Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - No comments

Journey to Jordan #2: Strangers on a Plane

A whole departure lounge full of travelers and there’s only one Turkish speaker within earshot - a woman with a whiny Istanbul accent jabbering away to her older sister on her cell phone.  

Across from us, a South East Asian looking couple (judging by her tiny face and tightly wrapped pink headscarf, I’d say Malaysian or Indonesian) talk softly and gaze affectionately into each other's eyes, his fingers toying with the threads at the bottom of the tunic she wears over pale floral print jeans.   They’re the kind that make you want to stare - not because they’re inappropriate but purely because they’re cute.

Down the aisle, a pair of Arabic-speaking girls who can’t be more than eighteen appear to be travelling alone.  Both wear black hijab framing their round faces, one with a long, loose grey t-shirt over black tights and gold flats, the other sporting similar tights tucked into black sequined UGG boots.  Grey T-Shirt has her head resting on UGG’s lap while UGG scans Facebook on her iPhone, her eyes smiling behind her huge black hipster glasses.

When we board the plane, it becomes apparent that the guy at the check-in counter had misunderstood our request for an aisle and a middle seat, and he has both of us in different corridor seats instead of next to each other like (we thought) we’d asked.   The blond woman to my left is, I assume, a Russian bride.  She speaks to her daughter in Russian and the little girl answers back in Turkish.  “Mommy, look at that plane!  Mommy, when will we take off?  Mommy, do they have colouring books?”  

When boarding is complete, we ask the flight attendant if we can switch to the two empty seats a row ahead of my roommate, and then proceed to invade the area that the bulky man by the window had clearly expected to have all to himself.  In an attempt to appease him in his seemingly hostile legs-sprawled-so-wide-they-take-up-half-my-space stance, I offer him some gum.  He waves a “no, thank-you” wave.  

A moment later, my roommate gives it a try and tells him in Turkish,  “Sorry we took up your row.  We were supposed to have seats together.”  

He shakes his head slowly - clearly not a Turk - and says haltingly in English, “Sorry, I...didn’t...understand.”  

She switches to English and explains the situation, to which he smiles and says, “No problem, no problem.”  He shifts his legs back into his own area and we settle in for the fifty minute flight to Istanbul.  

The couple behind us speaks an Asian language I don’t recognize.  The guy, looking rather out of place in his shorts and t-shirt, chats away happily from take-off to landing, laughing at his jokes far more than his soft-spoken companion does.  At the baggage claim in Istanbul, we spot the pair standing with the shy-but-in-love couple from the boarding area, and Chatty Boy is trying to teach the lot of them line dancing steps while they wait for their suitcases.  Peculiar.  

As we line up to check in at Royal Jordanian for our flight to Amman, I scan the outfits of our fellow-travelers.  The man directly in front of me looks like what I expected a Jordanian to look like - his long, flowing grey djellaba touches the floor and his red and white checked keffiyeh is tied around the top with a black cord.  The woman with him, while wearing a neatly tied beige headscarf, is decked out in a beige crushed velvet pantsuit that definitely does not qualify as “butt-covering.”  Two school-aged boys in matching grey sweat suits sit between them on top the baggage, eyes glued to the games they’re playing on their respective tablets.  The lady ahead of them, with another party, wears a long floral patterned veil that comes down well past her waist.  And the young woman with her - the one with the luxuriously flowing brown hair and the two screaming sons that make me think, “Gosh, I hope they’re not in our row” - is wearing a navy blue velour track suit with the word “Juicy” splashed across her bottom in hot pink script.  

I think my tunics and I will fall nicely somewhere in the middle.

As we settle in at our gate, a man is doing his namaz discreetly in the corner of the waiting area.  Over the next twenty minutes, three more men point themselves towards Mecca and do the same, one pair of them salaam-ing, standing and prostrating themselves almost in unison, even though they aren’t together.  It’s probably a good thing Mecca is the opposite direction from the ladies with the Victoria’s Secret shopping bags in the row across from us or those men might have had to start all over again. 

“So,” I think to myself as we line up to board behind Juicy Bottom (who DOES end up in the row behind us - along with her seat-kicking son) and Checkered Keffiyeh Man.  “This is what the ‘real’ Middle East is gonna be like.”