Life’s Monologues and Conversations – 05/05/09

Reflections on a Journey

Vol. 1, No. 01 * 05 May 2009

dasmariñas, maimaiBy JCI Mem. LORELEI “MAIMAI” M. DASMARIÑAS, CNT
Asia Pacific Development Council Development Officer

You’ve probably heard it told so many times… especially by old folks. I myself have heard it told many times over from generation to generation… according to urban legends… when one’s birthday draws near, one usually experiences extra ordinary things happening all at the same time.

Today is my birthday… the 5th day of the 5th Month of the year. But twelve days ago, I had firsthand experience to what my ancestors have been telling me… extra ordinary things happening all at the same time prior to my birthday. And mind you I have mixed emotions about it.

Extra ordinary things…

I finally experienced how it felt to become a millionaire!

I left the Philippines for an Asia Pacific Development Council (APDC) Mission to Indonesia last April 22, 2009. I arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia a mere hardworking mortal, went inside a bank and came out a millionaire! Oh! I beg your pardon… I mean a multimillionaire! 3,800,000.00 Indonesian Rupiah in my bag to be exact!

It was an overwhelming experience. The only times I can imagine myself becoming a millionaire is when I strike lucky in the LOTTO which I don’t think will ever happen to me for I don’t buy LOTTO that often. Or if I really get very lucky that I get to inherit some dead millionaire’s wealth. So being a millionaire in Indonesia was something I considered to be my most memorable experience so far or so I thought… until that Sriwijaya flight to Palembang City, Indonesia.

For the 2 hour flight to Palembang, where we held the APDC trainings, I was assigned at seat 2A by the window.. Yeah left side of the aircraft.

It was the usual safety aviation routine as we waited for take-off. And for reasons unknown to me, I was attentively listening and watching the flight attendant doing the safety demonstration even though I didn’t understand a word that was said for it was in Indonesian. One thing I noticed though was that the air inside the aircraft was warm. Totally uncharacteristic for most aircrafts I’ve been into had temperatures above the normal coldness. Totally curious, I noticed further that the aircraft was not new. But this was not uncommon though since most aircrafts in the Philippines are not new either.

One thing just bugs me ’til now…. Since I took the flights from Cebu to Manila to Jakarta and to Palembang… I was always seated at the left side of the aircraft and in all those flights I always kept glancing at the engine and left wing as if making sure it was working perfectly.

Didn’t realize it till now, and I don’t understand why I did it coz for all those times I flew to anywhere domestically and internationally, I never did as much as glance at the engines.

So what really happened to Sriwijaya Air Flight 082 in the afternoon of April 23, 2009?

There were 7 of us in the Mission Team on our way to Palembang City. JCI Indonesia NP Freeda Mustika seated at the back portion of the plane and 6 of us seated at Row 2. Past NP Sanda Panggabean, CNT; NEVP Harry Warganegara; VP Feni Soemitra (who sang the JCI Creed song); APDC DO Takashi Trusuta from Japan; DO Sang-Yeop Lee from Korea and me.

Our plane waited a long time on cue to depart and when it finally took off, I closed my eyes and did my habit of sleeping on flight. In the middle of my slumber there suddenly was a loud bang followed by whining motor and just silence! And as if awoken by a nightmare I was on alert, with my hair standing at the nape of my neck a telltale sign of something gone amiss. I glanced around at the rest of the passengers and it seemed that everyone heard that loud bang too for all heads were turning around, eyes were inquiring and necks were strained as if asking what’s going on. Unfortunately, to my dismay I wasn’t dreaming.

Feni, who was seated beside me stopped her reading and glanced up as well. But for all desires of supposedly demanding what was going on, most of the passengers seemed to have gone oddly quiet. A few minutes after the loud bang we then felt the plane do a see-saw on air. Subsequently, the captain’s voice came over the speaker to announce that everything was under control but the plane needed to return to Jakarta for technical problems. My watch said we were halfway to our flight. I looked out the window and couldn’t see land beneath and a glance at the left wing made me notice that the left engine wasn’t making any noise as it was supposed to.

I looked around and I could see my very own fear and anxiety mirrored in every eye I meet. The plane dipped and continued swaying like a see-saw. Then reality hit us like a blow when we realized what really happened… the left engine of the Boeing 737 we were flying in shut down in mid-flight while we were above 30,000 ft and enclosed in rain clouds. And with the sound the right engine was making, it wasn’t going to last as well.

That realization kept everyone silent as the plane turned for the flight back. I closed my eyes, gripped my seat and just waited. It was the longest hour of my life when time seemed to stop and I was stuck in limbo, having nothing to hold on to at that moment except the God who we all run to when things like these happen.

When finally I felt the plane’s wheels touch solid ground as the plane landed without further mishap, everyone just clapped their hands with joy and relief. As the pilots were able to land a see-saw plane with one engine safely on solid ground, I knew it wasn’t human skill that did it.

I had an extra ordinary life experience and it could have been otherwise!

We finally got to our destination Palembang City, after we took another newer plane for the flight. When we reached Palembang City, our hosts were waiting and we talked about our experience to everyone there with just enough theatrics but much nervous laughter. As the days wore on however, that fateful incident was set aside and the focus was the mission at hand. I was there on a mission and I intended to fulfill it. My personal drive to accomplish my undertakings had helped keep me focused during the trainings. There wasn’t time to sit down and analyze anything about that incident on midair for there was work to do.

For two whole days, we did our trainings on New Members Orientation, JCI Achieve and a full course on Chapter Management having 27 participants. When we finished our trainings for each day, our generous and hospitable host JCI Palembang City under the leadership of JC Yan Sulistyo made great effort in making sure we enjoyed our stay there by treating us to dinners and sight-seeing tours. Each day we worked together; we enjoyed each other’s companionship and learned from each other’s culture, a bond of friendship was formed.

APDOs Takashi, Lee and I left Indonesia with full smiles on our lips, a shared experience and a new bond of brotherhood.

After all the work was done and the sight-seeing enjoyed; after having made the positive plans for Indonesia’s NOM growth; after the warm tight hugs and kisses of goodbyes with promises to keep in touch, I sat there alone at the departure lounge of Jakarta waiting for my midnight flight back to my country. With my mind suddenly empty of any task to think about, I looked at my reflection on the glass wall and without precaution the tears just started to flow.

Finally, all pent up and post trauma emotions were released. I was so overjoyed that day at the plane when we finally landed safely, I almost cried but was too embarrassed to do so. This time what the heck when you are given another chance at life you can cry all you want.

Today on my birthday, I feel my chest tighten as I recall those heart-stopping moments in midair and realized that I may see that incident now as the longest plane ride of my life when everything just slowed down… I know how everything could easily have ended differently.

At this moment, as I look at my family sleeping peacefully, I ponder at the past years of my life… I sit alone listening to the silence broken by a rooster’s salutations to the new dawn breaking into another day, I see hints of the first few rays of the rising sun and my heart is bursting inside my chest. I am humbled at the realization that I have just been given another lifetime to enjoy, to live, to make the most of. I know deep in my heart I am up for another lifelong of adventures.

The most valuable wisdom these insights and experiences made me recognize about my existence is that… Life should always be lived as a journey and never about where we are destined to be.

Lord, thank you for making me see another sunrise.

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