Friday, 24 August 2012

Encounters at Airports


Although I really enjoyed flying to England with Turkish Airlines - the best way to get to Birmingham from Cape Town, - there was a pile-up of Passengers-in-Transit at Istanbul in the early hours of the morning as about 5 planes had landed at once.  Istanbul has become a central hub, not only for people travelling around Europe but also those heading on to the East. Normally, I would never travel around Europe in the peak tourist season - August, but of course, this time I had no choice re my dad's funeral.  For reasons which I fail to understand, we all (several hundred people) had to be shepherded through a very small gate to go through Security again, before we could go in search of our departure gates for ongoing flights. Even more absurdly, half of us were redirected when we got to said gate, and had to fight our way back against the tide to first have our passports scrutinized. This put us at the back of the same queue again and being somewhat disgruntled we struck up brief conversations.
 I've always been tempted to chat in such circumstances and often make the first move. Sometimes it is unwise to approach the nearest man to do this, especially if they are an Arab or Israeli. However, I was surrounded by mostly Moslem women (who don't look approachable) or Chinese, so there wasn't much choice.  I did first ask one young girl if she was getting married (she was tiny and carrying a large wedding-dress-shaped white bag high above her head). Of course, she was, and proved to be an American living in Manhattan, on her way, excitedly, to Israel to tie the knot. When the queue appeared to stop moving, even at snail's pace, I started a conversation with a large, bearded gentleman next to me. Mistake. Within seconds he was complimenting me on my beauty, telling me I looked just like the women from his home country (Iran) and edging even closer in the crush, with a lascivious look in his eye. I got away from him, only to chat to a more harmless-looking man, who proved to be an Israeli. Even worse. Within two sentences, he had his arm round my shoulders, expounding the virtues of Israel, as if I was an old friend. I shouldn't have tried out my two sentences of Hebrew. ...At last the queue began to move....
On the plane home, I found myself next to a skull-capped gentleman who was clearly fasting as he refused the delicious meal that was brought around.  I enquired if this was the case and apologised for eating in front of him. Mistake.  He proved to be very garrulous, explaining that he had lived in England for 32 years and was now going to visit his home country - Afghanistan!  I was a little taken aback because it seemed he planned to stay and leave his wife and family back in the UK (?)  Luckily, another passenger arrived and sat between us...
My last encounter was with a Customs Officer on my return to Cape Town. In twenty years, I have never been stopped but my number came up that day.  I replied composedly to his first questions until, "What was the purpose of your visit to England?"   "My dad died" said I, and lost it.  (Waterworks).  The poor man was so embarrassed, he abandoned the rest of his questions and waved me straight through.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had an interesting time. Almost reads like the script of a romantic comedy! I have to remember to use tears on customs officers. Its terrible though, after a death of a loved one, you can fall apart without warning over the strangest things. This time it worked in your favor!

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