Thursday, May 21, 2009

Adventures in the friendly skies

I am having a sneeze attack today. When I woke up this morning I was fine. I was OK during my shower too. But when I went to brush my teeth it started, the tingling in my nose, and then I exploded into non stop sneezing fit, spewing tooth paste foam all over the place. I think I have sneezed at least 300 times since morning and I look like Santa's favorite reindeer.

I am in a bad mood too, which is being made worse by our travel agent. We used to have another agency here; the lady doing the bookings was very accommodating and we could reach her any time and bug her for last minute changes - which are always necessary because my boss always changes his flight about 20 times at the last minute before he goes anywhere. But she was slowly going mad from the pressure of her job and started having paranoid persecution fantasies - that people were going to her home and disconnecting her internet, that her phone was bugged. Poor lady, I really wished I could do something for her. Anyway, now she is gone, and I am not happy with this new company or more accurately the agent they have assigned to deal exclusively with us.

I have been waiting for three days for information - forget an actual booking - about flights to the Czech Republic. First, after I explicitly told him that I didn't want any booking on any weird unknown Eastern European budget airlines and only wanted to hear about flights with airlines like Emirates, British Airways, Swiss Air or Lufthansa, and that I want to see a variety of options (carriers and timings) he sends me - after a day and a half - information about one single option on some Russian Airline that I have never heard of in my life. So I called him, and he tells me that, oh, because the final destination is Zlin and there aren't any of those major airlines going to the airport closest to Zlin (they only go to Prague) he took the liberty of making the bookings on some airline called Aerosvit or something like that. Now, no offense to Aero-Whatever or the country it belongs to, It might be a wonderful airline, a little known gem of the friendly skies, but if I haven't heard of it before, I am not that eager to discover what kind of service it has - and this is a sentiment my boss shares.

This is especially true for me, since the time I flew to Kish 10 years ago for my first visa change when I got here.

For those of you who have never lived in the UAE and don't have the pleasure of being acquainted with its ever-changing immigration laws, a visa change is when someone has to go out of the country to come back on a new visa. This was true for people on visit visas who needed to change to residence visas as well as for people on visit visas wanting to get a new visit visa. They have changed the laws a bit since then - and made them even more vague, so I wont bother to bore you with them in this post.

In my case, we had just arrived in the UAE to live. My husband had been transferred by Uncle Scrooge, from his Zanzibar operations to the Dubai side of the business. He had been in the UAE for a few months, setting things up, finding us an apartment that was cheap enough for Uncle to agree to pay the rent, etc. and I had gone home to the US for Christmas and stayed a few months longer than I expected to, partly due to delays caused by the UAE immigration authorities who kept botching my visit visa - misspelling my name, wrong nationality (they put my nationality as United Nations on one of them) etc. Once I arrived in the UAE, my husband applied for my and Salman's residence visas, and then we had to leave the country and come back in on those visas.

In order to cut down on the expense of visa changes, people would fly to the closest possible destinations and come right back on the next flight. So certain travel agencies developed quite a little business, in connection with budget airlines from neighboring countries to cater to this demand. My husband booked us on some little airline that flew to Kish and back.

I had no idea where Kish was. Until I got my ticket, I had never heard of it before. When I demanded that my husband tell me where it is located he shrugged his shoulders and told me he didn't know. I think he did, but he was afraid to tell me because I had told him I would go anywhere except Iran. (Nothing against Iranians, but as an American, I don't like going to places that have cheery popular slogans like "Death to America")

So I got on the plane, having no idea where I was even going. From the moment I entered, I began to suspect that I was risking my life. The plane was a small and quite old craft with dingy worn out seats. After everyone was seated two guys, in drab colored "western" style street clothes styled in a way that no western man would wear then (tan pants pulled up and belted a little too high, olivey brown button up shirt with a too thin gray shiny tie and a grayish-brown football jersey cut jacket on top of it), and not any sort of uniform that would identify that they actually worked for the "airline" (this is a term that I feel must be used quite loosely in connection with this particular company since I strongly suspect it only had one plane to its name) closed the plane's door, propped a metal folding chair under its handle and sat, on either side of the door glaring at me from under their uni-brows.

The chair alarmed me the most, I wondered the whole time what purpose it served. It seemed to be placed as some sort of latch for the door. I started to pray while the men's angry eyes stayed fixed on me. The plane bumped around a lot and roared suspiciously, even for a small plane. I was used to small planes. When we had lived in Zanzibar, we routinely had to take small passenger planes to get to mainland Africa. In comparison to this "airline" Kenya Airways seemed like a Luxury carrier.

When we landed in Kish, all women on board who were not already wearing abayas were handed one to put on over their clothes. This included me. I had my own abaya that I wore to Uncle Scrooge's Mom's funeral and my own scarf, I would have been happy to wear my own had someone let me know that I was going to Iran. But somebody (that somebody being my husband) hadn't told me, so I had to wear this ugly and very short abaya that god knows how many other women had worn before. My head started to itch at the thought of it.

We got off the plane and shuffled into the airport. Some official took an extra long time scrutinizing my American Passport and look from it to me to Salman to my husband.

The whole time I sat in the airport waiting to board the return flight I was thinking "my God, I am in Iran, if my parents only knew where I am now." I also started wondering what all the smug Presbyterian kids from my highschool would think if they knew I was wearing an Abaya and headscarf and sitting in an airport in Iran.... or the fact that I was married to someone whose official first name is Mohamed.

I managed to survive my first and only trip to Iran on an ancient airplane, but others weren't so lucky, some time after that a flight carrying visa change passengers between Kish and Dubai crashed.

The smallest plane I ever went up in was with my husband as pilot. He was building up hours on his pilot license so we went up in a 4 seater (including the seats for the Pilot and Copilot). We took off from Nairobi's Wilson Airport on the outskirts of the city bordering on South B and other newer residential areas. We flew out over the game parks, and landed on a small airstrip of one of the safari lodges (the same one where I found out later he had spent the night only a few weeks before with Nimisha, the first - but not last - Indian girl with whom he cheated on me during our engagement and marriage). We had a coke at the empty open air bar by the river. I can still remember the way the air smelled out there, so fresh, and the way the sun shone in the special way that it only shines out of a big African sky, and I still remember how alive and happy I felt, and how I loved him so much it felt like my heart would burst: I was about to be married; I was in Africa - Kenya - the place I will love most of all to my dying day: I thought all my dreams had come true. On the way back, we swooped down and flew over a herd of elephants. It was glorious. Even though the plane was really small, and it was quite windy, so we bounced all over the place, I never felt scared. My love was the pilot, and I knew he would take care of me and never let us crash, but if we did, I thought "at least I will die happy with my love by my side." Sometimes, in my darker hours, I wish we had died then - or I had - so I never had to see all of my dreams crumble, but then I would never have met my wonderful beautiful little boys, and that would be a much bigger loss than that of my dreams.

By the way, I am home now. I took a Clarinase tablet and my sneezing stopped, so it must have been some kind of allergic reaction, but my nose feels like it has been through a war.


Pu├ža said...


I had a Poltergeist.. I checked your blog some dys ago, after the post is dated and did not see the curent post until today..uh uh

I love the part it takes almost two days to send a list of options, and the fact that there are no options...

I guess the name airplane and airline does not mean anything anymore.. My company has just bought a private jet, and we had a light aircraft, now, for tax issues, we are supposed to have an airlaine with two airplanes.. hahaha, well one is, but the other...I'd never fly in that one...

Carver said...

Glad that you made it home safely. Thanks for your comment and visit to my blog.

Ahavah said...

I think you ought to write a book on your travels/adventures... you have an incredible way with words... I still smile at the thought of 'goats hanging around'...

I loathe planes of any sort.. and we are flying to Turkey in 7 weeks ... :0(

Lisa said...

Awe....habibty, I know exactly what you mean about wishing you had crashed. But, then being glad you didn't for these boys you never would have had without this particular husband.

Kenya sounds really beautiful, and I love that your husband was a pilot. I think it hurts all the more that these guys do have a few redeeming qualities, being a pilot, he could have made a good living for you, in turn explored the world with you....


The good news is that our lives aren't over yet. Allah didn't want you to die on a beat up old plane. Maybe there is something else for us fact I know there is. I wish I had a crystal ball to see it for the both of us.

Have I told you that of all the blogs, I LOOOOOOOVE that top picture on yours the most? There is just something about it, and I'm so drawn here. Sorry this comment arrives late sweetie, and thank you for all of yours. Love you so very much.

Lisa said...

Sweetie, these tiny planes are making me nervous for you. I hope that you can take a luxury liner this time...

This visa stuff sounds crazy! Love you...

desertmonsoon said...

Hi Puca! I have noticed that sometimes my blog posts don't show up right away - i also don't understand why the font is orange on part of this one - it wont let me change it.

Carver, thanks for visiting my blog too!

Ahavah, thanks - I am glad you finds my writing interesting. Sometimes I feel like I want to write a book, but I am not sure how or where to begin. I used to write stories a lot and draw pictures to go with them when I was a little kid. I don't know where my imagination went, stifled by reality I guess... :(

Lisa, my husband let his pilot career go to pot after a coworker and friend crashed in a plane that he had originally been assigned to pilot. My In laws made him quit flying and he was stupid enough to go along with them. After that he was kind of depressed - which i think he took out on me - which made our marriage even worse. I sometimes wonder how he treats his girlfriend. Probably better than he did me, because she is an Indian.

Lisa said...

Isn't that always the case? They treat the one who is the same race better. Inevitable. But, as Michelle once told me sweetie, it's because they asked for more than we did.

Meaning he doesn't WANT to treat her better, but can't get away with treating her worse. We didn't have high enough expectations.

I feel so sorry that your in-laws made him quit a career that could have put you in a mansion and taken care of your boys. I mean how many guys even qualify with eyesight, with psychological testing to fly the friendly skies? He was one in a million. So selfish of them, they cared about themselves.

Wonder what kind of job he does now? Love you sweetie.

Lisa said...

By not having high enough expectations, I just mean we got a bad dowry. Compared to the huge diamond and Pottery Barn furniture, an Indian or Syrian would have received. I thought I was being sweet and non-materialistic at the time...

controlled chaos said...

Just wanted to reply to your comment on Lisa's site. Muslims (convert or not) don't have to stick with arabic names. My friend's name is Joanne. My brother and father both have non-Arab names. And I know converts who have kept their names.And they're just to name a few.

They do so as a choice. And if they didn't realize it was a choice, I don't why. So no, the religion is not to wipe out your culture. I don't even see how that would be possible.

Yes there might be some changes made, if your culture incorporates say drinking alcohol and such. But honestly I don't think there is a book with the specific guidelines you need to follow to be still considered as part of your ethnicity.

On an unrelated note, this is my first time at your blog, but I'm glad you made it home safely. I got kinda nervous reading your post, even though I know you would have had to made it out okay to write the post.

desertmonsoon said...

Hi Lisa,

I don't think this one asked for more - or if she has she hasn't got it yet - for example he hasn't married her yet.

But he has had it ground into his head that Indian women are the only truly deserving women on this earth so he will naturally treat her better.

controlled chaos,

Hi welcome. Thanks for your concern. I did make it back safely - thank God :) Anyway, nothing happens to us unless God wills it, correct? so I could walk through a minefield and come out unharmed if that was His will.

I don't doubt that it is not an actual requirement of Islam to change your name to an Arabic one, but the fact of the matter is that most people from traditionally Muslim cultures think that the non Arabic names are unacceptable so they wont accept a baby being named David instead of Daoud or Daniel instead of Daanyal even though (in the case of Daniel) the name suggested by the non Arab parent might be closer to the original name than the Arabic version (Daniel is the Hebrew version of the name and it means God is my Judge - the Arabic / Persian version arose later. This is just an example, but it is based on my personal experience and that of other people I know who have married Muslims.

I think that more Muslims of non Arabic / Eastern backgrounds should stand up for their right to keep their own names and name their children according to their culture so that people can see that someone can be named David and be a Muslim.