The Long Journey To America


To start my trip back to Iowa, I had to wake at the unholy hour of four o’clock in the morning. No person should ever have to see that on their clock. It’s a ridiculous moment in the day and I hope I never wake at it again.

Groggily, I pulled myself together, grabbed my bags, said goodbye to my floral assemblage, and went down the stairs of the Winter Palace for the last time (for this trip, at least) to the front desk. In front of me in line there was an irate Austrian man shouting at the poor clerk about their credit card readers. I sympathized with the poor worker, but when it was my turn to pay, I completely sympathized with the Austrian. Every time he swiped the card, it failed to connect to whatever witchcraft is used to process credit cards. I have no idea why this was such an almighty struggle. I paid for an extra room the other day and it only took the lady behind the counter a single swipe to authorize. In the end, he managed to get it working but it took fifteen minutes of futile swiping. I think my card is worn down from the abuse.

Finally checked out, I hurried to the car. Hassan was waiting for me and we took off to the airport. Driving past Luxor Temple as the sun was coming up was rather memorable. The dim pink light rising behind the temple made the obelisks and statues look pitch black and wonderful. It didn’t take too long at all and before long I was sitting at the gate, twiddling my thumbs. I thought I was bored then, I really did. But until later that day, I had no real idea of what boredom was.

Before long, we boarded and I was waving goodbye to the rapidly fading landscape of Luxor below. It only takes an hour to get to Cairo and I was unconscious for the most of it, so I can’t complain much about this first of many flights.

I didn’t really want to go back to Cairo, but that’s how the flight worked out. I had about eight hours to wait until the next plane, though, which I was not looking forward to at all. I really don’t like airports much. They’re soulless and busy and nobody is friendly. If I had only known that Terminal 3, the only one I’d had experience with, was going to be an oasis of calm and tranquility compared to Terminal 1, I might have considered taking a different flight home.

To get between terminals you take a shuttle. I thought this would be a train like most normal airports. Nope, this was an old bus. So, I had to stand outside for about a half hour waiting as the Cairo pollution made its way back into my lungs. I swear I’m getting some kind of filtered mask the next time I visit. It’s so bad! The bus was stuffed to bursting when it arrived, but somehow the assembled crowd managed to find room. I was the only foreigner in the group, so they delighted in helping me on and even gave me a seat. It was very kind and gave me a good vantage point of how different their culture is from ours. We have personal space that is usually very respected. In Egypt, such a thing does not exist. People were contorted in the strangest shapes to fit both themselves and their luggage aboard. It was absolutely remarkable that nobody passed out — the bus was so hot and so crowded.

To add to the fun, there are several stops on the way betwixt terminals, but there are no announcements made, so you have no idea where you are. Terminal 1 is divided into several huge halls and I had no idea which I needed, so I took a guess and picked the wrong one. It wasn’t a grave error, though.

When I went to checkin, I had my first annoyance. They wouldn’t let me through the initial security to the checkin counters until three hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. So, I had to spend four hours in a horrible café slowly sipping a series of coffees to keep my seat. I felt like I was in I Love Lucy in the episode where she sips sodas waiting to be discovered.

Smoking is still allowed everywhere in Egypt, so I was gasping for air as I read my book. Thank Allah for the Kindle app. I finished the book and ordered another coffee and started daydreaming plots. I do that in my spare time. I never really make up the stories I write, they just show up in my mind. The situations aren’t always clear, but the characters and the locations are. My brain made something up that I’m very excited to get started on when I get back home. That distracted me for a little while and then finally it was time to get my ticket.

I had assumed that when I made it into the terminal there would be some interesting shops or restaurants, but that was not to be. There were a few duty free shops that had the same crap they do everywhere else in the world. There were some Egyptian trinket shops selling the same stuff you could get much cheaper from the aggressive vendors outside the tourist attractions. There was a coffee shop that annoyed me for reasons I won’t get into here.

I had three hundred Egyptian pounds left with nothing to do with them, so I took it to the bank and exchanged it for some American money. I went from a bulging wallet to an astonishingly thin one with two twenty dollar bills stuck inside.

Giving up on ever having fun, I went into my gate and sat and sat and sat and sat and sat and sat. I hated everything and everybody. I was very glad to be heading home, though. I was fatigued of the culture, the language, the way people dress, and the smoke. I’m far from culturally ignorant, but I’ll never fully be at my leisure in a place like Egypt.

There was a slight delay, of course, and then we finally boarded to plane to Casablanca. I was pretty enthusiastic about going to Morocco for the next layover. I assumed that there would be a piano someplace with a man playing old songs and then we’d all shout in unison, “PLAY IT, SAM. FOR OLD TIME’S SAKE. PLAY!”

Like most of my ridiculous fantasies, this one was worlds away from reality, but we haven’t even left Cairo, yet.

By a dumb stroke of luck, I was the first on the plane and was greeted by a smiling hostess who said, “Bonjour, monsieur.”

I stopped and clasped my hands to my bosom. Hearing this phrase me ridiculously happy as I remembered that Moroccans speak both French and Arabic. FINALLY! A civilized language! Oh, reader, I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was. I would finally be able to communicate with people again! Egypt is a lovely place, but you are so isolated by your language and culture. You can’t talk to anybody really, which is a shame.

The plane was very nice and I enjoyed the flight to Casablanca. The food was garbage, though. It might be some of the worst airplane ford I’ve ever had and I’ve experienced some shit. I can’t even begin to try and tell you what it was because I haven’t the foggiest notion. I didn’t partake of much of it.

And so, with great enthusiasm to explore this new airport, I exited the plane with a hearty, “Au revoir!” and into what might perhaps be the most awful airport in the world. It was the stuff of nightmares, reader. Maybe if I had come in from the outside it would be better? Maybe I should have left the terminal, but I was unprepared for wandering through Casablanca in the middle of the night.

The saying, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” really applies to this miserable place. I was quite thirsty and peckish, so I went down to the food court to get a snack. When I tried to pay, I was denied because all of their credit card readers were on the fritz. Oh how I laughed, reader! This was no big deal, though, I thought. Every airport terminal has a bank or a place to change your money. I went off to get some of the local money or some Euros, both of which are accepted at the airport. Guess what? There was no bank or currency change in the entire place. Do you know what this means? I was stuck in an airport where the water is unfit to drink with no money even though I had money! HAHAHAHA FUN!

To add to my gloom and general hatred of everything, there was no wifi in the airport. NONE. Not even a crappy coffee shop connection. What the hell was I supposed to do? I had no way to research anything or contact anybody. I wanted to curl up and die. Instead, I planted myself in a seat, glared at everybody around me, and then proceeded to read another book on my phone. When that was finished, I still had about four more hours of this ungodly situation.

I napped these weird half slumbers. I was sleeping, but I was always conscious of my surroundings. It was rather odd. It must have been some kind of prehistoric instinct to prevent being eaten. I was protecting my bag, so I guess my brain was trying to keep me aware of the situation.

THE PLANE WAS DELAYED! HAHAHAHAHA Another hour of this shit.

And then the boarding finally began. This was probably the most annoying process of all time and that’s not because I was already in a foul mood. There was no modern security check. It’s all done by guards who physically unpack your bags and frisk you. You know how elaborate my packing is, reader! They messed everything up and didn’t care one bit. I WAS IN A RAGE.

When they’ve finished groping your genitals, you sit in this tiny waiting area until they’re ready to let you on the plane. You know how people are at airports. They’re animals. They’re monstrous. If I wasn’t already in a bad mood, this surely would have done me in. Shoving and pushing and getting in your business and touching you and moving your bags. It was just too much for me, reader. Too much.

After eternity had passed and then passed again, four different lines onto the plane began to assemble. I don’t know how this worked or how it was efficient, but it was a mad dash to get to the one that you thought would move the fastest. Of course none of them moved the fastest. None of them really moved at all. It was agonizing, but I finally made my way to my seat.

Everything was going really great at this point because the cabin had been closed for takeoff and there was nobody beside me. I was ecstatic. I was thrilled. I was over the moon. I was so happy that I forgot my thirst. The attendants came around to pass out blankets and eye masks and it wasn’t two seconds later that I was asleep. Oh, reader, it was bliss!

Somebody started nudging me awake. I pulled down my eye mask to see who dared bother me. It was the flight attendant bringing round breakfast. I didn’t want breakfast. I just wanted to be left alone! I shook my head and slipped my mask back on, but then realized that something was different. In great alarm, I looked to my right and sighed. Somebody was now in the middle seat. It was a young girl, maybe twelve, but she was bigger than me. I’m not saying she wasn’t kind, because she was, but do you know how agonizing it is to cross the Atlantic with a large person absorbing your space?

I was so overtired that this nearly caused me to weep. In desperation, I closed my eyes. When I woke up next, it was worse. Now the attendant was bringing lunch and the person to my right had changed. She was halfway in my seat, reader. Instead of the fat preteen, I had another enormous woman next to me. She and the young girl had changed for some reason. So now I had to deal with her elbow firmly lodged in my abdomen. At least she didn’t smell. She would often times violently scratch at her headscarf, but for some reason, this didn’t alarm me. I said I was overtired.

Lunch was awful. I don’t even know what it was. There was this odd tart that tasted of blood and undercooked pastry. There was couscous with some horrible dead thing on top. There was stale cake. There was poorly blended Nescafé. I was glad when sleep claimed me.

The last time I woke up, we were approaching New York City and my arms were scratching like hell. Concerned about what this might mean, I pulled the sleeve of my shirt up and found a row of red lumps. When I scratched them, they only itched the more, so I soon put an end to that practice. Later that day I discovered that something had feasted on my arms, my fingers, and my back. They lasted for a little over 24 hours and have receded since. I’m blaming the woman next to me with the itchy headscarf. She must have given me fleas or lice or something awful.

Finally, and I do mean finally, we touched down in America. I hate flying, reader.

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