Last night I spent a couple of hours at the International Airport. I was waiting for someone who had booked on a JetStar flight from New Zealand. According to the web, their flight was a couple of hours late, at 7.20, and also cancelled. When I phoned JetStar in the afternoon, the person I spoke to said that meant it was arriving at 7.20. Once I arrived at the airport it was clear that it was actually cancelled, but since I hadn’t heard from my friends since the morning it was likely that they had been bumped onto the next available Qantas flight, a surmise with which the Travel Concierge agreed. Customs couldn’t help – the rules are that information about passenger lists can be revealed only three hours after a plane arrives. Thanks for that, regulators! I went looking for someone from JetStar, but their second-floor office was closed and their first-floor check-in desks deserted. I was collecting my email regularly on my phone, and my stranded friends finally managed to get word to me that they weren’t flying out until very early this morning, hoping fervently that they’d make their connecting flight to the US.
But stories about JetStar stuff-ups are commonplace, and that’s not what I wanted to write about. (My friends are now flying across the Pacific.)
An Emirates flight arrived during my vigil, and the waiting area was filled with Middle Easterners – plenty of women in hijabs and one in a niqab, a pleasant music of spoken Arabic, much familial kissing. When I was wandering aout the near-deserted third level, no doubt with a lost and confused look on my face, three young men came bounding up the stairs. One of them accosted me, speaking in rapid, excited Arabic, gesturing for me to join them. ‘I don’t speak Arabic,’ I said. He replied with more incomprehensible syllables, but this time made a fleeting gesture, not so much miming for my information as involuntarily illustrating his meaning – a slight bow of the head and two hands patting the air in front of his torso. ‘Ah, you’re going to pray,’ I said. He had no idea what I was talking about, and rushed off with his friends on their urgent quest.
I went back to the wall map I had been consulting, this time looking for any information about a prayer room. Sure enough, there was a little icon in the legend at the bottom showing a kneeling figure. I called them back and all four of us searched for the icon on the map itself. We found toilets, lifts, a first aid room, maybe a fire extinguisher, but no prayer room. We parted company, me heading back to the arrival gates, them about to settle, I expect, for a deserted patch of corridor where they could face in the correct direction and not be disturbed.
It was a surprisingly sweet encounter. Maybe the most sweetly surprising part was having someone assume I was Muslim, and probably, pink though I am, an Arab. It must be the famous Shaw nose.