Day 1 – Thursday 8th May – Bangkok, Thailand
Welcome to ‘Land of Smiles’
This was the sign that greeted us at immigration after a very comfortable and quiet flight from London. I met Philip at Heathrow and we somehow had managed to get all our personal kit and tech kit down to about 35kg (our allowance was 40kg)! We made sure that our hand luggage contained all the vital kit in case of lost bags. The flight was less than half full and we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves. After a tasty dinner of ‘beef pa naeng and choco profitroles’ we got some kip. We woke early and started looking through and sorting data ready for arrival. Before we knew it we were landing.
Stepping out of the air-conditioned plane we were hit by a wall of moist heat, something I guess we will get used to here. Bangkok is a fantastic airport but wow! is it a long walk to the baggage hall! Bags all OK and so we got a taxi to the UN. The taxi-getting involved a salesperson at the airport, a young female fixer/translator who then accompanied us with the car once it arrived – a beaten up old Volvo of all things! A long drive along wide motorway took us into the heavily built-up city of Bangkok and eventually to the UN compound and OCHA – ROAP (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific).
Then down to business – we were met by Craig Williams (Regional Information Management Officer) and shown to our desk – a quiet cosy corner with internet and access to an A3 colour printer and A0 plotter. We did a quick walk around to meet various characters most notably Terje Scavdal (Head of Office). There was definitely a feeling that these guys knew who MapAction were and were pleased that we were there. Several recalled previous encounters with the ‘map geeks’.
By this time it was about 6pm local time – usual work hours here are 8am to 4pm – but everyone here is working overtime. We got settled in and dealt with our first challenge – setting up an ad-hoc network with our 2 laptops, network hub, borrowed internet connection and various networked drives and printers on the UN OCHA system. A call to Emerson was required and he quickly helped us gets things working. Must remember to document how I did it. The next few hours was spent looking at the UN OCHA data holdings and comparing to what we already had and finally meeting with Craig again to discuss the way forward. A very interesting discussion that – mainly politics but also some inside info on what is happening. Seems an UNDAC team is in Myanmar now but only those of Asian descent and with an Asian passport. He also told us about the US – they have a fleet steaming into the Bay of Bengal (this may be classified!) and are offering use of heavy lifting gear (C-130s and hovercraft) for emergency relief supplies into the difficult Irawaddy delta area. However, Myanmar may not accept their help. If they do, Craig thinks it will radically change the role of OCHA so we will wait and see.
We now have a list of things to be doing tomorrow and will try and pass some things back to UK team to assist us. We’re invited to a briefing at 08.30 where we will be introduced. As for maps, they would like to see our maps tri-branded with MIMU, UN OCHA and MapAction – again there are politics here with MIMU wanting to be seen as the main player even though it currently consists of one person working from the US and several friends and relatives roped in to help out!
Must go to bed now otherwise body and mind will be seriously jet-lagged tomorrow.
[This diary is from my involvement with MapAction’s assistance to UN OCHA after cyclone Nargis, May 2008]