By Mariam Jouini
Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to become a flight attendant. Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, to parents of Tunisian descent, I was a dreamer, a rebel and had a deep desire to travel the world and meet people from different backgrounds.
My welder-operator father and homemaker mother always encouraged me to study – my mother never even let us kids help her with the housework; she said our studies were more important.
After completing my education, I apprenticed in the hotel industry and worked for a year as a reservation sales agent. But the skies beckoned. I even loved the smell of airplane fuel! The takeoff was always fascinating for me – through the clouds, towards the sun.
I decided to apply to be a flight attendant with a German airline and made it. I’ve been flying 19 years now and I love my job. I love to see the world. I love travelling to beach destinations – my favourite is Koh Samui in Thailand – and of course, my home country, Tunisia. It is in my blood, after all.
But deepest of all is my love for India. I can’t describe it. I understand that there is much injustice in Indian society towards women and lower castes – and I wish I could help in some way – but I still love India in inexplicable ways. The food is the best in the world, and, oh, the way people smile! So raw, so true, so deep, and so full of hope. It just makes your heart and soul glow.
Airline crew have a saying: “You either love India or you hate it. There is nothing in between.” Many years ago, my first two long-distance flights happened at the same time: the first to New York and the other to Kolkata (and I think it’s very meaningful that destiny sent me first to Kolkata and not some other Indian city).
I got my schedule and danced like crazy at home. “I am flying to India!” I shouted madly. My dad looked at me like I was nuts. He said, “You’re flying to New York.” I said, “Yes, but I am also flying to Indiaaaaaa!” Nobody understood me, but I was so, so excited. I can’t explain why.
New York was nice – it was my first time in America, and it was cool, but there was no big excitement. There ends the story.
But on my second flight to India – oh my god! I never met so many Indian people together. All the passengers wanted something – water, hot water – and everything had to be served “Quick, quick!” But I didn’t mind. I was so excited.
As the flight approached Kolkata, my body felt changed. I got goosebumps. My heart began beating like crazy. I couldn’t understand myself. But I just felt so damn happy. I had tears in my eyes.
And then we landed, and I couldn’t stop crying – even the pilot asked me if I was okay. I just couldn’t describe the emotion, and I used up a whole lot of tissues. “Oh god, I am in India!” I kept repeating to myself. My whole body was lit up.
I stayed in Kolkata for two days, and it opened my eyes. It was the best layout, ever! After that, I visited Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi. And I continue to drop in every few months whenever my flight schedule brings me here.
My job is a superficial one at the end of the day, but if you open your heart, it can also teach you to respect cultures all over the world. I can feel people. I walk through the plane and catch the vibes and feelings, the sadness, the love. We all carry a lot of grief, and we should be good to one another.
India never leaves me. Till today, my protector is Hanumanji! Of course, I love Ganesh too, and adore goddess Lakshmi. All are fantastic. I listen to Vedic mantras very often on YouTube (and Bollywood music too!).
But Hanumanji is my favourite. He makes me feel full of life! I smile when I hear the Hanuman Chalisa. I love his story. He is young at heart, and full of hope. He seeks truth.
And like me, he flies.
First published in the June 2018 issue of eShe magazine