Amidst the flurries of last minute packing for our flight to Amsterdam, I heard news break of flight MH17. I wasn’t even listening to the radio, it was playing in the background keeping me company over the previous few days as Dan had been working in Copenhagen. It was the mention of Amsterdam that caught my attention. Flight MH17 enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had been shot down killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.
I turned up the radio and waited for the next bulletin. I was flying to Amsterdam in the morning on my birthday and I was worried. It wasn’t that I was worried about our plane being shot down, I had far more selfish thoughts. It was horrible to think about all those people who’d died, but as I soon learned, most of the passengers were Dutch. That made it worse. What if the country shut down as a sign of respect? What if the airport was closed? Maybe we wouldn’t find anywhere to eat and find all shops shut. We might not even get there. I felt bad thinking how I did and turned the radio off. There was much to be done and I ploughed on regardless.
I needn’t have worried about the airport being closed or the country closing down because life seemed pretty much normal in the Netherlands. Families picnicked in parks, restaurants and supermarkets flourished and the beaches were packed. There was little access to wifi so we rode from Friday to Monday oblivious to world events.
Late on Monday afternoon we rode back to Schiphol, packed the bikes and checked in. We took a couple of coffees outside and that’s when I saw a sea of flowers. The reality of the disaster hit me like a slap in the face. TV cameras on tripods, microphones and a spaghetti of cables surrounded the area. A young flight attendant’s mascara was smudged across her cheeks. Barely able to stand, her grief so pronounced, she was flanked by two other attendants and given a tissue. My throat felt like a necktie was being tightened around it. I felt my eyes well up. I felt like a piece of shit. Each one of those passengers and crew that had ‘inconveniently’ been murdered had families and friends mourning their loss. One by one, they laid tributes and paused. Real people, real emotions and absolutely real pain.
Today, there is news of more bodies going home to Malaysia and I pause to reflect on that scene indelibly marked in my mind. May they rest in peace.