Hola! Hope you're smiling :)
Back to Jeddah.
I landed. Found myself on a foreign land, not just any but a land I’ve dreaded, been confused and agitated about. Ever since I booked that ticket to London via Jeddah, I have been very curious about what my thoughts will be while I am there, on Saudi Arabian land.
I was happy to leave the aircraft when it landed, one – because it meant my holiday has really, truly begun and two – because I just couldn’t stand the snobbish, almost-disgusting female flight attendants. As I left the aircraft, I could see that I was being someone I didn’t want to be but couldn’t help being. I wasn’t smiling and purposefully wore a rude look though no one on the flight or outside of it could tell that that was my worst ‘rude’ look and that my look of warmth is much nicer. I didn’t care half to return the fake, plastic smiles of the dumb flight attendants (gosh, how did they even manage to inspire this intense hatred from a generally-very-friendly traveler!).
Even as I stood on that aisle, waiting to get out and feel the Arabian air on my face, I thought about my burqa. I got one because I thought it’d be fun to be in it for a few hours and never get back in it ever again. 8 hours of being in a burqa should be fun but it wasn’t even 8 minutes and I wasn’t liking it very much. It wasn’t exactly fun. I looked at the other women ahead of me – they were all back in their burqas, a few had relaxed a little bit while in air, taking of the scarves covering their heads – this allowed me to admire their gorgeous hair and how it accentuated their looks. Around me were some very stylish women, the kinds you’d find on the streets of London maybe, it perfect make up and latest fashion, at least their hair was amazing – well-cut, coloured (not sure if the religion permits it), blow-dried and styled. I saw these same women, back in their abayas and scarves and I saw myself in an abaya and a scarf, what hit me in that moment was incredible.
I wasn’t me – not the cool-travel lockets wearing, tattoo bearing, wild-haired, sturdy woman in her best clothes (a black, flowing top with exquisite blue-bead work). No, I wasn’t that. I was a woman, just that. The woman who sat across me until a while ago wasn’t a slender yet strong, well groomed woman in a tiger-print shirt with blonde hair – she was just a woman. All women on the flight, were just women. While the men had personalities – there were the khaki wearing, serious ones, the bright t-shirt wearing colourful ones, or the somber ones in white kurta-pyjama, they made a statement with their watches – you could tell a world of difference between someone who wore a Tommy Hilfiger watch to someone sporting a Fossil. This wasn’t acceptable to me. This snatching away of my right to show the world what I want to show of myself, wasn’t acceptable to me at all.
Ever since I started buying my own clothes, I felt the great power of dressing myself as I wanted – which meant, presenting my personality to the world, as I wanted it to be perceived. I wear jeans and tops and let some of my curves show – it makes me feel good, in control representative of who I am – agile, confident and happy. I let the colours on me speak my mind for me – wearing happy colours on happy days, classy ones on fitting occasions – the black abaya on me meant just that ‘black,’ even the bling on the sleeve didn’t help. I wasn’t me. I was misrepresenting myself as a single-dimensioned, circular being with no curves. I could have tones of confidence oozing out of me but all snubbed by the heavy black abaya I was wearing.
Wow – not even fully landed yet and I was already disgruntled.
I finally make the exit out of the aircraft and walk down the just attached aluminum staircase and land on Saudi Arabian land. All my thoughts and feelings, just a moment ago evaporate as I am amazed at the idea of being there – a great, historical land, a land of intense faith and belief, incredible geographical beauty and deep cultural value. It was a bright, pleasant afternoon. I think I expected it to be very hot but it wasn’t though the sun was bright, I also expected it to be dusty, that wasn’t the case either and I expected to see desert all around but it was green all around. Not one of my visual expectations was met – and I was convinced, I should be patient about this country and my experience here, seems like I just don’t know it.
Then! Something amazing happened that offered me my first taste of Arabic extravagance, flamboyance, actually – much more than that – the panache maybe. Just around the aircraft, while I was boarding the ordinary bus in my grand, never-known-before ordinariness, a convoy of shiny, super luxuries big SUVs and sedans of the Mercedes and Audi league were escorting one or more VIPs to the VIP lounge. It felt useless, over made up, over grandiose and horribly showy but it was a great show! The convey had close to five shiny cars and each one had extremely impressive security men in it – all tall, well built, good looking (if I am allowed to say that and if that’s not a big deal, I’d go on and say ‘gorgeous’), and stylish men in their long white tunics – the Thwab, checkered head scarf – the Shemag and the black bands keeping them in place – the Ogal. The VIP was escorted into the VIP lounge which seemed grandiose from the outside but that was all – a show that was over, I got no more out of it but it set me on my imagination for a bit – who must that VIP be!
I didn’t make up my mind to be boldly rebellious even about the simplest things, that’d be foolish. But friends, family and I worried if even my most natural default setting should be considered rebellious here. I was hoping to stay safe enough from not being jailed for something stupid like ‘standing with my hands on my hips,’ my most natural position – maybe women are not allowed to stand that way here! I knew I was exaggerating it all in my head but I also knew that if I can’t be too conditioned after all, even for eight hours!
My first act of rebellion came thus. After getting off the bus and entering the airport, we were directed to go to the second floor for transfers and international lounge. I found everyone taking the stairs while there was also an elevator just by the stairs. I debated about this for half a minute – “are women allowed to take an elevator all by themselves here? Or would that be culturally inappropriate? Should I just act bold and take the elevator, at least there’s no sign that says ‘women not allowed without company’ “ – with those thoughts, I embarked on my first act of rebellion by taking the elevator while everybody else took stairs and voila! I didn’t break any rules.
The way to the transfer/lounge area had a security check on it. There aren’t many English signs here, so an international traveler may not really know which way to go unless directed. I was directed but I felt that the junior staff of security, a man in khaki, was rude to me – he didn’t make eye contact – no problem, but he didn’t even complete his gesture. In somewhat, half a gesture, he directed me into a security room! Now I wasn’t sure if every woman goes through this security room or I was being sent specially. I went in, found the women just as rude as that man outside the room and got out of it without an argument. That was tough.
I finally made it to the travel lounge which begins with a duty-free shop. I wandered around and thought of the eight hours in front of me. Eight hours of observation. I thought I must first find a spot, settle down. Sit back, watch around and then come back to the duty free shop maybe. By the way – the salesmen at the duty-free shop were just as the security guy and somehow I felt they were all talking about me! I felt like they were discussing how confused I looked or where I came from. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t – I would never know but I just didn’t like them, they made me feel super uncomfortable and wished they were normal, like sales guys anywhere else in the world – pleasant.
I left the shop in search of my spot.