Flying around the world as part of the SWISS airline crew makes you feel like Forrest Gump: You’re witnessing world history but unlike Gump you are well aware of it happening.
Late last autumn I had a couple of San Francisco flights. That was when the Occupy Movement was at its peak. We would see the hundreds of tents out on the streets and the protestors with their banners reading “We are the 99%”. The Occupy Oakland Movement was an especially big deal; it was taking place right across San Francisco and had kind of merged with the Occupy San Francisco Movement. It was really all over Market Street.
Speaking for myself, I kind of feel like that Athens dog Loukanikos, who would always stand and bark on the protesters' side. I just have sympathy for people who want to improve their society. Otherwise, I’m rather tame and diplomatic. Comes with flying, I guess.
So I spent that day off in San Francisco doing the usual: museum visits, shopping, Starbucks. On returning to our hotel downtown, a Starbucks drink in hand, I realized that our hotel had been occupied and was now under siege. Apparently the Occupy Movement had taken over our hotel. There were a lot of police officers and protesters but things were under control. There was shouting and protesting but no violence. As I tried to make my way through the crowd, an angry protestor told me that with my Starbucks beverage in hand and by entering this particular hotel I was one of the “one-percenters”, that I was endorsing corporate America and shame on me!
I was flabbergasted. No way am I a one-percenter! I am the 99%! Besides that, I am a SWISS airline crew member on my leisure time, I wanted to say but didn’t. No need to provoke even further.
But this verbal attack had me thinking. What would Forrest Gump do and what should I do?
I live a privileged lifestyle and take for granted everything that corporate America and corporate Europe offer me. And still I want to be aware and part of human rights causes, nature and animal preservation and whatnot. Just to be part of a good society that cares. Is this juxtaposition possible? I’d love to believe so.
Whenever I return to Switzerland from a crew layover in a faraway country and see a lot of grim faces on the people on the train here, I’d love to tell them how lucky we actually are back home.
Flying has certainly made me reorganize my values about what is worthwhile in life. I would recommend this career as a flight attendant to anyone coming of age, or as they call it in literature, a “Bildungsroman”. Instead of reading Goethe you could go flying for a couple of years and you’ll get an insight into human society and interaction and be well-rounded and prepared for life. Am I? How should I deal with all this?
Throughout the years up in the air I’ve felt some strange guilt and the need to do philanthropic work as much as means permit. I remember a couple of years ago, while we were flying to Accra in Ghana, I would take a couple of disabled teenage orphans with me to the supermarket across from the hotel, where they were begging, and let them choose to eat and drink as much as they liked. They shyly chose one Fanta or Pepsi and some crackers and a sandwich. They were not greedy at all, just shy and hungry. I’ve earned a lot of criticism for that, for taking them shopping with me and paying for their lunch, criticism from people who believe this will cause them to beg even more. I don’t know the solution to famine on earth, but why not help selectively, right there where you happen to be, as much as you as a private person can help?
There are orphanages in Tanzania and Cameroon sponsored by crew member colleagues of mine and when flying to these countries we would often take donated clothes from home for them.
There’s a woman in a wheelchair at Hong Kong’s Wan Chai pier, selling self-made jewelry. I’ve seen her there for the last couple of years. At the beginning, while passing her I tried to smile at her and walk by. Last year I began to stop by her, kneeling down so that I could be at eye level with her and talk to her about this and that, and even buy some of her jewelry. The way she responds to me warms my heart. At first she was kind of bashful but as time went by she would light up from her melancholy and talk more easily to me and show me her collection of jewelry and bangles. She is severely deformed from the chest downwards. Yet she is not begging for money, she’s selling her jewelry but not looking for charity. So I’ve bought a couple of small items from her out of sympathy. It’s not much, just a bit, but it makes her happy. And it makes me happy.
These encounters with people all over the world make me a more humble person and I consider them to be part of my “Bildungsroman” that flying is.
After all, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.