Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Air Travel

 I hear people complaining about air travel recently – and probably with good reason – but I often find it hard to relate. Traveling in the United States and traveling outside of it are two entirely different animals. Standards for safety I have encountered abroad range from that time I was felt up so thoroughly by a security guard at Ferenc Liszt airport in Budapest I felt like she owed me dinner, to that time in Egypt, where, despite the prevalence of x-rays and metal detectors, they legitimately don't give a crap.

I can't count how many TSA violations I have gotten away with in my short life. Pretty much anywhere besides America will let you bring a bottle of water on the plane (this has happened to me in Egypt, the Kingdom, even Hungary) and a couple times I have forgotten something like a razor in my backpack and not gotten it confiscated.

Compare this to the one time my mother and I were traveling to Peru and they looked through her entire carry on for about twenty minutes until they found a nail file. Which they confiscated. Or the time, in Japan, everything was removed from my bag and x-rayed separately  I spent a long time standing awkwardly while they went through my things, feeling like I should be explaining why I'm bringing a bag of cheetos into the country (they were for a friend!)

In the Kingdom, there is separate security for women and for men. The men go through the metal detector like normal, and the women are diverted into this little hut off to the side. Inside, you have to pull aside not one, but two sets of heavy, light-blocking curtains to reach the inner sanctum.There, bored female guards will half-heartedly wand you over in case you are keeping a switchblade in your knickers. Incidentally, if I was keeping a switchblade in my knickers, they probably wouldn't have found it.
I have walked in several times to find the guards either cheerfully chatting with each other, sitting back and relaxing, having lunch, or, most recently, listening to their ipods (HARAM!)

No one can come and check on them because their bosses are all male. These ladies have figured out a pretty sweet racket.

These airports also have x-ray machines as you come in the door (not that they ever stop anybody from bringing in anything) and “family sections” which is where it's okay for women to be. There are also “single” sections which are for single men. To be fair, men are only allowed in the 'family' section if they are actually with their families.

As a lone female traveler, or really as a female in the Kingdom in general, I have to be careful where I sit, even in the 'family' section. Sitting by myself is always an option, though not as good as sitting relatively near other women. It should go without saying that sitting next to a man is not even an option.

On the plane, before take off, they recite a prayer that the Prophet Muhammad used to say before he traveled. There is, of course, no alcohol on any Kingdom Airline flights.

This in-depth description is in honor of my vacation I am taking for the rest of the month of October. I worked a grueling five days this month and I deserve a vacation!

I'm starting to feel like I take vacations professionally. Paid vacations.

All sarcasm aside, the last week has been hell on earth. Sometime since I left everyone has decided to start hating each other. When I arrived back, I was immediately treated to a dozen side conversations about one person or another. I felt bad even listening to people tear into each other but I hadn't been there so I had no idea if it was justified or not.

Tempers flared the other day on the bus and there was snarling all the way home. It was so vicious that my mp3 player couldn't drown it out and I had to distract myself by trying to learn the Arabic numbers using licence plates.

I know them perfectly now, in case you were wondering.

I got my own dose of annoyance when the job of editing and producing the bi-weekly newsletter fell entirely to me. Typically, we have a team to work on it, but they were all too busy this week.

I didn't mind at first and I was kind of looking forward to it. It may have even been out on time if anyone had sent me anything they were supposed to. On Wednesday COB (the newsletter should have been out already) I was still missing the main article that my supervisor said she would send me at 9 am. Plus, I designed all the banners and titles myself in illustrator and my supervisor takes one look at them and crinkles her nose, asks me if we can do something about the ugly colors.

After a week of this crap I was done and so glad someone had talked me into leaving for the vacation instead of staying in town and... I don't know, screaming at the ceiling?  

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