Airport or Twilight Zone?
by Shaden Mohamed
There are two types of travellers - those who enjoy flying, and those who don't.
My friends always complain that the flight was too crowded, or that the food tasted like plastic, or that the trip on the plane was too long.
I on the otherhand, love flying. I love the sound of the engines as the plane takes off. I love the sound of chattering and cutlery at meal times. I adore watching in-flight movies and playing chess with the mini magnet pieces that dont slide off when the plane shakes. Everything about being in the air sends a thrill of excitement down my spine.
Perhaps this was because I had been on a plane dozens of times. My father had migrated from Egypt to Sydney, Australia in the 70s and I was born and raised in this non-Arabic, non-Islamic community in Australia. To keep their children's' culture and language alive, my parents organised annual trips to Egypt from the time I was a child till today. Egypt became my home away from home, and in many ways travelling became a vital part of who I was. Even as I write this, I become nostalgic about Egypt, and hungry for the pleasure that comes from boarding a plane in one continent and debarking in another continent halfway across the world.
The last trip I made to Egypt, however, shattered my idyllic view of the airport and the flying experience. It was in December that I and my family decided to travel - only one month after the tragic events of September 11th. Although we were not treated any differently by airport staff, I could feel the cold stares of passengers as my mother - who wears the hejab - passed by. I was quite accustomed to seeing people stare at my mother because they were confused, or ignorant, or hateful, but I had never before seen the look of fear. It was terrible - all eyes were on us and any other passenger who wore a hejab or had a beard.
Despite this discomfort, we ignored the negativity and even attempted to crack a joke or two when security checked our luggage. My toiletries bag was opened hastily, and to my embarrassment my tweezers, nail file and scissors were confiscated.
"These are too sharp to take on board maam."
Next, my sister's hair care products. "Sorry this hair spray could act as an explosive."
And when my brother - who was 15 at the time - was asked the routine question of, "Do you have any guns on you?" he misunderstood, and spat out his chewing gum.
"Yes I do, I didn't know it wasn't allowed," he said.
The security woman looked at him in anger, and abused him loudly. "This is not a joke young man! You could be arrested for saying that! Did you know that?" My confused brother shrugged and the woman handed her his passport impatiently.
When we boarded the plane, I noticed very significant changes. The cutlery no longer clattered - silverware had been replaced with weak plastic, that snapped if you pressed too firmly. The airhostesses no longer smiled as they passed - instead they gave a stern "welcome aboard" only to come out from behind the curtain at meal times. I had to press my service button several times before I was greeted with "is there a problem maam?" Well of course there was no problem, all I wanted was a glass of water. Customer service was slipping and the pressure on the airlines was showing immeasurably.
Ironically, the razors in the complimentary toiletry bags were sharper than any pair of tweezers I has ever seen! I was frustrated because security had spent so much time making sure the plane was safe for passengers, and yet here we were, receiving shaving instruments that contained lethal razor blades!
The stopover in Singapore was perhaps the worst I had experienced in all my years of travel. We had to wait for 7 hours for our connecting flight to Cairo. If it was 8 or 9 hours, the airline would have arranged for hotel accommodation!
We all chose a designated corner, and did the best we could to entertain ourselves. All I can say, is that I now know the exact name and location of every retail outlet n the Singapore airport, and the opening hours for all the eateries.
I amused myself by watching the giant goldfish that live in a magnificent pond and garden display, and I tried my best to make conversation with other passengers, who were just as bored and as exhausted as I was. After 4 hours, I gave up and fell asleep on the corner chair while my sister and mother supervised.
To my horror, I awoke to find my whole family fast asleep, spread out on couches or on the floor. I shook my mother who woke up startled and confused.
"What? What's wrong?" she said slowly.
"What time is our flight?" I said panicking.
"What flight? Oh we have plenty of time till we arrive in Sydney," she replied, smiling and closing her exhausted eyes again.
I panicked at the realisation that my mother was so tired that she didn't even know that we were on our way to Cairo! Luckily, we did not miss the flight but we were the last ones to board, and I can tell you now that a plane full of people who had waited 7 hours for their flight were not happy to be kept waiting another minute longer.
When we arrived in Cairo, I thought the nightmare was over - goodbye plane, goodbye airport, hello Egypt and a fun-filled holiday! My excitement was cut short when I was stopped at customs. The man who was searching the bags asked me the usual security questions, and started to look through my luggage. On this occasion, however, he decide to search more thoroughly, smirking as he made his way through my personal items. I reprimanded him and warned him that I would complain to his superior. He ignored me and closed the bag as if everything was normal.
After wading my way through the crowds of people, my troubles disappeared the minute I laid eyes on my eager relatives. They stood there grinning from ear to ear, running up to greet me and carry my luggage. I was relieved and happy to be with them all again, and my feelings for them was one thing customs could not confiscate.
Shaden Mohamed is in her 20's. Of Egyptian background, she was born and bred in Sydney where she attained a degree in Media & Communications. As an accomplished writer, Shaden has a passion for educating and informing others in her community on the beauty of her culture. "My dream is to inspire people with my writing because I believe that literature is the most beautiful form of expression."
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