The long tail in a common’s man journey to debconf16 – 1

I was going to put a technical post but saw the discussion of one of the meetings of the debconf meets and decided to share a novice’s travel experience.

Before I start here’s the discussion log

and specifically this part which hit me (using fake names for discussion as haven’t taken permission from the folks to cite them by name.) –

20:36:52 abcd: $100 CAD is a lot for some, but you’d only need it if you won’t sleep in sponsored accom, which arguably is acceptable.
20:37:04 it would, efgh, fixed sponsorship sum for everybody and allocation of rooms completely decoupled. Hotel gets the money from everybody and the “base fee” from DebConf.
20:37:15 people who can’t afford also have special needs and may be uncomfortable in sharing rooms. That’s quite frequently in our community. Managing each case will be much more complicated.
20:37:31 hijk: we could set aside budget for such special needs, for sure.
20:37:43 I’m talking about managing each case
20:37:46 hijk: yes, but we’ll have the special cases no matter what.
20:37:48 yes, and the special cases need to be catered for regardless of how everybody else is housed
20:38:06 hijk: room allocation already includes this.
20:38:19 people having to expose their personal problems to have us permitting them staying in the hotel
20:38:23 that’s just too weird

It just goes on. I dunno whether I’m weird or not or the experience I would share is just normal, this I would leave for you to decide.

As have shared before, some friends of mine from the free software community had cajoled me last year to apply for debconf bursary (debconf15), which surprisingly got approved, but as it was late and my pre-conceived myths/notions of visas taking a looooong time decided not to go further. Many things take a long time to happen in the Indian bureaucratic maze. For instance have been in a civil case for almost a decade now among other things so know and accept that things take their own sweet time otherwise known as ‘Indian patience’ 😉

Did the application and again, surprise, surprise this time too I was approved. Luckily, had done the application for bursary early so was a bit positive on the visa-front. There was a goof-up at the embassay but thanks to people at where I asked quite a few questions, I was a bit informed and travel was relatively hassle-free. Internally though, I was nervous as hell. I had been feeling like a ‘conman’ or a ‘fraud’ or being an ‘imposter’ because I knew before-hand that the project is so huge and had done the mistake of putting up a talk and a workshop where the big guns would be, which again was accepted (not good). The only thing I was thinking of as a saving grace is that there might be some newbies who don’t know about the project at all (on Open Day) and hopefully I could help with that but as you will see, even there I was fully inadequate.

I live in Pune which is around 3.5 hours from Mumbai (BOM) from where international flights take off. While Pune has an Airport, due to defence considerations, there cannot be much improvement either for domestic or International carriers. There have been attempts to have an exclusive civilian Airport for a long time (almost a decade) and would still take a decade or more.

Hence had decided to take an early morning train from Pune to Mumbai, change couple of locals and finally land up at the Mumbai International Airport. Hind-sight as they say is 50:50, while I do have friends in Mumbai, I also found about a homestay which is closer to the Airport and still relatively budget-friendly.

Anyways, met few friends but as was paranoid about missing connections found myself in front of the Airport at 20:00 hrs. with about 7 hours + to go before my flight. While there is nothing to do around the airport rather than hanging around, just hung around outside the airport as knew that inside the airport will be chilling and once you go in, you cannot come out or at least it’s an inconvenience to the security therein. The International Airport in on three levels, the basement is for vehicles, the first level to receive International and Domestic passengers and the upper-most level exclusively for people flying internationally. This again, came to know when I tried to enter into the ones meant for Domestic and International Passengers coming into the city.

Came to the check-in counter at around 02:00 hrs, did the security thing and just had to wait as the flight was of 0400 hrs (from my limited search experience, the cheapest flights are at such times when nobody else (i.e.civilized people) wants to fly). Entered Doha around 5:15 Doha time and saw a much much bigger airport than either the Mumbai International Airport or/and the Delhi International Airport . While I have written some negative stuff about Doha, there were two positives that I am sure, I had forgotten to share –

a. There were no transit Visa Fees that I had to pay. Most countries and airports I researched have something called transit visa and that can really get expensive, so saved money on that.

b. The free ride into the city and back with voluntary tipping the driver or/and guide (approx. 3-4 hours)

While the second from what I could tell/know is a gimmick, this is something I wish other countries and airports emulate.

There are hotels in the airport and I could have had hotel accommodation if I had booked a slightly more expensive ticket, roughly INR 5k/- each way which would have given me a bit more legroom as well as stay as my layover was more than 24 hours. But this information was known at last minute. Qatar Airways has just a toll-free number and trying more than a few times gave up. They don’t have an office in the city. When I reached the check-in counter they said if I had upgraded to ‘Y’ class I would have had the hotel thing. Changing tickets at the last moment was too expensive and anyways for hotel accommodation for layovers they required at least 24 hours notice.

Had to make do with recliners and chairs which are not really comfortable. There were only a couple of waiting rooms on air-side which had a view of the aircraft and hence were a bit more pleasing than those which were on the land-side and were fully blocked without a view. I wish there was a map of the Airport from within the Airport as even with the single terminal it is really easy to get lost.

Somehow the day and night went by and took my second flight and reached Cape Town, South Africa. Throughout the journey had been stressed as had to be awake at all times and make sure that nothing gets stolen. Having attendants at toilets were also good so that there is no possibility of any violence there. So it had been 2 days, no shower and no sleep.

Later also came to know about Airport Sleeping Pods and shower stalls but these also seem to be less in number, at few airports and there always be a bit of premium attached to them as airports are a monopoly business.

Anyways, reached the venue. Throughout the travel there was quite a bit of unnamed fear which I later came to know after seeing Dr. Ramanujan’s ‘The Man who knew Infinity‘ . It was/is the fear or unknown, while in the movie it is articulated as fear of crossing seven seas, symbolically it is the fear or unknown.

Now while I was dead tired, I still pushed myself as I didn’t want to have the effects of jet lag interfere with the normal sleeping and waking patterns. I did freshen myself but didn’t allow myself the luxury of the bath-tub as I knew that if I went in, I would not come out that day. Met all the people, learnt who’s who, where things are happening etc. and slowly night came. Night came and I was so-looking forward to sleep but sleep was not to be. I later learnt it could be either of the two reasons, it could either have been ‘travel-induced insomnia‘ or/and what is known as the first night effect‘.

It was only on the second day when I was in bath-tub for about 2/3 hours I could feel the tension leaving my body. I finally realized that I am in Cape Town, South Africa and could enjoy and be surprised at seeing birds within few feet of me 🙂 .

Now I don’t know whether I’m the only weird/paranoid one, I do know that it would not have been easier for me at least for the first night as I was turning and twisting throughout the night. I opened the lights, read for some time hoping for sleep to take over but that didn’t work. Tried quite a few things but sleep didn’t come. If I had been sleeping with other people I dunno how they would have reacted. I myself am a light sleeper (most of the time) and if I had sleep coming and somebody else acted or been the way I was, I wouldn’t been able to sleep. However much you try, whatever is the natural reaction is, will be. There are still some bits to share but that would be in part 2.

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