It was our 7th anniversary and the hubby was on a project in South Africa. That was the year which was hard for us in a way. We had recently relocated from US so were getting re-adjusted to the forgotten old ways of our motherland. He wasn’t around and I had recently got a new job. The kids were too young to be in school full time so they were temporarily shipped to my mother’s place – a town which was an overnight train journey away. I was miserable – not having lived without the family ever. Staying away from loved ones was tough for me. So when I got the opportunity to visit him in South Africa, I grabbed it. It would be our second honeymoon of sorts we would celebrate our seventh anniversary.
The journey is more interesting than the destination they say. Well – the destination was absolutely rocking. You know what I mean. But I managed to take some notes during the plane journey to Johannesburg via Abu Dhabi. I had started writing this as a travel blog which never got published. I am sharing that account now. Felt funny reading this after 3 years:
The 3 hour flight to Abu Dhabi was uneventful. The flight was half empty. Soon after takeoff, the hubby made himself a nice comfy little berth out of the four empty seats in the middle row and within seconds dozed off. Sometimes I envy him. He must be a happy and content man come what the situation to have sleep at his beck and call. I for one did not budge from my seat even on his repeated suggestions to follow him suit. I just could not sleep. The excitement was still there for one, and this flight, without the kids seemed too bland. The last time I flew international was with my two young super energetic children. There was not one dull moment for us or for everyone else on the plane. Both of us were busy chasing each one of them up and down the aisles, returning proud smiles to passengers who found it amusing, and apologetic smiles to those who were annoyed. Oh how I missed them at that moment. I missed their endless questions, the continuous demands for food, the trips to the toilet just for the heck of it – or to watch the ‘super scary vacuum flush’ and the endless fatigue that comes with it all which has become a trademark of any travel.
Today, there was nothing for me to do than just read the paper and watch other people on board. There was a group of 10-12 very ordinary looking young men all wearing similar caps that stated the name of the oil company in the gulf where they were going (perhaps) to join their new jobs as helpers or cleaners. Each one of them looked like any other man you would see on the streets of Mumbai – The common man who got very lucky to find this great job in the gulf and an opportunity to fly in an airplane! Their faces were full of excitement and anticipation for fulfillment of countless dreams. This joy of flying on their faces was second only to a couple of toddlers on the plane who were their usual happy mischievous selves. They all stood out amongst the other well dressed passengers with looks of boredom and impatience wanting to reach the destination even before the journey was started.
For the street gang the fun just begun when the pretty and immaculate stewardesses flashed them wonderful smiles, and patiently guided them into their seats and helped them put away their bags. Each and every one of those guys was totally smitten. Some returned foolish smiles, and clumsy awkward gestures – not knowing what to say or what to do. Some simply stared at the beauties in awe. I had ignored them now and was trying to get a shut eye. I was happy to get the first row seat near the emergency exit that gave me plenty of leg space to stretch out. But it also meant that I would have to be the ‘toilet watchman’.
About half hour after they served food and drinks, the gang started making a beeline to the toilet. The first one came stood in front of the door – couldn’t figure out how to open it -did not realize it was occupied – saw me watching him, hurriedly returned to his seat. A second guy came along in two minutes. This one squatted in front of the door and slowly stood up trying to find a latch or an instruction on how to open the door. His nose was about an inch away from the door when he jumped at the sound of the super scary vacuum flush. The door opened unceremoniously and a huge old lady stepped out glaring at him. He smiled sheepishly and entered the tiny cubicle with a victorious face. Unfortunately he did not realize that unless he latches the door from the inside, the red “Occupied” sign will not turn on. He took a long time in there. The sign over head was green. In the next five minutes, very predictably, I witnessed the unavoidable. A man barged in the toilet only to get the open door being shoved into his face clumsily by the panic stricken occupant. “SORRY” he roared – annoyed, he returned to his seat. The door slowly opened. The guy stepped out. Looked at me sheepishly for a brief second, realized I was watching and hurried away. He came back in 5 minutes with a friend. The TOI (Transfer of Information is our techie term) took place right in front of the toilet door. He explained to him how to operate this gadget called the toilet. They together figured out how to latch the door. The friend went inside and confidently locked it this time. After that, one by one, the complete gang, very happily and victoriously made successful trips to the loo.
I smiled to myself, quietly sipping my baileys. The pilot announced that we are over Muscat and will land in Abu Dhabi in about 45 minutes. I looked down to see the lights of Muscat. It was a beautiful sight. It looked completely different than anything I had seen before. It did not have the chaotic star studded dense look of Mumbai or the vast bright lighted expanse of LA. The highways stood out strikingly as if some one has used a fluorescent orange highlighter pen to draw lines and patterns on a black canvas. Abu Dhabi was no different.
Finally we landed in Abu Dhabi at midnight local time. We killed two hours roaming the duty free shops until our next flight to Johannesburg. There was a vast diversity of travelers in that lounge. They were from all over the world. Many from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Japan, USA, India, Pakistan … and so on.
I was a complete zombie by the time we boarded the 8 hour flight to Joburg. It was 4:00 am in India, and I dozed off right after take off. For five full hours I was totally knocked out – only fleeting memory is of the hubby who was sitting on my right pulling me off my neighbor on the left and onto his shoulder. “You will see how bumpy it gets when we cross the equator!” he had said. But I had slept through all the bumps. I woke up refreshed. We landed in Johannesburg! The weather was 11 degrees. I glared at my hubby for not letting me bring warm clothes. “Its springtime there” he had said. “You can use my sweatshirts” he said now –“that way you can have more space for shopping”. It is Africa for god’s sake. Who would think of cold?
I was ready to take the plunge into my two week vacation in Africa. It was thrilling to realize that my feet have touched yet another continent of the world.