Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cairo Arrival (via unexpected stop in Greece!)

Written at approximately 11:00 p.m. (Cairo Time) on Tuesday, August 14. (Posted the next day).

It is just before 11:00 p.m. (Cairo Time) on Tuesday, August 14 and I just heard my second call to prayer.

There is a mosque near our hotel. It is loud enough for me to hear but not quite loud enough to where it will wake me up in the morning.
Mosque outside my hotel window. The top of the tower has speakers and that is where they sing the prayers.
Today was a LONG day. Currently, I’m going on one hour of sleep in the last 28 hours. Needless to say, it is time for bed, but  I wanted to write an update before sleeping so the events are fresh in my mind.

Yesterday, I got to the airport around 10 a.m. (Kansas City Time) after having breakfast with my mom. She was the hardest to leave, because her crying started me crying and I started to remember what it was like to be away from her when I was in college. I did fine, really, but there was never a time that I said, “Gee, I’m glad my mom isn’t here.” More often than not, if something needed said, it would be, “Gee, I wish my mom were here.” I knew I would feel that way a lot in Egypt.

My flight from Kansas City was fine except for a minor half-hour delay on the runway that made me slightly concerned about my plane. I ran to the train at Washington Dulles to scurry to the next terminal and made it to my new gate in plenty of time. I met up with Susan (my roommate) and Linda (wearing Obama buttons) and we grabbed a drink before boarding the flight to Frankfurt.

We flew Luftanza and it had to be the nicest flight I have ever flown. It was a brand new plane, so the seats were a little more comfortable and the entertainment system was touch screen, with everything on demand. A snack, two meals and all alcoholic beverages were included and more than once, the stewardess noticed my purple water bottle getting close to empty, offering to fill it for me. I was two rows away from Linda and across from her was a family of four, husband and wife teachers and their two, 1-year-old twins.

We made such good time that we had to sit on the runway in Frankfurt to wait for a gate. Finally, once inside, the airport was busy and confusing. We met up with several more teachers and somehow lost each other in the terminal, eventually meeting up again at the McDonald’s. I got to know several of my new colleagues and we finally continued to Cairo. The boarding process to Cairo was chaotic and frustrating, but I tried to meditate on how the absence of a single-file line might be a good thing, given that I will be experiencing that a lot in this city.

Here is where the real fun began. I had not slept at all and was deliriously awake, so I took a pill and hoped to sleep the entire four hours from Frankfurt to Cairo. I was unsuccessful at first, but had just closed my eyes after a couple hours when I heard people rushing down the aisle. I turned around and several people were gathered around a seat, defibulator on the floor, man with stethoscope and lots of German and Arabic being shouted back and forth across the plane. Later I found out that a man had toppled to the side, passing out on Linda’s and one more passenger’s laps. He was convulsing, unable to fully awaken or respond. Finally, they got him set up and he seemed to be answering some of the passenger-doctor’s questions, fighting back the blood pressure, sugar and heart rate tests. His vitals were okay, but because he was not alert, unreasonable, and had just experienced some sort of seizure, the captain wisely decided to land on a small Greek island, Rhodes.

View of Rhodes as we were flying in.
On the runway. 
The mountains on Rhodes as we were flying out.
One passenger who was sitting behind the sick gentlemen came up to my area to tell his kids what happened. He was convinced that the man is fine and he is faking it, and therefore should be arrested. He kept saying that since his vitals are fine, he must be fine. I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking, “Lots of people have ok vitals but there brain still might explode.” Eventually, the kind, three-language-speaking man next to me kind of tried to shut-up the non-believer, including asking one of his kids to stop filming the fiasco on his cell phone. That erupted in an entirely new argument.

So we arrive at the gorgeous island in the Mediterranean and I’m thinking, selfishly, that this isn’t so bad given that I get to see green mountains and the sea, and now I’ve technically been to Greece.

The flight attendant tried to get the sick man off the plane to the ambulance but he had sort of come to and claimed he was fine. He still looked like a mess and his eyes were glazed, out of focus and he was not making rational decisions. Finally, the captain came back and said that he cannot in good conscious fly the aircraft with this passenger for fear he may pass out again or possibly die. The sick man still refused to leave the plane, even after threats of police.

Sure enough, five minutes later, a Greek police officer and his deputy came in with airport personnel and tried to take the man by force. At this point, several passengers jumped in that this was a very dangerous way to move him given his current neurological and physical state. The police officer threw a hissy fit and stomped away, exclaiming, “Fine, you’ll just wait here for 10 hours then!” And he left the plane.

Meanwhile, what I am now calling the Flight 586 brain trust had gathered to reason with the sick man. They were all older, Egyptian (I think) men and with the exception of the “he’s faking it” guy, they all seemed compassionate. They disagreed on methods, but in the end, chose to try to convince him to deplane of his own free will. The captain finally gave up, stating that all passengers would need to deplane so that the act-like-a-12-year-old police officer could come and remove him by force. The captain was about the execute this plan when one of the men came up with an idea.

So, they lied to him. They told him that if he would get off and get checked out in the ambulance for 20 minutes and the medic cleared him, he would be able to get back on the plane. He agreed, and after deplaning, they quickly removed his bags, shut the cabin door and the plane took off without him. It is sad that they had to lie, but I believe the only other option was force and that could have been way more detrimental.

We got to Cairo 90 minutes late, of course, but with a good story to tell later. 
A view of Cairo from the plane.
Desert, much?
AIS West (the school) had hired a man to walk us through the visa, immigration and customs process, which involved a lot of lines and very little actual concern for anything. Once I got to baggage claim, my bags were already on the belt. In fact, in our group of 18, each person with at least 2 and sometimes as many as 5 bags, and all coming from different origin cities throughout the world, only one person’s two bags were lost. We are hoping she gets them tomorrow.
My train of pink bags was a big hit.
We spent then spent some time in the Duty Free shop as we are only allotted four bottles of liquor per international visit. Otherwise, the only safe option in Egypt is beer or expensive imported drinks at a club. We met several AIS West employees, many of with whom we had been conversing over email for months. They put us on a bus, handed out settling-in cash and information and we proceeded to the hotel.

We saw a fair amount of Cairo along the way, including the Nile River and several glimpses of the pyramid. We finally arrived at the hotel close to 8pm, just in time to eat dinner, check our email and go to bed.
The bus of teachers headed to our hotel.
All the neighborhoods and major businesses are labeled with these huge signs.
The Nile (in fast motion!).
Tomorrow, my group goes to the Mall of Arabia (I’ve heard it’s similar to Mall of America?) while those that opted out of school housing go with a realtor to look at apartments. Breakfast and dinner are included in our stay, as is the frequent power outages. J

Feel free to comment or ask questions! Goodnight!


  1. I can just hear inside your head...get out of my no drama bubble non believer man. But so exciting! Hope you get a great night's sleep.

  2. So exciting! I especially like the man who refused to get off the plane. Those experiences make you appreciate everything else so much more :)
    Here's to lots of great experiences!!

  3. I love the pictures and stories. Keep 'em coming!

  4. Just catching up with you! Keep them coming Dear! xo DC