Hola! Hope you're smiling :)
That’s what it was. I was finally on my way to Saudi Arabia – never did I think this would be on my itinerary as a solo traveler. Despite my epic attempts at getting the SA Visa and failing, I was still very curious about the country and excited about reaching there. If not anything, I’d be presented with a brief aerial view and the joy of observing the country through a very small window – the airport.
It feels great to be on an international flight! I wasn’t sure about being able to wear my abaya in the aircrafts washroom so I boarded the flight with my blingy abaya on. I was hoping to travel with a group of stylish Arabs but the flight hardly had any of them, it was a full flight with Indian men, all either employed or hoping to find employment in Saudi. Of course there were very few women, those present had toddlers in tow. I found no other solitary woman traveler in the flight. I chose to sit at the very end of the aircraft as I thought those are seats no one would want but the flight was full and my wish of being left alone on the flight didn’t come through.
I was surrounded by Telugu speaking and gold adorned men. They didn’t seem very educated but that’s just me being horribly and publicly judgmental. One or two men around me were flying for the first time and were struggling with the seatbelts but none hesitated to call the air hostesses and seek help.
Within 5 minutes of boarding the aircraft, I knew that I would dedicate at least two paragraphs on my blog despising Saudi Arabian airlines’ female air hostesses. My common sense fails to establish any link between modesty and disdainful indifference. Here are women on these flights, perfectly dresses as per Islamic rules but I wondered what they were doing on the flights! Cabin crew, largely female, wore a look of intense disinterest in their jobs, not a smile came by, questions were answered with no more than a snobbish gesture, responses to requests were rude and unconvincing – in all, cabin crew on the SV 755 Hyderabad to Jeddah via Riyadh on the 3rd of December, 2012 were rude, boring, dull, drab and annoying. For quite sometime I considered the possibility of them being so by instruction. Perhaps they are asked not to smile, or go a step further and be rude, maybe those are their standing instructions, in line with the rules of the airline and in respect to the larger rules of the system the corporation belongs to. In such a case, the reasoning as well as the cabin crew is plain stupid.
I regret not leaving this note on the air craft, perhaps my biggest regret through my December travels, I leave it here now.
Dear Female Cabin Crew on the SV 755 on the 3rd of December, 2012,
I have a feeling you’re the worst cabin crew in the world. I tried to put this politely but there’s no way I can say it any other way – you suck.
As everybody was seated on the flight, Arabic coffee and a date was served, I quite liked the variety, it made me feel very Arabic instantly. The place didn’t take off until an Islamic prayer for the safe journey was played on the flight. I tried to enjoy the experience.
Well on my way of asserting my status of being an international solo traveler, I had grand imagination of my immediate co-passengers, people who’d occupy the seat next to mine on my journeys. Here’s the first one. Very far from my ideal co-passenger – not a tall, handsome, well-read, articulate, single young man but a short, petite man in his thirties from a village just outside of Hyderabad. I don’t remember his name and it is not important. He spoke only Telugu but seemed to understand all instructions on the flight.
This man beside me said he was a washerman. I am generally very curious and I was no doubt, curious about him but I was in no mood of a conversation. It’s interesting that this man didn’t bother me until I helped him with something around his seat. He believed the gesture gave him the permission to speak with me and he did just that. He asked where I was from, where I was going. I answered him politely but also in a way that I intended to mean – ‘do not bother me anymore.’ He wasn’t naïve but just plain selfish, he wanted a conversation so he kept talking. Since he could see that his questions irritated me, he now continued talking by telling me about himself.
This guy on my left was a washerman and was flying to Riyadh where he had a job as a professional washerman. He worked in a large laundry where he washed, starched and ironed clothes – mostly garments from hotels, for 12-14 hours each day. Only a few feet away from his work station, the washing machine, is his bed where he eats and sleeps. He works with around 300 other people and is paid around 30,000 rupees per month which is quite a lot of money he says as he has almost no expenses living in Riyadh – his boarding and lodging is taken care of. He earned this job through an interview, how he got to the interview I don’t know. His Visa expires every six months. His employer flies him to Hyderabad every six months and flies back to Riyadh. I was fascinated with his story but I wasn’t somehow too amused or interested. I wished to be left alone. After listening to what he had to share, I conveniently ignored him and looked out of the window to see skies I had never seen before. It was post noon so the sun was bright and the clouds glistened.
I was almost getting cooked inside my abaya, the air conditioning in the aircraft was okay but with too many people, I felt suffocated. Just when I was getting tired of the abaya, I caught sight of a lovely reflection just under the window, from the stones on my abaya, it amused me. I wished to see how I looked in an abaya on an airplace, so I self-clicked a few pictures even as my co-passenger stared at me. I am really glad I took these pictures!
Even as I ignored my co-passenger, I could admire his courage and commitment in going to a new country, holding a job there and doing well with his life. I was beginning to think one could do well without an education, I could have convinced myself of the same when I caught him checking his mobile phone. I noticed it was on, I asked him why he kept it on when he knew he should switch it off. ‘I have traveled on these flights many times with this phone on, nothing happens,’ was his answer which sickened me a little bit. I thought he perhaps didn’t understand. So I tried to explain to him saying that it was dangerous. This man soon earned my disgust as he rubbished me and said ‘no, nothing will happen, I know.’ At that point, I almost ordered him to switch it off, he refused. Now, this is why education is important. Here was a foolish man who thought no harm’d come until he is too harmed to understand what his mistake did. It’s idiots such as him that put the lives of hundreds of people at risk including theirs. I immediately grew sick of him and waited for the plane to land in Riyadh.
Thank God we arrived in Riyadh! I immediately thought of my good friend from Saudi Arabia who I met in Hyderabad – Abdullah. Abdullah is originally from Yemen, studied in Hyderabad and lived in Saudi Arabia with his family. He is an immigrant to Saudi. Prior to this moment where I was 20, 000 feet above him, I spoke with Abdullah seeking help with an SA visa. Abdullah told me plainly that he won’t be able to help me as he is an immigrant. He later referred me to another Saudi Arabian friend of his from his college in Hyderabad. I had met Mohannat once, wasn’t too impressed though. Mohannat also conveyed to Abdullah that he won’t be to invite me as it is culturally inappropriate, his family wouldn’t help, and would actually be shocked if he made any such request.
Below me was my first view of a Saudi Arabian city. Riyadh looked very well planned. A massive flyover split the large city into two, it ran from one end of the city to another and on either sides of the bridge/flyover, the city was perfectly segmented into squares. Wikipedia tells me that the city is divided into 15 municipal districts. Riyadh seemed like a lego city. The sight of cars driving up and down the massive flyover or the cable-stayed bridge was fantastic. I imagined Abdullah in one of them. As we chatted on Whatsapp a few days prior to my journey, Abdullah sent me pictures from his car of the traffic ahead of him. I touched Riyadh and I was happy about it. When the plane landed, it felt nice to know that I had a friend in the city, if only the law didn’t restrict me, I’d go meet him over coffee and return to my flight!
The flight almost emptied in Riyadh, much to my relief. My new co-passengers were young boys, teenagers who didn’t stop taking pictures of themselves on their phones. They were enjoying themselves and made no eye contact or any attempts at communicating with me. I was happy to notice some single women on the flight in their abayas. As the flight took off to Jeddah, they relaxed a little bit and removed their scarves but were still in their abayas. They seemed confident, educated, fashionable and disinterested. I must admit that I was sad to notice that there was hardly any way of recognizing these women. The single women, reading magazines were dressed the same way as women with kids in their care – women were just women on this flight. I was just another one.
The pilot made an announcement that we would be flying over the holy site of Mecca in less than 30 minutes. I expected to look down and spot the holy site. Even as a namesake, non practicing Muslim, I grew very excited and felt a little pious upon knowing this detail. I kept looking but wasn’t sure if I should look to the left or the right of the aircraft, I only saw endless desert.
I looked around for an air hostess, there was one who was friendly with the young boys and the young mothers. I half believed she’d be nice in her response to my question. I went looking for her and found her a little behind my seat, at the rear end of the air craft and asked her which side I should look to catch a sight of the Mecca. ‘What?’ was her polite request to me to repeat my question. I sternly repeated my question to which she replied ‘You won’t be able to see it, it’s not visible like that.’ I left without thanking her, I felt no motivation to do her that honour. As I returned to my seat I wondered what their religion taught these women. If they were really Muslim, for the logical reasoning being that SA would hire only Muslim women maybe, what did their religion teach them? Did it teach them to be rude? Why were these women, this cabin crew so hopelessly rude? To this date, I despise them.
We landed in Jeddah, I was happy to leave the flight but was full of anger for Jeddah, I was uneasy and didnt like the feeling. I was hoping I wouldnt do anything that’d get me arrested by the moral police, my family and friends feared the same.