How the World Compares: Anecdotes Based on a Traveller’s Impressions [Archives:1998/18/Law & Diplomacy]

May 4 1998

Over the last few days, I travelled to Jordan, Turkey and Egypt. I would like to share some anecdotes along the way.
On Board EgyptAir:
I flew back on EgyptAir from Cairo to Sanaa. On board the A 320, they showed us a half hour of cartoons. But the audio did not work. Can you imagine what a cartoon film without sound effects is like? But that is not the point.
Many passengers complained about the problem. What the hostess did was amusing. She pretended to be attending to the problem, but what she was actually doing was buying time. Her approach was logical, although irresponsible. If you wait long enough, the problem will go away. Actually, the passengers will go away!
That is what you call good service.
Transiting in Cairo:
On April 30th, I was transiting in Cairo. I was sitting in the cafeteria having dinner when a good-looking young woman approached me. She startled me with her, “Don’t I know you?”
I responded I didn’t think so, but that I didn’t mind being known to the young woman. She too ordered her dinner and we started a conversation.
She explained that she was of Lebanese origin and that she was back from a vacation in Lebanon and Greece, and was about to catch her flight to South Africa.
Soon, I realized the downside to the encounter. She is an insurance salesperson. Patricia Shemali works for Old Mutual in Johannesburg. My American training had prepared me well to react correctly to insurance sales people.
But the bomb shell was yet to come.
She sells funeral plans. “You can choose from different policies,” she went on,” as she explained that Old Mutual has gone international. I was trying to find breathing room and some distance, as I tried hard to change the subject.
The conversation didn’t quite turn out the way I had envisaged.
Turkish Television:
I was overwhelmed by the dozens of television channels in Turkey. It is much more than you would expect in any country, of a similar size. The Turkish movie industry must be active.
Many American and European movies are dubbed. They speak in Turkish. It was quite something to see cowboys talking tough in Turkish.
In the GAP:
In Ankara, I went to visit the vice president of the US$ 32 billion project being implemented in south-eastern Turkey. The regional integrated development project, known as GAP, is one of the construction wonders of our modern world.
But that is not the point.
The woman who was serving us tea at the vice president’s office was deaf. I was gratified to see her fully integrated, and to see her colleagues unashamed to be associated with her. To me, that human integration says more about Turkey’s development than the integration of the GAP.
At the Radisson SAS, Amman:
She came to talk to me about the many programs for the youth. It is all grouped under the Prince Hassan Prize, which is similar to youth rallies in the West. “We have about 3 million kids in schools. We want to offer them something, at least for the summer break,” said Ms. Samar Kaldani, Director of the Program.
All the time, I kept thinking about Yemen’s youngsters who do not find anything to do, except getting in trouble while roaming the streets. Will Yemen’s ministers of education and youth and sports kindly consider their responsibilities.
By: Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf,
Yemen Times.