By Janay Nugent-Moulton
I was at the high Commission of Canada this morning and there were close to 200 with me (I have great photos, but can't get them off of my camera). It doesn't sound like hardship to be trapped in London, but there are real reasons people need help. I spoke to people who are running out of medications, one was insulin dependent and another had run out of her blood pressure medication (I'm sure she won't need that right now!). Currently there is absolutely no support for us. The people at the High Commission were quite gracious and sympathetic, but they can do little without Ottawa's approval. As of this morning (5 days after this all started), the federal government didn't even have a note of direction to Canadians on their main website. Our plight (and this is that of thousands, and probably tens of thousands of Canadians) has not even seemed to really grab the attention of Canadian media.
We have been patient and quiet Canadians, but it is important that people realize the hardships that are happening here. One couple I spoke to this morning stood in line to renew their hotel reservations and the prices of the room rose with each person in front of them, 119GBP, 129GBP and then 159GBP by the time it came to them. A young family I spoke to is virtually out of money, they have used up all of their vacation time and are almost out of sick days - so they face losing their wages from work as well as paying all of the expenses piling up here. Another person I spoke to called Aeroplan to book the hotel on their points and the hotel charged them 500GBP to make the call. Many people are running out of money and don't have options. Where will they sleep and what will they eat? I spoke to a retired man who was terrified by the prospect of trying to stay off of the streets. There was another woman who was trying to get to her father's deathbed and others who wanted to make a sister's wedding and a grandchild's baptism. I am desperate to make it home for my son's first birthday and my 3 1/2 year old just doesn't understand why I don't walk home or take a boat. The reality is that it is incredibly difficult to get out of Europe or to know what to do.
Should we stay put in the UK and hope that once Heathrow, the major airport gets going we will have some hope of getting home? Or should we undertake our own Amazing Race? There are many stories of people paying cabs to drive across entire countries, buying bikes just to get on ferries as commuters, buying cars to drive to the Mediterranean and catch cruises to places where you can fly from. It currently takes days and hundred (usually thousands) of dollars to take public transit to places where there are flights like Lisbon and Madrid. But this is not feasible for many people financially, and many others who are travelling in Europe for only the first or second time do not have the travel literacy to make it across multiple countries, in many languages, with many forms of transportation. And this all comes at a risk anyhow, after you have spent hours (probably days) and untold financial resources getting to a southern city, will there be a flight for you? how much will it cost? Will the airport be shut down because the ash cloud has moved?
The Canadian Government needs to give us some direction, and they need to help us find a way out. At the high Commission today there was a very concrete solution offered which got huge applause - charter buses from around Europe to take us to Madrid and fly a Canadian armed forces transport plane to take us home. The ability is certainly there, but there needs to be a will. I ask that the media and government take notice (if you could contact your MP or local media that would help) and help us out. And please do it soon before personal hardships become financial, medical and familial tragedies - and before the cloud gets bigger and our window of opportunity closes.
Janay Nugent-Moulton is a professor of history at the University of Lethbridge. She can be reached by contacting me or by joining the Facebook group "Canadians Abroad Trapped by Volcanic Ash". Reprinted with permission of the author.