Cindy Sulieman / Jul 31, 2002

I love going to the airport, whether I am traveling, saying goodbye to someone, or welcome to another, it does not matter, something about the airport gives me a feeling of being free. The place is always clean, people are coming and going, the architect's design, the huge space and the high ceilings just take my breath away....... my own Disneyland!

Did you know that airports have budgets for arts? Yes, arts! The kind that you see in museums. What do you think they call those hanging old airplanes, or the vintage automobiles from another era that are parked in corners for your viewing pleasure? Or those oversized paintings reflected in your eyes? The open shops, cafes and restaurants, I know they are over priced, but I don't mind paying a little more for the joy of being there, oh, and the convenience of the escalators and elevators going up and down, the people, all kinds of people going about their lives, and the sounds of "yes madam and yes sir", "have a nice and safe trip", "thank you for flying our airline, we know you had a choice, and we appreciate your business." Wait a minute, I am sorry the title does not match the description, I was not talking about Arab airports, I fooled you didn't I? I was describing the Western world's airports. Now, to the subject of my writing.......Airports...Arab style.

My dear reader, fasten your seat belt, know where the exits are, for I am about to describe to you the sad state of our airports. An airport is the very first thing a traveler sees when he or she arrives at a country, the headline in the front page, the first impression, it's like the store's front that brings customers in, an area common sense dictates it be comfortable, friendly and inviting.

Not in the Arab world, the place is usually dirty, located far from the city, unless you were in one of those oil rich Gulf countries where they paid billions of dollars to, most likely, American companies to build them mega airports, but that is where the similarities end, because in every airport in the Arab world you must be greeted with huge portraits of the leader of whatever country you happened to be in, many times with his father's portrait next to him, everywhere you look he is there to remind you that you are now on his own turf, and you must follow the rules, his rules, or else you will regret the day you landed in this place.

Picture this, you have just arrived from a very long trip, exhausted, having endured many hours of flying. The lights are dim, the paint on the walls is peeling off, the carpet lost its original color; people are smoking under the sign that says No Smoking! Seats are torn or missing, no one in sight to ask for directions or get information...and then you proceed to the window.

May be a better term would be the Cage, where a mean creature is waiting to help you. You approach the window passport in hand while dragging your luggage, the gentleman behind the window at first does not acknowledge you, and when he finally does, he has that look on his face of an abused adult, waiting to lash out on anything that comes his way, you know, people like you coming from America with an American passport "ya aeeni", for those of you that don't understand Arabic, the closest meaning to this word I can come up with is "fabulous" with a grin! He hates his job and he hates you, and to top it all your kids are speaking English, calling you Mom or Dad "ya aeeni again!" Oh, and I forgot to mention the leaders picture hanging on the wall behind him, just in case you forgot who the boss is in this land.

Mother nature calls, you must find a bathroom, you my friend have picked the worst time to answer mother nature's call. Unless the call is a scream, I advise you to hold it, and wait till you find a better place, for the bathrooms in our airports are filthy disgusting places with broken seats and flies everywhere, nothing works, many times not even the water is running.

You wonder where your relatives are, shouldn't they be waiting by the gate? Wonder no more, they are far away behind a huge wall, squeezed like a flock of sheep, trying to get a glimpse of you. To the authorities, their comfort and yours are not important, it is not in our culture to make things comfortable and ease someone's pain, that is why we don't even complain, we become numb, we just want to get by, we just want to be left alone! You see it in the way we dress, the way we build our homes and our furniture, the way we build our airports, no eye for details, no efficiency, our standards are low, that my friends is a result of people who have endured humiliation for far too long.

It is up to us to change all that, but we must first realize that we have an image problem, it is up to us to demand a better life, it is up to us to demand better airports!

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