The Nightmare that is Reward Miles

Each month I am ecstatic when those guest e-statements come to my inbox. Reward Miles. The words fall off my tongue like butter falls off hot scones on a cold Saturday morning.

These reward miles spell excitement, travel, planes, and the International Terminal.  There seem to be so many of them and they are just waiting for that perfect trip.

But the clock is ticking. Some of these precious as saffron miles will be expiring and I can’t have that. I wake up in the night in a panic. I must book and I must book now.

So I settle in with Saturday morning coffee and the Etihad Airlines website. My mind wanders back to how I received all these miles and I smile. It was on my trip to Pakistan for flood relief. My sister-in-law and I (both  nurses) assisted in a medical emergency on a 14-hour flight from New York to Abu Dhabi. Our reward (besides of course the reward of helping another human being) was a hefty dose of miles, extra miles, in our Etihad banks.

Or, what we thought was a hefty dose.

And so the nightmare begins. I try everything and there is no way those miles will take me anywhere from the United States. There are not enough of them. So I begin again. They have partner airlines. Determined that these miles will take me Some Place I try this other option. Except that the other option is American Airlines, an airline in deep financial trouble, and every thing the patient Etihad customer service gentleman tries is a failure.

The hard truth soaks in over a cold cup of coffee. These miles will take me nowhere! No.Where. All my hopes for travel were bottled up in these miles – and they would take me nowhere. 

Not only that, they won’t even buy our family something fun like a new television set. They are worth so little in the Etihad bank. It’s like the Great Depression only it becomes My Great Depression.

I end up exhausted and frustrated, realizing that yet again I’ve put my hope in something so fleeting, so ridiculously transient and capricious. Airline Miles.

I settle on a coffee maker (ours broke and my plan was to hit a sale and buy one) and a hair straightener. So much for the exotic trip to Istanbul, or the relief trip to Pakistan, or the trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Los Angeles. Those are not to be. They are fleeting dreams, for now lost through a coffee maker.

I’ll let you know how the coffee turns out. 

PS – My sister-in-law got an iPad.  Evidently the rewards are better from the United Kingdom.

What’s your experience with airline miles? Misery loves company and I would love to hear through comments. 

Series on Pakistan: The Benediction

Note from Author:  This is the closing post to a 5-part series on Pakistan.  If you are beginning the series feel free to link back to the first entry “Orientation”. Thank you for reading and caring!

Our time was coming to an end. We had only 32 hours left before leaving by van, back to the Sukkur airport and the journey from Karachi to New York via Abu Dhabi.   We had laughed until our stomachs ached, and cried from the depths of our souls.  We had communicated across the boundaries of place, poverty, language, and crisis and were humbled through the process. While dreading the thought of leaving, we knew it was time.  Husbands, jobs, children and life in general were waiting for us back in the United States.

The last IDP camp was just a kilometer away from the hospital compound.  The tents stretched from main road to railroad tracks, some surrounded by children, men, women and buffaloes and others empty with only the remains of a cooking fire left to show they had been occupied.  In between the tents were lean-to’s that sometimes sheltered buffaloes and other times people’s belongings – today it was our shelter!  A newly produced cow pie was evidence that the last inhabitant was not human.  I cursed my strong  sense of smell and buckled down to organize our clinic for a final time.

Quickly we saw the difference between this camp, where medical help had been offered 2 weeks earlier, and the others we had held.  It was encouraging to see less malaria, almost no scabies, wounds that were healing, and give out minimal Plumpy‘Nut.    Some of the people around us were gathering belongings, preparing to pack and go back to their villages.  The camp went smoothly and we began to pack up as the last patient was seen.

The old woman came up to us as we were putting away supplies.  Her right foot had two wounds, one deeply ulcerating, the other healing.  They were wounds that both Carol and I knew would heal quickly had she been in the west with good wound care. 

As Carol dressed the wound she exclaimed her amazement to the woman in how clean the wounds were: “You have kept them so clean!  This is a good thing!”  We marveled at her ability to accomplish this in the circumstances that were her reality.  (See ‘Wound Care for the Wounded’) No running water, no dressings, no ointments, no shoes…We both looked at each other at the same time – “No shoes, we can change that!  We can get her shoes!!”  Carol first took off her sturdy, close-toed shoes to try them.  Too big, too difficult to put on when she needed.  My not-so-sturdy close-toed shoes were next. No. Not a fit.  We remembered the soft soled, comfortable sandals in our closet back at the hospital and knew that was the answer.  I located our team leader and asked that I be taken back to the hospital “I’ll be quick, I promise! We need shoes!”  I knew the food and survey team was anxious to pack up and head out to another village.  Within 10 minutes I was back, shoes in hand.

The woman was sitting on a charpai.  She had no idea what was happening, just that we had asked her to wait.  I approached her with the shoes and her eyes welled up.  “Allah jo shukr aahey” ‘Thanks be to God’  Over and over she pointed to Heaven – thanking God, touching my head with blessing as I  put the shoes over the dressing carefully applied by Carol.

My last view was of the woman holding out her hands in thanks to God, her verbal expressions of amazement and gratefulness serving as a benediction to our time in Pakistan. The service was over, it was time to go home.

Marilyn Gardner & Carol Brown returned to the United States, arriving in JFK International Airport the evening of October 30th.  They are currently developing plans to return as soon as possible.  For more information about ongoing relief efforts and news on the flood here are a couple of organizations that they believe would funnel funds directly to flood victims with very little overhead.   All the organizations have the capability for online giving.  Here is the disclaimer: They are not relief work experts and are learning as they go and work to create awareness.

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