NORMAN — Editor’s note: Transcript senior staff writer Joy Hampton is traveling with a U.S. State Department-sponsored group to Bangladesh. Journalists from Bangladesh visited Oklahoma in 2013.
ABU DHABI — Now I can say I was in Arabia … or some part of it at least. I am sitting in the Abu Dhabi airport, people-watching. It’s a very multicultural place, this airport. I can literally recognize people from just about every nationality. We have a two-hour layover. We expected four hours but our flight was delayed out of Chicago. They had to de-ice the plane — always a good thing to do before crossing an ocean.
Flying through the darkness over the Atlantic I was stunned by the mass of humanity in the jumbo jet that carried us. We had boarded a small jet operated by American Airlines in Oklahoma City, leaving Will Rogers World Airport sometime after 3 p.m. on Monday. It will take us two calendar days to arrive at our final destination in Dhaka, Bangladesh. There are 10 in our total group, I believe. Six of us are traveling together.
In Chicago at O’Hare airport, we boarded a Boeing 777 jet operated by Etihad Airways. The nearly 14-hour flight felt like a lifetime, but there were loads of great movies to watch and a very nice vegetarian meal.
So many people were crammed into that jet. It seemed that our lives were tenuously hanging there in the air as we flew 7,261 miles from Chicago to the capital of the Arab Emirates. Many of the people were from India and, like my group, Abu Dhabi is but a stop on their way to a final destination. Everyone on the plane was affable and mostly small compared to my 5-foot, 10-inch height — a towering Western giant.
I was stunned at the number of children on the flight.
Here in the Abu Dhabi airport, I cannot say that I’m getting a taste of true Arabic culture, but there are hints that started in the plane like the many language translations available for the flight and a choice between Arabic or English. The stewardesses wore hats with a piece of veil along the face or scarves round their necks. The uniforms are very stylish and elegant and not at all like the burkhas we visualize all Arabic women in back home, though I did see one example of those dark dresses in the airport.
The directional signs at the Abu Dhabi airport are in Arabic and English, but many other signs are in English alone. The English-only signs are mostly things for sale or businesses. A charming kiosk sells stuffed camels.
Many men are in white prayer caps and others wear what we Americans rather ignorantly call turbans, and some men wear long flowing robes. Many of the women have scarves of some type over their heads. But there are many more people in Western dress, even in this Arabic airport.
Those women in headdresses wear many colors of scarves. Some are young in Western clothing except for the headscarves. Others wear colorful traditional garb.
The interior design of the airport is lovely. It is shiny, new and beautiful with geometric designs and tiled décor, all hinting at Arabic culture. It is a new, visitor-friendly face, not the scary face of terrorism I am accustomed to seeing back home on the nightly news.
The smokers huddle in a tiny room with glass walls. There are so many of them inside, I wonder if they need to light a cigarette or simply to breathe the second-hand smoke, but it must be well-ventilated because there’s not a hint of tobacco smell in the common area.
There are special lounges available, some for smokers and others with showers, bars, comfy furniture and other amenities. Of course, those lounges cost money. Many travelers book a lounge visit ahead to get a discount. It’s a quiet place to rest and restore during a long leg of the journey. Some of my fellow travelers are recuperating from our long flight in a lounge, but I wanted to be here, in the common area where the people are.
I wanted to watch the multitude of cultures passing by, to see the shy smiles of the women, the curious stares of the men, and the mostly sleep-worn gazes of my fellow travelers on planet Earth.
Sitting here, watching and writing, I realize I need to get out of Oklahoma more often, need to travel to appreciate both others and home.
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