...and then

Monday, 19 July 2010

Salalah Saga 1

So OmanAir thinks people in economy class eat a lot less than those in business class.  For reasons best known to me (I’ve been waiting to use that phrase and sound all important for a while now) I haven’t flown economy in a while.  On Saturday, I was on a flight to Salalah in economy. I was told I was the last person to check in and that dovetailed perfectly with my bafflement at the seat number on my boarding card - -32 a. I have never sat that back on any flight. I was surprised in that snooty way I have that there are seats that far back.

I am not a big fan of stewardesses in general. I’ve forgotten how snooty and rude economy stewardesses can be. Using actions to describe things when talking to people perfectly capable of understanding speech, wearing an expression of utter disdain, and handing out applogies without meaning a word of it. The stewardesses I encountered were all this and more.  I decided to ignore that because as a rule, the service standards in this country are below par. Which is tremendously surprising for me because I find Omanis so extremely warm,welcoming and splendidly hospitable. Service should come so easily to them. But over and over again I’ve faced experiences where customer satisfaction and experience have taken a backseat to lacadaisical attitudes and plain rudeness.

This flight for me was a landmark one of sorts. For all practical purposes it was just a flight to Salalah where I’ve come for work.  But this was also the first time I am travelling away from the kids overnight. It was also the first flight where I was the only woman who was travelling alone. Not only was I travelling alone but also in a flight full of Omanis and other Arabs. I know it sounds like it makes no difference and it doesn’t mostly.  Except for a few things.

Sitting next to me were a young Qatari couple. The girl was stunning – gorgeous bright eyes that were only made more lovely by their arresting hazel colour –natural, I assure you. And the husband, well, he couldn’t keep his hands off her now, could he? Shucking her under her chin, rubbing the back of her hand with his, slipping his fingers under the hem of the sleeve of her abaya to get a feel of her skin, all the while telling her amusing stories. And this bright girl, so unnaffected in her response, was lively like raindrops falling on a pond. They talked the entire 90-odd minutes of the flight and seemed so good together. And when I landed in Salalah I was glad that they chose this place to come to for a little romance because it was such great baby-making weather, never mind if you actually wanted to make one or not.
The rest of the flight, as far as I could hear, was full of bawling monstrous kids. I suppose when I travel next, mine will be the same. God help my co-passengers whenever I go.
So this flight even smelt different. All that frankincense that some women use, very Oriental perfume and a lovely comingling of a myriad things that I can’t place. It was nice. Now the thing I noticed about Arab women is that they keep their shades till the plane takes off. And put them right on as soon as they land. As opposed to wearing them just before stepping out like I do. Or most women I know do. The other thing they do is constantly fiddle with their shelas. It’s slipping off all the time so they’ve got to keep putting it back just so. It’s very interesting for me to watch because there’s such grace in the gesture, even though it’s quick and the movements are quite efficient. A flash of gold, a shadow of henna, a glimpse of bling, a snatch of their clothing. Overall, I enjoyed watching them go flick and swish for about half an hour. After which, I just wished they’d settle down.
They were a quiet bunch, these Arabs. Mostly very polite and the only time I heard them raise their voice was to keep their kids quiet. Otherwise they ate, snoozed and looked out of the window in silence. Until we landed, that is. The minute the announcements for seatbelts-on came on, there was a little buzz that went about and since our pilot was pretty clueless about landing smoothly we landed with a mighty thud. And almost all of them – men and women – went something like this… ooaaaaaaah! Followed by general laughter – of relief, I suppose. I loved this. It was like watching a football match or a magician’s show or something. No one got up before the plane stopped taxiing, no one started bustling about trying to get their cabin luggage, no one switched on their phones till the doors were open. Very well behaved I thought, especially in comparison to my countrymen who want to be the first one out the door even if it means looking mean and stamping people on the way. I actually saw more than one person letting people before him pass out of politeness.
I began this post yesterday with a very interesting point (to me, at least) that I wanted to make. But I put it off for later today and now I am just rambling. So I am going to wrap this up now and thank the Qatari girl for the extra bread.
Oh, I didn’t tell you about that, did I? So I didn’t want to eat the rice on my plate, rice that I didn’t ask for, by the way. Everyone else got asked if they wanted rice or pasta and this stewardess straight away gave me a meal of a) vegetarian and b) rice. Without asking me. I prefer non-vegetarian food, if I am eating on an airline at all, and I don’t like rice. I politely asked her what it was and she told me. I handed it back and told her I wanted non-vegetarian. Even then, I wasn’t asked if I’d like pasta. Not that I wanted it but I like to be asked. She handed me chicken and rice.
I don’t like rice and decided to eat the khubbs they had served. After I finished that really tiny piece I decided to ask for some more because I was starving from not having eaten anything since 9 a.m. I asked and the stewardess gave me a fake apology and said they had run out. Without checking. Before I knew it, the Qatari guy said something to his wife and she quickly popped the two pieces from their meals on to my plate! I was entirely stunned into not knowing how to respond to that. Would it be impolite to refuse? To accept? At the end I went with my gut, flashed them a smile that came from my heart and said thank you. There’s no other way to deal with random acts of kindness from pretty girls with bright hazel eyes. 

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20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

great narrative

where i come from the term stewardess is considered to be demeaning and not politically correct.

we call them flight attendants ;)

1:26 am  
Blogger SunnySmile said...

Hey, I started reading hoping to read your take on Salalah, my childhood home. Was a tad bit disappointed on that score but then, anything you blog about makes for a very interesting read.
We travelled Oman Air for every vacation after the airline was launched and I agree about the attitude of the 'flight attendants' in economy; if anything, they are just slightly better than their counterparts in Gulf Air. But these same creatures are way better behaved in first class!
Last week, I flew a low cost carrier, Air Asia, to Kuala Lumpur and from there, to Singapore. No-frills service but the crew was polite. The only person to whom their attitude bordered on rude was to the Indian two rows ahead of us, who kept talking on the phone even as the plane was taxiing toward takeoff! Even then, they kept their words as polite as possible. Personally, I felt like kicking his butt. Just like I felt when we went on night safari in Singapore, where the guide repeatedly instructed people to turn off all flash devices, and this Indian kept clicking away nice and bright! What's with our countrymen's inability to follow instructions?

8:10 am  
Blogger le embrouille blogueur said...

Well done...as usual.I enjoyed the subtle humor ...as usual.About flights - I can do so many posts. I hate flying in the US for obvious reasons... the security checks etc. And then once inside the flight I just hate it when I am asked ... "can I offer you something to drink" and fill up the shot glad sized plastic cup with ice. Have travelled both business and economy and do not enjoy the whole experience at all. However do love flying within India. For the food. And the smile. I do not know if you agree...but there is a certain warmth about them. Not sure how I would react to a hazel eyed damsel passed on some food. Not that there is a faintest chance of that happening.

8:51 am  
Blogger pRasad said...

You have covered everything in your journey.. got to know something about Arabs :)
I could visualize everything ..including husband & wife **wink wink :)

10:43 am  
Blogger The Restless Quill said...

Anon: Thanks! Glad you liked the read. You know, I am rather confused about politically correctness in general. I'd much rather call a blind person "blind" than visually challenged. And funnily enough, that's what most blind people I've known tell me too. In certain cases, I can understand it. But in this case I'll have to disagree with those people that prefer 'flight attendants' to 'stewardess'. That said, I will that I don't like the word stewardess myself because of the lack of gender neutrality.
SS: Hey I am sorry you were disappointed. It started out about Salalah and then I got horribly distracted. But next post in the Saga is about Salalah really. I hope you'll enjoy it. Seriously, the disregard our fellow countrymen have for rules and instructions worries and embarrasses me in turns. More from me tomorrow, on Salalah, promise.

LEB: You're so kind with your compliments. Glad you enjoyed the post. Heh heh, you sound like you've had quite a few experiences flying. Share them?I agree about the smile in India though. I've always felt if an airline got it right, 'flight attendants' (Hi, anon!) can really make your journey easier.

pRasad: "Wink wink"?

12:01 pm  
Blogger Renjith Sarada said...

Dear Restless Quill,

Thank you for giving me a quick read. I liked the narration and the vocabulary. I am going to follow you.

I could place well, as I am working in the Gulf region.

I believe in humour and please find time to visit my blogs too.

Best Regards,
Renjith
www.renjithps.blogspot.com

12:31 pm  
Blogger WonderEye-d said...

u r very very observative. while reading i felt like i too was on the flight. and as for the last part, not just foolishly romantic, but kind hearted too, the lovely couple.

1:32 pm  
Blogger Sumit said...

I like your writing style, TRQ! It's fast-paced, and humorous, and very visual in its appeal. (Apart from being supremely entertaining as well... )

Hope you have an awesome time at Salalah. :)

1:42 pm  
Blogger Sythe said...

To the anon poster:

You might call them flight attendants, but I call the trolly dolly's ;)

TRQ - great post, best one I've read in quite a while. The couple you sat next to sound like they're great for each other, and it was nice to read about them!

I also lol'd at the baby-making weather :)

3:56 pm  
Blogger TheFatOracle said...

TRQ, LEB,

Which airlines are these where you get the smile in India? I haven't flown recently but when I did, I always seemed to fly with sour Aunty-jis' whom I was fond of only because I expected them to be sour by habit - like some restaurants you visit where food is good and the waiters' gruffness adds to the experience. Actually that's pretty much it - the attendants were gruff but the food was good :).

5:06 pm  
Blogger Judy Balan said...

You have to tell me one of these days if there are any particular tricks you employ to paint pictures the way you do. I have such trouble with describing the place, the people, the weather, you know? Setting the stage?

I loved reading this though you did ramble. Simply because, at the end of it, I could actually see the whole damn flight in my head. You HAVE to tell me.

8:46 pm  
Blogger Kitten said...

Interesting flight. I've never been to Salalah myself so a description of the place will be good too! :)

Don't forget the Canada Dry :P

2:27 pm  
Blogger Kalpak S said...

Salala topup catering is as per the booking :) In season also same ..
poor crews what they can do .. they didnt expect some one will ask that hard bread again ..!! but u r great to change the customs ..!

Chumma paranjatha tto .. njan oman air le alla ... :)

2:48 pm  
Blogger Raj said...

Neat depiction.

8:15 pm  
Anonymous Roxana said...

Wow! What effortlessly beautiful word pictures, you create! :) Loved the post.

9:07 pm  
Blogger Indian Home Maker said...

Enjoyed reading the description - could quite picture it in fact... the last bit brought a huge smile on my face too...

7:45 pm  
Anonymous vidya said...

dear ..liked te new luk of ur blog...
i havnt cm across any of ur new crochet projects yet...are u busy travelling n with work???

10:21 pm  
Anonymous snippetsnscribbles said...

Everyone has already said what I wanted to - LOVE the way you describe and help paint a clear picture in our head! Just how do you do it ??

Amazing!

10:43 pm  
OpenID lostinoman said...

Incredible post, i cant wait to read more!

you sure won me over :)
im glad i stumbled upon it

1:57 am  
Blogger The Restless Quill said...

Renjith: Glad you liked the post. Will be visiting your blog soon.

WonderEey-d: I haven't see you around here for a while :). Oh wait, that's because I haven't seen me around here for a while!

Sumit: Wow, those are serious compliments, Sumit. Thank you so much for your kindness, and I hope you'll keep coming back.

Sythe: :D It really is fantastic weather. I should post pictures right?

TFO Fly Jet Airways, darling. They're warm and classy without being snooty. They're always nice. Smiles too.

Judy: Heh heh, ramble I did. Glad you enjoyed reading it though. I am not sure how I do the setting-the-scene bit so I went back and read the piece once more from your point of view. The thing is, you know how to do it too. This post practically wrote itself -- I am a glutton for looking at things and I didn't deliberate. I think it comes from reliving an experience and not just writing a scene the way you want it to look. Did I make any sense? Will email.

Kitten: Next post, description. One Canada Dry for a China-returned talented chica.

Kalpak: Welcome to the blog! And thanks for the info :)

Raj: Hey Raj! Thanks.

Roxana: Thank you girl. I am so grateful for readers like you who keep coming back.

IHM: Honored :) Glad you enjoyed the post.

Snippetsnscribbles:Thank you so much for your kind words :) I think I write what I enjoyed the most of a certain experience.

Lostinoman: Welcome to the blog, and thank you for your warm compliments :) More coming up in a bit!

1:32 pm  

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