There I was: waiting for boarding time while reading an issue from Chasseur D’Images, a French photography magazine. It wasn’t too long before a man sitting next to me engaged conversation: “Are you a make up artist?”
The page I was reading was about beauty and fashion photography, so, obviously it caught his eye. “No, but I’m interested in photography”, I replied. Next thing you know, he’s a jewelry designer who traveled a lot. “Are you going on vacation?”, I asked. “Yes, I am! To Fuket island. Do you know Fuket island?”. Well, I knew Phuket. Could it be that’s what he meant? (Why do we, Lebanese, need to be so original?) As he was tailing his adventures in Brasil, I went on asking him what place was the best so far. “Tripoli! Tripoli is the best place to be! I’m a like a fish out of the water when away from Tripoli. I’m from Tripoli by the way.” That’s cute, I thought. So many aspired to leave the country while this man feels there is no place like home. I wish there were more people like that.
On Qatar airline’s plane, I sat next to the window, a man sat on the end of the row leaving the middle seat empty. “Hello! Where are you from?” he asked with a smile. With my own big smile I replied with pride: “Lebanon! I’m Lebanese!”. He thought I was German. “You’re not the first one to get lost”, I reassured him. And the investigation went on about my destination, my reasons for traveling, what I did in life. This man turned to be a shoe retailer on his way to China for business. A few hours later, a complaint was raised by the man sitting behind me. We were arriving to destination and he was insisting on getting something alcoholic to drink. He made it clear that it wasn’t the first time he few this airline yet it was the first time that a drink was refused to him. The hostess had to explain the regulations and that there was nothing she could do at this time. “The bar has to be closed 30 minutes before arriving to Qatar. It’s an Islamic country with strict regulations concerning alcohol. But you may file a complaint, if you wish”… which he did. “I feel really sorry for the hostesses, said the man next to me, You have no idea about the amount of crap they have to put up with during long flights.”
Unfortunately for me, the food served on the plane was spicy. Why didn’t the agency ask me if I had food preferences? A question to be asked on the way back, that’s for sure.
The small positive encounters make time go faster. Two hours and a half later I met with the soon-to-be-old airport as a new one was under construction. Good thing the experience was going to temporary. The plane to New Delhi was huge and full. I got seated in a place I did not like. (Why didn’t the agency ask me if I had a seating preference again?) This flight was long and difficult for me. Turbulences were announced and more spicy food! On this flight, though the treatment was even friendlier. A staff member ensured I get something to eat. “It’s a long flight. It’s better if you ate something.” Suddenly, some men stood up and started praying next to the exit door. The multitude of cultures one could meet on a plain is fantastic.
I did not sleep much. When we arrived and stood up to leave the aircraft. The man who was sitting next to me and who happened to be a Sikh asked me what business I had in India and where I came from. “I’m from Lebanon and I came to attend a friend’s wedding.” He looked at me for minute and said: “He must be a very special friend for you to fly all this way.”
Indeed he was, we had met at university in Nice, France back in 2005. I didn’t see him since but we kept contact. Now that I think of it, this was a memorable trip. I made friends from all around the world and I’m still in contact with many of them. Enriching at all levels, to say the least.
My Indian friend picked me up at the airport. I went to the wrong side of the car. “We drive on the other way”, he reminded me. I laughed. It was so good to see him after all this time! At home, he introduced me to the family and showed the room I going to occupy. “Feel at home”, everyone said. I was offered chocolates as a welcome gift.
I was a bit shy and intimidated at first, ignorant of their customs ans manners, I was afraid to do or something wrong that might upset someone. I was given to eat and drink. I rested a bit before a driver came to pick me up and show me around a bit. We toured the main government buildings, pass next to many temples and churches and drove around. Noted the 3 -wheeled taxis, the overcharged bicycles, the motorcycle drivers wearing helmets, (Unlike Lebanon…), the life! It was hotter than I expected, I felt like my jeans were melting. 3 hours later I asked to be dropped back home. I was really tired and sleepy, the weather was not helping either. I had a snack and went to sleep. 3 hours of good sleep before 7 pm. My friend woke me up. “Get ready, we are going to attend 2 of my friends’ weddings. They are both getting married on the same day and both would be upset if I don’t show up.”
For the first wedding, we went to the groom’s house. It was decorated and there was a tent outside. Live music was playing. A ceremony was taking place indoors. I was invited to get in. Welcomed with smiles, I needed a moment to adapt. My eyes were bombarded with colors, such a pleasant sight. Later, the sister of the groom shows up. She takes me by the hand, and gives me money. “Make a circle above the head of the groom and give it to the priest”, explained his brother who was standing close. It was to wish him luck and prosperity. I then had to bow to get the priest’s blessing. A sort of red powder and rice on it went to my forehead. This, for me, was surreal! My friend took a few minutes to explain the proceedings of the ceremony. “He will visit the temple after that to pray and continue to the venue”. Soon, there were too many people top fit in the room. I had to go out for some air. A white decorated horse was there. A female white horse that would take the groom to the temple and to the venue.
“Now, it’s time go to the second wedding!”, said my friend as he was rushing in the car. Traffic was terrible! “There is around 20,000 weddings today. The bad season ended. An astrological thing.” he said with a smile. For the second wedding, we arrived to the venue. A HUUUUUGGGGGEEEEE set! People everywhere! Music and so much food! And I thought Lebanese weddings were lavish! Ha! In my face!
Finding something not spicy to eat was difficult. Good thing there was bread and fruits! But I had my share of spice while tasting things that were said not to be spicy. Fortunately for me, also, the family I was staying with did not cook spicy meals.
India was going to be exciting and that was only the start!