I am in the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul, waiting for a five-hour flight to Kabul that is (as of now) four hours late. As previously reported in NewsWhistle, the THY lounge in Istanbul is really (really) one of the best airport lounges if not in the world, then certainly the parts of the world that I’ve seen. The Alitalia lounge in Rome doesn’t even open until 8am, and then all you get is automatic machine cappucino that tastes like plastic and a grubby carpet, and – insult to injury, must it be Alitalia again – the JFK lounge that we Turkish Airlines frequent flyers get invited to is like what I imagine a teacher’s lounge at a middle school is like: vending machine snacks, old newspapers. Desperate for a full bar.
The Turkish Airlines lounge, though, is a home away. I actually plan to come to the airport early, knowing that my stone-pressed olive oil drizzled salad will be there, waiting for me, and the same Selection öküzgözü-boğazkere red wine I always drink, ever the more delicious as the PM rages war against alcohol everywhere, expcet, apparently, mercifully, in the lush’s heaven of the THY lounge.
This is a great time of night in Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, almost midnight, the witching hour. This time of night, all flights head east, to Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Doha, and some places I’ve never heard of: Ufa, Gassim, Najaf, Rostov. The world always seems wonderfully big and unknown after all. But despite the Indian businessman sitting next to me near the hot pide station who has just shucked his hotel slippers (those thin terrycloth covered pieces of cardboard they give you in hotels here) to reveal his chubby sockless feet, my favorite passengers are the Central Asian ladies mule-ing it to Tashkent (23:55) and Ashgabat (00:40).
Since I’ve been allowed in the rarefied air of the THY lounge – maybe it’s been a year – I always feel like a faker, the scruffy kid who slips in while the doorman’s looking the other way and who feasts on baklava and wine until someone notices and yanks her out by her unwashed ear. An amateur in the realm of professional Businessmen with Briefcases and Meetings and…I don’t know – what do business do? But, as I think of oh let’s say over 60 kilos of my luggage – more than my own weight – which I will leave in Afghanistan, and the assuredly 60-plus kilos of splendid loot that I will carry back – I find these are my kindred spirits here.
These ladies, hauling kilos upon kilos of goods in both directions, are a major way things get out and in of some parts of Central Asia. (Civilized Afghanistan, though, has DHL, etc, and free use of American Dollars, and no need for mules.) You can’t miss them on your way in to check in at Turkish Airline’s business class counter: Central Asian ladies, golden teeth, some with those glorious turban-like scarves wrapped around their bountiful hair and perched miraculously and – I think – stunningly – on the back of their heads, leading down to the inevitable crushed velour bathrobe and the thick bally socks and yes, many times, slippers with rubber soles. The Ashgabat ladies have red, white and yellow Turkmen embroidery down the neckline of their crushed velvet bathrobes, which is confusing: Which way are we going? Petroleum product fabric, or traditional handwork? Just two legs of the same trip, really.
You can’t miss them by their luggage. They have their own dedicated line with carts bundled high with those woven plastic sacks sewn shut and their weight written in big black marker: 19,7000kg, 21kg, 10,500kg… There are more bundles than ladies, some sitting on the carts amongst the bundles, some standing around, bored, waiting for their packages to be checked so they can hit the lounge. Fabrics, jewelry and other old-ish and handmade-ish goods in, and readymade goods, pajamas, counter-top ovens, and god knows what on the way out. Paid by the kilo, these ladies make so many trips back and forth that they could queen it over the rest of us lowly grunts of frequent fliers in the Turkish Airlines lounge. I love them: Much more interesting than Orthodox Israeli business, or Chinese businessmen sipping tea from the soup bowls, or – let’s face it – ANY businessman, they ply their trade even in the free-for-all buffet of the lounge. Lugging of an amount of plastic-wrapped carry-on baggage that surely pushes the limit of THY’s on-board allowance, they also seem to pack it in while they have the chance here: Plates piled high with eclairs and fruit and grilled meatballs, and already bursting carry-on bags overflowing with bottles of juice and water. Get it while you can, and girls after my own heart, make every kilo count.
Clare Frost is an American kimono and fabric designer who lives in Istanbul. She works with an array of talented artists and craftspeople in Afghanistan, India and Turkey to produce quality hand-made goods and original designs. To contact Clare or learn more about her products, please visit her website or Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Turkish Airlines