I was

I was on a business trip recently and experienced something I thought was both amusing and sad at the same time. There were two gentlemen, probably in their late forties and fifties, travelling together who sat next to me. They seemed pretty well travelled at first glance, but it soon became apparent that they were not.

As the flight prepared for take-off one of the crew went around for a final check and found these two still chatting on their phones. He asked them to turn their phones off. What ensued was the two of them continuing to text while looking over the seats to see if any crew member was coming. They continued to do so until the flight was lifting off. I am not sure if they even turned their phones off at all. It took a lot for me to hold my peace and not tell them to turn off their phones as I as getting increasingly irritated by their behaviour. I was almost calling one of the crew to put them in check but somehow managed to keep calm.

Finally, we were in flight and all trying to settle into the in-flight entertainment. I was scrolling through the movie selection when I noticed both of them struggling to plug in their headphones. I gently got a hold of one of their headphone plugs and showed him how to plug it in. The other one saw what I did and did likewise.

But I could hardly focus on my movie as the older looking of the two was now having trouble navigating the touch screen. He had an intense look of concentration and was obviously pressing the screen haphazardly, trying to figure out how it worked. In the process he turned on the reading light, which was focused on me and not on him. I asked him if he needed help in understanding how things worked and expected him to say yes given his difficulties. But he declined. So, I gently reached over and turned off the reading light which was disturbing me.

No sooner was my gaze back on the screen than one of the flight crew came by and asked what we needed with a rather puzzled look on his face. My neighbour had also pressed the call button. Seeing that nothing was required of him the crew member, rather irritated already, reached over and switched off the call button and left. My neighbour almost had his face to the screen now, squinting at it and pressing any button in sight. I left him to it. Eventually, after many failed attempts and short naps to recuperate, he got the hang of it and managed to put a movie on, though the choice of movie left me thinking it was not really what he had wanted to watch.

Thus, went the rest of the flight. When drinks came around they both just ordered what I ordered. Likewise for meals. The flight crew by now had gotten to understand that they were not entirely up to how things worked on the flight. I just wish they had not resorted to talking to them like babies when offering food and drinks, made all the more noticeable when they would talk to me properly almost in the same breath. It was funny, but also sad.

I got to thinking how much in life we take for granted. I have lost track of how many times I have flown, but here were these two older gentlemen who had either never flown or only flown a few times. They were still learning the ins and outs of it all. Judging from the heavy coats they had carried they were likely headed for some very cold place.

But I realised that even within my own circle of family and friends there were people that had never been on a plane before for various reasons. Some were still quite young and thus the opportunities still lay ahead of them. I am sure many of them will get to fly. But there are others who may never get to do so at all. Their country is all they will ever have experienced of the world and even then, to a limited extent. I have been to every province in my country either in the course of work or holidaying, but that is not the case for the majority of people. It reminded me of the Uber driver in South Africa who told me he had had a passport for a very long time but had never used it before. He hoped to visit Zambia, my home, sometime.

I reflected and found I had so much to be grateful for. So much I might have taken for granted, having been flying since age twelve or so thanks to my parents. My children have been flying since before they can even remember. When an opportunity came for them to live with their mother out of the country I did not hesitate to let them go. I knew the exposure to different cultures, languages and experiences would be good for them. I recalled my own experience going to school in Malawi and interacting with kids from other ethnicities and backgrounds.

To this day, I can tell, as can others who have had similar experiences growing up, whether one has had that or not. It shapes you in a way that cannot be explained, but that is quite evident. It is a different kind of exposure when you get it as an adult though. It does not have as much of an impact as when you are a child, though it is also valuable.

But, fortunately, technology also allows such exposure.  Movies, social media, television and all have an impact, though perhaps not as much as the actual experience.

I have come to learn that travel, whether by air, sea or land, is important for a complete human experience, especially in this age of globalisation and fast transport. So, whenever you have a chance, take full advantage of it. When you do, remember that many that have lived before you never had such opportunities to traverse the world in such a short time.

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