An Unusual Return
I don't know about you, but for me (Vero), flying back home after a long time on the road is always a special moment. Entering the airport is like entering a new life with the snap of a finger. The sliding doors open magically and gone is the world which has been ours for the last months: no more honking or shouting, no chaotic crowds, no wildly gesticulating touts, no dirt, no sweat... It is all clean, the air conditioned, the signs are familiar and readable, I know instinctively my way round without having been here before.
I drop my guard and become another traveller: I join the orderly check-in queue (no need for elbowing or keeping an anxious eye on the rucksacks), disappear in the transit area, browse the duty free zone (hmm, a drop of Chanel No 5 feels so good), board the plane, settle in my seat, look eagerly for the movie programme, and enjoy the thought of my first Gin and Tonic after so many days of abstinence (yes, we tend not to drink alcohol while on the road). I know that at the other end, there will be Heathrow, the familiar walk to the bus station, no surprises, everything under control, the trip is finally over. It's a bittersweet feeling.
But this time, the flight back home proved not as predictable as usual: we travelled via the Gulf and the first leg from Kathmandu to Bahrain was definitely something to write home about. It all started very innocuously, following the usual routine, but already at Kathmandu airport, something felt different.
We were there well in advance, checked in without hurry and problem and were surprised at the masses of Nepalese queueing at the immigration counters. Thank God foreigners had a separate queue, as it all seemed to be the familiar chaos. We quickly entered the transit lounge and waited there for two hours or so before our plane got called. There were very few other passengers around and we wondered where all the Nepalese we had seen had disappeared? It felt all quite weird. They must have obviously waited in a separate section of the airport, because we met them all again, in the very last boarding room: anxious and nervous, holding on to and fidgeting with their boarding passes. They were not at ease at all.
Indeed, for most of them, mainly very young men, it was to be the first flight of their life, leaving Nepal for the Gulf, in hope of a job, of money to send back home to keep their family going. Many had left their mountains or villages just a few days before, going for the first time to Kathmandu, following the calls of organised networks, promising them work and fortune. They had borrowed money from family and friends to be able to afford the journey, a difficult step to take, jumping into the unknown for a hopefully better life. There was a very tangible tension in the air.
At last, boarding started and what for us is a tedious simple procedure turned out to be a real challenge for the Nepalese.
Many could not understand their boarding passes or decipher the seat numbers and so were struggling to find their seats. At first, not knowing any better, they would sit anywhere, until a steward or a more experienced Nepali would approach them and try to help them find the seats assigned to them, or until another passenger would claim the seat and leave them quite helpless and disorientated.
This prompted a difficult exercise for the already quite stressed flight attendants: trying to manage the flow of passengers, pointing them in the right directions, with traffic jams in the aisles, a lot of seat and luggage swapping… well, you can imagine.
Eventually, everybody got a seat, but it did not make things better as the confusion continued during the plane taxiing and the explanation of the security procedures: these were in English and Arabic, and obviously the Nepalese did not feel at all concerned about what was being told. They started feeling a bit more comfortable, growing even restless, pursuing an urge to go to the loo, searching for a friend, swapping seats, you name it.
And the staff had a hard time keeping an eye on them, directing them back to their seats, intercepting them in the aisles, still trying to keep a smiling face.
The stewardess in charge of our aisle was a beautiful and rather energetic person, quite authoritarian in her appearance and character (think Russian). Obviously she was at her wit's end when confronted with the naive and innocent helplessness of her guests. She could tell them what she wanted, they would not understand her. Only looking nasty and barking at them seemed to help: she was like a school teacher trying to manage a bunch of over-agitated children.
So far, I found all this quite entertaining, but this was to change… We had confirmed our seats at the airline office in Kathmandu a few days before and succeeded in securing some “good” seats with much leg room (Thomas is 6ft 2in). Unfortunately, as we were to find out quickly, those seats had the disadvantage of being in the middle of the plane, not far from the toilet block. This location ensured flight entertainment of a rather novel kind.
As soon as the seat belt signs went off and the stewardesses moved on, the rush to the toilets started.
Observing our Nepalese friends was at first pretty funny. They approached the toilets carefully, shy and hesitant, many did not understand the door opening and closing mechanism and kept pushing mildly at the door with no effect or kept looking for a handle which they could not find. What a relief when somebody went out and they could slip in. Sometimes, they even didn't notice that there was a second cubicle available and a long queue for the first one would form, until a stewardess or another passenger opened the second door for them... Once inside, many of them did not know how to lock the door, which prompted many disturbing intrusions and some acute embarrassment. A real human comedy to watch.
But the “fun” of all this started to decrease very quickly when it got evident that having no experience of western loos (and even less of plane toilets), they simply did what they had to do and then left the cubicle… Our stewardess knew what was coming and was getting desperate, barking the magic word “FLUSH”" at them every time she passed the loos while looking pretty menacing at the melee.
But this was useless: “flush” had no meaning at all for the poor Nepalese, they just looked at her, amazed and irritated by her unfriendliness. The few people using the toilets correctly could not prevent what was to happen: in less time than I thought possible, a strong stench of urine started to develop and propagate in our direction.
We were not smiling anymore, and even less when yet again, one of them left the toilet without closing the door… and I felt sorry for the few Nepalese ladies with their long saris who obviously could not wait any longer and had to wade into the mess … Many western tourists just backed off totally disgusted, preferring to hold it tight. That's what I decided to do as well…
Needless to say, I was very happy to land in Bahrain. My first dash out of the plane was for the loo, the second for the bottle of Chanel No 5!
$updated from: Blog.htxt Thu 22 Nov 2012 14:35:20 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$