Leaving my mom at the airport was one of the hardest things I’ve done. In this time, these past few years, she has become like my best friend, a lifeline, and we’ve come to have the mother-daughter relationship that novels and Hallmark movies are built on. We’ve definitely become closer since I became Muslim, but I really noticed it when I moved to Arizona and then when I moved back to Minnesota last year it seemed like our closeness was cemented. Leaving her in the airport was like leaving behind a body part, but I was able to put one foot in front of the other and embark. Its my destiny, you see, to be here.
I arrived obscenely early for my flight, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but I didn’t know it right away. So the first thing I did was find the prayer room which had no obvious markings, nor dot on the map to call its own. After getting slightly dubious directions I took an elevator up one floor and entered through doors I wasn’t sure I had proper security to go through, around a few corners, across a bridge (and through the woods to grandmother’s…), until I was finally directed to a miniscule, cramped, dusty, and all around hoopty room with a few frayed prayer rugs and a tattered copy of the Bible in four languages. Amsterdam has a Japanese zen(and Ikea)-inspired prayer hall with well-organized sections and black marble floors. Or is it Munich I’m thinking of? Anyways, it’s a site worth seeing and a definitely peaceful place to actually pray. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport I just prayed that I didn’t catch something from the stained seats on the broken chairs.
Prayed up and with still a long time to wait for my flight I found my gate and settled in only to notice that “delayed” was written across my flight time. I crisscrossed the E-wing trying to find someone to explain to me what was going on to finally locate someone 10 minutes later who looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “we’ve been calling for you the past 30 minutes, your flight number was changed. Look its here on the boarding pass.” I debated missing my flight for the chance to choke the smugness out of the front desk check-in attendant who knew my flight was changed and yet printed me out two boarding passes, stapled the wrong one on the front, circled the gate of the flight I was no longer flying on, and didn’t say a word about the change. I also wanted to smack the woman who acted as if she personally had been screaming my name over the loudspeaker (I was never called at all) but I just turned and ran as fast as I could to the correct gate, squeezed into the plane as they were getting ready to shut the doors, and was properly sardined between an uncommunicative linebacker (or so he was built) and a disgruntled German businessman. I can only thank God that it was a short flight from MSP to O’Hare.
My baggage was supposedly checked through all the way to Cairo, but I had a heart-stopping moment of wondering if American-Airline’s check-in attendant of the year had managed to properly screw me over and send my baggage on the original flight which wasn’t going to arrive in Chicago in enough time to catch my connecting to Amman and consequently to Cairo. I was assured, when I arrived, that while she tried really hard to put me on the wrong flight, she had actually gotten my baggage onto the right one. So off I trekked, much relieved, to perform the pretty much completely unnecessary act of leaving the airport only to stand in line yet again to check in with Royal Jordanian, my airline du journee and go through security once more. Standing in the slow-moving, tightly-bunched, line to check in I marveled at the ability of Arabs to be completely disorganized no matter where they are. Checked-in once more I made it through security to sit and wait for the longest flight of my life: Chicago to Amman Jordan.
I flew Royal Jordanian, as I mentioned, and I was all excited to fly a “Muslim” airline for the first time in my life. In my excitement I forgot that while it was “Muslim” it was Arab as well and as such was the most obnoxiously ill-organized airline I’ve ever had the misfortune to fly on. As I was getting onto the plane I was quickly stripped of my rolling carry-on to be assured that it would arrive in Cairo with me, no problem. As I was handed the claim ticket I had a sinking feeling my gut which later bore fruit when I arrived in Cairo. But first things first: apparently for RJ when one buys a plane-ticket with a particular seat assignment this only counts if the people who got onto the plane before him do not want the seat. First come, first serve. I got my particular seat, however I was asked nicely by a stewardess if I would consider moving so that a family could all stay together, and I did, only to be placed next to a woman with a loudly-crying baby who later moved again and was replaced by an elderly Sudanese with bladder-issues. Needless to say I was up a lot to let them out as I refused to give up my aisle seat.
I could wax poetic on how horrid this flight was, but in respect for my, and my readers’, time I will just sum it up instead. A thirteen hour flight filled with noisy Arabs staffed by air-headed Indian stewardesses and no sufficient air- conditioning makes for the longest thirteen hours of my life. The things that made me excited to fly RJ- the Quran and Fayrouz channels- weren’t worth it because the sound quality made it impossible to enjoy either of them. I must say that there are two things that did make me appreciate that Jordan is a majority-Muslim country and the passengers were the same: the lack of guess-work needed for the in-flight meals and the du’a that the pilot recited before taking off. Oh, and at every entrance point I was wished “Allah maaki” (God be with you) which was nice even if it did take me half of the thirteen hour flight to translate the Arabic in my head.
But really, I just don’t think they make up.
I was excited to see Amman, but when I arrived I found probably the dirtiest, most broken-down airport that I’ve yet to see in my life. You know it has to be bad when it makes Cairo International look like the Space Station. Most of the airport was roped off for construction, although there were no workers or work going on and finding a restroom was like searching for gold. I spent the layover with an awesome family from Chicago whose final destination was Syria for a three-week visit with family. They kept me sane and gave me some wonderful moments of companionship. Amman itself looked like the surface of the moon. If you told me that it was populated solely by nomadic Bedouin I would believe you without question.
Getting onto the next flight from Amman to Cairo I had to pass through at least two stages of security, why? Dunno. I guess in the fifteen feet between security check-points I could miraculously find and assemble a bomb without being noticed. We passengers were corralled in a small room before being ushered down a ramp and onto a bus which brought us out to our plane which we ascended via a Presidential-style roll-away staircase complete with red carpet. Once on the plane I partook of the first come first served rule and commandeered the window seat that was not rightfully mine but was next to the seat that was. It didn’t faze the very sweet Jordanian businessman who must be used to that rule by now; he took my seat without a word and even let me read his NatGeo mag once he was done with it. It was worth it because as our luggage was being loaded I watched as over-zealous security guards (actually Jordanian Army I believe from their uniforms) patted down a steward only to, two seconds later, call him over and pat him down again. Apparently he as well was suspected of, in those two seconds, finding and stashing weapons on his personage. He took it without complaint or surprise which leads me to believe that it is not an uncommon event in his daily interaction. As we taxied out to the runway I had the opportunity to watch a lively game of volleyball being played by what I can only hope were off-duty soldiers, set up, net and all, on a runway that must not have been (I hope) used for actual take offs or landings. But knowing the Middle East this is not an assumption one could hold water in.
I took a few snapshots of the moonscapeAmman countryside and the moon rise which was quite beautiful against the starkness of the desert. Unfortunately my arrival in Cairo was at night and I was, therefore, unable to get the same view I received the first time I landed in Cairo which was where the pilot did a nice little fly by and turn around right over the pyramids. To you tourists out there I have to say that seeing the pyramids from the air is much more impressive than standing in the hot sun, sweating, and staring up at them.
My arrival in Egypt… Well let us just remember, for a second, that the national past-time in Egypt is catcalling. It is closely seconded by playing/watching soccer, but really harassing women and smoking hookah take the number one slot any day any time. I was in the land of the pharaohs all of five minutes when I caught an Egyptian businessman wiggling his eyebrows at me. It is a peculiar thing, this wiggling of eyebrows. Apparently in Egypt it’s the cat’s meow and at the merest of a twitch a woman struggles to restrain herself from begging the twitcher to take her there and then. I guess it doesn’t do much for foreigners because to me it just appeared as if he were quite surprised to see me there. “Well hello, I didn’t think I’d see YOU here, its been years! *wiggle wiggle*” It was easy to ignore him but oh how Egyptian men can never take a hint and my lack of breast-heaving response only goaded him to try harder. I think he nearly wiggled his eyebrows clean off and almost stared a hole in the back of my scarf, and in a last-ditch effort to win my heart he made sure to walk past me and loudly murmur in heavily-accented English, “beautiful.” If he had been in a car he would have blinded me with his high-beams and deafened me with his horn before yelling out the window “Eh el amar da!”
When I ignored that as well he disappeared, thankfully, and I was left to stand there with all my other luggage waiting for my lonesome little rolling carry-on, the one I had been assured of arriving with me in Cairo. After forty-five minutes of waiting for the single lost baggage attendant to finally get off the phone and assist me I had a claim ticket, a phone number, and the single hope that my carry-on would be found. See, it had all of the baby pictures of my husband that my mother-in-law, who NEVER lets anyone take pictures from her stash, had given to me after my wedding last year, and all of the baby pictures of me that I was able to round up. I figured if I lost those baby pics my mil would probably put out a contract on my life.
I resolutely turned and gathering up my dignity, my luggage, and my courage I headed towards the port into Cairo where my husband, completely out of his mind with worry when I didn’t come out with all the other passengers, waited for me with a bouquet of flowers and a smile.
I did, later, receive my poor little carry-on but that is a post in and of itself to be written another day.