COUNTDOWN TO WINTER OLYMPIC GLORY – A HOPE, A PRAYER, AND A WHOLE LOT OF HARD WORK

 

The countdown is officially on, and the world is acutely focused on readiness watch. In less than 100 days the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will light the opening ceremony flame, the athletes will proudly parade behind their raised flags, and the games will begin.

With media attention and worldwide interest intensifying, the stats are becoming frequent soundbytes:

  • Location: Russia’s mountain and sea resort town of Sochi with its 145km of coastline
  • Stadium, Village and all other site design starting with a blank sheet of paper as no pre-existing facilities
  • A unique, future ‘model’ Olympic site creation offering:
    • 2 distinct clusters, 1 coastal for ceremonies, skating, hockey and other ice sports, 1 mountain cluster for skiing, sledding and other snow and hill based sports
    • 1 close and cleanly connected transport system connecting the clusters
    • Total bill to be paid for site development: US$ 51 billion

and of course,

  • special mention of the special attention being paid to open up air access, visa regulations, and other usual travel technicalities that can slow down the speed of athletes and supporters getting into and around the Games.

As the world comes together in Sochi, the Olympic family and global sporting community going on show, a second stage is set and in full performance mode. And the price far exceeds that of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

An Olympic size investment has been made by the nation of Russia in its global repositioning through being home to the host city of the 2014 Games. With each day of countdown until official opening of the world’s largest sporting event and one of the world’s trophy mega-events, Russia is under the spotlight, the heat only getting more and more uncomfortable. Human nature and interest is engaged in a hectic game of questioning Russia’s ability to deliver:

Will the stadiums be ready?

Will the transport systems work?

Will the media centre be able to manage the massive flows of journalists, networks, reporting, and networking?

Will the Olympic Village meet the needs of the athletes?

Will visitors feel welcome? Will they be safe?

Will the Games take home gold?

And what will happen to all of this after?

And these are just the points that Russia hopes to score from the international community. At home, the competition for credibility and support is as strong, if not stronger:

Why here, why now?

Why not invest in schools, hospitals, essentials?

Why make us work so hard so others can play?

Why bother?

For any nation that has hosted, or is in the process of readying for hosting, these questions are familiar echoes and aches. It happens everywhere – no mega-event has escaped, or will escape, the challenges. Even now the lingering voices of challenge hang over mega-events of recent past and imminent future be it the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, or the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brasil.

And yet event after event, year after year, nations put their hand up and wave them wildly with excitement, in hopes of playing host.

Why?

Because for so many nations, mega-events are the fuel for future nation building, internally and on the international stage. They being pain, no question, as questions put pressure on lead-up periods, and do not banish the pessimists even after successful execution. But without these events, the cost to a country could be so much higher.

Overtly, investment made by a city/country in a mega-event is about, at first priority level, the event infrastructure – stadium, media centre, accommodation, IT, airlines, airports, public transport, safety & security, etc.

Second layer: supporting though non-essential aspects – public space upgrades, secondary transport systems, the cosmetics

A mega-event forces adherence to delivery dates, especially where first priority aspects are concerned. The games will go on, as scheduled, second layer ready or not. The IOC, FIFA, BIE, heads of F1, etc have too much riding on on-schedule delivery to take a risk with their brand and business. This means that critical aspects of city and national infrastructure will be brought to life in time for the event, and kept alive long after. As are employable skills developed in the building process, even if the short-term employment in event creation come to an end.

In addition, these events allow for a mega-valet service of a host city / country space, making environmental improvements that have a lasting glow on host locations.

Finally, and critically, hosting allows hosts to cone together to heighten pride, productivity, profile and possibility. The threads of the national flag become stronger, more tightly woven together, more unified, for all at home and across the world to see. Identity is raised high.

Mega-events are never about “should we?” They are about “What if we didn’t?”

So, will Sochi be ready?

Yes. Because the 2014 Winter Games must go on. And national competition is fierce – far beyond sport – to allow for anything but aggressive efforts to come out on top.

As for the athletes, the Olympic dream for Sochi and Russia can and will become a reality with hope, a prayer, and a huge amount of hard work. There is simply too much invested in this moment, at all levels.

 

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2013

 

 

 

 

 

FAMILIAR FACES, NOT FOREIGN PLACES

 

Once again, just one month after a massive fire at NBO International Airport fire that stopped the movements of air transport (and interdependent tourist and trade flows), the hearts of the people of Kenya are stopped as terror has taken over a shopping mall in upscale Nairobi.

Once again, the world watches, sends prayers, questions what will happen next. In this case, it is not about flames of fire burning themselves out. These flames, flames kept burning strong by terrorist groups with terrifying intentions, have the potential of burning stronger, wider, longer.

Watching the news coverage, thoughts turn to people in Kenya – how their hearts must be aching. How their sense of security must be shattered. How their feeling of confidence of safety and peace of the future must be challenged.

How can one help?

It is at times like this when one is reminded of one of the immense blessings of travel. In seeing the world, in visiting new places, meeting new people, we create new relationships. While first contact may be through planned tourism play or business pursuits, even after the moment of meeting passes, the memory embeds itself in ways often far deeper in meaning than one expected. Through travel, the people one meets become more than contacts linked to a time and space – they become connections, in mind, and often in heart. These are the faces that eliminate the distance between ‘here‘ and foreign places.

And at times like these, these are the faces for whom one’s heart is sore…

These are simply people to start to matter, Because in some way they have touched our lives. And therefore remain in our lives and thoughts, especially when events in their part of the world reawaken images and echoes of time shared.

As our world moves forward, and we are able to go further out, in so many cases it brings us closer together, beyond any official/structured context. For this reason, therefore, at times like this it is so important to reconnect.

It happens quickly when there is reason to celebrate. But even more importantly, it must happen at times like these when shock and hurt are present in their lives. The connections we have made, people who have made a home in our hearts, must not feel alone. However far away they may be, reaching out to share a thought and prayer matters. A message, a word of strength, an expression of support keeps those we care about closer, and offers strength, regardless of geographic distance.

Travel brings the world together. Relationships keep it together.

As the people of Kenya work to hold their heads and hopes high in this time of tragedy, as a very special Kenyan shared just moments ago, “We are trusting God that we will come through stronger as a nation.”

How can one help? ‘Be there‘…even if one cannot physically be there.

May the blessing of travel, making these connections, remind of the need to use this gift to reconnect so that those needing support truly feel they are not alone.

 

– This month’s article is dedicated with love and strength to Muriithi and the team at KTB.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2013

 

NBO – A BURNING REMINDER OF THE IMPORTANCE OF AVIATION

 

As the stale scent of smoke lingers over the scorched remains of the international terminal of NBO airport in Kenya, so to do the questions. How did the fire start? What will be the value of the damage? How long will it take to recover? When will flights be back to normal?

The devastating, absolutely devastating, fire that broke out in Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi just days ago, simultaneously broke hearts as locals, tourists, traders, and members of the global community the world over thought over the implications of the inferno.

That moment in time was about so much more than simply an airport in flames.

It was about the almost two million tourists that use NBO as their first step of their African dream come true.

It was about the millions of fresh-from-the-farm rose stems grown across the country that use NBO as the start of their voyage to florists across the globe.

It was about the millions of Kenyans who rely on tourism, exports, agriculture and aviation, and NBO, for their chance to earn a living to be able to, first and foremost, feed their families and pay school fees.

Within hours of the fire breaking out, swiftly and without speculation around the ‘why‘ and ‘who’, the story became about the ‘what now’. As comprehensively covered by CNN, the NBO fire was about economic impact – what would this do to tourism and exports in Kenya, and across the regional and global trading zones that NBO served. How would this impact the lives of the people of Kenya.

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/07/business/kenyan-airport-fire-disrupts-billion-dollar-transport-hub/index.html

Interestingly, and sadly, as with Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcanic ash cloud in 2010 that, over its peak no-fly period of April 14-20, froze air travel with its cancellation of over 100,000 flights worldwide (costing an estimated US$ 200 million per day, according to IATA), leaving untold numbers of travellers stranded, and costing billions in export losses, the NBO fire of this past week put a bright, hot, emergency spotlight on the critical role of the aviation sector as the backbone for nations the world over – economically, socially and competitively. Without airline connectivity, many nations across the globe are simply locked out of the chance to create a future through global commerce, especially emerging nations.

As shared by IATA just weeks ago in their capture of 2012 Headlines around global aviation and its continued growth, “Systemwide, airlines carried 2.977 billion passengers on scheduled services. Developing economies continued to drive global demand growth: 65% of the growth in passenger numbers on international services in 2012 occurred on markets linked to emerging markets.

Cargo, the invaluable belly of the aircraft, has unlocked markets across the globe to participate in export activity at levels that are lifting agriculture, manufacturing, and other industries to levels critical for greater GDP advancement and employment generation.

ATAG, in its 2010 review of the industry, estimated that the aviation sector is responsible for 56.6 million jobs worldwide, and generates over US$ 2.2 trillion in direct, indirect and tourism induced economic impact.

The bottom line – aviation, and travel and tourism, are essential to global economic and social connectivity, which in turn turns people of nations across the globe, especially the most needing of a chance for a better life, into productive, proud, hopeful citizen.

The NBO fire, still being assessed for immediate damage, will continue to have embers of fear slowly burning when it comes to understanding exactly what the long-term impact will be of the closure of this critical tourism and trade gateway.

As exposed with fiery poignancy just days ago, airports and airlines are about so much more than buildings and big metal birds. These sectors, paired, and as part of the greater global economic and social eco-system, are about keeping people looking up – literally, figuratively, globally.

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2013

PATIENCE AND PRAYER

 

At different points on the world map, for very different reasons, millions watch…and wait…and wait…and pray.

From Moscow to Pretoria, London to Cairo, the waiting continues, the days waiting accumulate, the story unfolds.

In an airport in Russia, government officials from across the globe, media representatives, human rights groups and passengers alike, wait to see what Edward Snowden’s next move will be, when he will make it, and how.

In a hospital in South Africa, with each breathe and each passing hour, just days away from his 95th birthday, a man who has stood tall as a symbol of hope and possibility now lies silently, as the people of his nation and the world wait, praying, that Madiba will continue to fight, this time for his life.

Meanwhile, outside a UK hospital, media remain camped out to hear, and mega-share, news of the first signs of arrival of the royal baby and future heir to the throne. Never before has a royal birth held the interest, imagination, and prayers for healthy arrival for mom and baby, of literally billions of people across the world. The waiting is briefly interrupted so that those on baby watch can place bets, purchase memorabilia or do a quick check in on what else is happening in the world.

And not far away in Egypt, Egyptians wait patiently to see who will be the people to move the people forward politically, economically, and emotionally. Prayers continue amidst protests, prayers from Ramadan…and all the days after.

And there are millions of other locations, and millions of reasons, where (and why) patience and prayer are the order of the day, week, month, year.

Interestingly, for the first time in a long, long time, our hyper-connected, immediate gratification, ‘now’ world is being told to wait. Sit tight, and wait.

The result? A clear reflection of how impatient, and often invading, watchers and waiters have become. The ability to know has given birth to a sense of the right to know. The mass knowing has lead to loss of understanding. The personal has been eclipsed by the public.

In our world today, moving forward is greatly a result of knowing more. The information age has been a massive blessing for billions of people hungry for not just information to feed their minds, but access to education to literally feed their bodies. Life management by smartphone has become a lifestyle that makes us wonder how we ever did without. Everything is right there, right now. And if it is not, surely there is an App to take care of that.

But when it comes to patience and prayer, only the good old fashioned ways apply.

Will it be pink or blue? Venezuela or Russia?

We will just have to wait and see…

For all of the satellite and bandwidth advances that exist in the world, with their ability to strengthen and speed up connectivity and curiosity, there is something lovely about knowing that sometimes, sometimes, things move at the pace they are meant to, not forced to. And sometimes only the hand of God is at the controls.

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2013

THE SELFISHNESS OF SORROW

 

With heavy hearts, the people of South Africa and the world wait, holding vigil, and their gaze on the Pretoria hospital that has housed the ailing President Mandela for three long weeks. Staring, anxious eyes and hearts, people pray, media gather, cameras click, the waiting continues…

The people of South Africa, and the world, want to know how their leader, their icon, their role model – their ‘Tata’ (‘father’ in the Xhosa language) – is.

Inside the hospital, limited family members and close friends create a gently flowing stream of visitors, feeling the enduring pressure of holding onto hope in such hard-to-be-hopeful times. It is a new struggle, one for life of a life so many, millions, so fearful of having to move on.

Since the beginning of June, the 08th to be precise, the return to hospital of the aged, ailing, adored President Mandela has caused a national, and global, eclipsing of all thought. As hard as the South African sun tries to break through the winter skies, flickers of light are hard to see. Millions create an outpouring of messages wishing ‘Madiba’, President Mandela, well, expressing how much they – the citizens of South Africa and the world, need him. The ache is palpable.

A man who has become a father to the world.

A leader who has become an icon of highest standing.

A human being who has become a symbol of the heartbeat of hope. How will we go on without him?

But who is ‘we’? Who, in these most tender of times, has the right, the real right, to say ‘I love you, my father’?

The significance, and the complexity, of this cry was recently highlighted when, in a deeply touching, exclusive interview with CNN’s Robyn Curnow – a journalist who, clearly, is welcomed into the Mandela family with trust and respect – was exposed to the open feelings and frustrations of those who are genuinely the only ones able to refer to President Mandela as ‘father/grandfather’.

The unedited message from the daughter of president Mandela? The people are hurting, the people are sad…but the people are not ‘family’. We, the family, must be given the respect due. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/23/world/africa/makaziwe-mandela-interview/index.html?iref=allsearch

With her words, Makaziwe Mandela brought back to home so much that had gone so out of control. So many lines have been crossed. The line of respect, where in the Xhosa tradition, it is taboo to speak of the passing of an elder. The line of intimacy, where non-family members felt and voiced the right to know more about the intimate details of the wellness, or not, of the ailing former President. The line of conscience.

In many ways, the sense of ‘I have the right’ seen and felt over the past weeks in South Africa reflects the greater, global impact of social media. While social media may be e-based, its impact on the way the world thinks is boundless. As a result, social media can be viewed as a platform, a vehicle, for expression of values, demonstration of principles, window into what is deemed to be rightful to reveal.

Sadly, the omnipresence of social media, and voyeuristic usage of so many social media platforms, has left many – many millions – feeling a right to know/see/tell more. Because they can. Throw the curtain in the window open – I have a right to know.

Really?

Does the existence of public e-lines make crossing into the sacred, private space of bloodlines acceptable? Have we, through the creation of FB ‘friends’ lost the real value of genuine three dimensional friends?

Even in these tender and tearful days, President Mandela is teaching us – teaching us the importance of knowing when it is important to stand up, to step forward…but also when one must step back.

Sorrow, sadly, is innately selfish – it is an expression of one’s loss, and the hurt that is felt with same. And that’s ok. Sometimes, sometimes however, that sorrow can cause a crossing of lines. Sometimes we need to recognise that personal ache is creating a feeling of right to have the curtain opened. When actually it should stay closed to us.

Whatever the future may bring, however the hand of God shall work, President Mandela will remain for the world not only a symbol of freedom and possibility, but also an enduring example of dignity, decency, honour, And rightness.

Ndiyabulela, Tata.

 

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2013