March 24, 2011 – Can I blame my ignorance on thinking the flight from JFK in New York City to Cairo, Egypt would go East then South then East again on the fact that the Buffalo NY schools don’t teach geography? Or how about the fact that the farthest I’d ever flown was to Dublin Ireland, which is North of JFK. East of Dublin, I’ve only ever traveled by boat, train or car.
The flight to Cairo takes 11 hours, and when I flew, there was a six hour time difference between EDT and Cairo time. I left at 6:30 pm (and – yahoo, there’s a Palm Restaurant in the same terminal as Egypt Air, and Egypt Air (a dry airline) is right across from Aer Lingus (most definitely an, um, wet airline)) and arrived in Cairo at 10:50 am, but did not make it through all of the airport necessities until 11:43. The flightpath was up the East Coast of the US and Canada, over Greenland, down through parts of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and then down, down, down over Europe, East through parts of Turkey and over Egypt.
The flight itself was not full, but the travelers on it were fascinating. The first people I met were all in a group called OAT – overseas adventure travelers, an adventure travel organization geared towards older travelers, who had decided now was the time to see the pyramids while no other tourists were around. These were not your typical Elderhostel going retirees. The bags they slung over their shoulders showed their experience – with tags and wear that the Pottery Barn dreams of copying. Seated near me on the flight was a man who lives in Louisiana but was born in Egypt and an Egyptian woman who works for the World Bank. Both were amazingly friendly, and both gave me their numbers with a “If there is anything you need while you are in Cairo, call me.” (This has pretty much set the tone of all the people I have met here – they are incredibly hospitable, warm and tolerant of dumbass Americans.) ‘Seated’ is kind of a loose term, the flight was so empty that people spread out across the clusters of three seats (window, aisle, window sequence) and were able to sleep stretched to their full length – or rather anyone under 6 ft could. (The younger guy near me actually took off his pants to sleep during the night, oops, that was not an eyeful I needed first thing in the AM, AWKWARD!!!)
The flight itself was when I first truly realized how different of a culture I was going to. Watching the plane board was to me fascinating, especially the families and single women traveling to Cairo. There were women in high style – gorgeous dark hair sleekly styled, clothes meant to impress more than relax on an 11 hour flight, and carrying luggage that cost more than three months of my studio apt in Brooklyn Heights. Women boarded who had covered their hair with scarfs and other women had opted for hijabs. This was not my first time seeing a woman in a burqa, as my neighborhood in Brooklyn was near Persian and Arab neighborhoods complete with regular calls to prayer, and the stores along Atlantic Avenue sell burqa and hijabs – go east of Barneys and Trader Joes, around Atlantic. It was however the first time I noticed that women in burqas also wear gloves. Which when you think about the modesty demanded by the Qur’an, makes complete sense, but it still took me by surprise at first.
The Office Manager of The Times MENA Bureau picked me up, which was a relief to me and also a really nice thing for her to do. It was great to have someone fluent and willing to answer my stupid American questions, as I am scared of being culturally insensitive inadvertently. In the cab ride to Maadi, she mentioned that a bunch of Times’ reporters were also on the flight, including Nicolas Kristoff. Reinforcements, I guess, for those stuck in Libya, and those who at the time of my travels, were still unaccounted for in Libyan custody.
More about the Labrador Current, from Wikipedia.