Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PAUSE: Long and Lonesome Road

I am beginning this blog at 4:23 in the morning so that you get the full effect of what this trip is/was like. I have spent four times the number of hours in airports as I have spent on planes today. I got to Ben Gurion around 3pm having taken a 2 o’clock Nesher. The girl who interrogated me when I got there had a hard time piecing together my story, mostly because she couldn’t believe I spoke Hebrew, spent one week in Israel and two months in Egypt.

The flight from Tel Aviv to Amman was mostly uneventful, thankfully. I think I slept for maybe 10 minutes. That was nice. And when I got to Amman, though I didn’t have very much time to spend dillydallying in the airport, I did see a Starbucks (and I remembered with fondness the “Stars and Bucks” in Ramallah) with commemorative mugs for sale from almost any Arab country that you please. I didn’t buy any, but I took a picture.


When I got to the Cairo airport things turned crazy.

After spending approximately 8 hours in the airport, I was really ready to get out of there. When we landed we were bussed to the customs. On one side there was a row of booths to process people who were staying in the country, manned by Egyptian border guards and on the other, a similar row for "Transfers", which were all empty. So I did the usual. I went up to a policeman who handed me off to another policeman who handed me off to another...you see where this is going. Anyway, eventually I was told there would be a bus to take me to the Lufthansa terminal, Inschallah, and that I should give them my passport as collateral so that I could run past the lines for customs, grab my luggage from baggage claim, and come back. I did. Then I sat down and ate the dinner I had brought with me, to the awkward amusement of the policemen, and was eventually joined by three Americans who had been teaching some Lebanese students in Cyprus after a cruise along the Mediterranean who were also on their way back to America via Delta. We chatted. And then we all got on the bus when it arrived. But it took us to Egypt Air security. SO here I was, making friends with the security guards once again, telling them I was married, making sure they were making arrangements for me to get to where I needed to go, and all the while thinking A) I'm glad I have a long layover here and B) I'm not going to sleep tonight. Finally my bus arrived (Yes, MY bus. It was a huge 50-seater -- all for me), I said goodbye to my friends at EgyptAir security and I got on. But no sooner had I gotten on that bus, that the driver pulled over. When I asked him what was up, he mumbled something, so I said "Ohn", which you will recall is an affirmative sound, and let him get out and walk into some unmarked large concrete structure while I sat there for what was probably a good 20 minutes. I wasn't scared, or even nervous at all, until I heard footsteps behind me. It was an Egyptian soldier making his rounds. I smiled at him as he passed. Egyptians have this weird thing where they do a double take if you smile at them- its like they don't expect it- and he did one of those and then presented me with a massive grin of his own and continued to glance backwards at me ever 6 seconds or so until he was out of eyeshot. Then my driver came back, bearing snacks. I offered me one of his three massive sandwiches, implying that they were tasty by saying "Quayis!", to which I responded "Yes, good for YOU," and let it go at that.


A few words about this driver: He drove like an Egyptian. Not that that was unexpected, but we crossed the tarmac together - we went over a good chunk of the Cairo airport's square footage and you'd think it would be easier adhere to a few road rules where there's so MUCH concrete at your disposal. But no, we still went the wrong way on one way streets, he almost ran over some police officers who were trying to cross the "street" who yelled at him (!), and he threw the top of his soda can (apparently in other parts of the world the little flip cap for soda hasn't been popularized), which I found unnerving. And we passed some people hanging out, eating, praying and sleeping on the street outside of a building in what felt like the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night for no reason. I asked the driver who they were, and he told me that they were Palestinians in transit to other countries, and that they stayed there - a sort of holding ground - until other countries would grant them visas. I'm not sure how good this guys credibility is, but if that's true -- woah. And then he asked me for basksheesh. I laughed at him and told him I had no Egyptian money. He said Jordanian would be fine, too. I just kept laughing and got off the bus.


The guys I found next who worked for Egypt Air loved me. I think it has something to do with the fact that I can be animated when I'm exhausted and want to be understood. I cracked them up. Turns out I’m also super good at making it seem like get something close to 84% rather than the 56% I actually understand, and that’s if I round up. In any case, they treated me like royalty. Granted I was there for their entire shift and I’m pretty sure that it may never have happened that some random 21-year-old white girl who understands and speaks some Arabic hung out with them all night, that’s all I’m saying. I left my stuff with them to get coffee at the cafeteria and the guy who made my coffee gave me free tea when I finished. Sweet. But then it was only 1:30am and I was bored.


So I came back downstairs and ended up talking with these guys, who I assume were supposed to be working or something - Ahmed and Husayn - from approximately 2-4:30am. We talked a lot about the guy I’m engaged to (Sean) who is not Egyptian (a'asifa), lives in America and doesn’t make money now, but will when he graduates and about the apartment our parents are buying us that we’ll move into after we get married in one year. And no, we won't live in Egypt because Sean doesn't speak Arabic. Oh and since I was taken, Husayn decided that he wants to marry my sister when she grows up. I told her that she (Elizabeth) is twelve, but he didn't mind. I told him my brother (Teddy), who is sixteen, might not be so OK with that. We talked about the weather a lot, too. And movie stars. They got a kick out of Sean’s name because they love Sean Connery. And they love the WWF. Can you tell that neither of them is married? In any case, its 2½ hours of Amiyya Masriyya to chalk up on my Gold Star Chart. You know how new drivers, pilots, or kids being potty-trained have to count their hours or successful attempts and then they get a prize (like a license or a barbie) in the end? That’s what I think I should do with speaking Arabic. I should get free trip to an Arabic-speaking country or something when I get up to like 100 hours. I think I might be close.


I am currently watching the Lufthansa crew walk towards the plane. They’re mostly blond, and I overheard the captain talking to an Egyptian who is clearly the coordinator or whatever for the planes saying “So are we on time today?” [Egyptian nods and says “Ohn” which is Egyptian for “Yeah.”] “Not like yesterday,” continues the captain, “when we were ten minutes late…” I understood from his town that THAT was a disaster that cannot and will not be repeated. Oh ye Germans. You never cease to amuse me with your timekeeping. It’s funny that Egypt Air and Lufthansa have a partnership. Egypt Air is so absolutely Middle Eastern -- late, laid back, and more often than not, falling apart. The German Airline on the other hand is quite the opposite. It’s particular, precise, and above all (it seems), punctual. I’m just saying -- this is not a match made in heaven. {Will the JEW who ordered the KOSHER meal please IDENTIFY HIMSELF! ß that was for you, Abba. I didn’t order any Kosher meals. Hopefully I won’t starve, I still have some nuts and Cliff bars left.}


You know what would make this airport better? Free Internet. Then I could post this blog in real time. Ahh well, what can you do? Its now am and I have to get on the plane to Frankfurt. Not looking forward to the rest of my journey so much, but I do believe that the hardest part is over. Somehow it seems that the hardest part of any of my travels ends up being in Cairo. See previous post for details.


  1. I think I know which home away that is, with the figs.... Elisheva, you have hot feet. So hot that I have barely been able to keep up but you are a fantastic writer and I love knowing you are up to such fascinating and interesting things. Hopefully our paths cross soon for more than 20 minutes at home. Check out where I'm working, it may interest you; www.mcgill.ca/mmep
    Much love,

  2. Also, did you know that I use your moms recipe to make challah every friday? Your moms was always the best with TONS of honey.