By Carolyn Bonello
May 10, 2008
I love flying. Even better, I love eating. Plane food. Not plain at all, I thought, as I tucked into my lamb shaki korma, fresh fruit salad, croissant, banana muffin and orange juice, cruising at 12,000 feet on an Emirates flight to Dubai. I love Emirates, the food is just so yummy.
Sprinting through the never-ending gates of terminal infinity on arrival in Dubai airport, desperately trying to reach my connecting flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, I secretly wished I had stuck to plain crackers and water instead. As I stumbled in to the boarding gate, panting uncontrollably, the ground steward, a small man, wearing a three-sizes-too-large uniform jacket which hung off his narrow bony shoulders scruffily, and donning an even larger, flashy gold name tag bearing the name Rashid, eyed me suspiciously and slowly walked towards me.
‘Oh my God, am I reeking of Lamb Korma? Is my zip undone? Am I a drugs suspect?’
‘Excuse me ma’am’ says Rashid in a low voice, as he draws his eyebrows together and pushes his large spectacles up from the tip of his nose.
‘ I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m slightly concerned’
‘Come on Rashid, let it out, what is it?’
Beads of sweat accumulated on my forehead, gradually forming embarrassingly large droplets which slowly trickled down my face, simulating tears, and making me look like an even bigger wimp.
‘Ma’am’ he repeats, in impeccable English, ‘may I ask why you, a pretty young female, are travelling on your own to Dhaka, Bangladesh, of all places?’
‘Phew, is that all he wanted to ask?’
As I looked around the boarding gate, I realized that the 220 passengers were all male, all Bangladeshi, and ALL staring at me as though I'd just landed from an alien planet. Explaining to a concerned Rashid that Dhaka was only a transit stop en route to Kathmandu, Nepal, I slowly pushed my way through the sea of little men to what would be my little habitat for the next few hours - seat 18A. Anyway, the flight to Dhaka turned out to be pretty safe, all the men more interested in zapping their controls to check out the latest films, rather than stare at me. I, on the otherhand, was deeply engrossed in my menu, painstakingly trying to choose between chicken curry with Malaysian roti jala and red bean layer cake with mango coulis, or crispy beef with black bean sauce, followed by cheese and biscuits. Life can get really tough sometimes!
Landing in Dhaka airport, I was led off the plane and into a dull, bare room - the arrivals ‘lounge’ - by a tall, skinny, wobbly, knock-kneed, very-long-moustached man, once again called Rashid.
‘Excuse me, where do I collect my luggage from?’
‘Yuuu stay here and I bring yuuuu.
‘No, I’d rather pick it up myself, thanks’
‘Yuuu no trust me madaaaaam?’
‘Er, no, its just that ….’
After describing every stitch of my rucksack to Rashid (there was no need to really, as it was the only one, picked out of a pile of torn suitcases, dusty boxes and several other unidentifiable objects), I was ushered to the ‘desk’ for the supposed transit check in.
Does any Bangladeshi know the meaning of the word ‘queue’? Obviously not. Hundreds of men all pushed their way to the front, muttering what sounded like the worst possible conglomeration of Bangladeshi swear words ever recited. As I stepped back to breathe and regain control, the man behind the counter, wearing a scratched stainless steel badge labeled, surprise, surprise, Rashid, waved me to the front.
‘Helloooooooo maaaaaam, I am needing your passporrrrr and ticket pleeeeeez’
I produced my precious possessions from my bag, flashed them in front of his very large, black spectacles, hoping he would absorb all the information he needed, and was about to slip them back in, when, with a very firm, sturdy grip, (it’s surprising what strength a tiny hand like his could produce) he snatched them, and in exchange, presented me with a small, flimsy, red plastic chip. Yes, a chip, just like the ones you’re given at the casino. And then, in a flash, Rashid was gone! And all I possessed at that moment was my rucksack and a small red chip - all alone in Dhaka airport!!
Several hours and many panicky, hot flushes later, as I was about to give up hope of ever finding Rashid or my beloved treasures, he appeared, and this time it was I who rudely snatched my belongings back, in exchange for the very important red chip!!!!
Sitting on a torn, dirty, cigarette-butted chair, I spent the next couple of hours trying to focus on selectively inhaling the best smell around me – that of my own body odour – when suddenly, I found myself surrounded by an ever-increasing group of little men, pacing up and down, scrutinizing me and chanting in mantra fashion,
‘nice, veeeeeery nice, madaaaaaam’.
It was my socks, my multi-coloured, striped, cheerful socks that drew them to me. I had removed my bulky trekking boots for a while and was sitting with my knees held tightly to my chest (the only position that safely kept me free from the thick layers of saliva that coated every tile on the floor in my immediate vicinity), thus revealing this bizarrely-coloured item of clothing which seemed to totally fascinate them.
‘Biman Bangladeshi Airways are…….’
That’s me, Im finally off’,
I pounced out of my seat with an overzealous amount of energy, completely forgetting that I was not wearing my shoes, and into the saliva I plodded, and skidded, and fell headfirst onto my rucksack! The Rashids were totally amused by this, but within seconds very kindly offered their assistance to get me back on my feet.
‘………sorry to announce that flight G701 to Kathmandu will be delayed by four hours’
‘Four hours? A delay of four hours? I insist on having a word with the manager!
‘Helloooooo ma’am, how can I be of assistance, ma’am? My name is…..’
And so I met yet another Rashid……and this is how it went on till I eventually boarded my flight seven hours later, waved off by my newly-found friends!!
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