Sky High

As if all of my grievances with airports weren't enough, (read Airports blog: 21/08/11), I’ve decided that I’m not quite finished on the entirety of the topic. Naturally, after airports comes airplanes. Once you’ve dealt with the rigorous airport security, over-excitable duty free shoppers and extensive delays you mentally prepare yourself for the (long haul) flight ahead. That means dodgy food; piss-ridden toilet seats and aisle seat elbow-bashing. Being in an airport is like sitting in a restaurant, eating a shit starter and anticipating an utterly distasteful main course. You’re suffering already, but you know the worst is yet to come.

For the fortunate ones, flying rarely raises a cause for concern, quite contrary, some people even enjoy flying; the feeling of weightlessness, the turbulence and in freakishly anomalous cases, even the airplane food. I find this absolutely absurd; my feelings towards flying are the complete antithesis of this. What pleasure can you get from being rigidly cocooned in a ridiculously small seat, bouncing around 36,000ft in the air, putting your trust (and life) in the hands of a pilot you've never even met, or whose aviation expertise you know nothing about? Every time I am seated for take-off, I frantically begin praying to God, hands clasped together muttering to myself, pleading for a safe landing. If I was wearing a hijab, some ignorant people would probably worry I was a terrorist. Even without a hijab I still get funny looks. Namely because I seem to be the only one sitting and dissecting the safety leaflet from cover to cover as if it was an encyclopedia and ogling the air hostess' life jacket demonstration as if she was naked and swinging nipple tassels. I can't help it, I'm utterly petrified of flying I sometimes wonder why I travel abroad at all.

Generally when travelling, I opt for the window seat to minimize the elbow bashing you get from the cabin crew's rickety carts and from fat people barging their way down the aisle. Also, having a window seat serves as a good head rest if I am trying to get to sleep, which by the way rarely happens. There's usually some obstacle to overcome if I want to doze off, even for 20mins. If it's not the screaming baby, it's the ADHD brat kicking the back of your seat. If it's not the turbulence, it's the fat person next to you (who should have booked two seats) shuffling about uncomfortably. If it's not the idiot with their reading light on, it's your fellow passenger jabbering in your ear, whom the only way you can shut-up is to guiltily put your ear plugs in and play 'dead'. But in the rare instances when I do manage to doze off into a light sleep I am either woken up by some asinine air host/hostess craning over me, loudly (and needlessly) asking if I'd like chicken or fish, or by my mindless neighbour 'discreetly' nudging my elbow off the armrest claiming ownership. The entire flight is a no win situation, that is unless you're fortunate enough to fly first class...

The only time I've ever flown first class was for free. It was a couple of years ago on a flight from Mumbai to London which had a 7 hour stop-over at Bahrain airport. As I sat in economy ready for take-off, I did my usual prayer and personal safety check (which by the way, includes reaching under my seat to check my life-jacket is still there. Trust no-one). Half an hour later and we were still on the runway with no cabin ventilation and no reason as to why our flight had been held up. On this occasion I was in an aisle seat and the man across from me had began muttering loudly to himself in his ever-growing drunken state. Understandably, the comments started off agitated because of our delay, but soon developed into a full scale rant towards the cabin crew and a tirade against the many Muslims on the plane. This man had gone from talking about shit service to 'Muslim bombers' in a matter of minutes. The racist and illogical comments he was making were evidently down to 6 empty cans of beer (bought in duty free) scrunched up around his feet. As if that wasn't enough, he looked around at me and said loudly "Well you ain't wearing them hijab thingi's, so whose side are you on? Mine!" I shuffled in my seat and turned away, trying to contain my growing fear at this whole ordeal. In truth I wanted the nutter off the plane but it was too late, after some sharp words the cabin crew had miraculously allowed him to stay on-board. Minutes after take-off the shouting started again and this time it was worse. All I remember was him shouting about 9/11, bomb plots, hijackers, and asking why 'Mussies' don't eat pork. Really not a good combination when you're 6 miles in the air on a plane full of angry Muslims.

I got up to go to the toilet so I could cry in peace, but all the toilets in economy were occupied. In a last ditch attempt to hide my fear and welling tears from the other passengers, I strode with purpose past the semi-drawn curtain into first class and walked all the way to the front of the plane by the cockpit to use the toilet. As I was waiting, discreetly wiping my brimming tears, a member of cabin crew noticing I was upset offered me some champagne which she was about to serve up for first class. I smiled and whipped up the glass from the tray, making sure to thank her before I knocked it back as if it were tequila. She didn't even flinch at my actions, but smiled and offered me another glass which I readily accepted. Abruptly, the cockpit door flung open and out stepped the captain broadly grinning and gyrating his hips to silent music for no apparent reason. Even in the state I was in, it made me giggle. As soon as he noticed me he asked what was the matter,  and at the same time drew across the curtain for a bit of privacy. I quietly explained about the man sitting next to me, my fear of flying and the fact that I was travelling alone with a 7 hour stop over in a country I've never been to. He cut me off mid-speech, seized a bottle of champagne from the stewardess and asked if I'd like to go and have a drink in the cockpit to help calm myself down. Astonishing. It would have been rude not to. Another 20 minutes later and myself and the captain had polished off a bottle of champagne while the co-pilot who was busy reading Maxim, had put the plane into auto-pilot. It wasn't at all comforting to know that no-one was manually flying the plane, but then again I was too tipsy to care. After a few more minutes the captain told me that there was a spare seat available for me to sit in first class for the rest of my journey. He also offered to take me on a tour of Bahrain (his hometown) during my stopover to pass the time as he warned the under par facilities in Bahrain airport wouldn't entertain me for very long. Cautious by nature, I thought of how irresponsible it would be to just get into a random man's car in this country I've never been to -especially with a connecting flight to catch- but then again all the champagne had gone to my head and I quickly came to the conclusion it was a brilliant idea. What started out as the worst flight of my life rapidly became one of the best. I sat there enjoying all the perks of first class free of charge, knowing that when we landed I would be given special treatment and whisked through arrivals with the captain, be taken out for drinks and dinner, and be dropped off in time to make my next flight. So maybe not all flights are bad...

Writer's Block

Writing my very first blog, I always knew this day would catch up with me. The day when I'd sit down to write with no clear intent as to what I want to say. With nothing but, limited concentration, unsubstantial ideas, and hazy thoughts that nebulize and evaporate into cloud of nothingness; for the first time in a long time I have writer's block. I hate it; it feels like someone has jammed and jailed my communicative skills, locked them up and thrown away the key.

Throughout the course of this week I've written and edited my ideas a countless number of times, finally shunning them into inexistence with the help of the 'delete' button. Usually I have no problem at all with putting thoughts on paper, and I'm proud to say that it's my niche, my talent, my one and only gift, but I'm currently tearing my hair out trying to string together something that I deem blog worthy. And for the life of me, I just can't do it. Each time I start, I end up with a blank page. And this week I've stared at too many blank pages for my liking. A blank page to someone who has writer's block is like a black hole to a nyctophobic. Highly disconcerting. The very fact that each time I end up staring at a white screen, the consequence of my inability to communicate, makes it even harder to write anything at all. The irony. But it's the unanticipated, uninvited, inability to do something which so often comes with ease that is the most frustrating thing. My ability for witty, effortless communication seems to have ceased, cut off dead in it's tracks with no exact explanation as to why.

They say writer's block is the result of an author's lack of inspiration. After a spout of fugacious self-evaluation I think it's safe to say I'm not in this category. Thankfully, I am surrounded by inspiration on a daily basis; blog suggestions from friends, farcical experiences, circumstantial notions all of which contribute to the development of my ideas. But as I sit here scrolling through endless, potential blog topics typed and saved in my blackberry, I cannot even make the decision to pick one idea, let alone start writing about it. I know that whichever topic I choose, my ideas will be nonsensical, my paragraphs will be ill-flowing and my page will end up blank. Again. Perhaps I'm feeling an overwhelming pressure to write something magical, to write my best blog yet. Perhaps subconsciously, I am trying to surpass my own expectations, or perhaps it's the steady realisation that my blatant lack of equanimity is precisely what's causing my current inutility. But whatever the reason, what better way to overcome writer's block then start writing about it.

A special thank you to Syience.