Friday, November 21, 2008

Scenario #17: Women and airplanes

Have you seen the film Love Actually? I love how it begins and ends in Heathrow airport, one of the world's busiest airports - I think it's the airport out of which one can fly to the largest number of different destinations in the world. In the first scene of the film, as the film reel shows people of different ages and different nationalities and different type of bags arriving in the airport and being greeted by their loved ones, the voiceover says, "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends."

My flight from Doha to Washington reminded me so much of this scene. Here were some of the people I met:

- A Pakistani American woman who had recently returned to her native Punjab to get married. Now she was expecting her first child and flying to Virginia to finish out her pregnancy while living with her parents. After her baby is born in the U.S., she hopes her husband will be able to join them, or else she and her child will return to Punjab.

- An Indian woman who was traveling alone with her one and a half year son. During the interminably long wait to board the plane (thanks, U.S. security regulations!) the boy became increasingly restless. Finally, when our place in the queue was nearing the front, he reached an incurable tantrum. He whimpered and cried and screamed, and soon I was playing the staring game with him as our bus waited to let us off and onto the airplane stairs. As long as he stared he forgot to cry, but alas, I won the staring game and he won the crying game. His poor mother was at her wits end, no doubt trying to figure out how she would handle 15 hours of angry fellow passengers watching her try to calm her son down.

- A Sudanese woman and her eight-year old daughter. Neither one spoke a word of English and so they begged me to help walk them through the frightening process of flying across the world to meet their husband/father. Baba had lived in the U.S. for the past nine years and only now was ready for his family to join him. The woman wore niqab, the headcovering that left nothing showing but her eyes, and so she and her daughter were given extra attention... and extra security checks. The daughter was scared of flying, and when I went to my seat in another part of the plane I felt terrible for leaving them helpless without a translator.

Meanwhile, surrounding me were several men travelling alone, including:
- An Arab man who watched films the whole time.
- Two middle-aged American men who chatted in the empty space by the toilets for several hours.
- A young Asian guy who enjoyed the selection of games on the plane's video system.

With such a collection of fellow travelers I found myself:
(a) grateful that I was not squeezed between two of the sketchier-looking men on the plane
(b) concerned that the woman with the crying toddler was sitting next to some unsympathetic guy, the pregnant woman was squeezed between two sketchy men, or the woman on the way to meet her husband was finding herself having to explain her situation to some flight attendant who didn't understand Arabic.
(c) imagining what it would be like to have my entire face covered in black for a fifteen hour flight, eating by tucking my fork up under my scarf and sleeping with an elaborate set of garb arranged on my body
(c) wondering why no airline has yet thought of having a section for women only, somewhere for these women to feel safe and where their children are welcome

Seriously, in the Middle East, many restaurants have "family" sections, where women and children are allowed to sit safe from the haunting eyes of less-thoughtful men. Men accompanying the women are also welcome to sit in the family room. It works well, everyone's happy. On these flights from the Middle East to the "West", there are so many young, impressionable and vulnerable women... why not reserve a section for these sweet ladies and their kids?

No comments:

Post a Comment