Jane Austen’s House. Chawton, Hampshire. August, 2006.
There’s a chore on my to-do list. It is time-consuming and requires care and attention, but unlike cleaning bathrooms and doing the laundry, it is filled with nothing but pleasure and excitement, because my chore is to pack for our trip to Thailand.
It will be our first time there, and we are all very excited. I look forward to seeing a new land and a new culture.
When I think of Thailand, I think of the Thai girl who befriended my brother and my father during their first lonely months in the United States.
I think of the smiling ladies who worked at our favorite Thai restaurant, where we marvelled at their skill in carving watermelons, while we savoured Basil Chicken and Fried Rice with an egg on top. I think of blue silk, golden temples and white elephants.
I hope to post some pictures and to write a bit about what I see. We’ll be in Bangkok for some time, where my husband has some business, but we will spend Christmas in Phuket, and we’ll travel home before the end of the year.
I go to’t with delight!
The other day my cousin, my little girl and I made the twenty-minute trip to Omoa, the little village where the Fort of San Fernando de Omoa is located. The sky was blue and the mountains green, and they were more beautiful than I remembered.
From the fort we went for a walk on the beach…
and had a delicious lunch at the Flamingo’s Restaurant.
I will remember this day. I will remember the sound of the ocean, the feel of ancient stone, and the smell of moss and salt in the air. I will remember walking behind my daughter and my dear friend, seeing her small hand holding on tight.
More pictures, here.
The flight from Lahore to Abu Dhabi is like a bus ride. The only things missing are the armpits in your face and the elbows poking your back. The airlines use older planes on this route and the flight attendants don’t even bother to be polite. They almost throw the food at you and every request is greeted with a roll of the eyes. Their instructions are barked rather than spoken. SIT DOWN! TURN THE PHONE OFF!
The passengers, most of whom are contract laborers in the UAE, are treated with unconcealed disdain. I’ve noticed it before, but this time I found it more grating than usual. I have a lower tolerance for rudeness now than I did when I was younger, and I’m glad of it. I won’t keep quiet when I see unjustified, obnoxious behavior, much less when it comes from people who get paid to serve others.
When we started our descent, my daughter woke up and wanted to go to the bathroom. The seatbelt light was on, but we were still a good seven to ten minutes from landing. I told the flight attendant that I needed to get up.
”It’s not allowed,” she said.
By this time my daughter was quietly crying and begging me to let her go. I asked again but nothing changed. I finally said:
“I’m just warning you. My daughter will pee herself on the floor or the seat”
“That is YOUR choice”, the flight attendant answered me.
I felt so sorry for my daughter, and so angry with this woman.
I’ve read about people who have argued with flight crews over little things and been arrested for disturbing a flight. Their manner throughout the flight did not make me think they would be conciliatory, and I didn’t want to have a bigger problem on my hands. The man sitting next to me kept telling me to get up, and he started telling some of the other passengers what was going on. I kept trying to get the attention of the other flight attendant, and her purposely turned face infuriated me more.
My little girl was so brave, I was proud of her. I told her to do it on the floor. I took off her pants and urged her to relieve herself where she could, but she held on, the fat, round tears running down her cheeks.
In the end the other flight attendant told me I could get up at my own risk, and my daughter made it to the toilet well before landing. But I was burning with anger and ready for a fight.
When we landed I asked for the particular flight attendant’s name and employee number. They immediately called the supervisor over and I had the pleasure of giving her a piece of my mind.
What made me angry was not that I was told I couldn’t get up. It was the manner in which I was refused, and the words ‘YOUR choice’, as if I would purposely have my little girl go through this experience. As if it would ever be my choice to have my daughter pee herself on the floor in front of everyone.
They took me back to First Class and the supervisor was very apologetic, but I could tell that they were all stunned. I was not irate, but I was forceful, and I berated them for their overall behavior.
“Oh, we can tell that you are not like the other ones”, I was told. I felt like smacking her, but all I said was that nobody should be treated like that. I wish they all get to read the letter of complaint that I will write when I get home.
Overall it was a hellish flight. My whole experience in Abu Dhabi was dreadful. I went to a cell phone store to buy a phone card and I was kept waiting for 10 minutes while white people who came after me were served first. When I complained to the salesman he laughed and said he hadn’t seen me, but I was right in front of him at the counter the whole time.
I was fed up, tired and with a sleepy toddler in my arms. I told him off. He whispered something in Arabic to his co-worker, and when he tried to give me change in the local currency (I paid in dollars), I flatly refused.
I was too tired to seek his superior, and with the prospect of nearly twenty hours of flight time ahead of me, I had had enough for one evening.
We got back into town late last night, after spending several days at my husband’s family farm. It is a four-hour journey, and the traffic is scary, but we braved the nighttime onslaught of passenger buses, over-loaded trucks and daredevil drivers just to sleep in our own bed.
The land has been in my husband’s family for nearly two centuries. I am glad to know a place that my husband holds so dear. There is a sense of belonging in having deep roots, in being able to say ‘this was my father’s land and his father’s before him’ and it seems natural to feel a connection to the land itself.
The history of one’s family, one’s ancestors is there, in the dust whirling in the wind, in the wheat that whispers in the sun, in the juicy red of a
30-year-old fifty-five-year-old bougainvillea bush. I now know the color of an ear of wheat, I have felt the brush of its bushy tip against my skin.
The work of the land is the hardest work of all. There is nothing romantic about sweat, about hard physical labor and never-ending toil, but few things could be more beautiful, even if, like my husband’s family, you have a hundred workers to help you do it.
There are people whose families have worked for them and lived on their land for generations. I have met a lady who cared for my husband when he was a baby, whose daughter now cares for his nephew, and last summer, the village barber who gave him his first shave came to the house to give him a haircut. Such permanence and loyalty give you a sense of who you really are, and learning their value makes you a better human being, more willing to be contented despite the vicissitudes of life.
I have been a foreigner for most of my life. I was one month short of turning 17 when I arrived in the United States to stay, and as an impassioned, earnest teenager, I refused to call our apartment ‘home’ for months. I would say, ‘let’s go back to the apartment’. My father offered to send me back and let me live with relatives, but I didn’t want that either. I can’t remember when I let my guard down, but eventually the United States became my home. I didn’t know then that one day I, like thousands of other immigrants, would come to feel unwanted.
I have thought many times that because I had left my home, ‘home’ could be anywhere. And I still think the same, because I believe home is something that you build, like a nest, with bits of this and bits of that, and really, all you need is those you love. But there is also something to be said for familiarity, for heritage, for knowing where your origins are and what they signify.
I have more to say about this, and about my own immigrant experience, but I will leave that for another post.
I will now introduce you to Brown Horse, our daughter’s mare:
She is pregnant and due in early autumn. I am looking forward to the birth, for my daughter, who is horse-mad, and for myself. We plan to be there, and I am sure it will be an extraordinarily moving event.