Stuck In A Moment

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Stuck In A Moment

Stuck In A Moment

I have a his­tory of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Take Argentina for exam­ple. After sev­eral months on the road in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, we had arrived Chile in Jan­u­ary 2002. We had heard of prob­lems in Argentina but we hadn’t paid much atten­tion: we felt invin­ci­ble after Sal­vador, Bolivia and other not-so-safe coun­tries. As we crossed the bor­der at Men­doza, we were told the peso, which was pegged to the U.S. dol­lar on a one-to-one basis, was floated and was suf­fer­ing a major deval­u­a­tion. The econ­omy had bro­ken down. By the time we got to Buenos Aires, there were demon­stra­tions every­where, the peso had lost 75% of its value and peo­ple were left out with noth­ing. How­ever, we got by just fine, minus daily riots.

Remem­ber early 2003, the SARS epi­demic? We were in Aus­tralia dur­ing the out­break, but I flew back to France… with a stop-over in Hong Kong, in the mid­dle of the cri­sis. The Syd­ney-Hong Kong flight was event­less, but as soon as we touched ground, a spe­cial team escorted us, the pas­sen­gers, dis­trib­ut­ing face masks and small anti­sep­tic bot­tles. On my way to Paris, all pas­sen­gers were look­ing at each other sus­pi­ciously and every­one would jolt upon hear­ing the dreaded chesty cough. Not to men­tion we were wel­comed by the police and a med­ical team in Charles-De-Gaulle!

But my most mem­o­rable “wrong place / wrong time” expe­ri­ence took place in 2001. Most peo­ple remem­ber 9/11 very clearly. I remem­ber Octo­ber 7, when the war started.

In 2001, I was work­ing in Hong Kong for a crazy boss. But early Octo­ber, I decided to quit and to go back to France to plan a trip to Latin America.

I had bought a one way flight to Hong Kong and to find a ticket back to France was more dif­fi­cult than planned. In the end, I booked a one-way flight with Gulf Air, one stopover in Abu-Dhabi, United Arab Emi­rates. Given the recent turmoil in Middle-East and the post-9/11 crazi­ness, let’s just say it wasn’t my first choice.

On Octo­ber 5th, I boarded a plane to the UAE. Bye bye Hong Kong, crazy island. As we took off, I felt free yet lost. I wanted to live in China. I had left with the idea of not com­ing back. Inno­cent, as I said. I was a bit less naive but yet full of dream. And I was con­cen­trat­ing hard on my book to avoid think­ing too much.

The plane was almost empty and I had a whole row to myself. A few busi­ness­men were laugh­ing behind me. One of the flight atten­dant was French and when I asked her if she were scared to fly, she replied: “if we have to die, we will. No point wor­ry­ing about that.” Right.

We arrived at Abu-Dhabi in the evening and all got off the plane. It was cold inside the air­port. I still had my “Hong Kong clothes”, a long skirt and a tee-shirt and I felt uneasy. Most women were wearing a veil and I was the only for­eigner around. I hur­ried to the near­est bath­room and grabbed a sweater from my carry-on.

My flight to Paris would leave very late at night and I had a few hours ahead of me. The airport’s main floor was cir­cu­lar, orga­nized around a small café. The few sits were taken by rather large fam­i­lies, feed­ing kids and enter­tain­ing them. I sat on the floor by a win­dow and started draw­ing. I was pretty much the only West­erner here and def­i­nitely the only woman by myself. Come to think of it. Prob­a­bly the youngest trav­eler too, not includ­ing kids.

An hour before the planned depar­ture, I started eying the infor­ma­tion board, look­ing for my flight. And I saw it: “Abu-Dhabi-Paris: can­celled”. What? I ran to the infor­ma­tion desk and was told to wait for me info. Peo­ple were gath­er­ing around the desk, vis­i­bly as sur­prised and lost as I was.

“For rea­sons beyond our con­trol, the flight itin­er­ary will be slightly mod­i­fied. A stopover in Peshawar, Pak­istan, has been added. The stopover will be only a cou­ple of hours long, then we will fly non-stop to Paris. We expect a total delay of less than ten hours”.

I was try­ing to process the infor­ma­tion. Some­what relieved that I would some­how end up in Paris, Pak­istan was the last place I wanted to be right now. What the hell? Peshawar? I didn’t even know where the fuck­ing city was!

I took a sit and was try­ing to think straight when a man approached me. “Are you okay?”, he asked, “if you want we have some extra food voucher the air­line gave us, my wife thought you might want to have some­thing to eat before the flight”. I looked behind his shoul­der and saw a woman hold­ing a tod­dler in her arms, smil­ing at me. I asked them where they were from. Iran, in the Gulf for hol­i­days. And why did they think the direct flight was cancelled? “Because the Amer­i­cans are attack­ing.” Right. The Amer­i­cans are attack­ing. What the hell was I doing here?

By the time I boarded the plane, I had learned a bit more. Appar­ently, a US aer­ial bomb­ing cam­paign was immi­nent in Afghanistan and com­mer­cial flights wouldn’t be allowed over the area for a while. And this was the last flight, the last chance for peo­ple to make it by home, bombs or no bombs. I still wasn’t sure where I fit­ted in the pic­ture though.

I slept through the whole flight and only woke up when we touched ground in Peshawar. We all got off the plane and entered the chaotic air­port. We were miles away from Abu Dhabi and its spot­lessly clean floor. I walked around the packed ter­mi­nal. The whole scene was pretty chaotic. It didn’t take long for peo­ple to approach me: “where are you from?” When I replied “France”, it made them laugh. No won­der. I asked a cou­ple of guys where they were going. Back home, Kabul. “Are you afraid to go back home?” Yes they were. They nod­ded, smil­ing. Yes they were scared. Scared for their fam­ily, scared of their coun­try since most of them were long-time expats, work­ing in the Gulf, scared of pol­i­tics, scared of not know­ing what would hap­pen. Yet they wanted to be home. That’s where they belonged, they said.

From time to time, peo­ple would go to the Mosque on the first level. Women fed babies. Life goes on but we are all glued to CNN. Oper­a­tion Infi­nite Jus­tice, later called Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom, would start any moment. It didn’t make any sense. Noth­ing made sense.

I finally boarded my plane to Paris. The war started. I arrived fine, just tired and con­fused. I had left these peo­ple and their lives behind. I was born on the “good” side of the world. It didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t, to me.



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Hey,
    I was a young lad new to the UK when the first gulf war broke out. I had a difficult time understanding it. I stayed in bed glued to CNN for a couple of days, sick to my stomach, and not quite believing what I was seeing. This was my generation. Deep down I knew it was the beginning of something terrible to come! And it did. I still don’t understand it.

    Beaverboosh’s last blog post..Double Your Pleasure

  2. I was watching Unsolved Mysteries and there were a ton of people in the Wrong place at the Wrong time.

    it was scary.

    I don’t feel old. Just bored. 25 wasn’t as exciting as 18 or 21.

  3. 🙂 Wow Zhu,
    Outside of the fact that YOU are and excellent writer, I can imagine how, and that YOU are always at the wrong place, but fact is that being on the wong place, is more funny or better ( you see more, you have something different than others, its more interesting, less boring etc…)than being on the right place at the right moment!!! Ever thought of it that way? ❗

    Do you want to see my SUNNY weekend , (where I live) I added 10 photo’s to show my sunday walk with Ios in Naarden/Holland.

    Have a great week!

    JoAnn’s D-Eyes Holland’s last blog post..Holland:JOIN me on a SUNNY-Sunday in NAARDEN

  4. Wow. What can I say? I am impressed at your history of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. For me, the only thing I can say about being at the wrong place at the wrong time was in Vienna, when I was a witness to a streetcar-automobile accident, which happened right in front of my eyes I actually jumped backwards. Nothing exciting as your experience.

    Linguist-in-Waiting’s last blog post..Kosovo

  5. Hubby & I were visiting my family in Canada on Sept 11th, 2001. I was home but I wanted to be back in Kansas City. I don’t know why. I can only think that it may be because we were going to be moving into our new house the next month.

    Spyder’s last blog post..I’m Baaack!

  6. Wow, you have definitely been in some interesting places at some interesting times.

    Man, it’s getting harder and harder to find your comment button.

    diesel’s last blog post..The Clay Pigeon has Landed!

  7. WOW! What a post! Pretty much journalistic experiences.
    Wrong places at the wrong times? I wouldn’t say so as far as you are concerned since being a globe trotter is in your blood. It’s been some more fuel for your experience in life. I’m still glad you went through those okay and safe.

    Froggywoogie’s last blog post..Stop being naive!

  8. Hi Zhu,

    Isn’t odd that things like those events you mentioned seem to follow you around? Perhaps you should consider yourself one of the luckiest people in the world for overcoming all those hazards.

    These experiences will enrich your life and would make a great story, assuming there are no traumas that remain as a result. You’re one person I’d definitely want to be with when traveling all over the globe! 🙂 –Durano, done!

    durano lawayan’s last blog post..Curtain Call for Castro

  9. Wow, that’s scary. But just think, you have a great story to tell now that it’s over. Why does there have to be a right side and a wrong side of the world? Is it just that people are too stupid to realize that undereneath all the different customs, clothes, etc. we’re all human?

    Theresa’s last blog post..Get Some Northern Exposure

  10. Wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps. But think about all you have learned. You’ve learned firsthand that people from Iran can be kind and aren’t all fanatics (not that you didn’t know this already). You’ve learned that bombings in Afghanistan don’t exclusively afffect Afghans, though they get the worst of it. You’ve even learned about hyperinflation. And now we’ve all learned from you. Plus aren’t these experiences part of what makes travel great?

    Johnada’s last blog post..CURLING WEEK – Scotties Tournament of Hearts

  11. LOL! I was gonna suggest meeting up sometime, but now I have read this post I’m having second thoughts – with you being in the wrong place at the wrong time and me being prone to accidents…. the whole world would be at risk….lol!!

    Isn’t it strange how we all remember what we were doing at specific moments in time. I was in the middle of a presentation at work when the 9/11 news broke. I remember it as clear as if it were yesterday.

    Graham’s last blog post..What I am listening to at the moment….

  12. @Beaverboosh – I remember the Gulf War but I was pretty young. I guess 9/11 will be “my” Gulf War… sad. I doubt it will ever make sense.

    @Madame Meow – It wasn’t that bad 😉

    @sir jorge – I don’t mind actually cause I got to see the world, and hope to see more of it in the future. Yet, you get a different perspective depending where you are. I don’t feel bored… just confused 😉

    @JoAnn’s D-Eyes Holland – Thanks! I actually don’t mind my “adventures” because I got to see the other side of the story. Come to think of it it was a good experience.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – Yike, car accidents scare me. We all have had these kind of experiences I guess… We just need to remember 😉

    @Spyder – Make sense to want to be home when the world get scary.

    @diesel – I won’t move my comment button ever again, I swear 😉

    @Art – I travel quite a lot so to me, a regular bus ride is like over 24 hours and a stopover is always over than 10 hrs :mrgreen:

    @Froggywoogie – So I should say “wrong place wrong time but overall good experience”. I wasn’t scared as I said — it was honest –, after this kind of exp. you see the world differently though. It’s not black or white anymore…

    @Jay Cam – I swear I didn’t 😈

    @durano lawayan – I never thought of myself as “lucky” — innocent I guess, but not lucky nor unlucky to be honest. I just took it as it came. Glad I was there though, looking back. I learned a lot.

    @Theresa – I think we’re all human. It just annoys me that 2/3 of the world are ruled by the last 1/3 – sorry for the Marxist rant! These people were like you or me. We are so close. Yet politics divided us…

    @Johnada – I did learn a lot and don’t regret anything. It’s just funny looking back… lately I realized I had quite a lot of these experiences!

    @Graham – Let’s meet up in Switzerland, I’ve heard it’s pretty safe! We just have to update our insurance policy before… I read about your freak accident a while ago, but overall you were pretty lucky — like me. We are just about experiences I guess! 😆

  13. oh lol, thats actually sort of funny 🙂 could make a good movie, reminds me of “Meet The Parents”. EVERYTHING he did would always end up in the wrong place or the wrong time 🙂

    but hey, youre still in one piece right? so eveyrthing is ok 😀

  14. 🙂 Hi ZHU,
    Answereing you question on my site , You were asking if there are (and so yes how many) many windmills in Holland, I know there are many of them its even an profession,( my brother in law is amillworker) but I do not know the number that not handy of me right? i am gonna find that out for you thanks for your visit! JoAnn from Holland

    JoAnns D-Eyes’s last blog post..ABC….. E = for ENERGY on ABC wednesday

  15. Hey Zhu,

    Very interesting post, girl! I would say that you have had an extremely interesting life, and you haven’t reach 30 yet lol!
    I did enjoy reading about your “short” stop at UAE, it gave me the impression of being extremely clean and organised (which is good), but on the other hand Pashawar didn’t *nodding*! However I could feel the despair of those people involved in a situation that wasn’t theirs (yes, many times we tend to forget that not all Muslims are terrorists, that not all of them were/a involved in terrorism and that they have families just like us).
    I often wonder what would happen if Muslims would rise and tell terrorists “Enough! Enough!”…cause they are the only ones who can fight against this in depth…

    Latin-America is a beautiful continent, but with serious problems as well *nodding*…you were brave to travel through Argentina in such a difficult time…

    Congratulations for this wonderful article, Zhu :D!


    Max Coutinho’s last blog post..The genesis of sexist remarks

  16. @ammaro – Oh yeah, and I’m glad I had these experiences. Yet looking back… I hope I’m not bad luck! 😆

    @JoAnns D-Eyes – Thank you for this interesting answer! It’s always good to learn more about foreign countries, right? 😉

    @Theresa – Couldn’t agree more with you.

    @Max Coutinho – Thank you! I have heard a lot of Muslims voices saying enough lately. I mean, the fanatics are still a small number of people… and if not Muslims, they would be Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist etc. fanatics. They are just sick… and need a reason to act the way they do. Sad.

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