TRAVEL THERE: AIRPORT ANXIETY
So, we’ve landed at the Cairo Airport. We’ve been through Customs and found all our luggage in baggage claim. We should be fine right? Well, I certainly would have guessed that to be true, but instead Bill and I are standing outside the terminal, in a huge crowd of people, many of whom look like they are dressed in togas. I’m wondering where the riot squad is. Were all my security fears going to come true in the first hour I was in Egypt?
Dismay and Distress
There Bill and I stood, trying to stay connected to each other and to our luggage cart, while being knocked about by the press of the crowd. Part of me was worried about mundane things like pickpockets, but another part was trying to understand what was going on. The toga-dressed people and their friends didn’t actually seem threatening, but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.
What if we inadvertently angered someone? Would the crowd turn on us? And where were Mirette and Ayman? Had Bill given them the right information and confirmed they’d be there? Had something happened to prevent them coming?
Bill has a gift for appearing calm in a crisis, even when he’s exploding inside. Like me he’d missed the crowd at first, but he’d continued to overlook it until we were in the middle of it. Had I realized how worried he was, I would have been even more concerned. Just when I was ready to hail a cab, our family members found us.
I’m not quite sure where they came from but suddenly my niece and her husband were there. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see anyone, with the exception, perhaps, of Bill the two times he came home from Iraq. Once they had located us, Ayman headed off to get the car. We were still being jostled, but we’d been found, so things didn’t seem quite so threatening.
While we waited, I tried asking Mirette what was going on with all the white outfits. She said they were pilgrims on Hajj as if that explained everything, but it didn’t. Even I knew the Hajj was taken to Mecca, which is in Saudi Arabia, not Egypt. Something was getting lost in translation.
Why would people on a plane from Saudi Arabia be coming TO Egypt for the Hajj at Easter time? No one could ever tell me. They just kept patiently explaining the pilgrims were on Hajj, as if that was the definitive answer. Once I got home, I tried Google and Wikipedia, but could find no straight-forward answers.
I’m probably on some watch list by now. Not only was I in Egypt while this pilgrimage was going on, I was also there for the Pope’s visit. Since I got back, I’ve been googling every question I could think of to figure it all out.
I educated myself on traditional ihram clothing, which is the toga-like outfit worn by the pilgrims. I satisfied myself April was not the date for Hajj this year or for any of the major Muslim holidays, for that matter. I found out pilgrimages taken at times other than Hajj are something called Umrah and I finally found some Umrah locations in Egypt. Most of what I found when I Googled were travel packages available for Hajj and Umrah, but all of them that I read sounded like a travelogue for people who already know why they are going. Nothing there to explain exactly what was going on.
So come back next week and find out our other adventures at the Cairo Airport. Since I’m here writing this blog post we obviously made it out, but not until after a little more craziness.