this could very well be the story of someone, being hopeful, right now in Germany or anywhere else in the EU.
This post is part of Marathon Bloggers challenge.
I started this when I turned 28. That’s when I got my tattoo. I decided then that every year, from now on, I will do at least one thing that is on my so-called bucket list, if not more. At 28, I got a tattoo. At 29, I moved bag and baggage to a new country. At 30, I went on 10 holidays in Europe. At 31, I roller-skated, I ice-skated, I went on an all-girls weekend trip. At 32, I jumped out of a plane!
The experience was so surreal that I had to write about it. And so here we go.
15 August 2015
It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon and I am shuffling between the kitchen and the living room, doing a bit of cooking and bit of internet surfing. On a whim, I Google – Skydiving London – open the first link (looks pretty fine..!) and search for slots. Within the next 5 minutes, I have booked a ‘cancellation slot’ for next Friday, 21 August! YIKES! I go into the kitchen and tell the husband, “I am going skydiving next Friday…”. He just stares.
21 August 2015
Aah the lovely English weather (NOT). I wake up to see it’s cloudy but optimism runs deep in my veins, and so I get ready, and head to King’s Cross Station at 7AM to take the train to Cambridge, to take the next train to March, and then a taxi to the skydiving school. I am making a proper hike to a school, very deceptively called, The North London Skydiving Centre. I get into the train to Cambridge. I am staring at my Pret breakfast and can’t seem to eat. The nervous pangs have hit my lower tummy. I drink copious amount of water. I decide to call the Centre to find out what the weather looks like.
“Oh hii, I am on my way to the Centre but just wanted to check how is it looking.. how long is the queue?”
“Oh look hun! I wouldn’t bother coming today. The weather is absolutely shit. We have enough people for one jump, if that even happens.. so don’t waste your time and reschedule.”
“errrr… what? I am already in the train!!?!” *heart racing faster than the train’s speed*
“yeah, sorry, just return from Cambridge you know… save the £12 on the taxi from March”
(oh yeah, you are sorry.. I am just going to waste the £50 I spent on train. no biggie) “Ok thank you”
I reach Cambridge. It is still dark and gloomy, just like my mood. I take the next train to London King’s Cross. I come back home, cancel my holiday and start working. (total poop!)
I call them back and reschedule for 28 August 2015. Boo.
28 August 2015
I wake up at 4:30am, leave home at 5:30am and take the 6:30pm train from King’s Cross.
(Take that, early jumpers!!)
My Pret breakfast is sitting pretty again as my tummy gets all funny. I take a couple of deep breaths and drink copious amount of water again. I look out of the window and see bright blue skies and my heart soars.
After two hours and two trains and a cab, I reach the skydiving centre. It is in the middle of nowhere, amongst maize fields and country roads. One lone purple plane sits and clashes beautifully with the green grass and the blue skies. (It’s going to be perfect!) I rush to register, filling in the form as quickly as I can in my drunk-ants-on-paper handwriting.
“Ex.. Excuse me, what number am I in the queue?” *almost a gloating voice*
“you are 49 of 65.. you are in Training group B and think it’s a couple of hours waiting”
(WHAT???? but but I was here at 8:30am, when your centre actually opens!!)
I buy a cup of coffee from the adjoining cafeteria. My optimism is at 95% so I take my coffee outside, settle on a bench, look around at the bunch of divers and spectators, all shuffling about, looking excited and nervous at the same time. Oh! there are two adorable puppies too.
10AM. The first round of jumpers are called to get ready and line up. I rush with my trusted iPhone and start to take photos and videos as the divers board the purple plane. Along with 20 other spectators and 54 awaiting divers, I watch as the plane takes off.
(It’s going to be me up there in about 2 hours!!)
We watch the first dive really closely. Someone exclaims, “It’s so high!!” (Duh!) And then it happens, we see little white dots just falling off the skies like snowflakes. They are jumping!! There is a sense of camaraderie as we cheer for them divers that we barely know.
We take many photos of brightly coloured parachutes, stuck to two humans, touching down against a bright blue sky. Two more trips happen and 20 more people do their jumps. I am 19 people away from jumping.
12 noon and it hits. The dark clouds come in and bring with them crazy winds. I am told, we are holding the jumps as it is too windy to go out. “Sit tight”, they say. I get myself a diet coke and burger and sit reading my book. I am 85% optimistic. Not. Loosing. Hope.
2PM. Everyone around me is getting restless. It is still windy as ever. I hear the sheets flapping and shutters clanking. I read my book and occasionally look around for some hopeful sign. Well at least it isn’t raining. We get an update. “Guys, it doesn’t look that good. The rest of the day looks pretty similar and we have a 70-30 chance of jumping. You can take your ticket and reschedule but if you want to stick around, that’s fine…”
Insider tip: They never cancel a skydive. Something legal-legal.
I resolve to not move my butt.
4PM. They come out with another update. “It’s looking worse. Sorry guys, there is only a 20% chance that we will jump. I strongly suggest you reconsider and reschedule.”
(NOOOO…. I cannot do this again! I cannot spend 4 hours on the train again!)
“I am not going anywhere until 8PM and even if it means you do one plane ride today, I am going to be on it.”
More than 80% of jumpers have left. A couple of us sit huddled on the benches outside, looking up and silently praying for the winds to stop.
4:30PM. And just like that, the clouds part and the sun comes out. The wind slows considerably. My hair isn’t a flapping mess. We cross our fingers and sit tight.
“Can everyone assemble and get ready with their suits on. We are jumping!”
(Wheeeeeeee!!!!!) I start to put on my suit. My hands shiver. (Wait a minute, what am I doing? I can’t jump off a plane! I am so stupid!!!)
“Hiya! I am your instructor, Gale and it’s a fine evening. Are you ready to jump?”
(NO I AM NOT!!) “Absolutely.. can’t be more excited”
We line up and I can feel that same funny tummy feeling that you are all so familiar with now. I have a weird grin plastered on my face, I guess it is a coping mechanism I have just discovered. My instructor asks me again, “Are you excited? are you ready? It’s a beautiful evening.”
(YES YES IT IS BEAUTIFUL.. SHUSH NOW) “Oh yeah… *cracks some sort of silly joke*”
We get into the plane and guess who is first in line? *takes a bow* (HOLY FREAKIN’ GOD)
I sit in my position and the plane starts its taxiing. All of a sudden, a sense of calm takes over me. I look outside at the perfectly shaped fields – patches of green and brown, a stream, blue skies with specks of clouds. I am actually enjoying this.
My instructor fixes the hooks and tightens everything he can get his hands on. We are in the air for about 5 minutes and I see that things down below have become tiny little specks. Still calm.
“Put on your headgear and glasses.”
Surprisingly I have stopped talking. My instructor inches me forward and the photographer accompanying me opens the door. I hang my legs outside and the air hits me. I somehow remember the instructions for the dive.
Tuck your legs under the plane’s side. Stick your hips forward. Hold your harness and put your head on your instructor’s shoulder.
Before I have the chance to say anything, my instructor takes two swings and BOOM!
I was falling.
They had promised 60 seconds of free fall. I am falling really fast. Through the clouds. I am not sure if I want to keep my eyes open or close. I get brave and keep them open. I think I am screaming. I can’t hear a thing. It is so quiet. I thought it would be loud and windy. I should look down. I shouldn’t.
The photographer appears suddenly in front of me and I feel a tap – I am to open out my hands and do the quintessential hand signs associated with skydives and other adventure sports. My brain remembers that i need to smile. I think i am smiling. I see the photographer moving away. My minute is over. WHAT? NOOOO… I WANT MORE!!!!
My instructor opens the parachute. I can hear myself again! I can’t stop saying, “Oh my God! WOW” over and over again. I put my arms out, shut my eyes and take in the feeling of absolute abandonment. Only attached to a man, but what the hell. I was flying and cruising. HELL YEAH!!
My instructor senses my happiness and delight as opposed to panic and screaming associated with many divers. He does a few spins, takes me for a longer ride, does some swish and some swash and my toes tingle in the process.
He heads for the landing.
We land beautifully and I can’t feel my legs as we touch the ground. I punch the air and can’t stop laughing. My instructor laughs and we hug. We walk back and I have the biggest rush ever. I see my brand-new friends are cheering and clapping. I do a little jump in the air.
I turn to the instructor and say,
“This was my one thing to do in 2015. I think I am going to make this my every year thing-to-do thing!!”
January 2013: I am sitting in my very palatial home in Bangalore, India staring at the vast amount of
junk amazing knick-knacks I have accumulated over six years. It is quite unbelievable that I quit my job 2 months ago and now sitting on a pile of things that I am selling online at throw-away rates. Well, we are moving countries! (Cue: panic, stress, deep breaths…) We are moving to London and have to pack up our lives that we have painstakingly built over the past six years. Not easy to do that, let me tell you. Every object I pick, has a memory… “Oh my god! we bought this figurine from that tiny village in Tamil Nadu, remember?”… is a usual response.
But it has to be done. We pack our lives in 2 suitcases (and 2 to-be-shipped boxes, mainly consisting of shoes and bags…) and take that BA flight. I have come to love Bangalore but I know this next chapter will be supremely exciting..
April 2013: I am freezing to death. No, I mean it, literally freezing to death. I wear my big fat coat inside the house because I can’t deal with 3 degree Celsius. I am a tropical girl, after all!! I have tried to make home of this house we live in, in a leafy, quiet neighbourhood called Ealing. Reusing and recycling throw-able material for decoration purposes runs in my DNA. My mother is a pro at taking a fallen tree branch and converting it into a gorgeous piece of art in the living room. If you come to my house today, you will see the most eclectic mix of clutter strewn about the living room. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂
I spray-paint the innumerable wine bottles (what can I say, wine became my companion in this jobless situation!) and write little notes with chalk. Thank you, Pinterest for the inspirations. I go browsing the nearby farmers’ markets and buy cheap flowers. Charity shops are my best friends. From cutlery to vases and candles, I buy them all, desperately trying to recreate the homely feeling that I missed.
I also spend countless hours searching for jobs. I am lonely in the city, barring a handful of friends (who obviously would not entertain me in the middle of the week) and cousins in faraway towns, who I meet and feel grateful for over weekends. But it is me against time on weekdays. I am not kidding when I say, I apply to over 20 jobs a day. I am an accomplished communications professional and after 6 years in the industry, I am so desperate to find something that I am willing to even take an internship.
“Your résumé is amazing, but unfortunately you don’t have UK experience..sorry and good luck!”
Well, Mr. idiot, if you don’t give me a UK experience, how the hell am I supposed to get it??
Upwards and onwards, I continue my quest. I also take this time to see the city that is London.
June 2013: I HAVE A JOB!!!!! I jump up and down and cry on the phone to my father when I hear the news. I buy some flowers and smile at every stranger on the road till I start getting the are-you-mental look. I take the husband for an elaborate meal (of course with his money.. but nevertheless).
Something else makes me happy. Even though the past four months have been tough with over 100 job rejections, I also got the chance to see this city and absolutely, completely, fall head over heels in love with it. Sometimes when i felt miserable, I would get dressed, wear the warmest clothes and step out. I would pull out my Google maps and just walk everywhere. Once, I started walking from Bank tube station, over to St. Paul’s, across Millennium bridge to Tate Modern and down along the river to Borough Market back up to Liverpool Street. Best walk of my life. Once, I left home at 8am and decided to explore the antique markets, that I even blogged about!
My perception of London and its people changed faster than changing underground tube lines. People are warm, very helpful, love the city and guard its culture fiercely. The city is inviting, has an incomprehensible amount of history and if you walk around the city without constantly looking up at the building façade, you are missing something in life. Randomly you will come across a plain-looking house with a placard claiming a famous poet/artist lived here. Out of nowhere, you will come across a hidden pub in a cobbled alley that looks as inviting as its beer. I spent innumerable hours browsing London’s many free art galleries and museums. I also turned the big 3-0 and decided to treat myself by wandering around the Natural History Museum and the V&A museum. I also got a massive surprise from the family… so blessed! Oh! did I mention, I camped at Wimbledon? What an experience!
ok moving on…
August 2013: I am generally in a happy state of mind. I have a job which is lovely. I have the BEST colleagues in town. No seriously. BEST. I have made amazing connections at work, found my long-lost twin (only that she is blonde and English) and made a network that is hard to come by. I spend my days working with colleagues to fight for the rights of UK consumers (I worked for the Consumer Association of UK) and spend many hours being awed by the campaigning work we do. I come from a background of mostly technology companies and to be in the same room as people who take up a challenge against the government and ask them to end dubious mobile phone practices, is inspiring.
I spend my evenings laughing-till-stomach-cramps-happen over wine in a crowded old-man’s-pub. I get introduced to a million amazing experiences with these girls (remember the BEST colleagues i spoke about?) and thank someone up there, every single day.
December 2013: Saw the fireworks of London on New Year’s Eve with the people that mattered. Have made 2 trips around Europe and felt generally a bit more settled in life. Going ice-skating at the Somerset House and getting bruised in special places. Of course laughing till nothing mattered. Watching Lion King and crying in the first act because I couldn’t believe I was watching something that I dreamt about since childhood. Still love charity shops but now I look around John Lewis and buy little something specials.. 🙂 Cooking a hearty Christmas Day lunch at home and lounging on the couch nursing fat bellies, dressed in Christmas jumpers.
April 2014: I feel I am a somewhat expert on London. I recommend restaurants, experiences and plan weekend activities for the husband and myself.
London got the husband and I closer than before, having to spend many weekends as just us, made us treasure what we have and experience new cultural outings. Sunday roasts, exploring neighbourhoods, going for a long walk on Saturdays, signing up for pop-ups and shows.. we do the whole shebang.
We are travelling to the US, east coast to be precise and I am busy planning the works – being the planner that I am, I have a spreadsheet going. We are seeing family and friends and are very excited as this is my first footprint in the continent.
Came back to London and did not enjoy New York as I thought I would. Everyone said it is amazing and all I kept thinking while I was there was – oh! London is so much better. Maybe it was just wrong timing but I think I would pick London anyday.
May 2014: My birthday was beautiful. A crazy night out with the girls, getting pampered by the husband and having a picnic in Hyde Park with family and closest friends…
And just when I thought it is all amazing/rosy, I got told that I am being made redundant at work due to budget cuts. I feel like my world crashed around me. I cry to my mum on phone. “Did my luck just run out?” After a couple of days of whining and feeling bad for myself, I picked myself up and sent my résumé out to the universe. Have to say, my now ex boss was an absolute gem. Not only did he help me with interview questions and tasks but let me take any several hours off to get that job. Getting shocked looks at work of how-can-they-make-you-redundant made me feel blessed that I made some sort of impact in the one year I worked there.
June 2014: Thank god for parents! My parents are visiting. Mum cooks exotic dishes every day and I feel like I am 22 again and my mum is in town to help me fix my life. The family of 5 (including the little sister who moved with me as well) take off to Scotland for a road trip. Best decision ever to get away. We explore the gorgeous landscape, whiskey distilleries, tiny untouched villages and sang Bollywood songs loudly while on the road!
July 2014: I FOUND A JOB!!!!! yes, the excitement kicks in again. It’s my last-day-at-work day and the ‘twin’ and I have cried our hearts out. My heart aches at saying goodbye to a gem of a team but I know the next chapter would be something else. We make a pact to see each other’s faces every week (trust me! that still stands true today.) We have planned one monthly experience and million dinners. We plan to go for drinks and end up chatting till closing time.
I work for Save the Children now. If I were to explain my first month here, it would be – I am physically thrown into a massive storm in Atlantic Ocean, with a small lifeboat at my mercy (symbolically this would be the husband and the girls from ex-office). My role is to swim to the shore battling the sharks and the weather gods.
Too dramatic? Trust me, it is exactly how I felt. Never in my life have I experienced a work combination of “I want to quit now!” and “This is such an amazing opportunity”. Working on real world problems and crises, communicating stories of real-life heroes who save the lives of millions and reading about our work that brings a smile on that child’s face in Afghanistan… is a surreal emotion.
November 2014: I am running my very first 15k Cancer Research UK Shine Walkathon. So proud to not just contributing to a cause but also to do something off the ‘list’. Another thing ticked off the list – Went on a girls trip to Amsterdam… Had the best time of my life, missed the husband a bit (which is good!) but loved the unnecessary giggles, stupid photos and non-stop eating and drinking.
January 2015: I am sitting in front of the warm heater, writing this post and thinking about where my life is now. London has given me a lot – amazing new friends, new cultural experiences (did I tell you I went for roller disco, laser tag and kayaking in the Thames as well?) and a job that I think is finally my ‘calling’. We travelled to about 15 destinations in 2014 that included Italy (had to do it!!) and Central Europe in December…
I am finally at a place at work where I don’t want to pack my bags and run out of the door. I am looking forward to making 2015 a year that counts, not just for my career but also personally, as a human being. London continues to surprise me everyday and when I don’t ‘do something‘ for 5 days in a row, I get restless.
But isn’t restless good? So here is cheers to many more adventures to come and a hope that my life is never the usual but filled with a million adventures.
(Note: I have not been paid by Tourism London)
No, it is not to go to the Red Light district as soon as you get off the Central Station… but read on if you want to know Amsterdam more than that..
Till not very long ago, Amsterdam was a tourist destination of sorts for 20-somethings wanting to experience legalised prostitution and drugs and so was no.1 on their ‘Euro Trip’ list. Hash brownies, gorgeous women in lit-up windows and cannabis cafes are what defined Amsterdam for the longest time. The focus had shifted from its rich artistic heritage towards its sleazy, hedonistic side. But not any more. Amsterdam is back with a bang (no pun intended!) and how.
We made a 3-day weekend trip to this gorgeous city and fell in love instantly and I can safely say, it is diverse, tolerant and must feature in everyone’s weekend-break destination list. So here are 5 things you must do in Amsterdam in 3 days:
- Lose yourself in the city’s canals: Amsterdam is known for its many canals and cobbled streets. Any turn you take, you will find yourself staring in awe at a bridge, standing sturdy over a canal, dotted with house-boats that are idling away in the still water. Amsterdam is possibly one of the healthiest city I have come across. It’s made for walkers and cyclists, so you must take complete advantage of this.
- Start with Brouwersgracht – at the start of the Jordaan district, this canal has one of the best sunsets and examples of some of the best Dutch architectures, lining the streets. Originally a working class neighbourhood, Jordaan has redefined itself as the art, music and cultural district of Amsterdam. The bridges, barges and bicycles lined along the canal, makes it a typical Amsterdam scene.
- Walk over to Prinsengracht – the most picturesque canal in Jordaan district. It is the main canal leading to Nine Streets, the shopping district and finally to Leidseplein (the heart of the city). Haphazard cobbled streets run up to the main canal, dotted by colourful house façades and cosy cafes, making it a walk worth its time.
- Move on to Leidsegracht – Just before hitting Leidseplein, the busiest street swarmed with tourists, take a moment to enjoy this quiet little street. The canal houses on Leidsegracht are most beautiful with intricately designed gables leaning over the streets and brick walls. Spend an afternoon strolling along the canal and you will know what I mean.
- Finally end with Groenburgwal – While you dodge the stuffy tourist-filled main streets of Leidseplein and Dam Square and find yourself in the Old City Centre, you will come across this gem of a canal with a view straight out of a postcard. This is about two streets before Waterlooplein market and oh! it is one of 8 wooden drawbridges, overlooking the Zuiderkerk – the southern church. Made your heart leap there, didn’t I?
- Explore the Albert Cuypmarkt: The largest street market of Amsterdam, this one is sort of melting pot of many cultures. Moroccan, Indonesian and Dutch come together to haggle over knickknacks and cheese. The market is situated in the heart of De Pipj district, a very lively area filled with shops, restaurants and cosy bars. Do remember, the market is open Monday-Saturday, 9:00 – 5:00pm and don’t forget to try the Dutch local, raw herring from a local stall.
- Spend a day in the museum quarter: Now I understand not everyone loves the museums, or is as crazy about them as I am. But the museum quarter of Amsterdam has something for every traveller. Three of the best museums are next to each other – Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum and Stedelijk museum. Add Vondelpark and Museumplein to the mix and you have a complete day planned out. Big open grounds, great for picnics on a perfect sunny day, street food stalls selling waffles and small boutique shops – what else do you need to make a gorgeous day? While Rijksmuseum will give you the Dutch art flavour coupled with modern art extravaganza, Van Gogh museum is a perfect tribute to the artist with some of his best works on display. And Vondelpark is amazing for sinking your toes in the grass and enjoying a lunch of bread, cheese and wine.
- Explore the neighbourhood: There are many small towns around Amsterdam within an hour’s train ride that are worth
- half-day exploration. Choose from De Haag, Delft, Haarlem, Alkmaar or Hilversum. We decided to go to Haarlem. No more than 20 kilometres from Amsterdam, this is one of the oldest towns in The Netherlands. Till not too long ago, it was overshadowed by it’s obviously very famous cousin, Amsterdam. The town is now coming to its own; travellers are discovering its charm, its art and its history. We took a 15-minutes long train journey to Haarlem from Amsterdam Central Station. Any train that goes to The Hague, will stop at Haarlem, but do make sure you check with the conductor before getting on the train. We spent all day checking out the weekend street market, exploring its many cobbled streets, enjoying a pint of beer as street performers enthralled us in the market square, Grote Markt. And, yes, the one tip would be – walk back from Grote Markt to the station – the many sights include perfect houses, tree-lined cobbled streets, children playing in sunny patches of the parks and couples cycling their way through the city.
- Sit by the canal in the middle of De Wallen: I may sound old, married and boring with this one, but trust me when I say, it is the best thing you will do one lovely evening. De Wallen, popularly known as the Red Light District, leaves nothing to imagination. Over weekends it is swarming with 20-somethings awkwardly staring at the display or living it up in the free sex-and-drugs capital of the world. But if you can find your own little zone in the middle of all the hedonistic craze, it will be the best time you will have. We bought a bottle of wine, 2 glasses and some authentic Dutch fries, found a calm spot by the canal near the main street, watched the sun go down and absorbed the atmosphere around us. It is something.