Published: December 9th 2011December 2nd 2011
It was with a heavy, yet beautifully unburdened heart that I boarded a plane that would carry me away from Istanbul – a place that was beginning to feel like home. I knew the side streets and shortcuts, where to find the best tahinli and cheapest tea. I’d built a small community of friends and established a routine of sorts. But rested and empty, it was time to see something new. The destination was Beirut and the company was unexpected. A spunky young Canadian teaching English in Istanbul, Ada, and I had found the same cheap flight to Beirut and the same person to host us there.
The only thing of note on our short flight to Beirut was the screening of the pre-fight safety video. I normally block out the seatbelt fastening instructions, but Pegasus Airlines has had the most brilliant idea. By using children to act the parts of flight attendant, passengers, and pilot, people actually pay attention to the well-known safety guidelines. I watched the entire video, cooing as a little boy helped a little girl secure her emergency oxygen mask over a large, pink scrunchie (after safely securing his own first, of course).
We landed in the deserted Beirut airport and as we left the customs area, I commented on the lack of hustlers, “This is nice. There’s nothing I hate more than getting off a plane, tired, and being hounded by taxi drivers.” As if on cue, a short man approached, his potbelly reaching us long before his horse-like face. Though only a meter away, he still yelled, “Taxi! Taxi!” His cry awakened the lions and they surrounded us like a pair of weakened kudu. Their calls grew increasingly excited as they shoved each other aside to shove their official airport licenses in our faces, “Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!” We kept our eyes forward and our pace quick as we made a beeline for the door.
The crowd followed us outside, their shouts fading into the background as the star of the evening made his appearance. A giant with an arm span of well over six feet caught sight of us and broke into a run. As he closed the gap between us, he halted into a skid, long arms waving theatrically in circles as he tried to catch his balance, “Please, please ladies. I need a taxi.” “Well, sir,” I replied, “you are in luck for there is no shortage of drivers who need a fare.”
Though the levels of annoyance are many when accosted in this manner, you have to feel some sympathy on at least one. They’re just doing their job, just trying to make a dollar and support their families. But, there has to be some line between a decent offer of service and intimidating people to procure it. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, but does the child throwing a tantrum always get the ice cream?