When my son Adam and I recently returned from the states, we changed planes in Dubai. While we were sitting in the gate area waiting for our flight to Jeddah, we both noticed a rather comical-looking, chubby little man who was wearing the traditional Saudi white dress and the red and white checkered scarf. He had the scarf wrapped around his head in a turban style with a long tail down the back. The brown colored man had an unkempt bushy gray beard and the length of his thobe came to only mid-calf, instead of all the way down to his sandaled feet. We noticed him because he kept pacing briskly back and forth nervously in the gate area, and we could hear him mumbling to himself in Arabic.
Imagine our surprise when we boarded the plane and there he was - seated in our row! But not only that, he was actually seated in one of our assigned seats. Our boarding passes clearly indicated that we had the window seat and the one next to it. Apparently the man was supposed to be sitting in the aisle seat; however, as we found out, he really preferred the window seat, so he simply sat there. When we tried to tell him that he was in our seat, we discovered that his command of the English language was pretty much non-existent. Adam spoke up in Arabic to the strange little man. In a very thick accent and exaggerated hand gestures, our seat-mate explained, "I like window. It's ok! You sit, it's okay," pointing to the two empty seats next to him, one of which should rightfully have been his. As he spoke, I could see that his teeth were discolored and he was missing a couple of them. Instead of creating any further problems or hard feelings with our seat-mate, who seemed totally oblivious to the fact that we would have actually preferred our own assigned seats (imagine that!), my son and I reluctantly sat in the two empty seats, with my lifesaver son sitting in the middle. The airplane was packed full to the gills, otherwise we would have seriously considered moving to another row.
As the engines revved, the funny looking man - whose name we later learned was Mohammed - began to pray loudly in Arabic. He held tightly onto a set of prayer beads in his clenched fist. The volume of his chanting increasingly got louder and louder as the plane began to move forward faster and faster for takeoff. Looking around, I noticed that Adam and I weren't the only passengers on the plane who exchanged uneasy, puzzled glances. Experiencing this, with this man seated right next to us, was rather unsettling for my son and me. We were both relieved when the airplane finally left the ground and within a minute or so, the loud nervous chanting finally stopped.
During the flight, as Adam tried to watch the individual video screen in front of him, Mohammed told my son in Arabic that he shouldn't be watching movies or television shows, that such things were only for children and dogs. He asked Adam many personal questions, and Adam tried to answer him politely. But at least half a dozen times, Mohammed told Adam that he was going to hell because he liked music, and because Adam watched movies and TV, and other assorted things. Adam told me all this later when Mohammed dozed off to sleep, but when the food service came around a short time later, Mohammed woke up.
What happened next was totally unexpected. Adam ate as much as he wanted of the airline meal before him and sat back. Then Mohammed asked him in Arabic if he was finished eating. When my son said "Yes," Mohammed proceeded to lecture him about wasting food, again indicating that Adam would go to hell for committing this sin.
AND THEN, Mohammed actually rummaged though the uneaten and partially-eaten food on Adam's tray and took it for himself! I sat there in disbelief with my jaw dropped and my son's eyes got as wide as grapefruits. We couldn't believe what had just happened. I was expecting Mohammed's stubby little hand to reach across Adam to see what he could salvage off of MY tray! Fortunately for him, Mohammed refrained from doing so, because I was ready to slap him.
Sitting next to Mohammed on this flight was definitely an enlightening and surreal experience for us. Needless to say, Adam and I were both relieved when the plane landed - happily, without any loud praying - at our destination. We anxiously deplaned, shaking our heads in disbelief. Now I've had some wonderful experiences meeting terrific people on airplanes (shout outs to Bonnie and Ronnie!), but this has to be one of the the most distressing experiences I've ever had - if not THE most distressing one!
Have YOU ever had an unfortunate or uncomfortable experience with an unusual seatmate on an airplane?