Houda flies with Qatar Airways
Houda Toufik, 28, is from Rabat in Morocco. She left home at 19 to live in Jeddah, before joining Qatar Airways. One of six children, Houda's life is very different to that of her twin sister, who manages a florist's business. Engaged twice, Houda jokes that she is married to her career. She was recently promoted to cabin senior.
“I was a language student, but didn't get the marks to enter translators' school. I'm a very demanding girl - I cannot sit at a desk with a routine job, so my escape route was as a flight attendant. My parents didn't say anything: even though the training centre was quite expensive, they told me to go ahead.
“After finishing the course, I waited six months before Saudi Arabian Airways came to recruit girls. I was really happy, but it was hard to leave home and friends and to live so far away in Saudi Arabia. Jeddah is beautiful, but it was hard to adapt. In Morocco, you can wear what you want and talk to whoever you want. The compound in Jeddah had supermarkets, restaurants, a swimming pool, but we felt like prisoners. Every time we left, the check hostess would make sure that we were completely covered. We were not allowed to wear make-up, to attract attention. I kept ringing home and crying. My twin sister was sick with worry.
“I worked in Saudi for two and a half years, then returned to Morocco to get married. I resigned and went home - but it didn't work out (laughs). I returned to my training centre as a supervisor, then Qatar Airways came along. The best thing about the job is understanding so many kind of people, seeing different cultures, different places without paying a penny. You see someone, and you know what kind of a person they are, how to talk to them and how to get whatever you want from them. But you have to adapt to flying in the mornings or nights. You have to be relaxed even though you may be nervous or have problems; you have to leave it at home.
“We have medical checks every six months. You can suffer varicose veins, bad circulation, or ear infections. If you don't eat well, you get anaemic. The grooming department carries out spot checks, to make sure we are not too thin or overweight. If you are five to seven kilos over, they advise you. Or if you are too thin, they show you how to control your food and to eat.
“We are not allowed to wear diamonds; we may be serving passengers who cannot afford such jewellery, and that could be insulting. You have to look neutral, but you also have to look good.
“People sometimes drink too much. If someone drinks on the ground, they do not get drunk. If they are flying and drink, the pressure doubles the effect. It's the same with walking, if you walk 100 metres on the ground, above 35,000 metres the same distance is like 200 metres. Seriously, I would advise anyone flying to drink nothing except water. When it is hot, the blood circulates faster and people become more aggressive. Aggressive passengers happen every day. Sometimes, they are from connecting flights and are stressed through lack of sleep. But we try to cool them down.
“If I'm upset, I go to the galley and have a glass of water to calm down. I never shout, or say bad things, or turn my back. If you cannot calm yourself, you are lost. The question is whether you can deal with these situations, without hurting anyone or making that person feel bad. In terms of security, alhamdulillah, I was never in a bad situation. I never get scared flying, but later I can get scared. Sometimes I start crying when I'm back home and I hear about other airline crashes.
“On September 11, I was in Doha on a day off. I was watching CNN at the time. I saw the crash of the second plane into the twin towers live on air. I was shocked. I didn't think it was an attack, I thought it was a crash. I didn't know the full details of the first plane and the reporting was confusing. Even the reporter in New York was surprised.
“I am not afraid of flying after the events. Accidents can happen to anyone. It depends on your destiny. It does not mean that I will die if I fly. I have carried on as normal. I reassure them and tell funny stories to let them know it is okay. I talk about other things like days off rather than about the flights.
“I have handled many medical emergencies - a miscarriage, administering oxygen to people. On our Kathmandu flight, we often have cases of food poisoning after people eat strange local foods. We are trained not to panic. I feel like I've grown with Qatar Airways. In most airlines, you don't see the chief executive; in Qatar Airways, we see him all the time. There are no barriers of rules or protocol; it's relaxed.
“You have to like this job to do it. I left Qatar to get married. You guessed it (more laughter) - it didn't work out! I spent four months in the States, then called Qatar Airways. I went back, and even got promoted recently to cabin senior. That is so unusual, for any airline. Will I still fly when I'm 35 or 40? There's a Filipina stewardess who we call Mama Jo, who is 40 with six children. Now, she's a welfare officer, but her daughter is flying. Whenever we have problems, we go to our Mama Jo. She has 19 years' experience and she still looks like a baby.
“I'd like to be a welfare officer or an instructor - that's my goal. No husband, no children! Qatar Airways doesn't abandon its cabin crew. If you don't want to work in Doha, you can work in an agency office. I have family in Paris. With my certificates, I could open a travel agency, or a training centre. There are opportunities.
“My twin sister says she could never carry a tray and serve a person - she's like ‘no way!' We are completely different; I sacrifice myself to know things. She visited Doha for a month, but when I asked her to stay longer, she said ‘thank you very much but I want to go back'. However, if I had a daughter, I would not advise her to do this. If you see me in jeans, I am not Houda the lady. I walk like a soldier, talk like a soldier - lose my femininity, talk too seriously. My work has affected my personality. I have become very tough. It also affects your health. You can get back problems or foot problems, headaches or problems with your ears or eyes, or heart problems.
“But I love flying. When I took four months out, I couldn't stay on the ground; I had to fly. I haven't chosen this job for the money, or to see places - I love this job. And after nine years, I still can't stop, even though I sometimes get fed up. It's like a drug, and I need it every day! You see so many things - but there is a price to pay.”
Source: Arabian Woman