The Arab Who Needed a Wee

Sign-Designers Non-inclusive – Bahrain Airport, January 1999
This follows on from Hours of Fun in Bahrain Airport. Our package-trip aeroplane and been obliged to return to Bahrain shortly after taking off after a fault was detected in the cabin pressure system. We spent some time in the airport lounge before being taken to a hotel. Surprisingly, this time in the airport lounge was not at all dull.
A Sandwich at Ramadan
Unloaded from the plane in Bahrain airport we waited around for an hour or so until an announcement told us to go and get a sandwich. We queued at a kiosk where a man was handing out cheese sandwiches on white bread, a piece of cake, and a drink.
We looked for a spot to sit down and eat our lunch. Spots were somewhat limited, there being many people with a paper plate of cheese sandwiches, and having found a place we noticed we were right opposite the public toilets. Not good, but moving might have been embarrassing as two people who were sitting next to me on the aeroplane and had struck up a minor conversation en-route came and sat by us. Eating our sandwiches was of itself a bit embarrassing since it is Ramadan and eating in daylight hours is potentially rude.
Country Arab Needs a Wee, Creates Unkind Mirth
We soon became aware that these public toilets were causing a problem for the many country Arabs who arrived in their shawls and wraparounds, and wanted to do a wee. The doors of the toilets were flush to the wall, with a brass plate to push them open. The only indication that they were toilets was an illuminated sign above each, with the international symbols of a matchstick man in trousers and a matchstick woman in a skirt.
This caused two main difficulties for a country Arab unused to urbane custom:
1. The images were in reverse; for the country Arab it is the woman who wears trousers and the man a skirt; and
2. How do you open a door that has no handle?
The men needing a wee stood around for a while (there seemed to be no womenfolk with them), then in desperation asked one of the soldiers lazily guarding the embarkation desks; he pointed generally in the direction of the gents with a look that said: ‘You stupid idiot’.
Then one or more of four things happened:
1. The country Arab found the right door but had no idea how it opened, so stood there pathetically waiting for something to happen.
2. He came first across the ladies, equally unable to fathom what to do, and then a woman would emerge and he would try to nip around her to get inside, to be told firmly that this was not allowed.
3. He tried to open the glass door to the cabinet holding the fire hose, which inconveniently for him was both next door to the gents and firmly locked.
4. He went into the cleaning cupboard which was also adjacent to the gents and whose door did at least have a handle. There was a sign on the door in both English and Arabic that said: ‘Cleaners’ though it’s quite possible that he could read neither language. Once inside, the man would have found it was pitch dark, and it was therefore some time before he came out. We imagined that later the cleaner would arrive and say: ‘Ere, who’s pissed in my bucket?’
All this caused us and the fellow passengers who were sitting with us much tragic mirth, until eventually a voice on the loudspeaker said that passengers on Moan-Arche would be taken to a hotel until 7.30pm local time. It was now 11am.
The story continues with A Day at the Hilton.

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