I’m sleepless in Terminal 1A.
I don’t know why I challenge punctuality. I’ve been training my perception of time for over half a year now, and even though there has been some improvement, I am always tempting drastic consequences.
“A de badna tenousal 3al matar?”
“Se3a tnen minkoun honik, mni7?”
I wanted to tell him to drive faster, but I caught my tongue before proposing endangerment of our and others’ lives for what was my, and my alone, price to pay.
I slung my suitcase on the conveyor belt. 29.3kg! The guy looked at me with apologetic eyes.
“Ra7 7attik bil aisle”
“La2, la2anik jeye bakeer”, he joked.
Ten more minutes and I would have been left aisle-less and wingless.
Gate 19 was swamped with a strange broth of people whose ambitions had seemingly abandoned them a long time ago. They were a soup of ambiguous origins and amorphous aftermaths: those who looked Arab spoke with a heavy American slur, those with conservative attire had bare-shouldered pierced-lipped children. I didn’t mean to be judgmental nor have my thoughts so preoccupied with them. Yet before every single flight, I’ve always secretly hoped to I sit next to someone intelligent, interesting and funny – and so far, out of all the flights I have ever taken, I can remember two, maybe three, such occasions. And throughout the years, I have noticed that the 3am flights to Europe are the most disappointing. The faces are so bleak, like the mugs in the metro: expressionless, distant, not happy.
After waiting in line in the unventilated lounge for longer than expected, it was ultimate relief to walk into the cool airbus. Yet, apart from the nightmare of sitting in a stiff chair that put to shame its recline button, I was beginning to get a sense of the impending four hour late-night flight when I saw the children march in. One after the other, tired mothers in tow, they skipped and ran and shoved to get to their seats. Some were dark, others blonde, some were tiny, small and medium, and the older kid traveling solo and sitting behind me was refusing to let the old man his place by the window,
“La2! Ana jeet ablak!”
Also, there was a faint smell of shit from the seat in front of me…
Something was keeping the line of people from proceeding. A German man’s seat was taken and for the next three minutes, while the air hostess negotiated with the occupying Arab forces, his forehead was a frozen ripple of bewilderment: how could someone possibly take over a seat that was not assigned to them to begin with?
Looking at him, I was beginning to look forward to a week of adhering to unspoken yet obvious rules of social decorum, to rigidity, to public transportation and the basic normality of the Western world. I always secretly reveled in the moment when our queue of arrivals would split between EU and All Passports. I am grateful (to whom I know not!) that I was born in the “right” place at the right time. How unfair and unjust these borders are! How base it is to restrict or facilitate people’s movement based on where they were born and yet, this is the most institutionalized form of racism. Who knows, maybe one day, I will be as unwelcome and I will cringe at the memory of the walk past queues of tired all passport holders…
In the bus, vapour billowing from gaping mouths around me, I witnessed yet another breach of etiquette. Two young men, hair gelled, muscled arms exposed, sat unperturbed next to a standing couple weighed down by bags and a baby. The other seats reserved for mothers and the elderly were occupied by a Lebanese couple in their late twenties, which joined in the silent orchestra of disregard. I threw them suggestive glances – nada. I could feel anger begin to stir inside of me, “How can you be so inconsiderate? I had better manners when I was five!”. But I said nothing. If the parents were inconvenienced or afraid about the baby’s safety during the bus ride, wouldn’t the husband or wife say something? They had every right and they weren’t deaf or mute or blind. I wouldn’t be fighting injustice, rather lethargy and/or timidity.
Yet now, I wish I had intervened. How can better manners be taught if bad etiquette isn’t punished nor exposed? I look at the people walking through this European airport – they may not come off as warm or approachable at first glance, but they sure make life easier by not standing in the way (as opposed to doorway conversation – a new Lebanese trend), by not talking loudly on their phones, by not whipping out cigarettes in the middle of the airport (even though indoor smoking has been banned for a month now, I could smell smoke as I walked to Gate 19 in Beirut Int’l Airport) and by not jumping queues. I really wish these social efforts caught on someday in the Middle East. Just like spelling and grammar mistakes make reading unpleasant, the same relationship can be drawn between bad etiquette and the quality of life.
In here, lies a lesson for me – Be. On. Time.