PART FOUR: FROM KANSAS CITY TO BELGRADE
JANUARY 8, 2003 UMKC DAY 3, TRAVEL TO EUROPE
Everyone was moving out of the hotel. Brian and I would be on our way to the airport to fly to Europe, while the rest of our group would be on the way to the tournament to see if we could win thee second novice final of the swing, and then they would begin the long drive home. It was a parting I had never had before. In some 12 such swings I had not abandoned my crew like this, but now is a different time. Now is a time of global debate, of international travel, of widening perspectives, and of new practices and procedures. I had not done it before but I knew now was the right time to do it.
I had been there at the beginning of debate in the former Yugoslavia. I had been there is 1997 when it was very young, watching students begin to bloom as high school debaters. I had seen the debates on cloning high in the hills of Serbia, not far from the borders of war. I had helped to stage the first debates in the Faculty of Law in Belgrade back in 1998. Now those same students were the organizers and the movers and shakers, and now the Faculty of Law would be the location of a major international debate tournament. I felt that it was right that I go. I felt the call. This time I would not go as a debate missionary or as a debate innovator, but as just another coach with another debate team. That was my dream then, to see debate there flourish, and now I wanted to play out this next chapter and imagine new chapters to come.
We said goodbye to the crew as they set out for the tournament, all in one van. Shane Egizi would drive Brian and I to the airport and then meet up with them at UMKC. As Shane dropped us off at the airport I gave him some final instructions. Call us with the results of the final round, make sure the first class of the new semester was covered by the lecture I had videotaped and to remind Lana of that, and to make sure everyone got home safely.
As Shane drove off Brian and I mused that we were starting a new phase in our journey.
We took off from Kansas City bound for Atlanta. From Atlanta we would fly to JFK/NYC airport. JFK is mostly an international airport, so we had to go to Atlanta to get a good connection from Kansas City. The flight was uneventful.
On arriving in Atlanta I checked my mobile phone and discovered a message -- that Colin and Carlos had lost the final round 2-1 this time. The negative strategy had been very new and different and they had not adapted to it as well as they could have. Nevertheless I was very proud of them and I knew they represented us well.
We moved to our next plane through the immensity that is the Atlanta airport, riding the underground trains with the mechanical voices telling you when to hold on and what the next stop would be. I got a call from Jen who was at JFK and she wanted to know where we were. Apparently she had the wrong flight information, so was relieved to learn we did not fly out until 8:15 PM and that we would be there in plenty of time. It is at this moment that I made an error and told her to meet us at Delta when we arrived instead of telling her to stay at Lufthansa and wait for us. I would regret this later.
Our flight out of Atlanta was slightly delayed, but we still would have time to make the connection. We took off and were on our way to JFK. The planes had been packed all day, uncomfortable especially for Brian who is, as we say, a person of substance.
We arrived at JFK and immediately started looking for Jen. A kind attendant gave us a ride to where she said Jen would certainly be waiting. I am such a trusting fool! I appreciated the ride, but Jen was not there and our guide was long gone. We wandered around the Delta complex looking for Jen and could not find her. Concerned about the time (and believing that she would also be concerned) we decided to head to Lufthansa, where hopefully she would be waiting.
When we arrived at Lufthansa two things were revealed -- Jen was not there, and the flight would be delayed by two hours. I was glad for the delay, because it would certainly guarantee that we found each other, but concerned about the delay because this meant we would miss our connection between Munich and Belgrade. Belgrade isn’t the kind of trendy tourist and business connection with many different flights in and out, but Lufthansa told us there would be a flight, however, instead of arriving at 1:20 PM we would arrive at 10:30 PM. Not good, meaning we would miss the opening events of the tournament and have far less time to shed our jet lag and do some last minute preparations before starting round one.
We despaired of waiting for Jen and doing nothing, so Brian and I got in line and checked our luggage. Just as we were done Jen arrived, glad to see us, and we checked her in as well. Now we had about 90 minutes to kill, so we decided to have a drink and a snack together.
Brian and Jen are an interesting team. They had never debated together and they had never been in any parliamentary debates other than the practices we had. Jen had not gone to Kansas City because she has a regular job as a law clerk while attending school and could not miss so many days. Jen and Brian had been chosen because they are both seniors and they are strong public speakers. Jen has been debating off and on for several years, mainly due to financial constraints and spending time either not in school at all or attending a local community college at much less cost. She has a great love of critical theory and is a serious researcher. She is a self-motivated intellectual, and thus school often gets in the way of her learning more than anything else. She is an excellent cook and had been head chef at my favorite restaurant in town, the Five Spice Café. While talented at this, I saw her talents as far beyond the preparation of food and had always urged her to try for more. She had felt that as well, and had been much happier since she became a law clerk at a middle size law firm in town. She had quickly made herself indispensable to the firm, which explains how she got so many days off for debate. Brian is also a senior but is only in his second full year of debate. While he came to debate late he has taken to it with considerable gusto, working on his own arguments and pushing himself forward. In his first year of debate he had lost the final round of the novice nationals 2-1, an excellent showing. Now he was in the last year of his life as a debater, and had already committed himself to becoming g a debate coach so that he can continue with the activity he loves so much. Brian is also a strong speaker and a flexible debater. They would need all of their skills at their first parliamentary debate tournament ever.
We chatted and then made our way to our gate, as it was time to board. We were in seats separated from each other, and as we got on we said, See you in Munich and the long flight began.
The flight left a little before 11 PM and we winged our way over the ocean. The Lufthansa service was good, but soon I was asleep even though I was far from comfortable. On a trip like this you have to get rest when you can.
JANUARY 9, 2003 TRAVEL TO EUROPE
I awakened while we were in flight and soon the sun had risen and was shining bright through the window. I fired up my computer and worked on this journal a while before taking a break and watching some MPEG video on my Apple iBook. I had brought along some old Doctor Who episodes (black and white stores from the middle 1960’s with titles like “Web Planet” and “Keys of Marinus’) because I never like the movies on flights and I am always entertained by watching Doctor Who. I have some 148 different stories, about as complete a collection as one can have, and I am almost finished transferring them from VHS tapes to Cds that play in either computers or in a DVD player.
We landed in Munich just a few minutes too late to get our co9nnection to Belgrade. In negotiation with Lufthansa they were helpful and indicated that if we flew to Zurich we might arrive in Belgrade as early as 7 PM, which sounded great to us, considering our need to sleep and get adjusted to the new time zones. Travel from the USA to Europe can often be difficult because it is 6-7 hours later there, and while it doesn’t effect you right away later you find yourself wide awake at 3 AM with nothing to do, and then later that day very tired by 6 PM. We decided to take this chance and fly to Zurich. Besides, it added another country to our itinerary!
I had also discovered that I had not brought the specifics about where we needed to go when we arrived in Belgrade. I assumed that my friend would now not be there to meet me, so I jumped on the Internet. I found the web page and saw we would be in the Hotel Metropole. But, that didn’t seem right. I remember getting an email saying we would be at the Hotel Excelsior, where I had stayed twice before. Well, another adventure would await us when we arrived.
The flight to Zurich was uneventful. We waited for a while in Zurich for our Belgrade flight, and discovered that it was not on Lufthansa, but on JAT, Jugoslavia Air transport. I had flown JAT before and found it acceptable, but it certainly is not one of the world’s major airlines. I told Brian and Jen that last time on JAT the food had been better than on the bigger airlines. And I was right. We also began to get the feel of being in Belgrade, as almost everyone on the plane was speaking Serbo-Croatian.
As we began to land we could see that it was snowing heavily. I prepared myself for a tense landing in the heavy snow, but that was accentuated when I heard the pilot announce that we would be landing in Budapest, Hungary. I thought for a moment perhaps it was just a slip of the tongue, but after we touched down (a nice landing, though there was a bit of scary sliding involved) he repeated that we were in Budapest. Nice town, Budapest, but not our destination. Any chance of arriving in time to get some rest was vanishing. We were told that the Belgrade airport was snowed in an that we would be sitting on the ground here for approximately two hours while we waited for the weather to clear both in Budapest and Belgrade. Drinks were served and soon those ran out. Serbs love their cigarettes and soon the plane was full of smoke as people wandered about and the staff was unable to enforce the no smoking rule. We began to get frustrated and started a conversation with a couple that spoke English. The man was from the UK and the woman was from Serbia. We swapped travel stories but the time was dragging. We had been in airplanes and airports for a long time and the heavy smoke was not helping any. Finally we were told that we would be refueling and people would HAVE to stop smoking, and they did. After a wait of over two hours we took off in what was still a fairly brisk snowfall, but we got off the ground and rose above it, winging our way to Belgrade.
We landed in Belgrade as the snow continued and emerged into an almost empty airport. We made our ay through customs and another fear crept up on me -- the fate of our luggage. Sure enough, it was not there. We stood in line to file a claim and had a chance to chat again with the friendly couple we had talked to in Budapest. I asked their advice about some ground specifics and they were very helpful. The ability of the clerk at the baggage desk was less than excellent due to her unfortunate English (not her fault, of course, but mine for being so helpless) but we managed with help from our friends.
We emerged from immigration and customs into a lobby filled with only desperate taxi drivers. I knew we were being overcharged, but it was the middle of the night in a snowstorm and we needed to go to perhaps two hotels. I finally reached an acceptable price in dinars (60 dinars to $1 US) and we made our way into the morning and along the snowy roads to Belgrade.
We decided to try the Excelsior first, since that is what I had remembered from the email and I knew it better than the Metropole. The taxi parked in front while I ran in, and I was delighted to see posters for BELGRADE OPEN 2003 in the lobby. The desk had our reservation, and we piled out of the taxi. We were, of course, without luggage and in the same set of clothes we had been wearing for what seemed like days, but at least we were stationary and had a warm bed to sleep in. We went off to our rooms and I found myself in a single overlooking the plaza in front of the national parliament building. I took a brief hot shower and hopped into a clean bed and was soon asleep.
I was back in Serbia again. I had not been here since 1998. I thought of the NATO bombing, how it had ripped the city apart, and how some of the students I had worked with in the that first debate at the Faculty of Laws had been killed by the bombs that Bill Clinton had sent to smash what he called the “Serbian war machine,” but that had killed them while they worked the night shift at the national television station. I had long rehearsed what I would do and what I would say when I returned. I was here and I was ready to say it.