Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day One: The Luton Adventure

Today has been easier than expected. We set off for St Pancras Station at 11.45 & comfortably caught the 1pm train to Luton. But boy, all that luggage! Definitely called for dexterity.

We got picked up at Luton station & taken to the warehouse where we were warmly greeted by Nicci, the one person I'd been dealing with from day one. She instantly recognised me & gave me a bear hug. Amazing how in spite of all the logistical nightmare, she kept a smile throughout the day.

In less than 10 mins of us getting there, team Aqsa Sharif arrived. And we got down to making payments for the ferry crossing to Greece, validating documents, signing a code of conduct & collecting a tent for each vehicle, t shirts, & the stickers for our vehicles. Then we got down to work, puuting up all the stickers on our vehicles. The Aqsa men were indispensable, rolling their sleeves up & getting down & dirty. Each vehicle had at least 10 stickers, with 2 especially big ones. But that didn't deter them in any way. They chanted as they worked & naturaly garnered everyone's attention. They were so good at what they were doing that others came to watch their technique while some were hoping to steal them away to their own vehicles.

We were helped by a couple of Malaysian students in the UK, one of whom, Azeem used to record MPF events. And he was a gem. Never tiring, running out for errands, promising to buy Azura & me some drinks for our roadtrip as that's the one thing we haven't managed to pick up.

The entire warehouse has been kindly donated for the use of VPUK by a couple of young men, who'd quit their daytime jobs to completely be at the disposal of the convoy, getting vehicles ready for the trip, fixing, repairing etc. Everyone was in an upbeat mood, strangers remained strangers for as long as it took them to pass each other.

The briefing which was to take place at 4.30 took place at 6. It was a quick one, general code of conduct, what to expect & they ecpect difficulties from the Egyptian, but are hopeful of entering Gaza. There'll be massive negotiations for sure. The convoy vehicles will be split into 2.

One group will leave the warehouse at 6.30am for the embankment, in the heart of London. This will be the official flag off. The other group will leave the warehouse at 9.30am & wait for the first group at along the M20. The first group will comprise the Londoners & those familiar with ondon roads as they cannot risk delays due to drivers being unfamiliar with roads. All of VPM vehicles are in Group 2.

Upon meeting on the M20, we'll make our way to the Euro tunnel crossing, just on time for Saturday night in Paris.

Our group has a total of 15 vehicles & my vehicle A2 is the team leader. I will lead our group together with some guy I've yet to meet, called Jim.

Was chatting with an Irish, who have sent 5 vehicles. This guy, Tony will be driving a vehicle funded by the Catholic church of Belfast. They were moved to action by the killing on board the Mavi Marmara. The day of the murders saw them out in the streets protesting.

Another guy, aptly named Guy, is from the US. He's spending the night at the warehouse & is sleeping in one our vehicles. Then there's the Kiwi team...

The camraderie is unmistakable. Everyone's there for the same cause, same purpose. Everyone's there with a mission.

Azura & I checked into a hotel in Luton town at about 8.30pm, completly exhausted, so exhausted that Azura fell asleep sitting down while on her laptop.

Tomorrow I've asked team Aqsa to be at the warehouse by 8.30 am to allow us ample time to see that our vehicles are ready to go. Hope to catch a good nights sleep.

And yes, I've met so many of my fellow Pakistanis on this convoy that my instinct just wants to break into my Urdu.

Good night home & Insha Allah will update again.


(posted by Sis Zabrina on behalf of Sis Azra Banu)

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