March 22, 2006

Airport memories

This is my hometown airport. The first time I ever came here to get on an airplane was 1981. Twenty years old, I was going to London for the semester. It would be my first plane ride, my first time to Europe, my first time living away from home for four whole months. I was the same age as Princess Diana, and she had just gotten married. I can remember thinking what different lives we led: I was heading to London to be independent, to learn all kinds of new things, to travel, to have rooms opening in all parts of my life. My life was expanding while hers was shutting down as she tried to wedge herself into the narrow role of princess, her life controlled in so many ways by her husband’s family. I felt sorry for her, the beautiful princess with the sadness in her eyes.

The semester in London was wonderful in every way: I saw over thirty plays in the London theatre district, I traveled to Paris, I hung out in pubs with British neighbors, and I walked all over the historic parts of the city. My building was filled with families from Saudi Arabia, business men who treated me like I was invisible and quiet veiled women who acted invisible. I made friends with the crowds of giggling children who roamed the halls, talking in Arabic. The Saudi women and children, none of whom spoke English, adopted me, inviting me into their flats to dance and talk in gestures and eat delicious spicy food. Inside their own rooms, with their veils off and no men around, the women were lively and fun, warm and friendly. To this day, when I overhear someone say something in that harsh, guttural language, the Arabic words bring back warm memories of my semester in London.

4 comments:

Leslee said...

Jo(e) I want to be you when I grow up.

Masterfraud said...

I love this post. However, in defense of Arabic, I tend to think it only sounds harsh and gutteral when I am mangling it! The Lebanese and Palestinians have a gorgeous lilting dialect, though I have heard what you said about Saudi speakers! Sigh. I can't wait to go back; your post makes me nostalgiac...

zelda1 said...

My friends are from Arab countries and they look so serious and sad out in public all covered up, but one day, we all met for a study session, and there were no men, and they took off their mounds and mounds of veils and it surprised me to see their beautiful hair and how it fit their faces. They, too, were lively and wanted to dance and sing and play. When I see them at school, they smile and have a twinkle in their eye, like we share a secret. To be equal, an Arab man has been in some of my classes and he and I are quite friendly too. He tried to treat me like I was invisible but that was way too hard to do. So now he searches me out and asks my opinion. He said that I should have been born a man, I said why, he said, because I am so bold. I said lots of American women are bold, he said but you are bold with class. I laugh. He is still a sexist pig but he and I are friends and he has come a long way.

zelda1 said...

By the way, I, too, love your post. It is one of the first ones that I read. I have four that are first on my agenda and while all four are as different as day is to dark, you are all still my heroes and by the way, all but one are women.