We were on a short leg on a 36 hour journey from Barcelona to Merida, Mexico. This portion had us flying in the morning from our 6 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale to Mexico City. I got up and made my way down the plane to the bathroom when the flight attendant stopped me from going into a bathroom whose occupant hadn’t locked her door. I thanked her - both for me and the occupant of the tiny toilet who would have been as unhappy to see me as I would have been to see her. Even though I had to pee, we started up a conversation that lasted at least 30 minutes.
She explained that on this flight route there are a lot of Haitians who are making their way to Port Au Prince via Mexico, and as she said “they have no civilization there anymore…it’s only about survival.” She had flown the route to Haiti for 6 months and had to transfer out as it was too chaotic. I asked her why and she said that there are no toilets in Haiti, so people are used to going anywhere at any time. “I’ve seen grown women with pee streaming down their legs. The medical system is terrible and there are lots of health problems for these middle aged women. I was carrying a heavy tray of drinks and several passengers just started helping themselves and it upset the entire tray. They have no manners. Don’t go there.”
I told her that after two years of full time travel there are certain places that are simply not interesting anymore, if they ever were. Earthquake ravaged Haiti is one such place.
I asked her about her work, specifically what routes she favors. It turns out that certain routes aren’t good because you waste a lot of your non paid time getting into and out of customs, so 5 hours of paid flight time turns into an 11 or 12 hour day from start to finish.
She lives right on the beach in Hollywood, Florida and loves it. “Yesterday I took a cooler down to the beach with my boyfriend (if I can call him that) and just hung out all day talking and watching the clouds. It was perfect.”
We had just started talking about family we both have in Florida when a woman came into the galley and asked urgently if we had any scissors or a sewing kit. Her fanny pack had a broken zipper and she wanted to fix it.
--I have a nail clipper, but it’s sentimental so you HAVE to give it back, the flight attendant said.
--You have sentiment tied to a nail clipper, I asked?
--I’ve had it since I was 14. It was part of a set with a file and polish and all kinds of little things. Don’t you have things like this, things you are attached to? I suppose not since you are living out of a backpack for two years!”
--Oh, your name is Jennifer too! Exclaimed the woman with the broken fanny pack. Us Jennifer’s gotta stick together! She was at this point using the clippers to great effect on the zipper.
A woman came up and asked the flight attendants if there were any spoons she could use to eat her yogurt. She was looking right at me, so I felt like she was asking me. I don’t speak Spanish much but can manage most languages through context and gestures so I translated to the flight attendants who apologized for not having any kind of cutlery of any sort and offered the confused woman a thin coffee stir stick. She shook her head and walked back up the aisle.
“We don’t serve any food on the flight, so have nothing for her.” Said Jennifer
--Why didn’t she just get a spoon when she bought the yogurt? asked the other attendant.
--Who knows, I said. Every airline has different things, and it’s hard to know what the protocol is or what is offered. When I saw you handing out napkins for the drinks I thought it was some strange receipt or ticket – that we would have to take it to some kiosk to pay upon landing. I’ve seen some weird processes.
Jennifer’s eyes got really big and she asked the other attendant if she had handed out the immigration forms. Keeping with her theme, the other attendant shrugged and said they can get them when they land. Jennifer hopped on the phone and made an announcement about the immigration cards. When she was done she thanked me for reminding her. My quizzical look caused her to explain that when I said ticket she thought of the immigration cards. I looked up and saw the two other attendants moving down the galley handing out the long official looking forms.
--We can’t give them anything, said Jennifer. It’s against the rules. Not an aspirin, not a Band-Aid, nothing. I could lose my job if she complained about an allergy to aspirin later or anything. It’s hard because I carry most of everything with me that I would ever need. I cook all my own meals on these flights. You’d be amazed at what you can cook in this small space with just a coffee pot to boil water and the electric burner.”
I told her about our love of a hotel room with a kettle and how that’s enough to make a passable meal. She agreed and the fasten seatbelt sign came and the captain announced preparations for our final descent.
I thanked her for her time and conversation and before taking my seat, I knocked on the bathroom door before gently opening it and went in, locking it behind me.