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  • Writer's pictureS. Yumi Yamamoto

People Watching

Two words: Jet Lag. I think I'm finally over it, but that took over a week to accomplish. Even then, I'm not sure I'm recovered...

The travel time to Zimbabwe was just under 23 hours, and all I have to say is that I'm lucky that the long 15-hour flight was sustained with the "poor-man's first class" (ie. the person who was supposed to sit in the middle seat didn't show up). Still, do you know how horrible it is to be on your period when you're travelling for that long? When half the time people are sleeping and you're bleeding through your pants?? I wish there was a way to pause a menstrual cycle for like a day or two right in the middle for just such an emergency. It would have made my life a lot better.

Beyond the discomfort of my monthly, a flight that long is accompanied by some of the strangest, most entertaining bits of people-watching I've experienced yet. For example, there was a family of four, and the two little boys were probably both under the age of ten. Considering how long they were cooped up, they were the best behaved children I've ever seen. They were quiet and polite, even when they toddled up and down the aisles or tried to talk to strangers. It wasn't until the last hour that the younger one began to cry, obviously exhausted. Didn't even blame him. Seemed like the mom, who was cradling him and shush-ing in his ear, was feeling pretty much the same. I didn't know where they were coming from, as the family was not speaking a language I could identify, but I assumed that either this was not their first flight of the day or it was not their last.

Some of the people-watching came with less-than-kind outcomes. The man who was sitting at the other end of the three-seat row was Muslim, and when it was time to eat he politely asked if he could set his food in the empty middle seat in order to pray. I had no problem with it, and I had an up-close experience of how long and involved a prayer might be. I couldn't understand his words, but that didn't really matter. They weren't for me to understand anyway, but they sounded beautiful. Not having grown up in a heavily religious family, I was surprised at how long the prayer was. Again, I had no problem with it, but apparently the stewardess kind of did. She came down the aisle asking for drink orders, and she tried to disturb him in the middle of everything. He didn't stop, but did put up a finger indicating that he needed a minute, and that kind of pissed her off.

"Oh, you're okay? You don't need anything? Is that it?" she said, not harshly but definitely not polite either.

"He's praying," I explained. "He'll be a moment."

And she honestly gave him a dirty look. Whether it was because she felt she was being inconvenienced or because she didn't like the quiet display of religion I didn't know. I still couldn't believe I had seen that look cross her face. In the end, someone else came back to take his drink order.

The awesome part about being nice? Usually people are nice in return. I fell asleep when breakfast arrived, and the man ordered and kept my food for me until I woke. We had an pleasant chat when we landed about traveling around Africa and the cold winter weather <3

I think I have a fondness of being in small places for extended periods of time, particularly when other people are around. The experiences are sometimes too small to see fully, but you don't really get them anywhere else. Like, I hate wearing shoes and as soon as I'm able I will chuck them off and keep them off for as long as possible: flights included. While it's probably not advised, I even go into the toilets barefoot. Why? I like to see people's faces when I walk out. Some people don't care or don't notice, but others... well, it's funny to see how horrified they are. They can't do anything about it, and I'm not sitting in their row or causing any actual damage, but they're still afraid of a little thing like bare feet.

For those disgusted, I promise, I wash my feet often and thoroughly.

There are other moments that are made entertaining by close proximity: watching a balding, middle-aged man watch a rom-com while trying not to cry, a woman who's not paying attention to her TV show because she's solving a 5000 piece puzzle on her iPad, the tall guy who keeps getting up and down because economy seats suck when you're over 6 feet. We sang Happy Birthday to a nine-year-old girl just as we were getting ready for landing. I watched the stewardesses try their best to make sure there was enough chicken pasta because EVERYONE wanted chicken pasta. I listened to a dozen languages, whispered softly so as to not wake their neighbors. I noticed how many retirees sat around me, how much they looked like each other, especially with their white hair uniformly unkept. I noticed how few people were my age. I wondered if they noticed the same things I did, or if I was missing some hilarious observation because of where I sat. All of this could be easily missed in a city, but because we're forced into a plane, force into each other's business, we're able to get a fairly unobstructed view of people. Few other places in life give us this look, and I cherish it no matter how annoying the travel ends up.


On a related, albeit different note, many non-writers would take these observations and say, "Hey! That could go in your book!"

To which I say, "Please stop."

This is a common complaint among writers, but frankly it's a complaint among people in general. When someone points out that's a perfect bit to include in a book, it's essentially someone telling someone else how to do their job. No one likes to be told how to do their job, especially when the advice is coming from someone who knows nothing about said job. It's insulting.

Yes, these moments could be parts of a story – heck they could even be stories within themselves – but more often than not, they aren't relevant to the story I'M writing. I'm not writing a story about religious intolerance, or about small children, or about how technologically bombarded we are. I might have characters that have these traits, but these details are small. Sometimes, they won't even get a single line in an entire novel. I make a million observations on any given day out in the world, but I can't write a million different things into a novel that's meant to focus on only a few.

To some people, this flight would have been the single most important thing they experienced in order to write their own novel, and it might be the thing they needed in order to make their novel excellent. For others, living in their hometown and delving deep into its history is what they need. This is why there are no two novels that are the same, no two novelist. That's why everyone's path through the writing process is different, and why there are so many people trying to give their own take on the same themes millions of others have written before.

I try not to blame people for telling me "this could go in your book", because they're trying to support me. They just don't know how. Bad support is better than no support, no matter how insulting. Sometimes, that insult can turn into a drive to finish and show them exactly what it is they didn't see.

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