The next stop – Istanbul. But first I had to get out of Cairo. I chose a late flight because I hadn’t seen very much of Cairo at night. The airport looks out on some of the city, and the drive to the airport from Maadi was through most of the city. And what a drive it was. A cab was hailed in Maadi, and the man assured me he knew how to get to the airport. What he forgot to mention, in between trying to convince me that I should stay in Cairo and marry him, and that heavy metal was the best music around (right, thank you, but just because I’m American, it doesn’t mean that I am a HUGE fan of metal. Really.) was that he would have to make a couple of stops along the way.
The first stop was because he ran out of gas. Gas prices, understandably, are cheap in Cairo.
The second stop was so he could relieve himself on the side of the road. I hope you won’t think I’m too uptight but I told him he could keep the change when we got to the airport.
I had overstayed my visa in Cairo by two weeks, and forgotten to renew it. The Times’ office manager (really awesome and cool person) thought this would be ok, but that I would have to pay prior to leaving the country. No problem, even with the multiple stops on the trip, I had left enough time to deal with Egyptian beauracracy – several hours. There was a multi-step process to renewing my visa and then leaving the country in the same night. To obtain the necessary stamps on my passport – a second visa and an exit visa – meant leaving the standard confines of the airport to go behind closed doors. At the first stop, the men working there (only men had desk jobs behind closed doors, by the way) were still very nice. I paid, my passport was stamped, and the man realized that I needed additional marks/stamps/charges and I was sent through another door further into the bowels of the airport.
You know how in movies, there is always that room with lots of desks, men with their ties at half-mast and no windows? Well, let’s just say it’s a very accurate portrayal of what the administration do not enter part of an airport really looks like. After being growled and scowled at – in a language that I know very little of, which helped retain some calmness for me – the man wrote down a number on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk to me. Not really in a position to argue, I paid the full amount. He forcefully stamped my passport, so much so that papers fell off the desk and slid that back to me as well. Then he pointed towards the door, and I scampered (with very little dignity but a whole lot of haste) out back to the public part of the airport.
The rest of the wait and the trip to Istanbul was uneventful, excepting the poor infant whose mother thought it would be a good idea to bring the child on a nighttime flight.