Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 20, 2012

My eagerness to leave for my new post kept me up most of the night as I tried to imagine what the new city would be like, what kind of a reception my colleagues would offer me and how the search for a new place to live would go this time. I had been up until two o’clock in the morning arranging and rearranging my three suitcases to make sure the two I would be checking in would not exceed the 50 pound limit imposed by United Airlines.  At five, I got out of bed and started making enough coffee for me and my mother, who insisted on getting up earlier than usual to send me off, and to take some with me to the airport.

James, my brother-in-law, showed up an hour later in his usual cheerful mood,  and we left for Palm Beach. I was hoping to catch a view of the sunrise on our way there, but the sky remained inky black the whole time. I had a feeling of déjà vu during the check-in process as the airline employee had never heard of Bishkek or Kyrgyzstan for that matter and had to confer with another employee before issuing me a boarding pass. Since my flight didn’t leave until seven hours later, he refused to check in my bags as the company’s regulations stipulate that they can only be checked in four hours prior to the flight. I was forced to sit in the desolate alcove facing the check-in counters for another three and half hours without even having the benefit of the Wi-Fi service available in the rest of the airport.

My flight departed on time, but I was disappointed to find no Wi-Fi access at the Newark airport whatsoever. It was difficult to even find an outlet to charge my laptop as most of them were torn from the walls. It was another letdown to learn that I’d flying with United again to Istanbul as I had been under the impression that Turkish Airlines would be doing that leg of the trip. It was certainly a downgrade from the experience of flying in Lufthansa from Newark to Frankfurt, Germany last year where we were served fish for dinner and even wine for free. Since my ticket had been purchased at the last minute, all my seat assignments were located on the aisle. I felt sorry for the lanky guy sitting by the window trying to wrap his long legs around the narrow and short seat assigned to him. I looked around to see if there were any window seats available, but the flight attendant discouraged me from switching seats as they still had lots passengers arriving late. Needless to say, it was one of the most uncomfortable flights I’d ever taken: hard seat, tasteless food and impersonal service from the harried flight attendants.

Arriving in Istanbul at 12:00pm their time, 5:00am by my clock, proved daunting as it was the usual beehive of passengers from all over the world who needed to squeeze past each other to get to the duty free shops, cafes and restaurants available. Contrary to last year, not even Starbucks was offering free Wi-Fi access, something I discovered too late after having spent $6.00 on a latte. I dragged myself through the crowd and headed to the food court where I had been able to connect last year only to be informed that Internet access was being sold for $15.00 a day, which I could have entertained paying if only the company selling it had offered tables and chairs for me to sit and work from.

Dejected, I slumped into an empty seat in one of the benches lining the corridor and caught a few winks despite the thumping music coming from the duty free store, the conversations going on around me and my need to stay alert to watch my belongings. Hunger woke me up and I had to join the procession of travelers heading to the food court where I ordered a bowl of lentil soup and a roll from a Turkish restaurant. After another nap, it was time to head to my gate and the desultory manner in which Turkish employees sit at their desk perusing the screen of their cell phones while ignoring the cue of passengers eagerly waiting to board their plane. I looked around and noticed that most of my fellow passengers appeared to be Westerners with just a smattering of Asian people, with none of the women wearing a traditional dress.

We rode the bus to where the plane sat and after about an hour food service started. At this point I was ravenously hungry and was disappointed to be offer the “chicken or pasta” choice knowing that without some protein in the dish, I’d be just as hungry a  couple of hours later. 

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