By Kamil Chima
I am the son to a father who has never questioned expenses made on books and for travel. What’s more so, if I have been in Pakistan for more than a few months at a stretch I am urged by him to pack a bag and leave. This pleasure is mixed because though one always gains from travel, the net result is that I am left with very little to save after all is said and done. Maybe I’ll bill him one day for instilling in me this most costly of attitudes, if the going gets really tough.
Assuredly on every journey there is that is gained – weight, tan and thought – and equally as much is lost – money, care and inhibition. But there is a start and an end to every trip too, and it is in these moments of change and upheaval that I will focus my energies.
No matter how often or how much I travel I cannot escape the jitters that come along the moment I step through the boarding gate. The thing that always hits me is English. Not the speaking of it, but the manner of the speaking of it.
It starts in the plane-ride over when I am at my meekest. After even a short stint in Pakistan my English turns pidgin. Urdu and Punjabi will have meshed their way in. And so whenever the airhostess asks for drinks, I let out a near inaudible and safe ‘water, please’. It takes at least the duration of a trans-continental flight to regain cruise-control confidence in my words.
The English problem takes on a unique avatar after I’ve landed. I attended college in America, and am embarrassed to admit this but during my four years there I picked up an American accent. I have since shed this and speak once more in the Anglo-Indian accent I grew up with.
Whenever I meet college friends I can see the confusion on their faces, because I’m all over the place switching from one accent to the other. It’s strange for me too because I feel while recounting old stories that they were penned by a different me. Just as they are leaving they always turn back and add a ‘hmmm, I wonder what’s changed about you?’ I’m sure they all have an ‘Aha’ moment on the cab-ride after.
One very quickly settles into the rhythms of life, be it here, there or anywhere. Such is the forgetfulness of humans. So by the time I start packing for my return flight to Pakistan I am usually just a day away from asking for ‘Waahter’ to quench my thirst, and abandoning the Queen’s.
I have always enjoyed the trip back, and have found my time abroad to have always been one day too long. The sonorous sound of Punjabi from the aisle over, the incredulous South-Indian films being watched by sallow brown men escaping the clutches of Middle-Eastern governments, and the all-too-desi in-flight menu are all indicators that the next stop is home.
Home has its way of welcoming you. We’ve all seen the chaos at the baggage claim and the unnecessary x-ray machine every bag has to fight to get through on the way out. We know the smell of rose petals mixed with sweat and smoke when we step out to try and find family. But there is another thing that has been a feature of the return leg of most every journey I have made.
Due to fog in the winters, monsoons in the summers, and a miscellaneous, random and bizarre variety of reasons for the rest of the year your flight is delayed. You are stuck in limbo in of the many plastic paradises that dot the deserts on the coast of the Arabian Gulf.
Once while I was travelling I suffered a 13-hour delay in Muscat. I must have been the only person at the airport and so found a corner in the airport near my gate and decided to lie down horizontally. With a couple of hours to go to the flight, I woke up hungry so decided to get some food.
I was gone not longer than 20 minutes but by the time I returned the lounge was brimming with people. Mostly deportees from a certain oil-rich kingdom, based on the immigration line they were made to stand in Pakistan. I looked and I looked but couldn’t find a single chair to sit for myself. Finally, I saw one. Stepping over luggage and sleeping children I hopped into the only empty chair in the lounge.
What’s more there was a bag underneath so I decided to rest my feet on it. After a minute I felt my legs move all of a sudden. My eyes looked to the roof first fearing an earthquake. It was the alarmed sounds of my fellow passengers that alerted me to what was going on below. I looked down to see that I had rested my feet, not on a piece of luggage, but on an old woman sleeping there. Though I apologised instantly and profusely I probably made things worse by saying ‘sorry aunty I thought you were a bag’.
What followed was 20 minutes that moved like molasses before they announced the flight and put me out of my misery. Never again have I been as excited to go back home.
By Fatima Zahid Ali
I like to consider myself as a worldly, cultured individual who loves new adventures, explores the unknown and does ‘cool’ things.
An utter lie.
Thanks to my debilitating anxiety about the many aspects of travelling, I can never reach the cool quotient that I badly desire.
However, I will say that I’ve never given my anxiety the pleasure of putting a damper on my travel plans or rob me from an otherwise gratifying experience. But the travel heebie-jeebies will always find their way, creeping up on me through every step of the way. With me, it’s never the big stuff like a long-haul plane journey, suffering severe turbulence, or travelling by yourself. Mostly it’s the little things, often of an imaginary and ridiculous nature.
Nothing makes me feel like less of an adult than navigating the unfamiliar terrains of the internet to book a ticket that won’t cost me an arm and a leg. This process often sends me into a private investigator mode, where I think I can ‘beat the system’ by comparing the best prices and making extensive to-do lists.
This only results in paranoia in front of my travel agent where I show him a screenshot on my phone of a ‘ticket’ from weeks ago and bravely announce, “I would like for you to book THIS ticket/hotel for me. I have done my research!”
And since we are down this rabbit hole, there is no shame in admitting that on the day that I’m supposed to fly, I relentlessly bug the travel agent to swear on the old gods and the new that the flights timings are indeed what it says on the ticket.
Now to my least favourite thing — packing. Despite the fact that I will over-pack every single time, like clockwork, I assure you that I will forget something extremely important. Like I forgot to pack warm jackets for a recent trip to an extremely cold climate, but I’d be damned if I forgot all my makeup, 16 tops and matching shoes — because ‘you never know’ when I might need them!
So I battle my neuroses for days and my room resembles a warzone, leading me to stress-eat because I can’t fit 60kg worth of unnecessary stuff in one suitcase. I envy people who can travel light or just with a mere backpack.
It gets even worse when you’re travelling back home and decided to splurge a little because you thought you needed to ‘treat yourself’. Big mistake. As someone who is known to agonise over the fact that she will lose all her luggage upon arrival, I shouldn’t be allowed to shop and invite more stress into my life.
Baggage claims are no funhouse either for anxious travellers because the record shows that my sad suitcases will always be the last ones to arrive. And at that point it doesn’t even matter — I have already concocted a sob story in my head where someone has conspired against me, stolen all my shopping and left me to deal with the aftermath of sending angry/emotional complaints to the airline.
Meanwhile I will brood over the days leading to my travel plans that I will forget my passport, the ticket “won’t work” (whatever that means) and all my plans will fall apart. My constant dread that I will get blindsided by an unforeseen event is too real. Will some random luggage drop from the overhead bin and decapitate me? Am I going to be seated next to a
crying baby on a 14-hour journey?
On a recent flight from Istanbul to Toronto, I somehow convinced myself that sleep-deprivation will lead me into leaving my carry-on and handbag on the plane. This obviously meant that I made a little cautionary mental note every 20 minutes, and, of course, I didn’t get any sleep. Never a pretty sight when an anxious traveller turns into a grumpy traveller!
A close friend of mine had the displeasure of experiencing this high-strung traveller that lies within me as I checked my boarding pass for the umpteenth time because in my head if you don’t physically touch it every 10 minutes, it will vanish into thin air. I also tried to convince her that one has to be super-efficient and queue up for boarding the plane way before your group number is called out. Being a frequent traveller herself, she shut down all my irrational fears and declared me a borderline crazy.
By Mahvish Abbas
Planning a trip has at once been the most fun and nerve wracking task for me. The paperwork, which although is easier now because of the availability of information online, still takes a toll on your sanity. Packing is yet another battle when I’m travelling with family. By family I mean my husband, and our hyperactive toddler.
Recently, assuming a stopover in Dubai ahead of our Umra trip would be refreshing for us, I started packing a month before departure.
The flight was at 6am and I could get only 20 minutes of sleep before going as I had to clean the house. While going through the ordeal of immigration, customs and baggage clearance at the airport, I almost choked on my anxieties.
“Oh Lord! I left the stove on! I’m so sure I did. Is the house going to burn down? Let me think…..”
I have learnt to be clever about it though. “Honey, did you by any chance stop by the kitchen for a glass of water before leaving?” I asked my husband casually. And just then I recalled that he never gets up to get water himself. I dared not say we had to turn back to check.
Similar thoughts started to haunt me, but after a point I boarded the plane hoping for the best.
My husband always carries all travel documents (original and several copies of them) and spares us both the headache of not misplacing them. I still check from time to time that he is holding onto them.
Fasten seatbelts, tell our toddler to behave, click the first travel photograph and finally we can gaze peacefully out of the tiny airplane window. After a few minutes, my thoughts wander back. Did I really turn off that stove?
Getting off the plane is what I perceive to be one of the greatest challenges. It gives me jitters! The best thing would be to wait for all the passengers to get off so you can peacefully collect your stuff scattered around your seats. Travelling with a toddler makes this more difficult. You don’t take a trip, you just resume responsibilities in a different place.
When finally you manage to get off the plane, you bump into long queues in immigration and baggage clearance. You impatiently try to figure out which suitcase is yours from a pool of identical suitcases. What if it never comes through? What if someone else already took it?
If you’re lucky, your baggage arrives soon and you immediately leave the airport.
In Dubai for instance, my son’s stroller went missing. After an hour of complaints we realised it had fallen off the belt on the opposite side of our terminal. Collecting all our belongings, we finally reached the place where we were supposed to stay at. But, the real struggle began when our son fell ill within few hours of the arrival and we had to rush to hospitals and pharmacies.
As for the remaining part of the trip or the real part of the trip, we did spend it having fun. And like most families, we spent a considerable part of it arguing due to stress of travel and swearing never to travel together again.
And just as we were heading back, we realised that despite the madness, it was enjoyable. Until we were reminded that the same ordeal had to be repeated on our way back…….Here we go all over again.
By Sanaa Ahmed Khan
It is 2014 and the five of us are six hours away from our flight to the US. From my mother’s disappointment at our incompetence at packing to my sister’s façade of serenity, my brother’s anxiety and my father’s silently waning patience, our house feels a bit like a wrestling arena. And here I am, sitting in the middle and panicking about all the unnecessary lights, fans and taps that no one else seems to care about.
The night before our flight, my bags undergo my mother’s version of a surgery. I am not ashamed to admit that I was dumbfounded by my own incompetence. What was I thinking putting in bottles of shampoo and lotion without sealing them with electric tape? And why would I carry four pairs of coloured heels instead of just one in gold?
As though my own jitters are not enough, my sister serenely asks me, “Have you seen my passport?” I am in shock. “Don’t move a muscle”, her face tells me. I just answer her with a ‘no’ and watch her return up the stairs to continue looking for the elusive booklet.
Just as expected, the calmness she exuded in our living room evaporates like dry ice in her room. Engulfed in a near-hysterical frenzy she has turned every object inside out in her quest for the elusive booklet. Stealthily we sneak up on the pile of passports lying in front of our father. Right there, fourth from the top is our ‘lost’ treasure. I will never let her hear the end of this.
I take a breath of relief and prepare to relax on our way to the airport. But with nothing left to do, I am hit by an onslaught of disturbing thoughts. Did everyone turn the fans off? What about the bathroom lights? The sarkaari paani ka nalka? And did anyone even take a look at the terrace to unclog the drains? All I can do now is bite my nails and pray till I am blue in the face that we didn’t leave anything on, running or open.
Knowing all of us I anticipate the little crises we will all have to face over our month away. For some of us we will not have enough photographs, for others there will be too many. No one will ever have enough sunscreen or money. My mother will take her heavily-laden shopping trolley to the checkout counter and my sister will reduce its contents by half before she gets her turn. My siblings will never be happy about my significantly slower pace and I will get upset at them for leaving me behind.
And all the while I will worry about the taps and lights and fans back home.
My daydream comes to a stop when we start getting our seats confirmed, and there is a special surprise for me. Because we are flight crew family, our seats are subject to availability. Well, there is no seat available for yours truly. I have been off-loaded. Which basically means I turn around, and go back home.
At least I can take care of the taps and lights and fans.