CONFESSIONS OF A TOURIST: Rashid here, Rashid there, Rashid everywhere
I just love flying. Even better, I love eating. Plane food. Not plain at all, I began to realise, as I stuffed my face with lamb shaki korma, fresh fruit salad, chocolate and almond croissant, banana muffin and orange juice, cruising at 12,000 feet on a pleasant Emirates flight to Dubai.
Sprinting through the never-ending gates of terminal infinity on arrival in Dubai airport, desperately trying to reach my connecting flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, I secretly began to wish that I had stuck to plain crackers and water instead. I stumbled into the boarding gate, panting like an overweight Labrador, and nearly ran over the ground steward, a small man, wearing a three-sizes-too-large uniform jacket which scruffily hung off his narrow, bony shoulders. Donning an even larger, flashy gold name tag bearing the name Rashid, he slowly made his way towards me, eyeing me suspiciously.
Flashes of being wrongly accused as a drugs smuggler crossed my mind.
“Excuse me ma’am,” mumbled Rashid in a low, deep voice, as he drew his eyebrows together and pushed his large spectacles up from the tip of his nose.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m slightly concerned,” he said.
Beads of sweat instantly gathered on my forehead, forming embarrassingly large droplets which slowly trickled down my already tearful face.
“Ma’am,” he repeated, in crisp, impeccable English, “may I ask why you, a pretty young female, are travelling on your own to Dhaka, Bangladesh please?”
Is that all he wanted to ask?
Looking around me, I was aware of a series of ominous glares from all directions. The 220 passengers, all male and all Bangladeshi, were staring at me as though I’d just landed from an alien planet. Sentences stopped mid-stream, chatters slowed to soft whispers. You’d think I was frolicking around naked with just a fig leaf for cover or something. Strange people, these. Explaining to a concerned Rashid that Dhaka was only a transit stop en route to Kathmandu, Nepal, I slowly pushed my way through the sea of little men and boarded the plane, looking for seat 18A, my little habitat for the next few hours.
Safely in Dhaka, swollen with a severe overindulgence of plane food and sleepy as ever, I made my way behind hundreds of little men scuttling in to the airport building dragging bundles behind them. They pushed their way to the front, muttering what was possibly the worst conglomeration of Bangladeshi swear words ever recited. Why the need for blasphemy I will never know. Not much seemed to be going on in Arrivals. Three of the airport officials in the passport control area were asleep at their desks. One man was awake though, bless him - a tall, skinny, wobbly, knock-kneed, very-long-moustached man. Another Rashid.
“Excuse me, where do I collect my luggage from?” I asked him politely.
“Yoo stay here and I am bringing yoo,” he answered, twisting the ends of his moustache with his thumb and index finger as he spoke.
“No, I’d rather pick it up myself, thanks,” I replied.
“Yoo no trust me madam?” His voice rose a pitch higher.
“Er, no, it’s just that …” I had no hope of convincing Rashid.
It was a pretty easy job that he had, as my rucksack was the only one, a bright and shiny electric blue, picked out of a pile of torn suitcases, dusty boxes and several other unidentifiable objects. Feeling very happy with his luggage-identification-success, he ushered me to the transit check- in area and vanished. Another official, looking like he had just been rudely awoken from the depths of a bad dream, shuffled towards me.
“Hello madam, I am needing your paspor and ticket pleez.”
Flashing them momentarily in front of his very large, black spectacles, I assumed he would absorb all the information he needed.
“Theez for me.” He grinned and snatched my passport with a very sturdy grip.
“And theez for you.” A small, cheap, red plastic gambling chip was placed in my sweaty palm in return.
And then he was gone. Cheeky thief! Leaving me with a single red casino chip as my only sorry hope of identification.
I looked around for a sympathetic spirit, but I was alone. Desperate. On the verge of calling home, wondering how to break the tragic news that I was going to be stuck in Bangladesh for a few decades. Home: it seemed like a lifetime ago that I was sitting by the water’s edge, the sun beating down on my tanned, glowing face, the waves gently tickling my feet. I suddenly craved my Mediterranean life. Malta, my dream. Why had I invented this trip? Here I was, sitting on a torn, dirty, cigarette-butted chair feeling very sorry for myself, wondering if I’d ever leave this place.
Three hours later, Rashid calmly returned with my passport. No apologies, no explanations. I now had a pretty Bangladesh stamp on it, to remind me, lest I ever forgot, that I came here. That, and my precious plastic chip.
“Biman Bangladeshi Airways are…”
Yep, that’s me, I’m finally off.
“…sorry to announce that flight G701 to Kathmandu will be delayed by four hours.”
“Four hours? A delay of four hours? I insist on having a word with the manager!” I shrieked in frustration.
“Helloooooo ma’am, how can I be of assistance, ma’am? My name is…”
Does anyone have a different name here? After 10 painful hours, I was finally called. I boarded my Biman Bangladeshi Airways flight, heading for Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Kathmandu – a rather fitting name, seeing that the stress and trepidation that built up inside me throughout the dodgy flight almost landed me with a TIA myself (a Transient Ischaemic Attack is actually a mild stroke that lasts not more than 24 hours). But I lived to tell the tale.