Chameleon Chapter 11 - Welcome to Beirut! The flight.
I traveled from a completely solo trip in Sri Lanka – where I took five days of surf camp from a bored French surfer and met some cool 20-somethings from the UK, Switzerland, and Germany – into Beirut, Lebanon to stay with Osama. There will be a story on the state which I arrived in Beirut, but first I want to tell the story of the flight. I flew to Dubai first, where during my short layover I got yelled at in Arabic in the women’s bathroom by a middle-aged woman who apparently did not understand why I would be putting on eye moisturizer with a half shaved head. If I understood her hand gestures and overly exaggerated facial expressions correctly, she couldn’t figure out how I could worry about what my face looked like when my head looked so terrible (I’m almost positive she was being facetious, but I can’t be 100% sure). Oh! And her friend was videotaping the entire exchange on her iPhone – the woman yelling in Arabic and me sleepily replying in English that I believed I could take moisturizing into account and also have a half-shaved head.
After I escaped from the bathroom, we all dutifully boarded our flight. I was really excited to see Osama and to go to Beirut, so initially, my enthusiasm distracted me from the changes in the casual interactions on this flight versus those interactions from my prior time traveling. I was coming off of ten days in Sri Lanka, where I exchanged shy smiles with almost every single person I made eye contact with. The first few times I tried this technique out of habit while waiting for the plane to Beirut I got blank stares from each of the very fashionable people I saw. The women were all done up – even if they were wearing exercise suits – and most of the men were wearing tight pants and tight button down shirts or polos.
Was I heading to Miami by mistake?
I was certainly not in Kandy anymore…
Besides the fanciness and lack of eye contact though, it seemed like it would be a regular flight. After we had all settled in, I started chatting with the man sitting next to me, who was an Iraqi doctor who split his time between Erbil and Beirut hospital. As we began moving, there was a disturbance at the back of the plane and the flight attendants ran back to a very slick looking young male passenger who was standing. His hair was greased back with a lot of product and he had an expensive-looking tracksuit and a big gold chain sitting on his bare chest. After a commotion – the passengers were commenting as well – I found out from my doctor-translator that two men (one of them the slick passenger) had gotten into a verbal altercation right as we were about to take off. They could not contain themselves from peacocking for the 15 minutes the plane needed to take off. They couldn’t wait until we were up in the air and one of them could get his seat changed, or I don’t know, maybe they could have avoided fighting the entire flight? It was unclear what the commotion was about, but there was a woman in the third seat of the row that knew the other, more preppy bro that had been fighting. The other passengers were getting involved now too, yelling out commentary and grumbling to themselves and the people around them about the ridiculousness of the situation. What was totally clear – because the flight attendant announced it over the loudspeaker – was that the captain had been notified and we were turning the plane back around to drop off the disorderly passengers. However, by the time we actually got back to the gate tensions had dissipated. Slick bro moved to another seat up front and the decision had been altered. No one was leaving the plane, we were going to turn around and head back out to take off.
We got back in line on the runway and finally, after about 45 extra minutes the engines started up again. As we start to pick up speed on the same runway for the second time that day, a lady towards the front of the plane decides she can wait for not one minute longer for her cell phone in her purse in the overhead compartment. So naturally, she stands up to get it. The flight attendant is yelling over the intercom for her to sit down – but she certainly couldn’t do that without her phone. She calmly (I would even say slowly) gets it, shuts that compartment and sits back down just as the wheels start to lift off. I had been at the edge of my seat this whole time. Being a rule-follower myself, I appeared to be significantly more nervous for this lady, than she was for herself. Once we were (barely) in the air, anarchy continued to reign as I adjusted to my new reality – authorities provide suggestions which are your choice to follow or not. A good example of a suggestion is a seatbelt sign. So many people stood up once the plane evened out a bit – the flight attendants who had been on the intercom the entire time to remind people to remain in their seats in three different languages just gave up. They stopped the demands to wait until the seatbelt sign was off to safely move about the cabin and just turned off the sign. It was like being at a social club.
So I adapted.
I drank coffee and chatted with my new doctor friend who developed a concern that Osama would not adequately host me – so he also offered for me to stay at his place and insisted I take his information. Meanwhile, people were milling around the aisles and generally making it close to impossible for the flight attendants to do their jobs. I was already digging the unexpectedness of this leg of the trip.
Beirut was about to steal my heart, despite how underdressed I was.