I Survived An Airborne Hajj Trip
How my rewarding career as Gulf Air cabin crew toughened me up for life!
The air was pungent with the stench of body odor, the shrill whistles grew louder and a half eaten piece of bread landed on my shoulder. I felt claustrophobic, like I was about to faint but I managed to stay upright. The men had long, unkempt beards, were swathed in toweling robes and sandals. Unfortunately for me and the rest of the crew on board, they had abstained from personal hygiene!
I was only two months into my new career as Gulf Air cabin crew based in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. This flight was not exactly the glamorous life I had imagined prior to receiving my wings — it was a complete culture shock! I had always dreamt about travelling to the Middle East and Southeast Asia to immerse myself in the local culture, sample exotic cuisine and indulge my passion for photography. I figured the best way to make this happen was to choose a career as cabin crew with an international airline. I was finally living the dream and earning money at the same time!
As I waited to greet my passengers during boarding, I noticed something very strange, they were all male and wearing what looked like togas made from white towels. I thought to myself that these must be actors in costume on their way to perform in some Greek tragedy! The reality was that they were on a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Keeping these passengers fed and watered was going to be a challenge!
The Hajj pilgrimage is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city. It is a mandatory religious duty that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime by all adult Muslims. The word Hajj means ‘to intend a journey’, which connotes both the outward act of a journey and inward act of intentions. For Muslims, performing the Hajj ritual is an act of self renewal.
Once we were airborne, the crew and I commenced the meal service. As I pushed the dinner trolley up the aisle I felt a hand on my backside! I swiftly turned around to see who the culprit was but spotted two Arab men sitting in their seats with lascivious grins on their faces. I kept going and when I reached the top of the aisle, I started handing out the meals. I had a box of warm bread rolls on top of the trolley but the men did not wait for it to be offered, they just grabbed it off the trolley! One of them took a bite and threw the half eaten bread roll back into the box (is this how they behave at home?!) Several of the men were whistling at me and putting a thumb to their mouth in a gesture signalling they wanted water. I thought to myself, “feeding time at the zoo would be more civilized!”
When we landed in Jeddah and the passengers disembarked, I felt a huge sense of relief. One of my fellow cabin crew was so upset over the whole ordeal, she was in tears. The Senior Flight Stewardess came over to comfort her and said, “Darling, you just have to take the rough with the smooth!”
I will never forget her words. It was a tremendously valuable learning experience and made me appreciate the ‘good’ flights. Prior to that I thought that forcing myself to stay awake on an 11 hour flight to Manila was exhausting! If you can survive a Hajj trip, you can survive anything!