Friday, June 20, 2008

Don't Give 'Em An Inch!

Writing on a concrete blast wall with plastic flowers in the foreground.

We dropped some of the media guys off at the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) yesterday morning. As is normal with the airport there was a long line of people waiting to be screened by security just to get into the terminal building.

As we’re wrestling with the vast amount of bags that the media habitually travel with, loading them up onto the handcarts that are available, the line continues to grow behind us. In front of us are almost one hundred people destine to wait for an hour before they can get screened, and to our rear is a middle-aged lady with a handcart stacked with luggage. She pushes the cart right into the ankles of the westerner in front of her; hard and deliberate, as if she were trying to push her way through him.

I’ve seen this happen before in other Arab airports and just wrote it off to a mistake or not paying attention. That’s not the case, she did it again, this time harder, and I reached out and grabbed her cart and yanked it back towards her. The look she gave me was priceless, as if I had somehow committed some grievous sin against humanity.

Politeness and courtesy are seen as a weakness in the Arab culture, even among women and especially if there’s a westerner involved. For her to stand and wait for us to load our handcart was weakness to her, and she was having none of it. The same attitude manifests itself with drivers and pedestrians on the street as well. No one will yield an inch and you are forced to fight your way through lines and traffic jams to make any progress.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life assimilating into other cultures, and have made it a point to study them and achieve a better understanding. The Arab culture remains a complete enigma to me, and I don’t think that I will ever even begin to comprehend it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sounds far worse than when I last went through London's Heathrow airport (some 20 years ago). The 2 hour line to get to the customs check in to get in line to get luggage to get in line to have baggage inspected to get in line for a bus to the hotel. It took something like 3-4 hours to get out of the airport. Granted it was the height of vacation season and Heathrow is HUGE!!
At least I didn't have to worry about snipers, bombers, artillery, mortars or 130 degree temperatures. There was a bit of bumping and pushing and ill tempers.