Sunday, May 15, 2011


I remember the night I landed at the Damman International Airport.  I had been traveling for 2 days, I was tired, anxious, nervous and in a bit of a fog.  The airport seemed huge and I remember walking a very long way from the gate to the terminal where I would go through immigration and customs.  What struck me the most about that walk was the absence of any little shops, kiosks, snack bars, newsstands or any sign that people actually fly in or out of the airport.  I thought it was odd but chalked it up to fatigue.
I went home last week for my stepson’s wedding.  I was told that no one really flies out of Damman after their initial arrival into Saudi.  So, on the advice of my fellow Aramcons, I made my reservation to fly out of Bahrain.  Of course I had no way of knowing at the time that Bahrain would undergo serious civil unrest about a month prior to me leaving and would be placed under martial law with a curfew.  Most international flights from Bahrain leave after midnight; the curfew was 9 pm.  The day before my flight I learned I would have to leave at 9 pm and go to Doha, Qatar to wait for my 1:40 am flight.
I arranged for a driver to take me to Bahrain and pick me up again when I returned.  He was a very nice Pakistani man that enjoyed a discussion about Osama bin Laden’s murder and the thoughts of the local Saudi’s and his fellow Pakistani’s that bin Laden was actually dead for years prior to this and they believe it is a political stunt for Barak Obama.  Upon arrival at the airport we unloaded the bag onto a trolley and all luggage and carry-ons were x-rayed at the door before entering the terminal.  The Bahrain airport is not so big but it is certainly busy and there was a sea of people from all over the world heading out into the night.  Once my bags were checked and I paid the requisite 2 dinar for my exit visa headed to the gate.  Since you are allowed to drink alcohol in Bahrain, finding food and drink was not a problem!  Sufficiently nourished I was ready to board the plane and approached the gate to find that security screened every carry-on by hand, unpacking every item for inspection.
The Doha airport was an absolute sea of people from every nation you can name.  The duty free shops were packed with people buying everything they could put their hands on.  The smell of body odor permeated the air and hung there like a cloud.  People were sleeping in chairs, surrounded by parcels, backpacks, and other items including their small children that climbed over and around like cats.  
I slept comfortably in my British Airways airbus all the way to London where I eagerly waited to see my oldest son and meet his girlfriend.  Heathrow was everything that Bahrain isn’t:  it’s big, busy, and fast!!!  I spent some time shopping in the duty free area, grabbed a cup of coffee and went to the gate.   I spotted my son in the security queue about 10 minutes after I passed and we enjoyed a long awaited embrace that I hoped would never end!  Our flight home was filled with laughter and food and movies and chat.  I was beginning to feel whole again!
The beach house was perfect and actually better than expected.  The pool area was pristine and the peaceful lull of the waterfall was perfect.  My husband, mom and youngest son arrived shortly after us and Saudi seemed like a distant memory.  The wedding was perfect, not a hitch with the weather, the guests, the food or anything else.  Kelly, the bride, was beautiful and Scoot, the groom seemed to being have the time of his life.  Everyone laughed and drank and hugged and breathed in every minute of happiness that permeated the air.  We spent the next several days swimming in the turquoise blue sea surrounded by manatees and dolphins, laying on the powder white sand and soaking in the warm sun hanging in a cloudless sky.  Georgiana, my best friend, flew in for a couple of days and we enjoyed the company of all the family and wedding guests.
The week was over in a blink and it was time to head back to work and my other life halfway around the globe.  Tamp International Airport has always been one of my favorite places to fly out of.  It has really nice shops and restaurants to occupy your time and it is so easy to navigate.  My family stood waving and shouting ‘I love you”s until I got on the shuttle that would take me to the gate.  It was very hard to leave that scene…I flew through security and boarded the plane for Chicago where I would fly to London and eventually back to Saudi Arabia.
If you fly as often as I have, you learn quickly that most everything about travel by air is totally out of your control.  There are ground stops, traffic delays, holding patterns and of course weather issues!  Lucky me, I got to experience all of these before I even landed in Chicago.   Thanks to all of these delays I missed my connection in London and was re-routed on Emirates Airlines through Dubai.  I always wanted to go to Dubai, unfortunately not on that day at that time and I was very upset at the thought of flying an Arab airline.  I wasn’t scared about the safety; I just simply wasn’t ready to face the men being separated from the women, and some of the other cultural customs that seem very different to me.  All in all the flight was very nice, extremely comfortable and the service was top notch. 
I arrived in Bahrain right on time and quickly cleared immigration.  At baggage claim I discovered one of my bags didn’t make it on the flight and after a long discussion with service agent I was told they could not deliver my bag to Saudi because there were still sanctions on the causeway so my only option was to have the bag flown to Damman International Airport for me to pick up.  Frustrated, I knew this meant an expensive taxi ride and the possibility of extra scrutiny of the contents in Damman.
Most of us use a local taxi service here because we can’t drive off the compound and the taxis you get in town are dirty, smelly and have drivers that are likely to kill you with their driving!!  My taxi picked me up at work and my driver was another lovely man, most likely from Pakistan.  He drove me to the airport and reassured me that he would come in with me. When I entered the Damman International Airport I was quickly reminded of the night I arrived three months ago.  The airport has an eerie feel about it.  It is mostly empty and even in the public areas outside of security there is no shopping and only a single coffee stand for people waiting to greet arriving passengers. When I approached to window to request my bag I was so rattled I couldn’t remember a word of Arabic, the heavy man sitting behind the glass looked at me with disgust, pounded the wall behind him and ordered me to take a seat.   Having a man accompany me meant I did not get much of a hassle and was almost a guarantee that the transaction would be smooth.  That turned out to be exactly the case and I quickly departed bags in hand. 
It’s amazing how three short months can make you appreciate your home land and your family so much.   Airports have shops and restaurants and bars; malls are like malls and you can even try on the clothes before you buy them; grocery stores have so many choices that I wanted one of everything and had to resist the urge to hoard what they had for fear I might not get it again for months!  On the other hand, when I got back to the Kingdom I was greeted by Val,  one of my new friends who asked me out for breakfast and my co-workers left a huge bouquet of flowers on my desk and welcoming hugs that said a genuine “we’re glad you’re back”.  I am ever reminded it is the Magic Kingdom.