Travel Stories: Part I
By L-J Anjema © Nov 26, 2005
Laurens-Jan Anjema and SquashTalk LLC
One of the many things I find so cool about being a professional squash
player is the traveling.
When I tell people about the traveling I have just done or show them
the flight itinerary for the next trip, they often ask the question: “Doesn’t
that make you tired?”. Yeah, it does. Sometimes. But I think it’s
GREAT and tiredness is the last thing on my mind when I’ve just
arrived in a ‘new’ place, a ‘new’ country, with ‘new’ people
and a ‘new’ culture.
When I went to Pakistan for the first time for a tournament, I had a
brutal flight. My single-serving friend (as Tyler Durden calls it in
Fight Club) on my 6-hour Emirates flight to Abu Dabi was a very friendly,
yet very obese and talkative Arab. Which meant a full explanation of
the Koran, no elbow-space and no sleep.
After a 3,5 hour wait for my connecting flight at Abu Dhabi airport,
which at 1 o’clock in the morning is extremely busy, I finally
get on the plane to Karachi. A hot, crowded, BO-smelling 2,5-hour flight
where all passengers seem to be in a rush, as they all jump up to get
their luggage the moment the back wheels of the plane hit the ground.
I haven’t slept for a long time now and I almost sleepwalk out
of the plane.
Then I get woken up.
|We players (here Chris Walker) got a police escort
in Pakinstan (photo © Chris Walker)
A naval officer dressed in a white
uniform is waiting for me outside the plane, takes my passport, navigates
me through immigration (jumping a massive line of people) and carries
my bags for me. Then, as I walk out of the terminal, I feel 500 pairs
of eyes staring at me (by now, I’m the only white guy present…).
What are all these people doing here at 04:00 o’clock staring at
an innocent white lil’ rich
Then the guy with the AK-47 helps me get my bags into the van, closes
the door and with a police escort (front and back), sirens screaming,
the van rushes off.
I look outside into this strange world. I’m tired. But I’m
far from asleep…
In September I went to Cairo for the first time in my life to play the
4 star Heliopolis Open. The plan was to go there, play qualifying, see
how it went and then fly back home to Amsterdam on like the 9th, in time
for departure to St Louis on the 11th, which would give me two days clear
in the States before my first round. The plan only didn’t work
out quite this way…
The first surprise was the fact that qualifiers actually had to play 3
qualifying rounds (instead of the usual 2) in order to qualify
for the event. Even though I had a bye in the first qualifying round,
it automatically meant one extra day in Egypt. OK OK! This was my mistake;
next time I’ll look at the information sheet properly…
After 5 days of playing matches, and one week in the lovely ‘International
Scout Hotel’ (for boy scouts, beds also for 13 year old boy scouts,
not made for 2 meter-tall Dutchmen) I’m still in the tournament,
in the semis. I had changed my Austrian airlines flight via Vienna about
3 times, as I kept winning.
Then, when I finally lost in the semis against Darwish, they told me
I was on standby for tomorrow’s flight, but that it was gonna be
no problem: “Mister Anjema, almost NEVER does everyone turn up.
You’ve got a good 80% chance of making it”. Great. And it
didn’t cost anything!
Well, the next day, after 4 hours of sweat and stress at the very passenger-friendly
Cairo airport, those 80% turned into 0%.
I tried to explain the check-in guy that I was a super-special case (never
works), that I knew Ahmed Barada, that I was a squash-pro, that the next
day my flight to the States would leave Amsterdam early morning. To be
fair, this lil fella tried everything to get me on the flight. And when
all seats were gone (including Business and First), he called the pilot
to try and get me in the jump seat.
So, he’s speaking to the pilot on the phone, nods his head, smiles: “Ok,
Ok”. ‘This is going well’ I thought. Then the question
of the pilot was what nationality his jump-seater was going to be, as
the lil fella grabs my passport, opens it and anwers the question with: “Dutch,
sir”. He says OK a few times, hangs up the phone and says: “I’m
sorry, mister Anjema, the pilot won’t allow you in the jump-seat”.
I couldn’t believe it. What about the smiling and the nodding and
the Ok Ok’s? They must have a different meaning over here.
This meant I had to go back to my lovely lil hotel, change my flights
to the States the next day, which meant arriving in St Louis the night
before my first match, still being on Egyptian time-zone of course…
The next day, the whole Austrian airlines office at Cairo airport seemed
to know my name, moved heaven and earth to get me on the next flight
to Amsterdam and finally I heard the beautiful sound of the printer printing
|I reached St. Louis at the last moment, but had
my tournament of the year.
(photo © Debra Tessier)
Late that evening, When I finally got home. I emptied
my bag in the washing machine and two hours later, put all my clothes
straight back in my bag. My dad drove me to the airport the following
morning and I caught my flight to America, getting there just in time
for the start of the St Louis Open qualifying, where despite my very
late arrival and a six-hour time change, I had my tournament of the year.
Laurens Jan Anjema
14th November 2005
PSA Ranking 11-1-2008: #14
His website (www.princelj.com)