I wrote this post on Sunday April 15th, in NY. It describes events that took place on Saturday April 14th, 2018.
Seven months in Gouna, Egypt; now I’m in transit, as I head back home. It’s the second leg of a long journey — a grueling 32 hour or so trip.
After going through redundant security checkpoints and pat downs and luggage tafteesh in the International Departures wing at Cairo airport, I sat in the large waiting lounge at Gate 5. My flight was the 12:30PM Egyptair flight MS985 back to JFK.
I sat somewhere in the back of a rectangular waiting room, strategically placing myself near the bathroom, and looked around me.
Quite the scene.
A number of Salafist-looking passengers: dark-skinned men in their mid thirties with huge black beards and flowing robes, their wives in niqab (ie, garbed from head to toe in black veils). Oddly, their kids spoke perfect English.
Also, a few young women of uncertain European provenance, attached to their older Egyptian beaux; various middle class “normal” Egyptian families, chatting happily in Arabic; a wiry, medieval-looking ancient Yemenite with a hooked nose, white beard, flowing white robe, skull-cap and cheap sandals also caught my attention; a small group of elderly and quite merry men and women, sitting around a table, playing a card game with loud whooping gusto.
I smiled when I heard their accents, as they razzed each other after each hand, speaking in authentic American Black English, instead of that stilted, hard-to-understand, clumsy, mechanical English one often hears when traveling overseas.
In Gouna I soon grew tired of that pseudo fluent Arabish. or Englabic, if you prefer, that Egyptians with pretensions tend to favor. Is there anything more pathetic than two native-speaking Egyptians talking what is effectively creole to one another?
Maybe it’s that some people nowadays feel they have to speak English as a lingua franca, simply to land in a linguistic middle ground.
But for some Egyptians, it’s thought to convey sophistication, particularly if they actually speak English well; it signifies belonging to an elite club. real or imagined, of those who want to ensure that their eldest son has a foreign passport via marriage to some handpicked US or German or English skank, such that as soon as the Islamic hammer eventually comes down, if it ever does, there’s a port to wait out the storm — until the dance of the corrupt, revolving martinets begins anew.
I had placed myself strategically by the bathroom, for I loathe using airplane toilets, and noticed that quite a few dudes get up and go to the back, somewhere around the corner and out of sight. I thought they were going for a smoke, so I took a peek, and discovered that in reality they were performing their noon prayers, for Allah was going to save them all from malediction — please forgive the awful pun — in America.
Soon it was time to board. This was a zoneless free for all, with a long line, that many people cut in, in the peerless Egyptian way, not caring about others or social reciprocity, but, instead, dedicated to pushing their own selfish interests, because, after all, the traffic lights don’t work, and everyone knows the game’s fixed.
The passenger boarding bridge we had to line up in was long and quite hot, as there were no fans or air conditioning. Eventually I got to my seat, and found a space in the upper racks for my trusty Filson duffel bag, sat down, and waited. And waited. And waited. Around 1PM the cabin door was closed, and the plane began to move: we were on our way to NY!
But not quite.
After taxing on the tarmac for while, the captain came on and announced we hard to return to gate to fix a water leak. There was a collective groan, and return we did: for the left aisle in the back of the plane was flooded with water; a pipe in the fight attendants’ station had popped.
We waited as airport maintenance men came on to fix it. I wondered what would happen if they couldn’t. Would we have to disembark, hop on another plane, after our luggage is transferred, or come back the next day? Already this plane was five hours late from its official departure time. I had no appetite for going to Cairo for the night, and coming back on Sunday, but luckily the problem was eventually fixed, and we were on our way by 2:30PM.
Anyone who has ever flown for 11+ hours in economy class knows what’s it like, especially around the 7th hour, when your body begins to rebel at being constrained in tight quarters for such a long period of time, and having to deal with the screaming children, the smell of feet as the shoes come off, the snoring, the smell of airplane food in a fuselage that is being pumped with recycled air, the gradually deteriorating state of the bathrooms, the kid behind you kicking the back of your seat.
Most of the conversations around me were in Arabic, as you would expect, and as I sat in my aisle seat, often being bumped by these behemoth moon-faced women in sombre abayas, their hair carefully dissimulated by some version of what they believed was an authentic interpretation of Islamic modesty from the time of the Prophet, as they waddled to the bathroom, but I gritted it out, and finally, by 8PM, we had arrived in New York.
I was home. It took half an hour to get off of the plane, and finally I was no longer its prisoner, or constrained in any way by anything having to do with fucking Egypt. It was shocking to see the amount of detritus strew about the cabin, even in Business Class — Egyptians like nothing more than leaving garbage everywhere they go, just like in the streets of Cairo or on the shores of the Red Sea.
No matter, I was glad that I was free of having to deal with Egyptians and their schtick, of which, quite frankly, I had grown massively tired: something about their unctuous passive-aggressive manners had become finger-in-the-throat grating.
I approached the customs and passport control area.
It used to be that there was one line for US citizens, and another for everyone else. No more. Not only do you have to deal with these fancy machines that read your passport and take your pic then spit out a piece of paper with your face and travel details printed on it, but — yikes! — I wasn’t done with the baladi hordes yet, as you then actually have to stand in the same line with all the latter-day bashas and hijabis and the mutadayeneen with the beards and the skullcaps and the temporary visas and Egyptian passports and complicated stories and it takes forever as they get interrogated each one at length going through, and fingerprinted like they’re being booked at Tombs.
Finally, it was my turn.
The agent took my passport, held it up in the air, looked at me then said, rapid fire: what countries did you visit and for how long?
Left seven months ago for the Red Sea, I replied, and now I’m back.
The border control guy smiled, handed me back my passport, and said welcome home, Sir.
I was back in the USA!