The true story of how I ended up making an announcement at an international airport

By Cathy Ferguson

I dread becoming one of those people who manages people, irrespective of whether they need or want to be managed. But I fear it’s a slippery slope. Becoming a teacher was the beginning of my demise into bossy-ness.

So when the plane is late, I remain sitting in the airport lounge. At first we don’t know why it is late. We know we saw a plane outside, but it didn’t appear to land. We know it must be somewhere, but it is not here.

*

Let’s journey back to two hours earlier: I was sitting in the airport lounge having the realisation that I’m living the dream. Wearing my longyi, the traditional Myanmar skirt, with a t-shirt on top because I’m slumming it western-style, I’m headed for Bangkok on a “visa run” – the necessary step to get my passport stamped. But it means that I get a weekend in Bangkok so I’m certainly not complaining. I was listening to The Cranberries which for me evoke a bunch of positive childhood memories. I felt hopeful with an almost euphoric zeal. I noticed a pimple forming on my upper lip. Aside from the annoyance of the feeling and my urge to pick at it, I didn’t care. I knew my face was red from my shower and my hair was crazy from car windows wound down, but I didn’t care.

I was fortunate.

*

Well, I still am fortunate, aside from the fact that my plane is late. My fellow passengers begin to use their apps for plane tracking which I naively didn’t even know was something you could do… (how scary). And they think that they can see almost exactly where the plane is in the sky. I feel that surely there has to be some kind of security issue with this, that you can see the flight information for every plane in the world, but apparently I don’t know anything. It’s lucky that I’m not in charge.

So the oil and gas guys that I’m sitting with who are DELIGHTED to talk to me about the Department of Environment for whom I work, are commenting that the plane never landed and, on the contrary, appears to have not landed anywhere, despite having definitely left Bangkok.

Now instead of whinging we start to cross our fingers. Worried that perhaps something bad has happened and we shouldn’t be complaining about late nights and missed connections, but perhaps we grateful that we weren’t on the plane… We think the worst.

*

Earlier, I saw the TV in the airport playing CNN as so many TVs for foreigners do. People were responding to the latest terrible comment made by the hair-guy. Tears welled as I thought of Haitian-Americans I’ve never met feeling like aliens in their own country.

I thought to my own country and I felt the same shame. Shame that my government seems intent on excluding people. It disgusts and revolts.

I swallowed and re-tasted the coffee I had just finished. Espresso at night is always a bad idea, but for some reason I went there anyway.

I watched Margaret Court being vile on CNN and boycotting QANTAS. Perhaps tennis is “full of lesbians”. Good.

I say we take her name off the stadium though. Another reason I’m ashamed.

As the beginnings of hunger stirred, I thought about aeroplane food. I had actually been looking forward to it. I know this is super weird, but it holds a fascination. Like birthdays. Even though they are almost always a letdown, there is something tantalizing about them. Same with plane food.

Nay Pyi Taw airport is the most relaxed international airport ever. I was fairly certain that my bag was not regulation size. I also brought water through by mistake; the staff let me drink it then give them the bottle. When I said bye to the customs guy, he replied “see you next time, byeee” in this sing-song voice. Since when are customs guys cheerful?

*

But people aren’t so cheerful now. Annoyed Germans and Americans start to accost airport staff. The unfortunate thing about this is that the staff are not trained to deal with complaints but really just to keep the lounge stocked with disposable cups and instant coffee. There are no restaurants open, because so few flights use this airport, they don’t open for very long. It makes sense until your plane is hours later than it should be. I begin to think of muesli bars with longing.

Then, I see some staff with different uniforms. These are not guest lounge staff, but rather airport flight staff. They know things about planes. Good. So I walk up to them after the German and American interrogation has finished. I’m told that they will have information in 30 minutes. I suggest that they announce this timeframe to the other passengers so that we can all stop asking them the same questions. But communication is not always done the way we would like. This is how I find myself making an announcement at an international airport. Albeit the smallest, least busy one you’ve ever not-seen in your life. I try to convince the staff, but they are too nervous, they are very happy for me to tell the passengers though. So, I once again fulfill my bossy-teacher tendencies much to my own dismay.

*

The drive to the airport had been strangely peaceful. I would never have predicted that I would soon be speaking to a roomful of strangers. No crazy traffic and stress. A gorgeous sunset backdrop for the bullock ploughs to finish their day, which the cowherds walk their cows homeward. I pulled out my laptop from my nearly empty bag, because I need so little. I am learning this from people here in Myanmar. I need so little. And so, while I have no journal I am glad to write my little thinkings in a word document. Bliss.

*

Finally! It’s now stupid o’clock in airport land and we’re all losing it. But there is news.

Unfortunately someone forgot to turn the runway lights on, so our plane didn’t crash, but rather had to go all the way back to Bangkok and then come all the way back to Nay Pyi Taw. Surely they could radio in? we all ask uselessly to each other. Apparently not, seems to be the answer. So, we have about another four hours to wait. In the scheme of things, this doesn’t seem so bad.

So there you go. Classic Myanmar. Friendly, hospitable, and often a bit chaotic.