I left my home country thinking “Whoever leaves last shall slam the door behind him”. I couldn’t care less whether I was headed to New York, Tokyo or Alaska. Both a runaway and a breakthrough the job I was now to pursue was relocating me in Dubai. The name of the emirate only echoes glamour and high-class lifestyle. I never imagined and I never hoped to work as a flight attendant. But life had other plans for the following three years.
Living in Dubai turned out to be a challenge because of the high temperatures the desert had to offer. The winter, or whatever they call that cold season from November to February never lowered under 20 degrees C and it was the only time of the year when you could have spent your whole day outdoors. The rest of the year everybody was an AC addict. Another test was Ramadan, the month of fasting. For the non Muslims living in Dubai the rules were very clear: no drinking eating singing or dancing in public. Wearing short skirts or pants or indecent cleavages as well as any public display of affection could draw serious legal repercussions all year round but especially within the month of Ramadan. Regardless of the religion you follow you had to respect the fact that you are now resident of a Muslim territory. Only natural, nonetheless.
I found myself wearing my impeccable uniform, discovering places I never imagined I would, turning heads in airports across the world, being photographed admired and above all- envied. My salary was now 7 times bigger than the one I had back home, I was accommodated in 5 stars hotels, to cut it short — I was paid to travel, as simple as that. And paid big.
I learned to work with different colleagues every flight, to live side by side with more than 100 nationalities, (I do admit 2 or 3 nationalities really tested my nerves) to manage serious medical cases, to save lives in catastrophic situations, to smile no matter what, to sleep without being tired, to eat without being hungry, to pack a suitcase at the speed of light. Today I can still put my red lipstick on perfectly even when on a bumpy taxi ride. Thousands of pictures from every continent stand as testimony of a wonderful job and lifestyle. You sip your coffee in Trafalgar Square, have lunch on a boat trip to an island in Seychelles and enjoy late night drinks on the streets of Melbourne.
Milk and honey some may say. And so it was up to a given day when I woke up asking myself “whereto?” Three years of packing and unpacking. It’s ironic how so much travelling can become monotony.
As much as I tried to book my vacations at the right moments, I was the absentee at Christmas, birthdays, weddings or pregnancy announcements. I was missing the four seasons I grew so fond of. I was missing mom’s cooking and having endless senseless conversation with her. I was missing home. Life was following its’ provident path while I was pushing my trolley above the clouds. My mother’s call woke me up one night. My father had suffered a stroke and I wasn’t there for him. I blamed myself for my absence. Sometimes I still do. Yet I succeeded in obtaining an emergency leave not before being reminded “When you decided to move to Dubai, you must have been aware of the fact that you can’t go home anytime you want”. Stroke is universally considered one of the top medical emergencies so the statement of my manager stood behind me like a bad joke. I caught the first plane wondering if I would find my father alive or if he would be able to recognize me.
I had my share of humiliation, racism and sexism on-board from all types of passengers. I was yelled at, I was insulted and looked down upon. The only thing I could have done was to walk away if not with a smile at least with a straight face holding no trace of anger, disappointment or rebellion. Yet what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
I suffered two industrial injuries, both of them in the spinal cord area, two severe barotraumas and hormonal imbalance. Radiations, jet lag, lack of sleep and oxygen, half healed medical conditions — all of them left marks upon my immunity system. Nevertheless, the list of medications air crew are allowed to take was quite limited for objective reasons. Same applies for the sick days on ground. So getting back to work fully recovered was sheer utopia.
I learned that company business always comes first. And I learned it the hard way.
Allow me to rewind back up to the presentation of my new career upon joining. We were presented a colourful video with happy crew faces and happy passengers all of them heading to the most magical places of this planet. It almost felt like a gospel ceremony. Some of the new joiners embraced that projection more than others. We were also told that our organs wouldn’t be viable for transplant after 2 years of flying. We were afraid to ask why but we had our guesses right. Above all that any testimony in court would not be taken into account after 3 years of working as a flight attendant. We didn’t ask the reason and even if we did I am pretty sure the response would have been a rhetorical question. We all accepted these side effects and focused on the colourful video presentation secretly thinking “ I’m not going to stay here for 3 years…..”
I was among the first stewards to override the seniors on-board and rapidly proceed to do CPR. I broke one tooth pressing the chest of that passenger found breathless. I felt the exact moment when death stole her from underneath my palms but I continued to push. Another flight brought the experience of managing a miscarriage of a young woman who wasn’t even aware of the fact she was pregnant. Nose bleeding and fainting were ordinary events even on short flights. These incidents were probably the only moments at work when I actually felt useful and spiritually fulfilled. That is- when there was a happy end.
I recall myself joking with my fellow stewards “ I am waiting for a birth on-board. Only then will I resign with the belief that I have seen them all “.
You would love Dubai if you love huge classy Business Towers. I cried my eyes out looking at a complete double rainbow in Malta.
You would love the luxury cars and the biggest mall in the whole wide world. I was happy to hear the rain against my window.
You would love the 5 stars international cuisine at the top of Burj Khalifa. I was missing my mom’s chicken broth.
You would be fascinated about Dubai cosmopolitan life with more than 150 nationalities living and working together. I was missing the old me.
You would love to hear that Dubai is probably the safest place in the world. There is no prostitution and no drug trafficking. I wouldn’t bet on it if I were you!
Soon my body started to send me desperate messages. I knew my time to close this chapter of my life had come. So I did it violently with no regrets. The same way you remove a band aid. My health condition ordained the final countdown of my career.
As I count my blessings and my curses the first ones tend to win. I am proud of having worked as a stewardess as much as I am proud of quitting.
And you, the one reading now, if you ever have this chance-grab it. However, take all the best from it and run. When it starts to consume you from the inside out then it’s time to go home or further.
Today I am happy to remember weekdays and dates again. I know how Sundays feel once more. I bought myself a really small purse. Today I truly love my red lipstick, because I wear it when and if I please.
I came back to mom’s chicken broth with the certainty that things don’t change by slamming doors.