Transport is and has been an important amenity from the beginning of time. It makes the world of humans go round. The history of transport itself, the development and the progressive use of transport – both for good and for evil, is one which most of us can relate to.
Industrial and Imperial Eras
I can trace my connection with trains and ships for transportation, to several generations back to my maternal Great Grandfather, who went from British India to British East Africa as one of the many indentured labourers for the building of railways, in the late 19th Century. In contrast to how we travel today, these labourers were not only recruited in dubiously deceptive ways, but were also transported from India in deplorable conditions aboard ships laid out for them.
This was the era in which slavery had just been abolished and the dominant powers cooked up the system of ‘indenture’ to replace slavery – i.e. poor & abusive conditions of labour and pay – no human rights available in those days!
However, these appalling treatments did ignite the fires for freedom as witnessed in the early to mid 20th Century both in British India, British East Africa and later in the Civil Rights movement of America.
That was happening in the background.
In the foreground of our lives, by the early to mid 20th Century, my father also migrated as a young man, from British India to British East Africa and worked for the, by then established, East African Railways as a Station Master. He, too, had to endure some grim ‘3rd class’ conditions on the ship that transported him and many others to East Africa at the time.
By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s another wave of movement took place and we as a family found ourselves ‘travelling’ (not ‘being transported’) to England by plane – yes by plane!! Times had changed and the event was now dictated by the terms of the Commonwealth and its Citizens act being set out by the British Government in February 1968 in response to the Kenya Immigration Act and Trade Licensing Act and some shrewd business men who organised charter flights for, what came to be known as, the ‘Exodus of Asians’.
Our travel conditions were sheer luxury compared to what our fathers and fore fathers had to endure. Nevertheless, the political climate was not without its tensions.
‘You meant it for evil but God meant it for good’ said a man sold into slavery by his brothers in ancient times. Exploitation was the order of the day from the ruling powers, but the Asian community has progressed and thrived since then, both in East Africa and later out in England and other western countries, where my father ended up working for British Rail.
The Technological Era
If the use of trains and ships had dominated the world through the previous Industrial and Imperial eras, travel by planes tripled in the Technological era that ensued from the 1970s and 80s onwards. Air travel began to dominate the skies like there was no tomorrow.
Today, half a century later, in the COVID-19 global pandemic, the very first ‘amenity’ to be stood down by every government on planet Earth has been international and domestic air travel, to curb the spread of this deadly virus. With one stroke, the whole world is at a standstill leaving every human aghast at such a sudden turn of events – induced not by super powers but by tiny organisms.
Now we are adjusting to a new normal with innovative ways of communicating whilst maintaining required social distances. In the background rumours are swirling, blame games are seeping through and the governments are busy salvaging the economic repercussions being experienced.
From here on we will all be looking at transport and travel from a very different perspective. Time, indeed, to view the world with fresh eyes and renewed minds.
What lessons can the history of transport and travel have to offer? What is the One, who holds all things in His hands, pointing out in this standstill – in the health risks, job losses, increase in anxiety and depression and sad statistics of fatalities?
Through all this, will I heed the invitation of a loving God –
‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know’. (Jeremiah 33:3)
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, had to speak firmly into the frenzied fights that were erupting in shops as ‘lockdowns’ gradually set in –
‘Stop it! Stop it, Australia! There is plenty of stock for us all’.
It reminded me of when God spoke firmly into the people’s frenzy of fear in David’s time by saying,
‘Be still! and know that I am God’. Psalm 46:10
Transport will continue to evolve progressively and so will its arrangements for use. How things pan out from here on for transport / travel is the unknown for everyone and especially poignant for those of us with loved ones scattered abroad.
As I step forward into this unknown, I want to be still and know that He is God – today and always.