Dear Diary: My epic New York experience Part 1
The locals refer to it as “ The Walking City” or simply “The City That Never Sleeps” and this is none other than New York City; the most populous city in the United States of America (USA). Those with the savoir-faire also refer to it as “The Big Apple”; first popularized in the 1920s by John J. Fitz Gerald, a sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, and just recently we were opportune enough to invade its shores courtesy of Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) and American Embassy where we had accompanied Botswana’s first Afro-Fusion and Contemporary dance group, Mophato Dance Theatre alongside #ILoveBotswana ensemble who had been invited to perform for the first time at the 36th annual Battery Dance Festival in Manhattan, New York.
This was the first time a Botswana or African group had been privileged enough to perform at such an esteemed platform; revered by both the Financial Times and New York Times. Mophato’s Battery Dance Festival performance in New York was the group’s first in America and follows Battery Dance’s State Department tour of Botswana last year (2016).
Established by Battery Dance in 1982 as the Downtown Dance Festival, today the Battery Dance Festival (BDF) is New York City’s longest-running free public dance festival. Audiences are traditionally drawn from the large downtown working population and residents, families, tourists, senior citizens and dance fans from the greater NYC metropolitan area. Each year, the Festival draws a combined audience of over 12,000 people.
The Battery Dance Festival provides a unique opportunity for outstanding dancers and choreographers to present original works of high artistic merit in a free public forum. BDF revels in the panoply of dance that our city offers, with strong emphasis on the inclusion of diverse dance styles and an international roster of performers.
Founded in 2009 by Andrew Letso Kola; a Molepolole native, Mophato Dance Theatre (MDT) is Botswana’s first Afro-Fusion and Contemporary dance company which has performed across Africa and Europe.
Well, our journey began at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport where upon checking in by the South African Airways (SAA) counter came with its own hassles, but nonetheless God was on our side! The bone of contention as explained by a no-nonsense SAA authority was that my ticket was missing the other two names in my passport or national identity (Omang).
As such and since I’d be connecting in Doha; the capital city and most populous city of the State of Qatar via Qatar Airways from O.R. Tambo International Airport, Africa’s biggest and busiest airport, facilitating approximately 19 million passengers a year, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the fear was that I may not make it all the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, the primary international airport serving New York City, USA.
The hard-nosed SAA authority explained how these international airports (countries) are stringent and often exercise comprehensive security checks, and with my international flight tickets not fully bearing all the names on my passport or ID, the whole state of affairs may later turn into a monstrous dilemma while I am miles and miles away from home, ultimately forcing them to send me back home on the next available flight.
I was then summoned to the SAA Manager’s officer where we spent a considerable amount of time with the SAA officers trying to explain the gravity of my situation. Our booking agent had advanced an excuse that my names were too long and as such they had proven difficult to be accommodated by her system, something which the SAA agent duly refuted!
The clock was ticking and as a result I missed our SAA flight while the rest of my team went their way! However, with Lady Luck on my side, the ill-fated mishap was swiftly dealt with by our booking agent who checked me into the next available flight, Air Botswana and I was able to reconnect with our traveling troupe at O.R Tambo International Airport, just well in time before they boarded the flight to Doha.
Quizzed how she had managed to get all the names into her system this time around, the remorseful lady explained that she had inputted all the three names including my surname as one name. What a sigh of relief this was!
The Qatar Airways flight (QR1364) from Johannesburg to Doha took slightly over 9 hours; having left OR Tambo at 1320hrs and arriving in Doha at 2325hrs. Flying Qatar Airways is truly Heaven on Earth! The majestic journey on the World’s Best Airline is truly invigorating even when one is flying economy class.
The captivating smiles and friendliness of the diverse flight attendants or cabin crew truly warmed my heart. These multifarious cabin crew go the extra mile in ensuring that every single passenger; be it economy or business class is well taken care of, and there’s never a time when one feels left out.
I was utterly amazed by their unstinting deeds throughout the entire flight until we arrived at Hamad International Airport. This airport is sheer class! Hamad International Airport (HIA) represents an area one third of the size of Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, and was built upon 60% reclaimed land from the Arabian Gulf.
As the international five-star gateway to Qatar and the rest of the world, as well as being Qatar Airways’ home, Hamad International Airport’s state-of-the-art facilities and welcoming atmosphere redefines the passenger travel experience. HIA’s passenger terminal complex covers 600,000 square metres while the airport itself covers 22 square kilometres, and has the capacity to handle 8,700 passengers per hour, or 30 million passengers per annum, rising to 50 million when the second phase is complete.
The airport features 138 check-in counters spread across five islands, which means minimal waiting time for those departing Doha. There are 14 seated check-in areas reserved for Qatar Airways First Class passengers and 16 check-in counters for Qatar Airways Business Class passengers and members of the one-world reward programme. For Qatar Airways Economy Class passengers and all other airlines, there are 108 check-in counters.
What an experience this was for a modest Botswana native like myself! Our connecting flight to New York City’s JFK International airport was at 0215am with the ETA set for 0900am.
The painstaking security procedures at HIA is not for the meek, as one undergoes rigorous body searches including hand swabs for any prohibited foreign materials. The comprehensive security checks also requires one to take off their shoes. All electronic paraphernalia; be it laptops, iPads, cameras, lenses, mobile phones also undergo a swab before the security personnel puts them in a sealed plastic bag which you’re advised not to open until you arrive at your destination. This I later learnt, certain people are chosen randomly for a swab, which is supposed to pick up traces of the materials one has been handling. Then they put it in a machine that analyses those traces. The method is also set to detect various illicit drugs, stuff you see only on Border Security!
Luckily, every member from our team was clean as a whistle and the epic trip from Doha to New York took slightly under 14 hours. Arriving in New York was breath-taking, largely because this has to be on almost everyone’s ‘Bucket List’ of places to visit, and flights to New York with Qatar Airways give you a unique opportunity to experience life in the Big Apple.
The ‘City that Never Sleeps’ is home to some of the most instantly-recognisable sights in the world, including the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, The Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building, and I couldn’t wait to check some of these iconic marvels.
New York is one big tourist attraction. From Times Square and 5th Avenue, to Wall Street, Ellis Island, and Central Park – New York is packed with places to visit and sights to see.
The city is divided into five boroughs – Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. The one attraction that everyone comes to New York to see has to be the Statue of Liberty…
To be continued!