Lesson learned: If the Air France agent in Abu Dhabi asks, “Would you like to sit in the front row of the economy section?” ask, “Have you ever sat there?”
See, every morning at around 5:30, the call to prayer came wafting from this loud speaker into the bedroom where I was sleeping. Luckily, the voice was a melodious one. Unluckily, I’m a light sleeper. And some mornings I needed to get up that early for my author visits anyway. Also, jet lag is real. So I boarded the plane sleep deprived. And I slept. When I woke up, though, I still had about four hours to go, cramped and crunched and tired and mentally snarling at Air France for creating such a snug spot and cramming me into it.
When I was a child coming home from Ethiopia, airplanes had tiny bottles of lotion and perfume in the restrooms. I interviewed my mom for my book Jane Kurtz and You–a book about how my real stories have gotten woven into my fiction–and she told me about filling out a questionnaire at the conclusion of that first Europe-Ethiopia flight. The airlines wanted her opinion because they wanted to get more families with young children traveling.
“What did you say?” I asked her.
She wrote a comment that they needed to provide a bigger size of diaper.
On that trip, we spent some time in Egypt before heading to Ethiopia, and my dad rode a camel. I thought of him as I rode my first camel in Abu Dhabi at a heritage village.
I was a little nervous about getting up on that camel, but the old friend I was with has survived stomach cancer and she said surviving cancer showed her there’s no other time to live your life. Live it. Right now.
Camels make crabby, loud sounds–rather like the sounds I wanted to make from that seat in the Air France airplane. They have scraggly ferocious-looking teeth (at least this camel did) that appear to be willing and ready to take a BITE out of something.
Again, I felt this way for about four hours and it’s a good thing no one from Air France was really in sight.
The camels in the advertisements in Abu Dhabi all look a great deal sweeter and more cuddly or at least majestic, I must say. I guess if you want to sell something, you make sure you have a really photogenic camel to do it with.
All the ways to advertise are fascinating to me on these international trips. I especially like looking at billboards, which have flavorful bits of culture on them. In Abu Dhabi, I kept wanting to get a better photo of the massive billboards about Our Father. When I visited Heritage Village, I realized he was the person credited with changing Abu Dhabi from a camel-and-goat-stew society into the modern, gleaming place it is today.
The immigration agent in Salt Lake City (a good place to go through immigration, by the way, because it’s a small and efficient airport), asked if it was hard to get a visa for United Arab Emirates. Actually, Abu Dhabi had–hands down–the easiest airport arrival of anyplace I’ve been, including Salt Lake City.
(By the way, though the French may not want to talk to you at their airport, they at least have now sensibly installed a machine to read your boarding card and tell you where your next gate is. This is a Good Thing.)
They want visitors in Abu Dhabi. They have a gorgeous mosque where you are welcome to look around (and you can borrow a black abaya and listen to a young man with braces earnestly explain about Islam) and you do not feel for a moment uncomfortable or shut out.
If anything, my only complaint is that every city is starting to take on some of the look of every other city.