The Islamic Garden
Trying to Land in Bangkok
As I approached Bangkok airport, I believed I was approaching death. No one knows when or how it will inevitably come. The responses of the people to this situation have stayed in my mind ever since.
The click of my seatbelt brought me back to reality in a flash. From my seat next to the window I could see the scurrying men organize everything for this monstrous mass of metal to somehow lift itself into the air and fly me back to my children. I couldn't wait to see them again.
I prefer sitting alone on long flights as it gives me time and space to think, reflect, remember; putting the current events of my life clearly into perspective. The other people on the plane seemed merry, perhaps awaiting some long awaited vacation; the adventurous aspect of life overtaking most of them, clouding the often dull, mundane realities that contain the essence of our being.
My thoughts were serious and somber, as habit had proven me correct in expecting difficulty and pain in the midst of joy. Something that makes the bittersweet ending even more meaningful.
I braced myself for the take-off. Closed my eyes and fought back the claustrophobic claws that hovered near, threatening my serenity. The huge iron doors were sealed, my seat belt neatly in place and now moving upwards into the heavens into which I had only ever gazed before.
I kept reminding myself that with each passing minute I was that bit closer to my children; that bit closer to my new home.
Time passes and carries us off into new horizons, new meaning and more and more hope for something better than what we have. My journey to Cairo was to be interrupted by one stop over. This was Bangkok. I'd never been there before and it seemed a trivial hiccup in my long anticipated destination.
Sleep overcame me and was interrupted only by kind hands offering me refreshment. I ate single- mindedly. Food was a necessity of life - not a pleasure in itself. If it tastes at all palatable, that is a bonus. Dreams caressed my fears. I saw my children rushing towards me with faces of joy, arms outstretched in love. My repose was interrupted once more by a voice over the loud speaker. I hadn't realized how long I'd been asleep.
"Ladies and gentlemen. We apologize for the inconvenience. Could everybody please secure their seat belts as we're heading for some turbulence as we approach Bangkok airport."
"We're in for a bumpy ride," I thought to myself. I opened the shutter over the window and tried to see through the darkness. All I could make out was sheets of rain. Monsoon rain. When you're in a plane, so many thousands of meters above the earth, turbulence means going out of control and the possibility of plunging back to earth. Death.
The plane started to bump around. The merry laughter of the other passengers quieted down a little. The prospect of that ever-present thing called death, hovered over each head and reminded us of our smallness and vulnerability in the nature of things. The hush of silence began to spread throughout the plane.
After a short time, the same steady, reassuring voice echoed over the loud speakers.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now attempt to land in Bangkok airport. Please put out all cigarettes and make sure your seat belts are tightly secured."
I saw some people with joyfully hopeful faces look at each other. The plane bumped and lurched, rocking its inmates like so many chickens locked in a cage. I looked at the window but I couldn't see anything, not even the lights of the airport. I wondered if the captain could.
Soon after the plane had swooped downwards, I felt it start to rise again. "Looks like we missed the airport," I thought. I tried to smile but the looming thought of possible destruction erased all other cares from my mind except the hope that I might make it past this day.
"Ladies and Gentlemen we're experiencing some problems landing in Bangkok airport but will try again in a few minutes. Could everyone please put their heads down and prepare for an emergency landing."
That was it! That was all it took! The joking, haughty laughter completely disappeared. Soaked up like a sponge into the reality crushing us all. The trivial pleasures of life were swept away by the same hands that had sought them only minutes before. We had seen it on the movies often enough but the reality cannot be sufficiently described. The moment we all know is inevitable but which we're able to ignore and tell ourselves its time will not come, not yet.
I put my head on my knees and prayed. My thoughts turned to my children and I felt a pain in my heart. How I'd hate to be separated from them. My mind brought vivid pictures of dear friends who had helped and supported me through good times and bad. The significant turning points of my life flickered before my mind's eye and I thanked Allah for the life I have, the people I'd known and loved and the ones whose only use was to learn from their mistakes. I thanked Him for all I'd seen and done, heard and known - for the pleasure and the pain that had molded me into what I am. I asked His forgiveness for my thoughtless, careless mistakes and the things I'd knowingly done wrong because of the weakness in my heart. I prepared myself for possible death and resigned myself to the Will of Allah, Who Hears and Knows all things.
The second attempt to land the plane didn't even succeed in coming near to the ground. It rocked like a cradle, like some gigantic hand was playing with it, like a toy. All heads were down but curiosity made me raise mine and I saw the air- hostesses. They weren't smiling anymore. A look of panic had shaken off their well-rehearsed smiles.
The plane rose again and I sat up. A few others sat up as well and looked around, wondering what would happen next.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," came the same voice but with an ever so slight twinge of nervousness, that gave way to the gravity of the situation. "We're currently circling and will try once more to land in Bangkok airport. Please remain in your seats and in your positions for an emergency landing."
If destruction was to happen, it would be much easier to bear it if came quickly but time plodded on like a weary friend, about to let go of a handhold that had remained for thirty-two years. I felt that 'my' time was soon to be up. Once again I looked out the window. The plane was flying low and through the heavy sheets of rain, I saw some yellow flashing lights, making a pathway for the plane. I was to know later that there were men standing on the runway holding lanterns in the hands, waving them above their heads. The plane bumped and lurched closer and closer to the deciding point of impact. Apart from the small yellow lights, the airport was in darkness.
"Trust in Allah. He is sufficient for those who trust in Him," I kept saying to myself over and over again. My mind became a jumbled mess and I couldn't focus on anything except these words. When the plane touched the runway it skidded, slid and turned left and right. It didn't seem to be slowing down and a screeching noise filled my ears. "Death is not quiet," I thought.
By the time the plane stopped, we had completely turned around. My consciousness was raised as I realized we were still alive! Somewhat shaken, but very much intact.
"Praise be to Allah!" I said to myself. Slowly the people got up, took their bags and filed out the doorway in an orderly fashion. I didn't hear anyone speak and I wondered what it would have been like - better not to think. No big air balloons thrown out of the side of the plane, no panic and no death. Not yet.
By the time we lined up inside the airport, people started to talk, laugh and argue. Things were back to normal again. How many of us benefited from this experience; this scrape with death. I felt a sense of relief and steadied myself back to my usual frame of mind. I started to think about my children again and how this would be an exciting story to tell. How glad they would be that their Mum lived to tell the tale and how happy I'd be to tell them myself. Perhaps we could sit around a cozy open fire but then it's too hot in Cairo and no one has open fires there. Never mind.
After a few hours we boarded the same plane and sat again thinking about the second stage of the journey. After half an hour of waiting, the lights went off and the same but somewhat tired voice said,
"Ladies and Gentlemen we're experiencing problems with the battery, please be patient as the air-conditioning will go off for a short time." There we were sitting on the plane in flickering darkness, with no air-conditioning in the dense humidity of Bangkok airport.
"Well," I said to the people sitting near me, "it's better that it happens down here and not up there, right?" I gave out a little chuckle, thinking it might be a good idea to lighten up a bit. The lights of the plane were still flickering and I noticed some people turn around and stare at me in shock and surprise, so I leaned back in my seat and looked out the window as the sun began to rise over a smoky sky. I sat back and thought about my children and that each passing minute was bringing me closer to them.