I love surprises and surprised myself by booking an impromptu flight home to attend my son’s 30th birthday.
My taxi pulled up to Riyadh Airport right on 6.30pm and I noticed there were no porters ready to pounce on my suitcase.
Inside long queues snaked down to the x-ray machine but the conveyor belt was not moving. Further ahead I noticed there were no ground crew in the check out area. My plane was departing at 7.45 and I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry:
I was in the Iftar zone.
While hundreds of passengers milled around the airport, the staff were enjoying breaking their fast. I overheard that they would be returning at 7pm.
Hello? This is an international airport and my gate closes at 7.15. Does anybody care?
Lined up at the end of the queue (where one needs a pair of binoculars to see the x-ray machine) I thought to myself, these people don’t let anything get in their way, not even international carriers waiting for their passengers to board.
A family man next to me saw my mouth agape and thought I must be thirsty so he put a can of drink in my hand and offered me a date (no, not that kind of date). Normally I’d huff ‘n’ puff and ask, ‘who’s in charge around here but hey, this is Riyadh, shut up and eat your date, they’ll get to you in their time, don’t make waves.
At 6.55, I saw a Filipino with an I.D. badge walking hurriedly alongside my queue, his head bobbing up and down, looking for someone or something.
Our eyes met and he ran towards me. You are Mrs Wallace? Yes, I replied. Come with me. People murmured and shuffled as I took my place at the front of their queue. My back felt like it was being stabbed by a thousand indignant daggers as I was clearly being assisted by someone who doesn’t do Iftar. I handed over my travel documents and he zoomed off to process them.
Fortunately I was wearing my abaya without a head scarf which made it easier to identify me as an expat, otherwise I look like every one else here. My Greek features blend in well and I’ve also been mistaken for a Rajasthani and Spaniard. Unfortunately I’ve never been mistaken for Angelina Jolie or Raquel Welch.
By 7.10 my documents and I joined the immigration queue. This one I figured was about as long as the line for admission to the Louvre on a sunny Sunday, or Adventure Mountain at Disneyland. The Filipino had disappeared and no one came to my rescue. As the guard opened the entry leading to the exit booths, I forgot my manners and jumped the queue and got to the immigration officer in time for him to answer his mobile. 7.18 and chat chat chat, he was clearly in no hurry to get back to work. I closed my eyes and practised meditation until I heard him thumping my passport. Next stop was another security pass, one for my bag and the other a body search behind closed curtains.
As my hand bag bobbed to the end of the conveyor belt I entered the search cubicle where two women were chatting. I was close to boiling point. Asked to extend my hands out to the side I almost landed a punch to the face of one of them. Oh dear, so close and yet so far, I thought. Ana asfa! – I’m sorry! She was fully veiled so I couldn’t see her response but she waved me through with her beeping rod. Grabbing my bag I had about 60 seconds to walk the few metres left between Riyadh and the Rest of the World Out There. You know the way you walk when a teacher says, walk don’t run! That’s what I did, a rapid shuffle to Gate 15. As I successfully entered the tube towards my plane I flung off my abaya and skipped to the door where I was greeted by a Singapore girl.
I was Alice jumping through the Looking Glass and (on my way) home.
Oh, what a feeling!