Istanbul Ataturk Airport:
Kevin P Clements
16th August 2014
I am so keen to get home that I decided to head off early to the airport. This turned out to be a big mistake as the Singapore Airlines counter is closed and other Star Alliance partners won’t book me in so I wandered around looking for a place to sit for an hour before the counter opens. The one empty chair I found was amongst a group from Turkmenistan. They look as though they arrived in the middle of the night and have been offloaded with all their luggage, waiting for a connecting flight. As I sit down and remove old orange juice and water bottles from the space I want to sit in , an old woman lying down beside me shouts out something in Turkish which makes all the others laugh. I sit down anyway.
Those that are awake look at me with some incredulity. Whats a kiwi like me doing with Turkmen’s like them. Some other women smile at me. A smile is the universal way of letting strangers know that they will tolerate me intruding on their space. Every single luggage cart is piled high with boxes and bags all wrapped in tight plastic. They all look as though they are moving somewhere permanently. Each seems to have a lifetime’s clothes and goods in their left luggage. Two younger women come by and wake the older ones up. They all start stirring, waking from their sleep. Totally animated they engage in market banter sending messages one to the other, laughing, pointing at each other.
One produces a pair of pink knickers and throws them to another. This seems to crack them all up and I feel like a solitary, rather alien looking male, in this Turkmen group of women. I don’t understand a word of what anyone is saying but they are killing time, having fun, joking with each other, laughing… The men in their group keep sleeping. I’m not sure I get what’s happening. But one of the women has now pulled a big new bra out of a packet that says Don Love Underwear creations. I guess this means that they have been shopping at Don Love whoever he is.
They seem to be having fun. Their husbands, sons and brothers keep on sleeping. Oblivious to the women and their cheerful banter.
Airports are funny liminal places. What am I doing with a group of Turkmen women at Istanbul airport , waiting for my plane while they wait for theirs. All of us waiting to be transported North and South , East and West. Sleep’s not a bad strategy for dealing with the tedium of it all. Humour certainly helps. They are walking around now and some of the men are moving but nothing much seems to be changing we are all waiting, wondering, pondering. Hoping that there are no delays, that planes will arrive on time; that we will be able to book in and leave… airports are holding pens for where we want to be. None of us wants to be in the airport. This is a transitional space. A space for moving through, a space for humanity to mix and mingle for a while but not a space to stay any longer than’s absolutely necessary. The women all around me have well worn faces, worry lines where once their faces were supple and soft. Some have lined and calloused hands that have cooked millions of meals, washed dirty clothes, cut and piled up wood. There are no Yves Saint Laurent bags, Christian Dior or Tiffany necklaces in this group. In fact, apart from some ear rings, there is no jewellery at all.
I’m sitting with a group of working class Turkmen women with their own memories, their own hopes and desires. Doing what women do everywhere. Laugh, keep each other happy, wait patiently for the call to board, provide succour and support one to the other… Their men continue to sleep, mind the bags. We are all waiting. Someone has just returned from a visit to the Turkmen counter, shaking her head at the impossibility of it all. I understand the words,Turkmen airlines. From their frowns I understand their contempt at the fact that they have been off loaded. They are waiting for some sign that their scheduled flight will depart or alternatively that they will have more boring hours waiting and hoping and joking for another afternoon, another day.
As for me. I’m waiting too …noting down what’s happening around me. Hoping that Singapore airlines will open up soon. Looking forward to when I can move from here to there, from away to home. Yes airports are indeed strange in between places.