As pandemic boredom seeps into my every crevice, I have renewed appreciation for the grand memories of my travels as a Flying Tiger Lines flight attendant. Reminiscing with my former flight crew members has kept me somewhat sane. Here's a tour down memory lane I hope you, too, will enjoy.
In 1981 I had the rare opportunity to spend a few months in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Flying Tiger Lines landed a contract to fly Nigerian Muslims from Kano, Nigeria to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for their lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca.
Our 747 crew consisted of about a dozen pilots, 45 flight attendants including supervisors, and numerous aircraft mechanics and ramp agents.
The 24-hour flight schedule positioned one flight crew in the air, one crew asleep in the hotel and one crew out by the pool -- or shopping at the souk. The totally full roundtrip flight from Jeddah to Kano was five hours one way, which prompted long duty days.
Our base would be the Sands Hotel in Jeddah. I believe the women were on one floor and the men on another. There were also separate swimming pools for men and women with a tall partition dividing the two swimming areas.
A previous year, Flying Tiger’s first female pilot, Nora O’Neill innocently dove into the men’s pool. Hotel officials were so flabbergasted, they drained and refilled the pool because Lady Nora had dirtied it with her person.
And thus a careful tone was set for our three-month 1981 adventure in Saudi Arabia. For our outgoing, tight-knit bunch, not buzzing in and out of each other’s rooms or lounging around the pool together was a big sacrifice.
Let’s just say we were as careful as we could be during long periods of restrictive behavior.
My pals and I did do some hairbrain things, though. We went to embassy parties where our esteemed officials served their own 190 proof corn liquor since alcohol was verboten. No need to elaborate on that.
Some of us hunkered down in the backseats of cars to enter gates of glamorous compounds belonging to ascending members of the royal Saudi family where our wealthy hosts sported a private discotheque complete with mirrored balls hanging from ceiling, flashing lights and double-record turntables.
The young Saudi men who gave the lavish dinner and disco parties to various airline flight crews were always gentlemen, never drank, but they did fight like children over who was going to spin the turntable discs.
Even though we were thoroughly briefed before we took the middle eastern assignment, it never registered how much trouble we could cause interfacing with a culture we would never fully comprehend.
One day, as a joke to show our Scottish ex-pat and Saudi friend how American women can drive, I got behind the wheel of his car while they stopped at a shop.
As I drove past the guys and tooted the horn, our Saudi friend panicked, threw money at the shop keeper and raced back to the car. He vehemently ordered me to shoot over into the back seat. He said if anyone would have seen my girlfriend and me, we all would have disappeared in a Saudi Arabian jail forever -- or worse.
Our Saudi friend was so unsettled, he almost started crying.
At one point we had to spend a couple weeks in Kano, Nigeria at the Doalla Hotel. Lizards crawled on the walls while we slept as hall monitors sat outside our doors for nightly protection.
One of the curious customs that took some getting used to was, while walking down the street in Kano, men would casually step off the side walks, lift up their robes and squat down right in front of anyone. One of my flying partners and I were so thunderstruck experiencing this for the first time, we busted out laughing. The man laughed, too, totally without any embarrassment about what he left behind.
But it was our colorful passengers -- men separated from the magnificently batik-clad women -- who made our Nigerian trip a lasting memory. I remember conversing with a tiny, toothless man as he gnawed on a Kola nut that turned his mouth red. He proudly showed me his passport indicating he was a cattle herder about to make his first pilgrimage to his holy city of Mecca.
I never tasted a Kola nut, but my cattle herder offered me a bristly sliver the size of my pinky fingernail.
Farmers and herders chew on Kola nuts in the fields to keep them alert and productive. It’s sort of like drinking dark roast expresso all day long. Little did I know after losing two nights sleep that Kola nuts are 100 percent caffeine.