Unfriendly Skies

It’s that time of year when families get together for Thanksgiving, stuff themselves full of turkey and other Thanksgiving yummies, and then wistfully look at those jeans they fit in two years prior and promise themselves that next year they will do better. Next year, they tell themselves, they will not reach for that piece of pie calling out to them.

Last year, my family and I were traveling home and were seated at an airport lounge waiting for our flight when I noticed a woman trying, but failing, to whisper into her cell phone. She was failing because, well, I could hear her quite clearly, and I wasn’t sitting close by. From what I could gather, her grandmother had waited until the family was gathered at the dinner table, where she revealed her political leanings, and this did not sit well with a good number of the family members, who walked out in protest, turkey and stuffing orphaned at the dinner table. To add insult to injury, said grandmother texted them (technologically savvy, grandma), asking them to come for left overs, as she, being a child of the Great Depression, was not one to waste food, political dichotomy aside. I never found out if the loud whisperer went to collect left overs or not, as our flight was called and we had to get going.

Speaking of loud whisperers, I love the Godfather. The book, that is. The movies, well, 1 was good, 2 was ok. 3. Where do I begin? WHY DID THEY DO IT? Why? There is not a logical reason why that movie was made. It was horrible. It was pointless. It was the kale chips of movies. Completely unnecessary. If I want to eat Sukuma wiki (kale), I will pluck it and I will cut it and I will eat it. Ok? Don’t sell me bitter chips wrapped in trendiness. But I digress. Many years ago, while on an overnight “red-eye” flight, I was reading the Godfather under low light, as most of the other passengers were asleep. Across the aisle from me was a gentleman. Please note that I use the word “gentleman” very loosely here. This “gentleman” was sitting with his two daughters, who were maybe 8 and 10. Out of the corner of my eye, I see this “gentleman” lean over to look in my direction, and then what must be the world’s loudest whisper followed. Think a whisper via megaphone.

“GET OUT OF HERE! Is that the Godfather? Don Corleone himself?”

At this point, the man’s two daughters were imploring him to stay calm, and, in the words of the older one, “Daddy please sit down, please don’t embarrass us!”

At first, I found it odd that such a young child would speak to her parent that way, but it would become apparent that the child in this relationship was not the 8 or 10 year old. My perception would soon prove prophetic.

At this point, the man had stood up from his seat and was very loudly whispering across the aisle to me, asking about different characters in the book. Had so and so been murdered yet? What about this other character? Had Fredo betrayed Michael yet? It was the Corleone Inquisition, albeit whispered. Yes, the whispered inquisition. His daughters tried, unsuccessfully, to get their father to go back to his seat, with the  ‘gentleman” yelling about Sicily and Don Corleone. Meanwhile, the sleeping passengers around us were being unceremoniously woken by the commotion. The man, who was well over 6 ft tall, and now past whispering, was loudly asking about Don Corleone’s father. I don’t think Don Corleone’s own children were as dedicated to him as this man was.

At this point, I could smell the vodka-scented liquid courage that had propelled him to Corleone Inquisitor-In-Chief. A woman who had been sleeping in the seat ahead of me and had been  awoken by Corleone-gate, was now an enraged red-eyed tigress, and her diminutive under 5ft frame was not going to stop her from confronting the over 6 ft tall Corleone Inquisitor. She asked him to sit down immediately, and the Corleone Inquisitor took it as well as we all expected him to. He lunged at her, his daughters attempting to stop him, and failing. The newly awakened tigress did not passively look on. She screamed at him, daring him to “fight if he was a man!” It took multiple air stewards to stop him and contain him to his seat. At this point, I closed my book and hid it away. Don Corleone needed a break.

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Traveling with a baby takes a village. And not just the baby’s parents and immediate family, you see. It’s the other passengers I am talking about. If you want extra seats, travel with a baby. If your airline doesn’t offer family pre-boarding (which, is amazing), then you’re stuck heading towards your seat alongside everyone else. It is interesting to see the unblinking stares of passengers as you approach their seats, as if blinking magically assigns you to the seat next to theirs; and then the sighs of relief as you walk past them. One would be forgiven for thinking that the baby would firmly attach himself to the passenger’s back, who will be forced to carry this baby for the rest of his natural life, no vacations or retirement allowed, ever. However, you have to sit somewhere, and the look of dread, and finally resignation, which registers on the face of your seatmate when they realize that they are doomed to share close quarters with your offspring is actually quite amusing.

Many years ago, before I became a mother, I was traveling back to Kenya for Christmas, and I had the fortune (I will let you decide what kind), of being on a plane with a cranky baby. I don’t know if it was the air pressure, gas, the way the stars were aligned, the moon or simply the side of the bed on which the baby woke up, that caused her to cry as much as she did. She literally started to cry as we took off from San Francisco, continued as we stopped over in Seattle, and reached a crescendo as we flew over the icy isles of Iceland. This child, whose name I do not know, has a future as a singer. No, that doesn’t quite describe her vocal range. Mariah Carey has nothing on this child.

At some point, I could hear her mother comfort her, “hush baby, hush baby”. It did not work. I sympathized with the woman. What was she to do? They were trapped in this metallic object flying hundreds of miles an hour, several thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean. She was doing her best to calm her child down, unsuccessfully so, but trying nonetheless. When we got to Amsterdam, I immediately went to my connecting gate, heading to Nairobi.

I like Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. Do you know who does not have passengers showing up late to flights? Schipol Airport. Why, you ask? Well, a very very stern Dutch-accented voice announces “Passenger X, you are delaying your flight! Your luggage will be off-boarded!” That voice sounds like it belongs to someone with a very large, strong hand, which can slap you hard, leaving your face forever imprinted with a Dutch palm-print. Years later, when travellers at Schipol see you, they will slowly shake their heads, point at you and tell their children, “he delayed his flight at Schipol.” The children will pitifully sneak glances at your Dutch-palm-print-tattoed face and hurry along with their parents lest they suffer the same fate.

If you are ever late for your flight at Schipol, you will be wise to do one of two things:

1. Sprint to the your gate at speeds that would put Usain Bolt to shame. Or,

2. Hide deep, deep in the recesses of the terminal, so the stern voice (and face-scarring strong hand) do not locate you and your offloaded luggage.

There are also moments of excitement at Schipol, such as the time I was sitting at my gate, listening to music and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman leap onto her chair, at which point I instinctively put my feet on my chair. I removed my headphones and saw her point at something on the floor and scream in what I imagine sounded like Russian. Now, you don’t need to speak Russian to understand a terrified voice screaming in a foreign language. Sure enough, the squeaking culprits sprinted across the floor, leaving a Kenyan, a Russian, and a few Americans standing on chairs. See, mice can unite people.

At Schipol, connection time is brief, customer service is direct (see above), and, most importantly, they don’t separate you from your lotion like they do over at Charles De Gaulle in Paris, claiming it exceeds carry-on limits. If you ask what the liquid weight limits are, they respond in French, and as you can imagine, that is the end of that conversation. Oui Oui. But, I still remember my lotion. My dry hands remembered that lotion all the way to Nairobi.

When I arrived at the Kenya Airways gate, I saw my fellow Kenyan summer bunnies. I saw the school kids, massive headphones around their necks, wearing heavily logoed clothing, effectively walking billboards for what I assume were the latest fashion trends.

I turned around and I didn’t want to believe my eyes, but there she was. Baby I-can-out-scream Mariah Carey, with her exasperated mother. She was playing happily now, and it seemed her father had joined them at Amsterdam. I hoped that the nine hour flight to Nairobi would be more comfortable for that poor child (and by extension, me). As soon as we boarded the flight to Nairobi, the baby resumed her screaming. Her mother, having reached the end of her rope, yelled in DhoLuo “Ling’! Ibaro wiya! Choke!” (shut up! You are giving me a headache! Eh!). Gone was the soothing “hush baby” whisperer of San Francisco. She was left behind with the off-boarded luggage at the airport. In her place, a lioness known as NyarGem had emerged. And NyarGem didn’t play. Baby Mariah Carey was immediately quiet. I had to ask myself why NyarGem did not simply employ this tactic in San Francisco, and then I remembered that here on the plane to Nairobi, no one would call Child Protective Services if you scolded your child.

We arrived in Nairobi safe and sound, happy to be home. Happy Holidays!

Unfriendly Skies