IMAN KURDI Now that I am finally home after my flight was cancelled due to the eruption of the volcano in Iceland, I ask myself what have I learnt from this once in a lifetime (we hope) experience. Truth is stranger than fiction. When someone wakes you up with a phone call saying British airports are closed because of the eruption of a volcano in Iceland, dont think it is some kind of belated April fools joke. Had I read it in a novel or seen it in a film I would have said: Yeah, right Who are they trying to kid? Not only has the Eyjafjallajkull volcano got a name no one outside Iceland can pronounce but it has caused the kind of mayhem terrorists can only dream about. Be careful what you call a catastrophe. It is a sad truth that a real catastrophe interests us less than a logistical nightmare. On the same day, as the volcano spectacularly erupted through the ice, China was hit by an earthquake. More than 2000 people died and tens of thousand were made homeless. That is a real catastrophe. The cloud of ash spewed by the volcano grounded planes and stranded hundreds of thousands of people but it was not a catastrophe. It may have been an unpleasant, tiring and expensive experience but it is not life-threatening by any stretch of the imagination. Suddenly the earth is large again. Planes being grounded threw us back to another era when travelling meant making your way across a landscape. Travelling by road, rail or boat not only takes so much longer but it is a sensually rich experience unlike being encased inside the bullet-like structure of a plane. The internet is a wonderful thing. For not having to call phone helplines we are truly thankful. Having information updated regularly online kept passengers easily informed. It also kept people entertained, enabled them to contact friends and family and also to get on with work if they so wished. This did however require having thought to bring your laptop with you, which was not the case for me. Never again will I leave my baby at home Uncertainty, is natures trump card. Every six hours they would announce that the airports would be closed for another six hours. The key information we wanted to hear was when the flights would definitely resume, then you could at least make plans. Uncertainty is a killer. It keeps you waiting for news. It mires you in indecision. Should you start a long trek home or should you wait it out until flights resume? Hours were spent on computers trying to work out alternative means to get home. It did not help that throughout this period French railways were hit by a strike. One small volcano in Iceland shut down air travel over most of Europe, no amount of scheduling, planning, technology, money or status could get a plane in the air. The meek and the mighty were equally grounded. And what optimists we have become How many of us had thought to even pack an extra set of clothing? Travel insurance doesnt cover you for the unexpected. Apparently since this is a force of nature, travel insurance does not apply though some insurance companies have kindly accepted to make a payout. Do we really need to travel? Looking at the hundreds of thousands of people stranded I wondered why all of them were far from home. I love travel and consider a sedentary life a form of punishment, but what does this constant need for movement say about us? Have we lost the power to put down real roots? Most travellers dont really need to travel, we do so out of choice. Sometimes this choice is overt, for instance when we book a holiday, sometimes it is not, such as a business trip. But the lawyer who spends more time on aeroplanes than at home with his family has chosen this lifestyle. Perhaps, the lesson from the volcano is to give us the chance to be still for once and ask ourselves why we fill our skies with tons of flying metal. Khaleej Times