DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Airport Adventure Continues

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE’S AYMAN?

Now that I’m home, I’ve tried to educate myself about the pilgrims who crowded into the Cairo Airport the same night I arrived.  I shared some of the answers last week, but I left Bill and I standing with our niece in a huge, noisy crowd.  At first there was the initial small talk of arrival, but soon it was apparent Mirette thought it was high time for Ayman to rescue us from our perch among the milling pilgrims.

Looking for Ayman

After a few minutes of chatting, Mirette began to scan the passing cars for her husband, with the international expression of, “where is he?”  Soon she was describing the car Ayman was driving to Bill.  Then they began to discuss how far away the car had been parked.  When they moved the conversation into Arabic, I got worried.

Then Ayman himself hurried up, but on foot, not in the car, which was perplexing in and of itself. He explained the crowds became too large, so the police shut down one of the roads. He’d found another parking spot as close as he could get, but we still had to walk some.

Midnight Rambles

Even though the time was nearing midnight, walking didn’t sound like a problem, as long as we had a cart for the luggage.  Then we came to a set of stairs and I wasn’t really happy about that. The collapsing handle on one of the bags quit working before we ever left Dallas and would have to be carried. The condition of the sidewalks and streets suggested rolling the checked bags would also be a challenge, but I saw no other alternative.

Each of the girls grabbed a carry-on bag, leaving the larger bags to the men. Then, at the bottom of the stairs, I found a cart!  Either someone had left it or God had deposited there for my benefit. Either way we were saved. We loaded up the new cart and continued on our way.

Ayman and Bill pushed the luggage-laden cart through the obstacle course.  A few feet along the sidewalk and then down a curb.  Then a good long haul through parking areas, weaving in-between cars when necessary.  Up a curb, over a sidewalk, down a curb, across a street, up a curb and finally we could see the car.

Halting the cart, each of the fellows picked up a bag to put in the trunk. While their backs were turned, the cart took off like a rocket. I shouted and ran after the careening cart, but my shouts were lost in the other noises around us. The cart skewed off the sidewalk, fell to its side and dumped the bags into the street.

A couple of pilgrims watched from afar. You’d have thought they were watching moss grow on a stone for all the reaction the cart and I got. Bill and Ayman looked at me as if the bags strewn in the middle of the street were somehow my fault. All I could think of was the bottles of scotch.  You do remember the scotch, don’t you? Would my suitcases be full of glass shards and alcohol-soaked clothes?

We’ll find out together. Come back next week for my first impressions of Cairo outside the airport.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Lost in a Sea of Pilgrims

Will we ever make it out of the airport?

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.

Instant Relief

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.

 

DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Touchdown in Cairo

Niece Mirette and her husband, Ayman

TRAVEL THERE:  LET THE CRAZINESS BEGIN

It was a late night arrival in Cairo, so the activity inside the terminal was actually pretty calm.  A flight arrived from Saudi Arabia about the same time as ours, but otherwise customs and baggage claim was empty.  Preoccupied with my own arrival I wasn’t really focused on other passengers, but it was clear we were in the Middle East.  

What’s With the Guys Wearing Towels?

In the terminal, hajibs and galabeyas were more frequent than blue jeans and yoga pants, but one guy really got my attention.  To my uninformed eye, it looked as if he were dressed for a toga party.  His white garment came to about mid-calf and had been torn all the way around the bottom.  The texture was towel-like and it appeared one shoulder might be bare.  Something like a a shawl was pinned around his other shoulder. He was definitely wearing shower shoes, but whatever the reason for his outfit, staring would be rude, so I kept my eyes down.

Islamic Pilgrim Wear

If there had only been one guy like that, I might have forgotten about it in the hustle and bustle, but I began to realize there were a lot of men wearing variations of the same thing.  Some ‘togas’ were longer than others. Some men had both shoulders wrapped.  One hem would look freshly torn with ratty looking strings hanging around the bottom, while another hem would be so smooth I wondered whether it were torn at all.

There were also variations in the textures of the garments.  The first ‘toga’ I had spied looked like a laundry mistake.  If you’ve ever washed a few towels and then discovered them still in the washer several days later – damp, wrinkled and soured – then you know what I mean.  I didn’t get close enough to smell him, of course, but that’s what it looked like.  He was the anomaly in the crowd, but there were other subtle differences.  While some had the lush looped-terry of a luxury hotel’s complimentary robe, a few had the even more exclusive look of a waffle-woven linen hand-towel  No loops there.

Please understand, I’m making all these observations out of the corner of my eye or from under lowered eyelids.  I didn’t want to appear to be a gawking tourist, even if that was exactly what I was.  I started trying to figure out if this was totally a male thing and I was able to ascertain very quickly it was.  The women wore traditional galabeyas and hajibs, and most were of the gloved, head-to-toe, black variety  mentioned in my initial blog about this trip.  Days later, I would begin to realize there were women dressed in simple white variations of this head-to-toe manner, traveling with some of the men, but if they were at the airport I missed them.

I kept quiet and kept my eyes to myself as much as I could, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the deal was.  Did an entire group of conventioneers get their luggage stolen and this was the best the hotel could offer?  Your imagination does weird things in a vacuum of information.

Where are Mirette and Ayman?

Step-by-step we made it through customs and retrieved our luggage.  We were almost out of the terminal, but with the exception of professional drivers holding signs, we hadn’t seen anyone greeting our fellow arrivals.  Just outside the sidewalk was busy with people cuing up for cabs.

Have you ever looked around a place, trying to get your bearings and missed the most obvious thing.  I was looking so hard to find my niece or her husband, that I missed a wild cacophony right in front of me.  When I finally got my bearings, I started to wonder if I was about to get caught up in a riot.

On the other side of a thoroughfare filled with cabs was a huge crowd.  Many of the men had on the togas I had noticed inside the terminal.  Bill headed across the street and I followed him, wondering if he’d even noticed the rowdy crowd.  They weren’t rowdy in a soccer fan kind of way, it was more purposeful and less emotional, but nonetheless quite loud.  What a kaleidoscope of sight and sound to begin our sojourn in Egypt!

I’ll tell you about it next week.