Greetings, friend. I hope you're feeling well, and that your family is prospering in the new intercontinental economy, yet keeping safe in the eclectic new world order. Me, I'm fine. I just finished a long journey, it involved a flight and a bomb threat on my flight. And I am happy to be your content provider for the next few minutes. Please, keep reading. It's worth it.
I left Los Angeles last week on board of a rather large airplane that was meant to land 10 hours and 45 minutes later in a city called Paris, located north of the Tropique du Cancer. I had an aisle seat, although I really wanted a window seat so I could occasionally stick my head out of the little window and wave at the people below us. Alas, upon requesting a window seat, the lovely lady at the Air France counter told me to go fuck myself. It was usual and enjoyable. Aisle seat it was. I boarded my flight and made my way to my seat. A lovely French man had the window seat, my nemesis, he was reading piano notes. I interrogated him rather aggressively about who he was and what he does and what his dreams and biggest fears were and what was the most irresponsible meal he has ever had, rather immediately. Standard. He told me he worked at Roche-Bobois, that his dream is to be a greater pianist, that he loved my country, and that all irresponsible meals are accompanied by Lebanese people. I told him those were socio-political stances that were more than enough to qualify him to be president of my country, that he should consider it because the seat is vacant, and that he should ship a Roche-Bobois chair with him because the current presidential chair is broken. We laughed. He knew it was going to be an amazing flight.
Food came. My neighbor and I politely discussed the horrific attacks in Paris followed by our respective opinions about religion. He told me his sister had lost a friend in the Paris attacks, I told him I was very sorry. I then shared anecdotes of religious people I had met in my life, my stories of Mormons and Scientologists occupied the bulk of our interest. I told him he must watch The Book of Mormon, and detailed the idiosyncratic lifestyles of Mormon friends I've come across in my life. Then, the flight attendant came and yanked the wine glass from my hand, apologized and took the trays in a rather hasty, yet professional way. How he managed to do so, both rushed yet professional, was impressive. My neighbor was still happily eating his bread, yet the flight attendant asked him to hand over the bread immediately. I thought it was a bit extreme. I said, "Yo, your battle with gluten is not everyone's battle with gluten." The flight attendant apologized, and said it had nothing to do with gluten, but that we were preparing for an emergency landing because there was a "problem." We asked what the problem was. He said, "we don't know, but I assure you it is not a mechanical problem." And he walked off. Long story short. We received an alert that there was a bomb on the flight, and we were going to explode at any second. I turned to my neighbor and said, "Well, for what it's worth, that was one great final conversation. Thank you." He smiled, and very kindly said, likewise. We wanted to "cheers" and clink our glasses, but we were wine-less. So we fist bumped.
Then, I started thinking who would be saddest in the world upon hearing the news that I had just been blown to pieces. I boiled them down to two contenders, my mother and Divina. Divina is the wonderful lady who has been cooking for us for 20 years. That's one long meal, I know. My mother is my mother, sensitive and goodhearted. But I decided that Divina would be the sadder one because I am the only one in her world who walks into her kitchen tap-dancing and singing personalised German opera, while everyone else addresses her in a normal octave voice. She will never find someone like me. My mother though will easily find someone like me; they are her three sons, my brothers, conceivably nicer than me, so she'll be fine, maybe even better off without me. But Divina, she's screwed. So I got sad.
Then, the same flight attendant came back, erratic. I was like, "what now?" He said, "are your shoes on?" I said, "do you want them?" He said, "no, please keep your shoes on." I said, "it is not my reflex to take my shoes off before a bomb explodes, and I am not walking barefoot into hell, that's for sure." He nervously said, "when we land, (if we land), we will have to evacuate with the slides, so please do not take any bags. Do not take anything." What he really meant to say was, "do not take anything but your smiles and good spirits, because that's all we need in life." Then he walked off. Silence in the aircraft. No pilot speaking. No announcement. No nothing. It was eerie. What is going on? Unsure.
Then, the same flight attendant came back. I was like, "what now?" He said, "Madame, I need you to switch seats with the gentleman sitting next to you." I said, "now?" He said, "now." I said, "fine." He said, "it is nothing personal, Madame. He is physically stronger than you and I need a strong person on this side of the aisle." Okay. Wh..y? The flight attendant then explained to my neighbor: "When I give you the signal, I need you to get up and block this passageway. No one comes through, unless I say so. Do you understand? If you must scream to put order, then do not hesitate to scream. Do you understand?" My neighbor understood. But I did not. It turns out he's smarter and stronger than me. I guess it made sense for him to be the designated crew backup, in that case, I'll be the dance backup. After all, I can be of no help to anyone if I'm lying in the aisle, unconscious, because I got trampled by fearful people standing on my lower back. Without further questions, we switched seats.
Then, I looked over at my neighbor and I said, "I think it's time I said this to you now..." He said, "what?" I said, "This is all fake. There is no threat. I created this problem just so I could get in the window seat." Then I stuck my face out the little window and waved at the people below us... It was not the truth, but I thought it would be funny. Obviously, it was hilarious. The whole situation is hilarious. Plus, if this plane was going to explode, I wanted to have the window seat.
Back to the problem. Apparently, if the plane was not to explode, we were going to have to do an emergency landing. We were charging head-on for the ground at breakneck speed. "But, where are we landing?" My neighbor and I perused the little TV screen in front of us to check our geographic location with the little atari airplane. Then, I finally felt fear. I had been joking around for 15 minutes, but this time I got scared. "No." I said. "No." My neighbor looked at the screen, and he also got a little scared, but he tried to mask it because, remember, he is stronger than me. This was the first time tonight that I felt in danger. My neighbor said, "You asked for it. You summoned it!" Indeed, I did. I was terrified. Why? Because we were landing in Utah, that's why. Right in the middle of red America. The equivalent of a PG-13 Raqqa for "Restorationist" Christian. Are you kidding me? Who wouldn't be afraid? What if this was a plot to mass-convert us to Mormonism, brainwash us then send us on missions all over the world to convert people to the religion of Joseph Smith in order to secure ourselves a little piece of land in paradise before we are all taken aboard a space ship where aliens run colonoscopies on us all day long? I assure you, they've got an equally insane version of jihad here, and I am gonna be sliding right into all of it. T'is my fate: Running from Muslim Jihadists straight into the arms of Christian jihadists. This is all the fault of The Book of Mormon. I shouldn't have spoken about it so enthusiastically.
Can the captain say something comforting please? He hasn't said a single word about the whole situation yet! Sir? Ma'am? Can you please come here for a second? You drill our heads with safety lectures about buckling seatbelts and "inflating life vests" at the beginning of every flight, but when it comes to having bombs onboard, SILENCE. Someone needs to tell airlines that they must revisit their automated safety lecture, and include practical approaches to bomb threats on there, including bullet proof vests tucked under our seats, and terse words of advice. "In case of a bomb, you're screwed. However, we recommend that you address your prayers to whichever God rules over the territory we are crashing into. Happy travels." I must admit though, the part where they teach you how to buckle a seatbelt? They should keep that. That's my favorite part. "Insert the metal fitting into the buckle, and tighten by pulling on the loose end of the strap. To release your seat belt, lift the upper portion of the buckle." WHAT? "Excuse me, Ma'am? Ma'am? I'm confused. That was too fast. Which is the fitting and which is the buckle? Does the metal fitting go into the buckle? Or does the buckle go into the metal fitting? I'm sorry, I'm no engineer. I know I am a grown adult and I've managed to find the airport and my gate all by myself, but seatbelts is where it gets tricky. I would love a little one-on-one tutoring." Please keep that part. It makes me jiggle and fiddle like funny tickles.
Hi? Anyone there? No. We're all gonna die, with our seatbelts on. No word from the captain. You know what? I bet he's the type of guy who takes ages to answer his text messages even thought he knows you know that he's read them. You know the type? That guy. Anyway. Can you guess what is the saddest part of it all? No need to guess, I'll tell you. If we all die on this plane, our air miles die with us. How horrific. Air France takes them all, of course, as it does our souls. Non-transferrable miles, non-transferrable souls. Positive thoughts. OK. So, I then turn to my neighbor, and say: "Let's plan our exit... If we get off this flight, we must rush out of the plane, make our way to a nearby farmhouse, and hide from the Islamic Mormons until customer service comes and finds us." ... Ha. Get it? Air France customer service? That is the joke.
Then, suddenly, from the holy speakers of our explosive, intergalactic flying cabin, a voice suddenly ascends: "Prepare for descent." HE HATH SPOKEN! THE CAPTAIN HATH FINALLY THPOKEN! And he hath decreed that t'is the beginning of thy descent! And what a descent! We have begun our descent, the descent of this civilization from what was once the proud paradigm of soft-spoken polite virtue to a first-class monstrosity submerged in violence, greed and sociopathy... We have begun our descent! YES!
Woosh! We did 20,000 miles down in 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.
BAM. We land. Police sirens and police cars surround our plane. We stop in the middle of the runway and I plan my exit like Jackie Chan stuck in a queue. The crew starts yelling, "EXIT THE PLANE! NOW."
You don't say! Exit now? I was planning on taking a nap! Fine. I take my stuff, and I exit. Police ushering us and rushing us to the buses. We are taken to a nearby "terminal." TERMINAL, as in, where you are "terminated", get it? Are you kidding? This is all in poor taste. From bomb on flight to "terminal". Can't get more morbid.
Welcome to the terminal.
And so, we stay there for 5 hours and 18 minutes. Quarantined. Sitting on the edge of the baggage conveyor belt. Me, waiting. My neighbor, reading piano notes. Then, the FBI comes and they decide they want to interview everyone. EVERYONE? 550 people. Amazing. We're gonna be here until 2016. I promised myself I was gonna make the best of it. I was gonna give the best interview of all 550 people and get the job. They weren't aware that they were gonna engage me in a job interview, but I decided it was going to be a job interview, and I was gonna nail it. Them: "What's your best quality, Sara?" Me: "LOYALTY TO THE POLICE FORCE, SIR." I will keep repeating that sentence after every question asked, at which point, they will escort me out and put me in one of those little jackets where the arms tie in the back. I can't wait.
A couple of hours later, an airline representative then appears out of the SLC woods, and says, "We are still screening the bags on the flight, when we are done we can get back on the plane. Thank you for your patience. We would like to kindly say that if anyone remains uncomfortable with the situation, you can choose to reroute your trip and not get on the plane. I repeat, you may refuse to get back on the plane." Damn right! Me! I am not getting back on that plane, nor on any plane for that matter, because I'm getting IN the plane. I don't know which lionhearted swashbuckler will agree to get on the plane. Let Kirk and his friends get on the plane, let them attempt to surf the clouds on the left phalange and get lost between the moon and Salt Lake City, and even sing about it! Me, I'll be in the plane, that's inside, buckled up behind an intricate seatbelt buckle, and covered with a thin airlines blanket made out of pet socks.
Then, an FBI police officer stands on top of the baggage conveyor belt, and gives a heartfelt speech. He says we need to buddy up. That we are all amazing, and that everything will be alright UNLESS, of course, Kirk or someone with a different name, detonates a bomb. But then, you'll never guess what happens... The Salt Lake City airport staff start bringing in pizzas and burgers, Mars and Snickers, jelly beans and granola bars, all kinds of random snacks to feed us. Then, they brought us chairs so we can sit; they brought us bottles of water so we can drink; they handed out blankets so we can play ghost busters.... It was the best hospitality. Honestly. They were so NICE. Really, nice. They smiled. They were ready to engage in group hugs, and resolve our collective childhood traumas. No one was angry, no one told me to go fuck myself, but that's only because they didn't work for Air France, that's why. But, I tell my neighbor, who is reading his piano notes, "DO NOT GIVE IN." He's like, "wha'?" I'm like, "Listen to me. Do not give in to this generosity charade! That is the Mormon way, they are trying to lure us into their religion with their kindness and their pepperoni pizzas. They are seeking to convert us." It is very different from the Islamic way. You won't see any pepperoni pizzas in any Islamic conversion operation, but that's because they don't eat pork. You'll see halal pizzas maybe, but not pepperoni pizzas.
Bottom line: We must remain immune to this charade.
So, let's buddy up. Let's gather in groups of four, six or eight, whatever, it must be an even number because of our electromagnetic polarity, we must bind in pairs, like subatomic particles. What for? I don't know. Let's just buddy up.
Then, the most significant part of the entire trip happened, which is predominantly why I have decided to write this post. As I am touring the occasional tour in our terminal wing, I see, sitting on one of those airport-gift-chairs, a Muslim man, with a long beard, holding the Quran, and reading it out loud. You understand? He was reading the Quran out loud, alone. No one was with him. And he had a Wilson backpack next to him. And he was reciting the Quran, out loud. I look around to see if anyone else is shocked: nope. I am the only bigot here. No one was staring, no one was even looking! There were even people sitting next to him carrying on their conversations as if that was any regular Tuesday night at the Bonbon bar. Did the FBI buddy-up agent see him? I look at my neighbor: "are you also unfazed?" He shrugs. I'm like, "Don't be such a blasé Parisian. This is red alert. Look, buddy, I am a Muslim woman. I was born in Riyadh, in August, of all seasons. Okay? Did you ever experience a Saudi summer? I am hard-core. I can recite verses from the Quran. I have lived with Islam and Muslims all my life. I have walked in Muslim processions. I have attended Muslim events. And I can attest that except if you're in a mosque or in the privacy of your own castle, no one reads the Quran out loud, UNLESS they're at a wedding ceremony or a funeral... I am pretty sure no one is planning on getting married in this room tonight, thus, I deduce that this must be our funeral. He is reading the Quran because he is planning our funeral. We're gonna be blown up, by the Wilson bag. Pizzas in belly, we're all going to die tonight here in Salt Lake City next to the baggage conveyor belt and your piano notes." My French friend looked amused, he smiled. What!? Obviously, I need to do something about this, telepathically, of course, because no one seems to be unfazed by this freestyle Quranic sermon.
I stare at the Muslim man. He stares back. I smile. He does not. Dammit. Why didn't you smile? Because you're about to kill me. That's why! You have no empathy! "Why are you reading the Quran out loud?!" I yell with my eyes. He answered by reading Quran verses louder. Look, buddy, if any man was sitting alone reading, say, Moby Dick, out loud, wouldn't you be a little uncomfortable? MOBY DICK. You know, the whale? He gets badly injured at the end and kills a bunch of people, then revamps his look, goes on a diet and becomes a DJ. We don't even want Moby Dick read aloud! My point is, what you're doing, sir, is weird, and even insensitive. Then, the Muslim man closes the book, and reaches deep into his Wilson bag... It's time. We are going to die. I tell my neighbor to brace himself. My neighbor is reading piano notes. The Muslim man pulls out an inflatable pillow. Then, puts it back in the bag. I'm like, textile explosives, huh? Yes. My neighbor then tells me, "relax, he's too old to be a jihadist." I'm like, "What if it's a mid-life crisis? What if he wants to get Daech paradise points? Don't be such a blasé Parisian." He shrugs, and gets back to his piano notes. I said, "No one will be able to quiz you on those damn notes at the end of this journey, because in heaven, they play the harp, not the piano, okay?" He smiled, again. What!?
Okay. I accept this fate. At least, it will all be over soon. I am going to begin my transition to the other side any second now! For good thought, I promised myself that I would be the type of dead person who would only come back to haunt people in creative ways. I imagined myself calling my friends from the other side, and yelling into the phone, "HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIIIIIIIIIIIDE!!! AT LEAST YOU CAN SAY THAT I'VE TRIIIIIIED." Then, hanging up and giggling. Get it? I'd call mom and dad, and yell, "HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIIIIIIIIDE!!!" And surely, SURELY, I would call Adele, EVERY DAY, at least TEN TIMES, and give her the same treatment she's given me in the past few days: "HELLO FROM THE OTHER
Death is gonna be hilarious.
But... we lived. My neighbor lived. And he made it safely back to his wife and children in Paris, and he is now on his way to becoming a great pianist and Lebanon's next president. And me, I am writing these words from the comfort of my home in Beirut, in one piece. I am alive, and well. And now I cannot help but think how sad it is that I judged that poor man so harshly. Even I, a Middle Eastern, educated, Muslim-born, liberated woman, adopted the fear-based speech of all the bigoted media outlets. Why? In the Salt Lake City quarantine waiting area, everyone left that man alone. I do not know what he endured during the security screenings prior to the flight, but at least there, in Salt Lake City, no one was harassing him for his religious beliefs, and in retrospect, I am so proud of my fellow passengers for having kept a more open mind and heart than me, including our Mormon and non-Mormon hosts.
Looking back, I am sure that this Muslim man was merely afraid, like me, except he was afraid of an unsafe flight, and I was afraid of him. He was probably afraid of crashing, he wanted this journey to safely end, and he wanted to appease his mind. It was, after all, a rather unusual situation. He was looking for comfort in his holy book, and in a meditative trance, he thought that reciting the Quran would protect him, and protect his fellow passengers. Yes, that's my current version. He was reading his Quran to protect me. I believe that now. So thank you.
So, for what it's worth, I apologize to this man. And I apologize to all men and women who endure any type of fear-based, awful, oppressive discrimination based on their faith. We have got a long way to go before we make everyone feel safe in our world, but it is important to remind ourselves that we each have a humane duty towards one another, it is a duty to treat each other with love and tolerance, especially when times get tough. So I am sorry that, for a little while (like 3 minutes ok?), I couldn't do that. I should have hugged that man. On second thought, no, that would have been a terrible idea. But either way, I am thankful for this safe journey, I am thankful for having had a wise travel companion, and finally, I am thankful to you for having read my post. As a reward, I leave you with the theme photo of the trip:
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* The illustration is made by the author, Sara El-Yafi