So I’ve got this love-hate thing going with air travel. It gets me to exotic places fast and offers great people-watching opportunities but it also makes my head feel as if it’s going to blow up. Same goes for the ozone layer.
I’ll always approach the stranger next to me for a friendly chat if only to make the clumsy moment when you have to wake someone to go to the toilet just a little less awkward. Sometimes friendships form and I always learn something new.
On this nine-hour flight from Amsterdam to Seattle I sat next to a puffy older lady with hair like that of Red in Orange is the New Black. She just stared at me like an angry aunt as her body overflowed into my space so for the first time I thought I may have run into an impossible neighbor. One of those from bad comedy films or incomplete horror stories you heard from a friend who heard it from a friend whose cousin once…
She was dressed in her best clothes for the plane ride, like all of us once used to do. Everything is alien and confusing. She can’t figure out the toilet doors or tray table and she leans over to look at the pictures in the magazine I’m reading even though she has the same one in her seat pocket.
As I see her change the language on her screen to something exotic-looking, I knew she didn’t speak English. We ended up talking with our hands and feet, a language I’d become quite proficient in over the years of travel. Her oldest daughter designs jewelry for JC Penny (she is so proud!) and just had her first son. He’s called Adam, after my now overly excited neighbor’s father. The child is fat and strong and the woman from Belarus expresses her sheer joy by clenching her fists and squeezing her eyes shut. Strength and girth are still honorable qualities in Eastern Europe.
Drinks come along and we toast to her newest grandchild. “Nazdarovye!” She downs the red wine in three gulps. While I’m still sipping on my glass of white, trying to watch a movie, she pokes me every time the cart comes by again “Retwine. Sank you.” and is ready for the next cheer. Sleeping on a plane is hard to begin with, and I guess having an intercultural experience is better than napping, but I would like to relax a bit and avoid becoming the subject of wrath to the rest of the passengers.
I help fill out her immigration papers and tell her which line to take at the airport. She falls asleep for a little while, lurching dangerously toward my left shoulder, which I try to protect from Belarusian drool spots.
She may have kept me from sleeping, used my shoulder for a pillow, drank too much and smelled pretty badly of urine, but at least she cares about family and prefers to have a drink with a fellow human over any other form of entertainment!