Today I went through Schiphol for the last time on this journey. Last night I stayed in Amsterdam, too close to the head shops and the red light district for my taste. There was a very nice café attached to the hotel, though, and they served fresh, organic food. The next day, I went to the post office to mail yet another box home and discovered that the Holland post office is a place of efficiency and reasonable mailing requirements. They sold ready-to-seal boxes with peel-off stickum in varying sizes, and even bubble wrap.
In Amsterdam, I managed to see the photography museum, though I barely made my airport shuttle at 1:20 because I had trouble getting a taxi. In the end, I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I did a little duty-free shopping, sorted out my seats for the Madrid/Argentina flight, and had a drink at Starbucks.
KLM had yet again denied me my window seat because they were horribly overbooked. *SO* not my problem, and yet, still my problem. I asked at the gate if they could change my seat an hour before, and they said “no, we’re completely booked”. I had really given up on KLM as an airline at that point, given all that had happened with them in Dar Es Salaam, but they managed to redeem themselves. The agent remembered that I had asked to change and at the last minute before boarding, issued me a new seat with a window! Yay! It was a nice afternoon, clear and sunny, and I really wanted to take pictures. These inter-European flights don’t cruise that high so sometimes you see some good stuff (like the Alps or the farms of Holland).
We started boarding 20 minutes late, and then we sat there as all the Italians changed seats when the true seat assignee arrived (I transfer in Rome). There’s always a musical chairs game on Italian flights, and trains for that matter, because they sit where they’d like to sit unless asked to move. Our departure time came and went, even though everyone was eventually settled. Then some official looking men in uniforms and immigration control vests boarded the plane from the rear and told those of us in the back that we’d be having a non-violent but criminal deportee on our plane. It was an extradition. They warned us that he’d scream and yell and cry out probably until we were in the air, and then all would likely subside. Which is exactly how it was, in fact, with him screaming that they were going to kill him and that the men had broken his leg on the forced struggle up the rear stairs. Even with the warning, it was disturbing. Before he boarded, several people changed seats, not being comfortable with the idea of sitting near him. I wasn’t giving up my window seat, though – no way.
Adding more delays, we had passengers that had checked in luggage and then not shown up to the flight. And they’d arrived early so their baggage was all the way in the back. The rules say if you don’t show up, your bag has to be offloaded, so they began that process while we all waited. Fortunately those people showed up mid-way through the offload so the captain decided to let their luggage stay, reload what had been removed, and get us on our way. We left about an hour late. But we made up 45 minutes in the air because the captain put on some steam. They usually have to get special approval for that because it uses more fuel, so I guess that’s what he did. My connection to Tunis had a 2.5 hour layover, so I didn’t care, but I think a lot of other people would have missed flights. On the way there, it was cloudy over the Alps, but cleared up as we flew over Milan. I saw the sun going down from the plane, very pretty. On arrival in Rome, I had some time to kill. And you know, in the Roman airport they sell Italian goods. I am very proud of myself for passing up shoes on sale in the Furla shop and only spending 40 Euro on vinegar and liquor gifts.
Still, I could have spent another hour shopping and not missed the plane. Our plane was there, but there was a connecting flight late arriving which held many of our Tunis passengers. We had to wait for it. Once those people arrived we started boarding right away and thought we’d be on our way. Nope. There were some seating problems. For one thing, the lady behind me was seated in the exit row, but she had a lap baby and an eight year old boy with her, neither of which are candidates for opening the door in the event of an emergency. They moved her up next to me (!) and it seemed they had overbooked the flight because someone else was supposed to be there. And as it turned out, there were two more passengers on board the plane than there were seats. They stood there for some time while the management of Alitalia had to come and remove these passengers or beg them to go. I don’t know what exactly happened, but it took another hour. Since I could not move seats, I tried to make the best of it. And it worked out very well. I made friends with Nejla and her son Saif, and her 10 month old son whose name has escaped me. I helped Nejla distract the baby for the hour we were on the tarmac, held the baby while Nejla was in the ladies’ room, and practiced my French with Saif. He, in return, tried to teach me some Arabic words. He was very excited about the flight and had trouble sitting still at all. I seized the opportunity to teach him how to be a good airline passenger. I showed him what it felt like when someone shoves your seat from behind and he was pretty surprised! After that, he didn’t kick the man in front, so I guess I did something right. They are a very nice family, on their way to visit relatives in Tunis to introduce the newest family member. Nejla’s husband is working in Paris so she was on her own with a lot to juggle. When we landed, I carried my luggage and some of hers on the way to passport control. Saif did not want to put his new Frisbee in the bag, but he was struggling with it so much one-handed that I finally convinced him to try it. My extra pen came in handy for all the forms we had to fill out. Why Alitalia didn’t give us those forms on the plane, I don’t know. It felt really good to help Nejla and her family, and made the journey that much easier for all of us.
That’s one of the things I have learned in the third world: not only is it nice to be nice, but a good attitude, some acceptance and a little kindness can drastically change every situation. In poor countries where things don’t work very well strangers pull together to help each other. It means something – sometimes it means everything.