God Forbid you ask for vegetarian food on Serbian Airlines! I have been denied food until Cape Town as it was not booked – yet I have confirmation… If only I reacted like the 2 year old next to me who wanted a JAM ‘sendvich’.. And they gave her HAM ‘sendvich’…she threw it in the air kicked and screamed and then grabbed my boob, yes mine not her mothers….. In I guess a desperate attempt for anything sweet.. Oh Lord the joy of economy travel… Well good time to shed those kilos I gained!
Little did I know that my quest to appease the drugged caged animals of the world would be the least significant issue on the journey I would face ahead…
The plane from Montenegro to Belgrade made a very slippery landing in a violent storm, which resulted in all cancelled flights to my next destination – Istanbul. I was taken to a very fancy hotel and lavished with extravagant buffets. Important fast conversations flew around the lobby by the usual ad execs, while I dissolved the deep emotions that live in me after leaving Montenegro.
The next evening I was taken to the airport in a sleek black Mercedes – my last Balkan smile –so I thought… As we were about to board the plane, the entire airport had a blackout! For half an hour absolutely nothing happened. When we started boarding the plane, amidst the dark confusion and the sudden light, the flight attendants erred as they had forgotten to call business class members first…and so the mere mortals made a Moses path for the immortals to hurry past us. (sorry this situation always makes me laugh expressed so well in Almadovar’s I’m So Excited film!)
My seat companion, a delightfully humorous South Korean tour guide, chirps, Ïn the 127 countries I have traveled to, I have never ever experienced a blackout. And how funny at the Nikola Tesla Airport – that’s it, the name should immediately be changed to the Edison Airport!”
Was that a bad omen.. I was starting to feel a sense of unease, especially when the entire Serbian Waterpolo team got on the plane. Each 6ft8 guy seemed to weigh the plane down..would I ever make it home?
As we were about to touchdown in Istanbul the plane did a strange nose up and hover, then it landed but didn’t seem to know where to go. No one panicked yet it was clear that there was something wrong. The plane parked and reparked a few times and then the pilot announced that there had been a terrorist attack and so we are to remain in the plane. It was about 10h30pm. We instantly got online and watched in horror what had just happened a few meters from us.
My SKorean friend and Ukrainian right hand friend helped me send a message to facebook, as I didn’t have wifi. Amidst casual conversation I meditated, sending love and heart energy to all these perpetrators. Surely they need love? What would drive such utter madness…and how can it stop!? Orlando was just the other day and now this?
What transpired after we collected our luggage off the runway and ran with it through rivers of people into the airport was a reflection of the chaos in our world. It appeared as if everyone in the airport, including all surrounding hotels had fled in fear. Who could blame them? Thousands of us were trapped in this building just a few meters from where the suicide bombers had exploded. Apparently some got out and only God knows how they did, as I was utterly confused.
No one told us to be calm and wait! In fact the only announcement was incoherent and non-sensical: All passport holders to go out go here.. All persons to transit go here” Where is HERE for God sake! Like caged animals we were shuffled from one queue to another – shattered glass, bomb fragments, babies screaming, old people falling over, people fighting and absolute mayhem. No air-conditioning – the smell was a worldwide feast of sour. One American got angry for folk smoking – well who could blame them in this panic. There wasn’t even a drop of water to drink.
After 4 hours of doing the shuffle I decided I couldn’t face another queue and just sat down. It was on the stairs that I met a soul mate – a lovely lady from Rajasthan. We went and made ourselves comfortable behind the airline counters, charging our electronic devices and at last a sip of water!
It was here that the chaos ceased and the bonding started for us. We gathered some South Africans and chatted and laughed as we shared our life stories. Old friends shouted from far ‘hey South Africa how you doing?’ I met a very gorgeous young trendy man from Afghanistan! I said Aren’t you supposed to be wearing long robes and riding donkeys – how did you get so trendy?” He laughed and said ‘We are fine in beautiful Afghanistan’.
Yes we are all the same!! Azerbaijan, Ukraine and more – we are all the same! Only the fanatical religions and politics divide and destroy. This I was reminded when I urgently needed the toilet and they had closed the ladies, no doubt after an overuse. Clenching I went straight into the men’s toilet … It was then that a bunch of men became so abusive and pushed me right out! Mental!!!
As we predicted at 8am the new staff came in and again the many more queues resumed. It was then that my South African or Balkan power-woman kicked in along with my Rajasthani friend. We worked our magic and went behind the counter and got our tickets reissued immediately. Then we had to get our visas – yes frigging visas in this madness!!?? All elite countries, i.e. UK, US… could go to the bourgeois human operated counter and all 3rd world had to use an inoperable machine. When the one didn’t work we were shuffled off to another and then another.. I was on cracking point but then my Rajasthani friend – a 5 degreed mechanical engineer worked out how to jig the machine and got all of us mere mortals our visas.
Our team also included a wonderful South African guy now living in Ireland and a gorgeous young Egyptian man studying in the US. By this time we were heartfelt friends, having shared so much. Humour is always a beautiful bond and somehow when one meets a stranger in an extreme circumstance, the veils drop and the absolute beauty of humanness is shared. I felt such intense love and heightened feelings of simply being alive!
13 hours later we were taken to a hotel in the heart of Istanbul. We indulged ourselves in a hamman – a traditional hot marble room with a lady who washed and scrubbed every part of my body. What a release, what absolute pleasure! Ecstasy! And then she lovingly washed my hair…I was soaked in feelings of elation. It was surreal indeed!
I made it home in the end, not without some more panic at the airport again that night. And after touching South African soil, my South African friend from Ireland gave me a huge gracious hug and said “Thank you so much, if it wasn’t for you I would not have made it”. He was mostly deaf. It was only then that the emotions took hold of me and my eyes streamed with tears. Not for anything but the heart to heart soul encounters with all of these beautiful souls whom I met. I missed them all already.