Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, June 17, 2012


At the Saudi Arabia Airlines we’re greeted by a stewardess. We check in and we get our two sets of tickets: one for Jeddah and the other from there to Johannesburg. They have a thick, red, continuous line at the top part. We pass security and board the plane. It is a Boeing 737-800, huge, but still, my long feet are not comfortable. The plane’s personnel is very efficient, goes through the motions of air masks and inflating vests rapidly. We are announced that they are going to say a prayer for a safe trip and the two women across the isle closed their eyes, raised their hands on the sides, palms facing up and murmured the words in the same time with the pilot. There was an energy around that didn’t include me... The prayer was not repeated in English.

The flight was uneventful, we watched movies, ate and tried to sleep a little. We arrived in Jeddah in the evening, took the bus to the airport and had our first contact with the Saudi Arabian authorities. Through signs we were guided toward the official who looked at us, checked our passports, wrote a note stating that we were to receive a free dinner, and waved us toward some stairs. A soldier came and opened the door for us. We were right before airport security and we separated toward our gender lines. I didn’t get the chance to enter it when I am stopped by a 4’6” man in a military uniform asking for my tickets. He doesn’t look at me, but talks away from me: where do I go? where do I come from? what airline? The moment that I am trying to give him an answer he talks again. I am relaxed, I know this behavior: he’s the Man! A soldier stops to help with whatever is the problem, but my official moves his wrist, covering the tickets, and sends him walking. I think this is his chance to be talking with three beautiful women (the girls are just behind me). After a few more false starts, what kind of tickets are these, they have a red line, Saudi Arabia Airlines doesn’t have a red line, they have a blue line, where do I come from, in which I don’t have the chance to talk, and I don’t talk over him, he decides to listen to my explanations and waves me toward the line. As we put our coats in trays to be scanned, I feel exposed with my bare arms and form-fitted shirt. The other women have a baggy shape with just their hands and eyes visible. The soldiers are talking about us, I know because they stare, and ask us where are we from. Romania. If there’s a next time I’ll willfully cover myself completely so they will not have the satisfaction of ogling, not even at an eyelash!

In the airport almost all the women wear the black large dress that covers their clothes. All of them have something distinctive: a black satin embroidery, or a white one, or with sparkles. The head dress is matched. The majority are veiled, meaning their face is covered downward from the bridge of the nose. They have black eyeliner. Their hands, when not covered by black gloves, are full of golden rings and bracelets. I wonder if they are covered because it is the rule or because they believe they should be covered. The restrooms are full and that’s where I see them: heads full of hair, long and wavy, even curly. They touch up their make up or wash themselves. Under the abaya there are colorful clothes. I glance furtively at them and catch them looking at me.

Waiting for his wife to get out.

They are all going to the toilet, as there is the only place where they could unveil in public.
We have 8 hours to wait so we walk around. The cleaning staff (ten or twelve men with Indian features) emptied a bucket of water on the floor and they are directing it with squeegees under the chairs and on the main walk. When it gets dirty, they deftly catch it in the dustpan and empty it in the bucket. Behind them comes another one, wiping the floor dry. Families sit around a table or on the chairs, talking loudly, moving around, like they were in their own home. A 13 year old boy, carries piggy-back his 7 year old sister. They run around having fun. After he puts her down on the chair, carefully, so she will have a solid foothold, he turns around and punches her in the nose. And she takes it without responding, under their un-reactive mother’s nose. I would say nothing if it would have been a singular event, but in another family, the boys are beating each other and their sisters, and they all continue to “play.” I really don’t know how to react in the airplane later, when another boy punches his mother in the nose and she just moves her face! Categorically, we don’t have the same standard of behavior.

I look at the couples, to see how men treat their women. The man sits at the table, she brings the trays with food, he eats normally, she makes small balls of food and brings them under the veil. At the end of the meal they both got up, holding hands, he even carried her bag. Older couples were the same way, the man protective of his wife and children. 
We took turns sleeping, though we probably could have all slept soundly and no one would have stolen the bags. They cut the right hand for stealing.

Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom used as a pillow.

Before boarding we looked in the duty free: gold and diamond jewelry, Koran and religious writings, at least eight types of dates. No alcohol.


Boarding time: man first, the woman follows. I don’t know why it bothers me, it is the same in India, at least at the surface (we all know who’s the boss: the man is the head of the family, but the woman is the neck; good luck moving your head without moving your neck). Here there is no acknowledgement whatsoever that women are a separate entity. We are ushered with annoyance at our offered passports. They checked Mihai’s, that was enough. Next man!
We board the other airplane. Half empty, people spread around. The prayer, the safety rules, the take off. I am happy to be on our way and not to compare ways of life. Somewhere under us is Mecca. I hope that in my lifetime they will open their country to all people, of all religions, so I can visit Masjid Al-Haram.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment form message here