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.