I laughed the other day when a lady told me she was going to get ‘barbed.’ I didn’t get it till she explained she was going to the barber…! Uhh..!?? BARBED.? I see now it’s an actual thing, especially by West Africans. I suppose before we laugh, we should find out if it’s not actual ‘proper English’ – though I’d hazard a guess – NOT!
It reminded me – waiting on bank cards to be delivered in Dubai once, I told off the guy who eventually delivered, a day after being promised – I’d wasted a day waiting for him. ‘No, it wasn’t me,’ he said, ‘that other one.’ (Initial delivery dude) had had an accident and ‘he is expired!’ ‘Uhhh (again) – turns out,…yahhh…shame, but imagine my confusion as I was waiting on replacement cards for ones that had expired. I suppose there was a time and era for that kind of ‘proper English,’ and I guess if you hung with old school peeps, that’d be a thing. I’m just not sold on being ‘barbed.’ It just simply doesn’t sound right. If she hadn’t explained, I’d have thought she’d sustained some injury from a ‘barbed wire fence.’
I miss Dubai and the expressions and mannerisms of the people, especially with the taxi drivers. A spot wasn’t behind a place; it was ‘backside’ Passengers irate because they be ‘fingering,’ and no one is coming (pressing/ringing the call bell for attention). ‘Scotch on the rocks, no ice’ kind of requests. Walking Johnnie (no prizes). Bring me the mother of this one (egg) – it took a while – an omelette wasn’t doing it for him, and he apparently wanted the adult in question – and who I ask, is that…? Oh yes, life was another level of laughs.!
As a former flight attendant – I don’t think one ever hangs up their wings, it’s just one of those things, but I digress…
Now commonly known as cabin crew – the majority, if not all airlines, train their crew in the ART of restraint. It comes with teamwork, crew effort, and a lot of reliance on the element of shock. I can assure you it doesn’t always work, but done correctly can have the desired effect. Once a chick solely restrained a problematic passenger – handcuffed, etc.,
What do I mean restrain – if you misbehave and are not compliant with crew instructions and pose a threat to aircraft, self and fellow passengers.! It’s a last resort type scenario, but believe it or not, but the crew has such powers that many passengers underestimate. In these days of terrorism being a huge problem, good luck with misbehaving on planes – it’s a lose situation – eat humble pie.
Every year we would renew our licenses, which involved many physical and written exams demonstrating our knowledge, and one of these was the restraint technique. Ask any crew, current and former, and it was possibly the worst part of our training – unless, of course, you were a fitness junkie cum-martial arts expert. The training involved throwing one to the floor, padded floors, and not ‘throwing’ as such, but you get the point of ‘throwing’ in a real-life situation. Restraining thrown individual involved having your knee on their back, and it was simply colleague to colleague playing make-believe. The discomfort was awful. We were enacting scenarios but had to remind each other not to go too hard because we were face-down and breathing was proving difficult, this was all done laughingly, but we were serious when warning each other.
I personally always lasted all of 30 seconds before I had to get up and escape from my enforcer because not only could I not breathe, but it hurt terribly. Well, guess what, it wasn’t long before the governing body had to revise these policies as somebody did die (on another airline) based on actual re-enactments restraining a passenger. If someone claims they cannot breathe, you must believe them.!
Going by what I considered the discomfort in that make-believe scenario, I’d hazard a guess that poor George Floyd was dead in less than 5 minutes.
Was justice served – let us see what the sentence brings.
This technological age we live in has made great strides in many fields, aviation too. Still, with it, we find ourselves in a world where humans cause each other great harm, targeting various lines of defense, and aviation, unfortunately, is considered a soft target for terrorism.
As a result, over the years, security has had to be beefed up, and the days of pilots’ fraternizing’ with passengers are long and truly over. Even kids entering and being shown around the flight deck is sadly a thing of the past. The pilots will often allow a quick limited meet and greet with doors open while still on the ground. Yet, it’s such a busy time for them with their ‘checks’ and calculations that it’s usually just a lot less of a hassle to continue ‘as per duty.’ Sad, but it’s the time. The job tends to be quite a lonely one, with the pilots seemingly ‘relegated’ to that ‘office space’ the entire time and little time to engage with anyone else, except the crew up in the front, namely those who serve them their meals. The technical part aside, aviation for me, is a fascinating industry, so I can only imagine a pilot’s feeling, with the technical side, the actual aviator.
There are so many simple joys that ‘flight attending’ brings, or rather – brought me. Yes, the sunrises and sunsets too. That burnt orange sky, soon to be darkened, like a fire, finally put out after dominance, is as pretty a picture as an oil painting.
If not too concerned with lightning and thunderstorms at such high altitudes, there is a wondrous, awe-filled, mouth gaping beauty at what the outside brings to the doorstep, or in this regard – to the windshield. St. Elmo’s fire. Very likely ill-defined by myself, but I’ll try and explain in the best way I can. To any pilots that are reading – my apologies at this somewhat ‘irreverent’ description, but.
The lightening against the windshield, like little fiery veins lighting up on the glass. In a somewhat bizarre explanation, perhaps picture the veins on expensive marbled tiling floor or wall, or maybe the crack of a mirror not shattered broken, but shattered, that another bump will send those many vulnerable hairline-like fractures to break into millions of pieces. Strangely enough, with St. Elmos Fire, it’s seldom going to be calm, yet it never seemed to be so violent when sat on the flight deck, the rain pelted the windshield, but it was or seemed calm. If you went into the cabin, it seemed a different world, pandemonium. It was better yet when the aircraft appeared to follow the pattern lit up by a brightly lit moon but veered on its course. Perhaps I didn’t have enough time to acknowledge the true definition of what St. Elmo’s fire meant, but I do know how pretty it appeared, that it always moved me.
The first time seeing it, I held onto the belief that we’d probably been lucky that there had been no rougher rainstorm up in the clouds. While it is/was breathtaking, and of course, I did become accustomed to it, that I’d welcome it (if I could witness it’s a beauty), rather than will it away a rainstorm at such altitudes, unless on a sleep break in our bunks, where turbulence would sometimes have us bumping up and down quite roughly that our bodies would touch the top of our bunks.
I suddenly appreciate the natural wonders of life that until now had taken for granted. Rain! I loved it up there. Lovely yes, and mostly when it was freezing out in perhaps –50 degree temperatures, with a build-up of icicles from the rain around the edges of the windshield. Lovely to look at but a concerning factor for the pilots. I guess we sounded quite ignorant is calling it ‘pretty.’ If there is ice on the windshield, there is ice on the wings. In the wings is where fuel is stored. Not good. Still Same as when we’d just completed our six weeks training. Fed-up of simulator sessions, daily written exams, physically grueling practical assessments, repetitive life-saving scenarios, etc. When you know you cannot handle anymore, you get your results – pass. The relief is mind-blowing, questioning your mental capacity at having endured all of that. Then rosters are out, and the World is your oyster. All the faraway places you’ve only ever dreamed of, Bangkok, Singapore, London, Frankfurt. Frankfurt was a self-learning curve for me. I call it my turning curve in life, where I appreciated the beauty of naturalness. We stayed in a place called Mainz, which was a 30-minute drive from the airport and past a wooded forest. It was the naturalness of an actual forest that had me in tears, happy I was to see such. If one has been to Dubai, yes, natural vegetation is transferred to a place, so it’s perfect, this was simple, the natural wonder of trees, been there years and years.
If ever the order of things, in life as we know it, were to change (perhaps we are actually in the midst of that change), and the world was to emulate a particular, any culture, my vote hands down, would lie with the Japanese culture.
I have never quite experienced such a sense of discipline and order. The Japan flights – Tokyo-Narita and Osaka while were great to do for exploration purposes, the actual flights themselves were a challenge. The entire service was based on a Japanese dining experience. Challenging because it removed from the service our crockery and cutlery sets to which we were accustomed, knowing what is placed and where. Instead, it came with a whole new set designed to serve the Japanese as per their custom, which is great in theory, but a lot of pressure on crew unaccustomed to doing lots of East Asian flights. Seoul, South Korea, while relatively similar, proved a lot easier. Pretty much the same way crew is ‘trained’ to deliver a baby at 39000ft in the air, we are not trained midwives whose job is delivering babies daily. Neither are we in any destination all the time, every time. The services are similar all round except in East Asia. Every week presents with different destinations, so while easy to learn, it poses a challenge to become comfortably acquainted with precise delivery of said. And the Japanese are sticklers for such. You promise you to deliver. Japanese people are very humble people, but if they feel offended in any way, they never mention it, remain ‘stoic,’ and in time, you’ll come to know of it through a ‘complaint they have lodged.’ Without appearing to be judgmental, complaints could range from the fact that you ‘didn’t deliver their meal tray using both hands,’ a disrespectful gesture on a whole new level. Or simply that an item of food was incorrectly placed on the Japanese tray could result in passenger declining said tray. On these particular flights, it always seemed as if there’d be more Japanese crew than others, so that was a plus; however, it wasn’t quite fair on them that each and every other crew approached them for help where needed. Despite being few, they were always great that they knew of cultural expectations and offered assistance where we fell short or didn’t feel too comfortable.
The aircraft’s interior ‘condition’ astounded me after we’d landed into Tokyo-Narita on my first flight to Narita. The aircraft appeared ‘cleaner’ than when we took off. It is not a paper, not an item of cutlery, no kids’ toys, boxes of food, and nada. Just clean. The toilets themselves were just a wow factor too.
Arrive in the room. Yes, we’re in the technological world. A pretty basic room but amenities throughout. Touch, press button gadgets. Ipad touches to control all aspects of the room. Enter the bathroom. Ladies,.. 😊 the toilet seat. A warmer, and I guess in light of the absence of space, an in-built bidet. But one with a difference. Different touch buttons for different levels and pressure of ‘spray’ oooohhh.!
As a lover of Asian food, I think limited to Chinese (though not in China), Thai, Indian – basically what I’m more familiar with. I’d probably attempt many more dishes if I had to live full time in those places. One thing though Japan is so very expensive. I did see a ‘mango’ selling for slightly over USD$100, no lie. Farmers select only the most perfect items from their produce, and any misshapen are either kept by themselves or tossed out, hence the prices. One thing that struck me is their culture of tipping or rather lack thereof. It’s rude to tip in Japan. This is highly irregular, especially when you have enjoyed the service and believe it deserves a reward. Sake (Sar-key) is the Japanese national drink – rice wine and whoa, potent. Yes, of course, I had to ‘try.’ Not my thing, but yes, potent, we’ll leave it there. One of the prettiest sights in Osaka is the peach and cherry blossom trees. It’s almost the same as our Jacarandas at full bloom. Not exactly the best for allergy sufferers, but hey,…gorgeous nonetheless.
When we visited, we were able to take a bullet train to Kyoto, which is not too far from Osaka. Fortunately, this train was unlike the rush hour trains we’ve viewed on media platforms, that have guards physically force people in when they are filled to capacity. It goes against the grain of the Japanese, still, what to do. Kyoto was an interesting place. Very traditional with wooden homes, imperial palaces, beautiful gardens, and lots of Buddhist temples. It was the first place to see ‘Geisha,’ too, after reading and learning their existence. Very interesting. Obviously, with not too much time and limited funds, there is not too much that can be done other than seeing the sights, and perhaps sit down for a meal, then it’s time to go.
Due to the ‘order’ with military precision, etiquette is a big thing in Japan. Correctly placing and using chopsticks at mealtimes is hugely important. There are so many do’s and don’ts; it’s quite challenging to keep up. Walking in the streets or a subway, there is direction followed, same as laned highways. Veering off course iS frowned upon.
Overall, Japan is a beautiful place. If shopping is a thing, it’s filled with beautiful malls, etc., which is probably a good thing as it does rain A LOT. Levels of efficiency and customer service are unlike anywhere else. The right place to re-visit, possibly for a little longer. Time to save them pennies.
I got to the e-gate and tried to electronically sign on for my Tehran flight, and it didn’t allow me to. I went to check the tv. Monitors/screens for departure flights, and yes, it was open to signing on. Tried again, nope. So, I went to the immigration official and asked him to manually sign me on. He asked for my passport, checked then asked me my flight details. I gave him, and he told me I wasn’t listed. My heart sank. This is serious. I simply took for granted without checking, and likely my roster changed, and now what will follow. Meeting with a manager, wages docked, a warning letter that stays on your file, and an endless list of reminders how to keep time, ‘as you disrupt the entire teams’ spirit,’ blah blah blah – like I really need this.! Fortunately, I thought to check with the crew lounge’s duty staff as to why my roster would suddenly change. ‘Oh, hi Bianca, no, your roster hasn’t changed. You’ve simply ARRIVED AT WORK 24 hours TOO EARLY!’ ‘Everybody does this – go home and get some rest, see you this time tomorrow.’ ….hours earlier ‘your flight is NOT tonight, it’s tomorrow, trust me,’ said M ‘No, no, no guys, I really must go and sleep as my rosters’ been non-stop.’ ‘Bianca everyone makes this mistake, the departure time and sign on is what confuses everyone, check and double check and even phone crew-scheduling, your flight is tomorrow,’ M tried to iterate. , ‘Yes, will do, but let me go and try and get some shut-eye, just in case,’ said I – and VOILA..! double-check Landed on a gorgeous day and. Yourte of being tired, everyone seemed to get along, and not wanting to waste the day, a few of us decided to go out. Walked around the Colosseum, most of the old town, sat and had pasta (when in Rome), wine on the house, etc.. This is the thing airline staff are not usually the favorite hotel staff guests, but we bring in a great business. With time a crew member from a specific destination will discover a business prospect and follow through on it, allowing us to receive fabulous discounts in certain establishments, especially restaurants and tour drives. Anyway, the last bus from the city was at 22:30, so we took a slow walk to the bus stop and were back in the Hotel in just under an hour. A somewhat accomplished day…walking in Roma.! I had a hot bath and got in bed to sleep. At some point during the night, the room became really hot, so I kicked off my pajama bottoms. Then at another point during the night, I woke to go to the bathroom. When I looked at the time, it was after 0300. Anyway, still groggy rubbing my eyes, I opened the door to bright lights and thought, ‘why did I leave these lights on,’ Still rubbing my eyes, before I could make head or tail of what I was doing by pulling the door behind me, I just heard a click. At that moment, I was fully awake and staring around me in a horror-filled realization of what I’d only done, quite desperate for the bathroom. I hadn’t left my bathroom light(s) on; I’d simply opened the wrong door, the one INTO THE CORRIDOR – OUTSIDE. ‘Sans’ pajama trousers…! Talk about an awakening. This was bad. The key was in the room. I needed to go to the bathroom, and here I was in the corridor. The solution would’ve been to simply race to a bathroom downstairs and get another key from reception to get back into said room, but how without ‘bottoms on the bottom.’ I was bursting at this point. So, trying not to think of it, I kept my ahem,..bottom against the walls/door and moved along in that way, knocking on all the doors as I went down the passage/corridor—no answer to at least five. Eventually, I just thought I’d either have to go on the beautiful carpet or be insistent in my knocking on doors. The latter not really smart because of the likelihood of security cameras. (How would I explain myself and who does that anyway?). I did knock really hard on a door and’ blessings alive’ a senior crew member from the flight, opens the doorway staring at me, mouth open, pointing in confusion, no words, just looking me up and down. I shoved her aside and raced into her bathroom. Man – we all know that relief. Ahhhhh. After a long/short explanation, grabbed a towel and covered bottom, called reception and got a key, and back to bed went I. Yes, I did get lots of stares at the breakfast buffet, but who cares.!
Shanghai, China I love Chinese food, just not in China is an overused phrase now. So, most of us would take food with us. Now, it is not really permitted to bring food into China, so we usually just carry ‘cup noodles,’ etc. With time this gets a bit tiresome, eating just noodles. Then one has a brainwave to maybe order only a vegetarian option from the menu. I mean, how wrong can you go with vegetables. Soon to find out. The arrival of the food and instantly, I knew that I would not even attempt to devour or even look at this. The smell was so off-putting, I politely waited for the waiter to exist and allow time for him to get in the lift, so I could place the tray outside my room. It was pungent., or maybe rancid is a better term for it. Vile. I should’ve known better. So, ten minutes later, I open the door, tray in hand, bend over to place on the floor and slide across out of the doorway area, and the door hits me on my backside (almost hard), knocking me off my stance, into the corridor, the door clicks behind. Karma.? At least this time, I was fully clothed when I went down to reception to get a key. In p/j’s, yes, but still, clothed.
Brisbane, Australia Landed off the redeye from Singapore. This used to be a favorite trip of mine—Dubai-Singapore-Brisbane-Auckland and back again. The best thing, Brisbane, gave us two nights either side, en-route to Auckland, and the returning flight. Just fabulous. We landed at about 6/7 a.m. and get to the Hotel in the city around 8. Oh, and the Hotel was one of the more luxurious. Spacious rooms too. Just grand. Brisbane is always beautiful, winter or summer, and it was a bright sunshiny day. Got to my room and thought to have a little sleep, then maybe find me a book shop to go crazy in. So, I did just that, shut the blinds, and didn’t really pay much attention, but it was really darkened out. When I finally woke, I looked at the clock on the nightstand. It simply displayed 2:00digitally. My room had not a speck of light, so I thought, ‘wow, I was that tired, I slept all day and night and, well here I am – never mind, I still have today, and I can wait to have breakfast because lots of hotels sometimes start serving at 0630 (note how this is written as opposed to the beside clock), especially on weekdays. Now, for me, at least, in training college and aviation as a Universal rule, we go by military time reading. Prefix 0 denotes a.m. the double digits p.m. (e.g., 1400), etc.,..so my guess would be at 2:00 it was morning and considering how dark it was out (honestly, there was not a speck of light being let in through the window blinds, I had to turn on the lights). As I had by my own calculations, slept 18 hours (an achievement for me – just wow), it was fair to say I’d had my fair share of sleep and likely wasn’t going to be getting anymore even if I tried. So, I always carried a book or two and thought to catch up on some reading, but before, I called the reception to be one of the first to the breakfast buffet when it opened. ‘Hi, I’m BC, with EK crew, and I just wondered what time you start serving your breakfast buffet,’ I asked. ‘Oh that will be 6 a.m.’ she says – ‘oh, so that’s in about 4 hours, great,’ said I ‘Eh, 6 in the morning ma’am,’ she responded (and I heard the emphasis on the word ‘morning’) ‘yes,’ I said, 6 is 4 hours from now, as it’s 2 o’clock’ (thinking, don’t you know how to count?) ‘Eh, ma’am, it’s 2 o’clock in the AFTERNOON (emphasis) – a very meek ‘oh,’ from myself. ‘thanks,’ phone down and proceeded to the window to open the blinds. Lo and behold, the day was as bright as a lark..!! So much for sleeping 18 hours, I’d managed maybe 5, which was still great.! I was so super impressed that someone managed to get right, darkening out windows so correctly measured to not get even a speck of light in. This was in itself a fantastic feat. (Huge bone of contention with crew this – we’ve even become so resourceful we fasten clothes hangers to curtains to hold them closed.) I even forgot to be cross that I’d psyched myself up for a delicious breakfast buffet, so impressed was I. Magic.
Sydney, Australia Also landed off the Bangkok redeye at 06:30 – by the time we disembark passengers, clear immigration, etc.,. It’s quite a while. The good thing is, breakfast is probably being served, so check-in, rooms to drop bags, change out of uniform, and back down to eat. This is a really long flight, almost 9 hours from Bangkok, but for some reason, I wasn’t overly tired. Cool, I’ll go for a walk, I thought. Yes, well, pay attention to your surroundings. This particular Hotel was a new one for us – slap bang in the middle of the city center, but almost in a mall kind of way. So, one didn’t just walk into the hotel building from the street. It appeared mall-like that you had to walk into, with an atrium, you entered the Hotel. Basically, you really needed to know how it was located. If you were driving on the road and needed to be there without understanding it, it was very easy to drive past unless someone pointed its location out. So, after breakfast, I grabbed my room key, phone, and just walked. And I walked and walked, taking a turn, here and there and not really paying too much attention. Then I decided I felt a bit tired and decided to make my way back to my Hotel. Eh, what Hotel, though.? Usually, hotel room keys have an indication of the Hotel with details, not this one. Which way did I come? Don’t know. I have nothing to identify me or where I’m staying or how I’m going to get back, and I’ve not left a Hansel and Gretel trail. I literally walked blindly, admiring the city. Oh, well, I shall have to ask someone how to get – but where do I need to get to. How do you ask someone directions for a place you’ve no ideas of its name. For the love of. No money, no purse. I tried to think of anything identifiable that caught my eye in the room. Nothing. What an idiot I am – wow. Now what. Looked at my phone and prayed I had roaming. Rang my friend in Dubai, which is about 0200 hours. Anyway, M answers, and I hurriedly ask ‘what hotel do the Bangkok-Sydney crew stay in Sydney,’ – M is till trying to make pleasantries,…’ eh, Shamwari I’ve got no time, I need that info chop-chop, I’ve got a dying phone too,’ ‘Oh, yes, mama, it’s a new hotel, really nice too,’ – ‘yes, yes M – what’s it called.’ ‘it’s XYZ, chick, why….’ – battery dead – I still needed to ask a few people on the street, directions, and as I say, not everyone knew, but I did eventually get it and walked towards it like my life depended on it. I got to the Hotel, went to my room and started crying, then laughed hysterically! Bah. That was a good lesson, and since becoming a follower. Someone else could do the map reading and finding us directions—horror of a horror.
Lagos, Nigeria (1) Early days LOS on my roster, I called crew scheduling to very arrogantly telling them that they erroneously rostered me for a Los Angeles flight, and yet I didn’t have a US Visa, so could they PLEASE remove it. ‘Bianca, we don’t even fly to the US yet,’ said the dude on the other side of the phone. ‘of course, so where’s LOS,’ – Lagos – uhhhh? (I’m just very literal and logical, I think). Lagos, Nigeria (2) I’d managed to avoid Lagos flights for a really long time. Hearing about how they went, my nerves were slightly shot. Still, let us tackle this, I mean the crew to arrive back unscathed, after all. Armoured vehicles, guards on the buses, guards on the floors of our hotel rooms. Really? Anyway, I’d woken in the morning, feeling organized, thinking to pack my suitcase for my flight to dreaded LOS tomorrow, then have the whole day to do whatever I needed and just come back to sleep for it later. Yep, I was turning over a new leaf, being organized. Packed my bag, hang about, did an odd thing or two around the apartment, then went onto the crew portal to check my flight and crew. AB – HEAVENS above, I was marked absent. What the flowers are a huge, huge headache. Even thinking about it now is unbearable, AB. Nothing else to do but call crew scheduling. ‘Eh, hi, this is BC…could I ask why I’ve been marked absent from tomorrow’s flight,’ ‘hi Bianca, yes, no one marks you absent off of a flight to come, it’s the flight you missed TODAY, currently on the runway, in position for take-off,’ 😮 – ‘right.’ Here’s the thing – the night before, I’d been out with a few friends. We’d not seen each other in a while with our busy rosters, etc., so a catch up was had, and what fun. I don’t recall getting off the dancefloor the entire night. I had a horror ‘epiphany’ that my manager had been in the club, too, and witnessed my enjoyment, just making my unbearable situation even worse. Woe is me. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Blast, why didn’t I check my roster properly. Yep, wages docked, rosters disrupted.
Dubai An overdone night out, I felt the effects in the morning. I woke up to go to the bathroom and thought I’d try and sleep the horrible feeling off after. So, I sat on the edge of the bed, asking the usual questions after an overdone night, and suddenly felt the room move slightly. Boy, I thought I overdid it, it’s worse! Wow, let me just sit here for a few seconds, eyes closed, and let that feeling pass. Again, I felt myself move slightly, opened my eyes, and both the door and chandelier were moving. Oh my, I was hit with all sorts of thoughts. ‘This is a sign, Bianca – this lifestyle can’t continue’ – the usual self-reproach we give ourselves. Even the bathroom feeling was gone. I instead hopped back into bed and thought, ‘im done with alcoholic beverages’ – this ain’t on – it’s a sign. Never had it been this bad before. So, I forced myself back to sleep and woke in the early evening. Turned on the tv and, there lay my answers. There had been an earthquake in Iran, just across the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf – calling it politically depending if you’re in Persia or Arabia). In other words, the sea dividing the two countries. So, this quite huge earthquake was felt in Dubai. The road on which I lived, entire buildings were evacuated. I’d have been the only fool to come down in a collapsed building because of my guilt at,..eh imbibement. Go figure – the guilty are always afraid. Here lies the fool that…..!
Turnaround to Kuwait I’d been doing so many layovers my system was psyched to leave home on an overnighter. I get off the bus to go and wait for the driver to offload the crew suitcases, and mine isn’t there. Wow – in a rage ‘Who has taken my suitcase – these crew, they don’t check first,’ and on and on I went, threatening to deal with that individual when I found them. Now, as our suitcases are part of our uniform, they’re all identical. The driver calmly asked me, ‘What flight are you going on, ma’am,’ as it would be easy to pick out because the suitcases are counted as per flight per crew. Along the line, there would be some suitcase sitting idly on its lonesome. Then it dawned on me. My response to the driver as I was too embarrassed to admit ‘Oh, I think I know who took it, driver, I will find them,’ and off I ran. No-one had taken my case because I simply hadn’t brought one. My body was synced to always leave home with a suitcase as per my last flights, so that was etched in my memory. Kuwait is a turnaround flight. Basically, one goes and turns around again – no disembarkation and comes right back to one’s own. Bed. It is under two hours there and around the same back. I was ranting and raging for nothing. When you’re due a holiday, it starts this way.
Dubai I had just moved into my own apartment (crew share two- or three-bedroom apartments), and as you become more senior, this is an entitlement. Usually, if you take a promotion, it’s automatic, but you’re entitled to this privilege even as a first-class crew member for 5 years. I never considered this because both my first and second apartment accommodations were absolutely spacious and stunning. Anyway, while my new apartment was all that luxurious, and in a less ‘northern suburban’ setting, it was great to finally be on my own. Better still, it was less than ten minutes away from headquarters, great for unorganized moi. Anyway, there I was walking to my crew bus. I had just come off an Hydrabad flight, which had departed at 0345, and it now was 1200 (midday). I was beat. Walked to my bus and bumped into a favourite driver of mine. We got talking, just asking each other in general about both our families and their well-being. Then he said he had to go, to which I responded yes, ‘let’s go.’ Mind you, this was my first flight since I’d moved, so there I go and get on ‘the’ bus, not paying too much attention. Halfway there, the driver (my favourite) turns to me to ask if I’d been coming to visit friends in my OLD apartment that took almost 45 minutes to get to from HQ and 45 minutes or longer, back, traffic dependent. I hopped on the wrong bus. The distraction was talking to my driver (who didn’t think to mention this when we were still close to HQ). Whew, moments when you feel like a plonker. Dead tired too, just got to ride there and back and then still come back to wait for my ‘correct’ bus, which, although it is less than 10 minutes away, is not the same when going home as it makes a few stops before mine, being the last. I could cry.
Riddle; ‘I can bring tears to your eyes, resurrect the dead, make you smile, and reverse time. I form in an instant but last a lifetime. What am I’?
The world ‘don’t move to the beat of just one drum’ – and so it is with the many facets of life. Our perception of something usually differs entirely from another’s. We often refer or relate to a time or an era in which we were raised and the differences with different people of the same generation—tending to be judgmental, as though ours is the more suited to societal approval. Conditioning.??? Or simply that certain situations work for our mutual benefit in the manner to which we are accustomed. It’s sometimes difficult to separate an event or situation that our minds believe should suit a particular environment at (or of) a specific time. An example of this is a belief that any individual getting on an aircraft is considered somewhat civilized. Why would we assume this (or at least ‘I’)? Better yet, what is deemed to be civilized and civilized in whose society. Individuals from a rural area or setting may be regarded as civilized in their communities’ behavioral habits, but perhaps not conform to what is deemed acceptable in an urban environment. So, who is correct, or who is wrong, and why? I tend to think or believe that I’m not one who is very naïve, and then something occurs that blows me right out of the water to remind me that I am a bit, well maybe not fully grown naive, but naive nonetheless. A wow moment. Why and how did I believe that, when the picture pointed differently.
I had many situations that made me ‘think on these things’ I had the distinct ‘advantage’ of choosing to spend as long as I did in the first-class cabin, only from a ‘labor of love’ viewpoint. I say ‘choose’ as it was just that many of us declined promotion, belief, or not. Promotion meant supervising crew in the business and economy cabins. It just didn’t make sense to a lot of us in first class. So, we remained there, loving every minute. The reality is that everyone thought it was the easiest cabin to manage/work in, but the truth is it wasn’t. Eventually, from a competitor’s standpoint, services are adapted to suit travelers’ demand, and with time, this is precisely what occurred. ‘Dine-on-demand’ This meant that there is no standard set service, but passengers can ‘dine’ as and when they choose. The service is a very personalized affair and is executed with a great deal of pride. What, with our crisply starched table linen, to stainless steel cutlery, carafes for wine. I think as a punishment, the more senior crew were often ‘force rostered’ or ‘seconded’ to work as supervisors for a month or two in the ‘dreaded cabins’ This could not be rejected. It had to be done. The idea was to allow a more practical effort to ultimately choose between remaining in first-class or supervising a lot more crew and taking responsibility for over 400 unhappy passengers. Obviously, with promotion comes a renumerated increase, and yet still, first-class came first, before the money. Huh…! There was a time back when air travel was considered a privilege. Afforded only by the rich and famous, and a first-class service was conducted with such finesse, above and beyond. Roasts were rolled in on a trolley to be carved and served to the passenger, in their presence. It was a time when people’ dressed up’ to go flying, such was its importance. It reminds me of our rural folk back home who, even when travelling on our only public transportation system – the horror’ bone-shaker buses’ – would ready the children in their Sunday best, always on their best behavior, to go travelling, how times have changed. (In fact, airlines nowadays turn you away if you are considered to be improperly dressed. Jeans are not considered as appropriate first-class travel – wear. This can be beneficial for a chance first-class upgrade – FYI), so in the event of such an occurrence, consider how this may suit you before getting into arguments with ground staff who happen to be doing their job. My own initial experience in first-class WAS, what I always called ‘trolley days’ before the introduction of ‘dine-on-demand’ (Air hostesses, flight attendants, cabin crew are/were still humorously referred to as ‘trolley-dolly’s’ – perhaps this is where the term originated), how I loved the delicacy of this service. It began with a cocktail, where we then served on a tray a hot canape. This was our ‘silver service’ – it required good dexterity, using a spoon and fork. No matter how skilled, there was always a chance that one piece of cutlery would fall out of the hands. So, we’d all be in the galley deciding who was better suited and exit the galley to serve with a falsely exhibited confidence. First-class seating was pretty basic, with its leather seats, in an 18-seater configuration, and the most it could do was maybe make a flat-bed. Perhaps a slightly bigger individual tv screen than other cabins, but not such a wow factor was first class then, in terms of seating. A double-ended (two crew members serving off a trolley together) trolley of appetisers followed the canape – I loved this trolley service. Still, it was a lot of work, loading and off-loading, for the various courses as they went. The back-ended trolley top would have a selection of Arabic Mezze contained on a large silver tray. These consisted of Kibbeh (bulgur wheat, ground beef, and onions rolled into a football shape with spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove), Hummus (made from chickpea), Moutabbal (eggplant), Tabbouleh (chopped parsley with olive oil, lemon juice, onions, tomato, and sweet pepper) and vine leaves stuffed with rice. Mezze means ‘sharing’ of small portions of appetizer before the main meal. Mezze can be a lot of things, pretty much anything you wish. Its tradition in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Persian, and Mediterranean cultures. It was always five dishes (dips if you will), four surrounding the main mezze, which was on a ‘tower’ raised above the others, sitting proudly. Always a winner was Arabic Mezze, served with its Pita bread. The trolley’s front-end part consisted of (different times and destinations had select meals to suit) a seafood appetizer.
A large lobster tail on a flat silver tray garnished with parsley and lemon wedges, or a king tiger prawn. (I’d always hope that this was a non-selling item, but of course, people eat with their eyes,..so,.loss). Then in the center of the trolley was the much-loved caviar, with its accompaniments of egg white, egg yolk, and chives (all chopped up) and sour cream. On the side was melba toast and blinis with which to eat. Stolichnaya vodka too sat beside. Adjacent to the plates covered in white linen with the top one exposed, was a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, with two crystal glasses, laying as if protecting the bottle, the bottom part of the stem linking the two a sort of V shape. (I cannot express my love of this service enough. It was the most elegant of elegant, especially how the food was displayed). We’d introduce the meals and allow them to select. There were always ‘that’ one individual who needed to make ‘his unknown’ territory appear very well travelled (pun intended, judgment reserved). ‘I’d like the caviar, please’ -, ‘certainly sir, would you like all the accompaniments to go with.’ ‘what are they’ – ‘egg white, yolk, sour cream, onions’ ‘yes – I’d like all that EXCEPT that black stuff (aka Caviar) – eye roll. OR ‘what is Caviar’ – it’s fish eggs/roe, sir, that comes from the sturgeon.’ ‘yes, give me ONE or TWO of those’ – 😊 ‘eh, that’s not quite how it works,’ no judgment here, quite humbly endearing in fact, especially the non-show offs. ‘eh I’ve never had Caviar before’ (I appreciated these kinds of people). Annoying is pretending to know it all, then you’re just going to waste it. (when I could be having it – tut tut)! Another FYI moment, the crew are very clued up on Wanna-Be’s, and there is a passenger information list, so all the upgrades are known. It won’t work to flex. Just be humble. The service started at the back end of the cabin and came to the front – that way, and we’d pull into the galley when done or need to reload. Arrive at Mr.From-a-very-cold-country. Seated with his 3-year-old next to him. Requests two plates of Caviar, with all the accompaniments and two (shot) glasses of Stolichnaya. Fair enough. We plate and serve, then hand over the vodka which he proceeds to put pepper in the one glass, stirs with his pinky finger and HANDS TO HIS 3-YEAR-old, who gulps it down in one sip, not even flinching or making any kind of face at the taste or burning of the throat. HUH..! An FA cannot teach anyone manners and certainly not what is considered good/bad parenting of a child. To say my flabber-was-gasted. Still, life goes on. I mean, I did ‘not only’ once serve red wine to passengers, physically nursing their babies at that precise moment that they were sipping it. What to say…! The soup and salad trolley followed this. A huge silver soup tureen and salad leaves, with various additional items, simple enough. Then came the main meal trolley. A selection of 4 main dishes at the front end and four vegetables to accompany the trolley’s back end. Introduced, we’d plate simultaneously (two crew), so very elegant. Following the main meal, the trolley was (supposed to be) a round of Arabic coffee. Following this was the dessert, fruit, and cheese trolley, made up of both a hot and cold dessert, fruit, and a selection of uncut cheese. Uncut to be cut in the cabin, in the presence of passengers. Nice. Now, it should be noted that many of the aircraft then was needing to be updated, and so it was with equipment onboard. Serving and cutting cheese on a trolley already extended with a not very strong extension piece proved a humorous experience. It happened to many of us on more than one occasion, trying to cut through a piece of really hard cheese and wham,..the extension collapsed to the floor, in full view of passengers. It would take every ounce of strength not to burst into laughter, as it was so expected that it would seem one had ‘willed’ it, alas. Everyone had their moment with this issue. You would, in as elegant a manner as you could muster, the present situation considered, pick it up off the floor and humbly carry to the galley trying to keep a straight face, collect a new cheeseboard, and ‘hope for a better outcome’ on the next attempt. Us super-heroes presenting with such a faux pas. Whatever next. Dessert fruit and cheese were followed by tea/coffee and liqueurs. Boy, at this point, having served all 18 passengers, we were ready to land, but nowhere near done. Lots of paperwork still to be complete for customs, especially on UK flights. These were always busy and challenging. At one point, there were ten flights a day between Gatwick and Heathrow airports alone. Then just as you comfortably felt, you could deliver a fully laden trolley, excellently presented, with eyes closed, the new aircraft came and with it a completely different interior. Suites, in which passengers could shut themselves in. 12 seat-configuration. And with it came ‘dine-on-demand’ whereby we did away with trolleys and served as and when individuals wanted to eat rather than a set service at a specific time, altogether. We’d often feel as if we’d walked to some destinations. It simply didn’t stop. Thank goodness for ICAO rules on long-haul flights where we were legally required to sleep (horizontally) in crew bunks as a rest period. This wasn’t even the time of the wonderous Airbus (A380) era that arrived with its shower/spas. We were still being wowed by a smaller Airbus (A340-500), which we all came to despise, with time. Fortunately, it didn’t enjoy longevity. It was just further upgrading to ‘new births’ and revamping of some already in existence. Duty-free followed the services and then the mad rush to complete customs forms for the alcohol being carried, ordering of whatever would be short for the outbound flight for the crew taking over the aircraft, ensuring the flight-deck are themselves fed,..coffees/teas, food, an argument on being allowed seafood, blah blah blah. UK flights were not the easiest, the shopping allowed us to feel contrary, so the labor of love continued, and with-it time does fly. See what I did there, Fly.
I was hoping you could answer to the above riddle; I am a MEMORY ~ brainzilla
One of the most serene, beautiful moments is when the cabin is quiet, on a redeye, into the early morning. Passengers asleep – sitting in the flight deck, at the break of dawn. Cruising just above clusters of pillow-like clouds bound together, appearing falsely trusting as if a secure cushion in the event of a fall.
The aircraft’s underbelly just about touching on them. No wind, no turbulence, just soaring through calm air. No chatter, banter, jokes, or gossip, only silence amongst us, with the pilots sipping on coffee, and perhaps the alternate communication with air traffic control. Watching planes zoom past as if on a two-lane/road vehicle highway. On approach appearing as if a collision is imminent, but no, 1000 or so feet above or below. Always interesting when it’s one of our own, and as is usually done on highways’ (Zim at least), a ‘hola’ by way of flashing ‘headlights.’
Our silence as we appreciate the beauty of life, viewed from above the clouds. Non-verbal appreciation – just awe-filled gratitude at this extraordinary experience. Watching dawn break. Watching the sun slowly penetrate through the clouds, on the horizon, soon to be ablaze with it’s fiery looking curtain, dominating the skyline. And in what seems less than a second, the day is born. There is an indescribable joy at the peace that those few moments bring. More than anything is the joy and happiness of being alive. It was always an ‘it is well with my soul moment’ I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt quite such peace, but there is a burst of gratitude that fills the heart. This, I do miss (teary emoji)
In Aviation, there is so much that can and does happen, funny, a tad ‘unintelligent’ – Wow moments. Be its crew, passengers, customs/immigration officials/random passengers in Airports non-related to our flights.
Passenger moment: Scene one Cruising at 32000ft on a day flight, a lady passenger (no relevance to gender), who is clearly en route to or from a business trip, judging by all the paperwork she’d been working on, on her table. Anyway, she gets my attention, and I go over. The reason for mentioning that this may be a business trip is to try to enforce the fact that this is a person with some intelligence level.
‘Yes ma’am, how can I assist’ – She looks out of the window and asks me if I could go and ask the Capt. if we’re still moving.? Uh..? Naturally, I offer a not too comfortable laugh in response, as I don’t yet know the direction of this statement. It could be a joke,.or…??
‘No, I’d like you to ask the Capt. if we are STILL moving’, she says again, this time in a firm, authoritative tone, to which I look out the window, and, well, I suppose it’s fair to say I could somehow see her reasoning, but moving we are…! She looks up at me as if in question about what I’m still doing there and not enquiring with said Capt. So in a manner to pacify, I did indeed walk to the flight deck, entered, sat, said not a word about the ‘enquiry’ (honestly I went to check for myself – NOT), exited, and walked back up to her seat. ‘Ma’am, the Capt. And the crew are pleased to tell you that we are indeed MOVING, at an altitude of 32000ft, on this beautiful clear day’.
‘Thank you,’ says she – ‘You’re welcome,’ says I To be fair? On this very clear day, when I did look outside the window it did seem as if we’d stopped, standing still, not a cloud in the sky, so no turbulence, no wind – but why would this almost $200mil tube of aluminium just be suspended in the air, we’d have fallen to the ground surely. Mind-Boggling!.
Scene two: Returning from a trip in the US, San Francisco, I think it might’ve been, on the Airbus A380, I just couldn’t settle on my break, so I decided to take the rest of my break chatting to the pilots. (Depending on the duration of the flight, a legal requirement is that we take a sleep/break, where we are horizontal, for at least 3 hours shorter/longer). Anyway, I came up from our crew bunks, which are on the lower deck, and to reach first-class (my cabin for 12 years), you have a walk past the business class amazing lounge and cabin. As I’m walking past, I’m stopped by a passenger, and of course, I can’t say ‘hey I’m still on my break,’ so I attend him. ‘Excuse me, and I have a complaint’ (standard) – ‘yes sir, how can I assist.’
(VERBATIM) ‘Please tell the captain that I’m buying this ticket on your airline because I wanted to see the Northern Lights, and now I see the flight plan, and it looks like I will not see. Tell him that he should turn the plane in that direction so that I won’t have PAID MY MONEY for nothing, because it’s not fair, and everybody is saying your airline is always going the EXTRA mile’.
I just started at him – absolutely speechless, baby hairs on the nape of the neck rising in irritation. My first inclination was to tell him where to get off in the nicest manner possible but with full understanding (on his part)
(But, in fairness, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.) ‘Well sir, I can’t promise that the captain will turn this big bird around, off of its flight plan, but let’s first check, I will be right back.
Now, the captain in command should hear about everything that goes on. Still, a lot of us have decided there are some things that we won’t bother him with, (unless it requires intervention or will land up in the office for whatever reason), but on this one, my annoyance got the better of me, and I just HAD TO.
Enter the cockpit and relate the story. I was in stitches at said captain’s irritation, eye-roll moment. ‘What I’d like to know, Bianca, is what your response to him was, which is most important for me.’ ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ – ‘Good enough,’ says he, ‘lovely,’ tells me, and I exited the flight-deck to inform the passenger that today his luck was out. Sorry.! (eye-roll, eye-roll eye-roll).
Scene three: On the ground, boarding passengers, the lady enters the galley with a bag. We’re always happy to accommodate by placing items that need to be kept chilled in our fridges (no matter how limited on space, we find it), especially medication such as diabetes, food items, Caviar bought in DF, etc. Anyway, enter our aunty, she hands us a frozen chicken and tells us, she’ll not be having what’s on our menu today but would prefer it if we’d ‘Roast her chicken for her’ (passenger meals are not sufficient, bring your own). The same lady whose gas stove – Yes, gas stove, cleared customs with a cleared customs sticker was brought into a passenger jet cabin, filled with gas. Gas on a tube. Thank heavens for the attentive crew. (not me in this instance, but thankful nonetheless).
Customs Officials United States: Scene four The first officer had a Discman (walkman upgrade from cassette to CD, that thingamajig). Anyway, enter customs and officially tell him (fo) that he will have to remove it. ‘could I ask why’ – ‘because sir, you may attempt to take command of the aircraft.’ ‘but I’m already in command of the aircraft, I’m one of the pilots’ ‘sir, you may attempt to take command of the aircraft’ – toing and froing, NON could see the logic in what the FO was trying to relay. Unbelievable! This is when a training session information hasn’t been entirely digested. It’s been absorbed, but it’s lying somewhere in the brain like a ball of string, still to unravel.
Crew Resourcefulness/Faux pas: Scene five Cabin crew is serial shopaholics. Like most people, I think it’s fair to say the majority crew has homes filled with more items not needed than needed. This is a trend caught by many. When you are exposed to markets/shops/malls worldwide, consumerism takes over rationale. Required or not, is a must-have there and then. Then you spend the return flight questioning your purchase.
Food items too feature highly on that list: cheeses, wines, yoghurts, sausages from Europe, namely Germany, Italy, France. Germany was always a favorite, and the crew would be out buying sausages. Not to take back, but to cook in their rooms. Alas, it’s a standard hotel room with kettle only, no microwave. So, where would one cook sausages in a hotel room without cooking amenities available? On the clothes iron, of course. Duhhh. So along comes Mr. X, checking in after the crew has checked out. He on his business meeting trip and irons his suit for his important business meet and voila, smelling Eau de sausage cologne. Nice.!
Scene (sies) six: My experiences are from my time in my airline, but this one is not from my ex airline, but an Aviation story in any case. People are people, and habits die hard. So if one is in the habit of helping themselves to things they shouldn’t be, acting professionally as representative of huge reputable airline/corporation is not a deterrent to such practices. Hotels suffer significant losses through the ‘removal’ of items such as t .v.’s, pictures, curtaining, carpeting, not to mention the easily removable such as weighing scales, kettles, irons, etc. A particular airline crew would remove carpeting from under the beds, so it was not seen until said bed was replaced.
Not ours – below: A particular Londons’ Gatwick airport hotel had a pond just outside. The pond had ducks in it, but as soon as a specific aircrew came in, the numbers seemed to go down, until there were absolutely no ducks left in the pond. Yes, of course, duck is a delicacy, so you help yourself and ‘cook it in the room.’
Ours – below I know of an airline pilot who was building a house and decided that he liked the handles on the hotel’s closets, enough that he’d bring in old ones from his current residence and swap them around. Replacing the old with the new is not stealing. He’d bid for the flight that had him a layover at that hotel until those closets were done. Another helped himself to the TV when his own at home ‘packed up.’ Forget taking gowns and towels. Curtaining was replaced with old, if the ones adorning the window were decided to be too good to be on ‘just a hotel window – take it home and show it off, to especially those who don’t have access to hotels’ – it’s not stealing, it is only showing the class/beautiful items, of what the hotel now no longer has.
I could go on and on, but how much time do you have – there will be a lot of references to such issues in the ‘tales’ to come.
One of my prouder moments, working as crew, is the fact of all the philanthropic efforts by just ‘cabin crew’ as was the phrase to which we’d become accustomed. Non-relevant individuals, we often copped abuse by many a passenger, many a time, actually that’s incorrect, this was most of the time which was par for the course. Occupational hazard, some would say. I digress.
Working alongside crew, numbering 120 different nationalities, was fascinating but proved hugely challenging. For many of us who spoke English as a first or second language, initially thought life would be relatively simple. Most Zimbabweans speak English quite eloquently, and even strongly accented individuals are most articulate, and therefore easily understood. With the ability to be understood comes speaking with a level of confidence that almost appears bossy, apparently intimidating to others, such was the criticism from time to time. What to do, grin and bear it, how do you change or lower your level of ‘confidence’ of speech/speaking. This was criticism that many English first language speakers or those who spoke English very well, suffered. With time, I realized the somewhat warped reasoning behind what could be considered harsh criticism. Different cultures have different habits. I was quite shocked at a particular Asian national who walked up to a friend of mine (same nationality) and almost bowed down to her in greeting and showing ‘respect’ in quite a subservient manner. I was quite taken aback, if not offended at my friends’ alleged superior attitude. Not true at all. Or perhaps it is, but this is their way, plain and simple. Whether we like it or not, it is what it is. No problem. Except it is. Especially in the flight deck/cockpit, where a Captain in the same culture would NOT be questioned, even if, errors were made on his part which could likely be rectified, to avoid unnecessary loss of human life, silence is the order of the day, authority dare not be challenged. As a result, airlines around the world have adopted measures to change this mindset by introducing training to facilitate or change a somewhat conditioned mindset that aims to have a positively beneficial outcome for everyone, I.e., to arrive safely and sound. A Captain is in command; however, he or she is human too, and any issues not comfortable with, a First Officer should be in a position to speak up, regardless of cultural differences. Wit, humour, sarcasm, etc., was frowned upon. A funny tale to iterate this was on a layover in Nairobi. Most of the crew turned up to go on safari, which took them to a crocodile farm. No-one is quite sure how two girls managed to get into the enclosure after the FO (First Officer – 2nd in command) remarked that the huge crocodile could not possibly have been real. (he was joking) The next thing heard from the girls was a scream, and rapid movement by the keepers to remove them. The FO who had been joking when he said what he did was quite white with fright – the blood drained from his head, almost passing out – that his remark almost had the girls as lunch in a crocodile enclosure – the girls had wanted ‘selfies,’ so of course they got almost up close to what had been mentioned as ‘not real.’ They just missed the crocs’ jaws on their bodies. Tourists, wherever they go, whoever they are, are a huge problem, especially in this new age of ‘selfies’ (the bane of modern existence). Onboard, standard operating procedures dictated differently rules at different times, for various reasons. One such was the need to remain at a door as the owner of the door, basically meaning your seating position for landing and take-off. life needs are, requesting someone to ‘cover my door’ as you attended something else, meant different things for different people – figuratively meaning, ‘please take care of’ – ‘please cover my door’ – would have said door covered by a blanket literally – well if you don’t ask…..! English never loved us all.
The philanthropic efforts of which I speak were many. One young lady who didn’t even complete Grade 6 herself, and came from some .serious dysfunction (by her admissions), started a project that has sent children from the slums of Dhaka in Bangladesh to school onto University. Her efforts at providing a better life for these children is phenomenal, and she has been recognized and won numerous awards. (It should also be noted that amongst the family of cabin crew are professionals including, lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc. – I only mention so because it often amused when securing a cabin and asking passengers to put seats upright, etc., we usually received remarks such as ‘cannot be told what to do by one so uneducated’ – ‘we l l sir, guess what, as uneducated as I am, you’re NOW ON MY AIRCRAFT and need to comply by the rules via myself, or could I get security to escort you off the aircraft because YOUR conduct endangers everyone’ – yasssssss, as I thought – if you want to make crews’ day…!) One other that did warm my heart was the efforts by Thai, Japanese and Bulgarian doctors (I stand corrected on this last one), who had people collect plastic bottle tops off of drinking water and soft drink bottles, to enable them to make cheaper prosthetic limbs for the underprivileged of their societies. These would be collected in their thousands, as you can imagine. Who would’ve thought? What a gesture!
As we speak, the Middle East plays an employment host to many from around the world, but especially the subcontinent where dense populations make up for some of the world’s poorest nations. Indian, Pakistani, Bengali and many others. Many men and women enter as labourers, having given up life savings, or taken from loan sharks who know how to exploit the system. They are promised a different lifestyle to the one they are accustomed to, but it’s an entirely different story when they arrive. These are the laborers’ responsible for erecting the high-rise building that adorns the Dubai skies, with their strobes, flashing consistently, warning any aircraft of their close presence. Sadly, like many of the world’s third world countries, labour comes very cheaply. The labourers sometimes do not see their loved ones for over two years. They try to repay their debts of having come over, while keeping the family afloat through remittances home, themselves living in deplorable conditions, with almost nothing left, with which to feed themselves. Temperatures in Dubai summers can and have climbed to above 50 degrees celsius – if this is possible to visualise or attempt to feel. Some crew members collaborated, whereby they set up feeding stations for the labourers. Every month, going and feeding these individuals themselves, offering just that, word of encouragement and a smile. With these was usually a first grocery pack too, with toiletries, a bar of soap, toothpaste, can of deodorant and shaving sticks, and boy, did it put a smile on their faces. I think more than the actual receiving of it was that someone ‘cared’ The loneliness of being away from loved ones or people you know, or just human interaction is something crew knows only too well. Sometimes I’d want to knock sense into their heads, and sometimes I was just blown away by their kind deeds. ‘Gotta take the good with the bad.’ Overall they made me so so proud.
Bangkok, Thailand, is a favorite destination for most crew. A newly, hugely constructed airport about an hour’s drive to/from the city centre (depending on sometimes horrendous traffic), one walks out of this state-of-the-art air-conditioned building into the hot, humid air, towards a city renowned for its diverse entertainment. Indeed, but the dark side of Thailand is its reputation as being a tourist sex destination.
A sad reality is that more often than not, had us passenger many, who had an agenda for their ‘holiday’ in this bustling metropolis, with its cheap shopping and even cheaper ‘sex-for-sale’ mantra. It’s difficult not to be judgmental. I guess ‘love’ knows no age barriers, which is true, but it’s quite glaringly apparent that some exploit a somewhat marginalized society. That said, one must be objective enough to understand that not every ‘gent’ of that particular age-group is there simply for what can be ‘bought/exchanged/bartered.’ Thailand does offer luxurious accommodations at almost ridiculously low rates, especially for those from countries who enjoy stable favourable currencies take them far in this southeast Asian paradise.
Then there is PAT-PONG. Bangkok’s Seedy Sex district, rumored to be run by the Thai Mafia. A combination of fascination, sadness, and disgust, if that’s possible to be felt all at the same time. Downstairs, a shoppers-knock-off-goods paradise and upstairs, all the bars, with all the girls…! Fascination, at the acts – not to believe until seen for oneself. Sadness – girls who look as young as between 12 – 16 (It should also be noted that Asians are usually blessed with very youthful looks, so perhaps it’s that which confuses the eye), completely naked, standing alongside a dancing pole, tapping their feet and only interested in ‘buy me beer’ as if that qualifies for whatever next act should be seen – it does! I witnessed things I know I will likely not see anywhere else, and as I say, the fascination is astonishment too. I very naively thought that if I were reduced to this kind of poverty, I would somehow turn it erotic, sexy, and make people want to see me perform. Upon reflection, I realized that with poverty comes a whole different mindset through conditioning, exploitation/abuse, and likely lack of any formal basic education and exposure to anything but poverty. A life where only the fit will survive, and young mothers tossing out equally young daughters to do just that, survive..!
It closes at 0200/0300 on the dot. Some girls will consider themselves lucky to leave with usually a foreign man. A man whom they aim to please through a night of perverse sex, in the hope that this ‘anything goes’ will endear her to him and possibly develop into a more serious fulltime relationship as an escape from this destitution. That old mindset of colonisation that to ‘bag’ yourself a white man/woman would hold you in good stead, steered towards a life of privilege. It is not only Africa that bears this plague.
The dangers, too, are getting caught up with people who appear overly eager to help. One such story takes me back to a time when a pilot had a brother, his family, best friend, and his family visit in Bangkok. A few days after checking into the hotel, and lying by the pool, the two best friends decide to go out and see the night spots. After a few hours of just walking idly along the streets, nothing particularly interested them. So, they went off back in the direction of the hotel, deciding to grab a coffee at the nearest 7Eleven. That was the last time they were seen for a whole week…!
It turned out; they got talking with the lady cashier in said 7Eleven, before ordering their coffees, asking what they could do on a night out, to which she responded
‘wait, I can tell my brother, driving a tuk-tuk to come to take you, you enjoy it too much.’
When they agreed, she prepared their order, and as it happens, laced it with something. They remembered getting on the said brothers’ tuk-tuk, and ‘resurrected’ a week later where they were found under a bridge by the local police force. They remembered nothing but were found ‘sans’ wallets, watches and their expensive trainers. Undoubtedly distressed at this amnesia of about a week, investigations conducted found that their cashier lady who’d organized this ‘rendezvous’ with her ‘brother’ had laced their coffees to rob them more easily. The police then went on to inform them of their ‘luck’ at not having any vital body organs stolen. Organ theft is a massive business in most of Asia. All things considered, this story ended quite well as the only issue seemed to have been the drugs in their system(s). They were checked too for sexual assault, which led to this particular story being told repeatedly. It is way too easy to forget that not everyone who appears helpful means to help YOU, themselves perhaps. Death from organ theft in foreign lands would have a very very small chance of a criminal conviction for the perpetrators. The moral in this story – paradise isn’t always what it seems – AWARENESS on holidays, ALWAYS. It’s not only in nightclubs that drinks are spiked.
That said, Thailand, for me, is an enigma. There are very wealthy and the very poor. Still, life goes on, with not much. Standing in the markets is intriguing, street food is always delicious, but like anywhere, there is a need to be cautious to avoid ‘Delhi-belly’ scenarios. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy Thai food, especially if you’re a spicy food ‘aficionado.’ Depending on the flight, as there were many into Bangkok, a favourite thing to do was go on an impromptu ‘culinary’ course. If able to accommodate one, you’d go food shopping in the market with the chef dependent on his ‘menu’ on that day, learn to cook your purchased items, and gobble up every last bite. I always said I really would/need to learn a lot more as it is just absolutely divine cuisine.
Now, here’s a very strange thing about me. Unlike most people, I DO NOT LIKE a massage at all, ever! This is something else Thailand is renowned for – Thai massage. These, dependent on your needs, can seem quite painful as they did for me, yet at every man and child’ behest, that I at least experience a Thai massage before completely discounting message on my ‘To-do list’ – I maintain, I still DO NOT like a massage. Unfortunately, to explain this when receiving the most amazing Thai facial is nearly impossible, so I just allowed it, which spoilt my experience. Their need to ahem,..’ handle’ you all over left me feeling uncomfortable. (That is a story for another day,..oh the shame..!)