The Palestine Entries: To Cairo we go

// Entry #3

After waiting seven long years, I was finally on my way to the Gaza Strip.

On Friday evening, a group of family friends kindly escorted my family and I to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport where we were to check in and begin the first leg of the long journey ahead of us. Our luggage was tagged and collected and we made our way to the terminal to board our flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

While waiting in line to board the plane, an elderly man recognized my mother’s headscarf and gave his Salam. He revealed his Moroccan background during our exchange of pleasantries and eventually asked where we were from and where we were heading. He jubilantly wished us luck and expressed his admiration of the strong-willed people of Gaza. It was more than the generic ‘bless the Gazan people’ sentiment; he felt a genuine connection to the Palestinian land as though he too had been estranged from it. He told me to send his regards, to stay safe, and to remember that we are all one people.

I seated myself on the airplane shortly afterwards. Mama and Deena were sitting in another aisle so instead of sitting quietly by my lonesome self, I introduced myself to the family sitting next to me. They happened to be of Montenegrin descent and were making their annual trip to see their extended family. Again, we exchanged pleasantries and spoke about the importance of maintaining one’s cultural roots.

The father cut the conversation moments before the airplane took off to make some last minute phone calls. During his second call, his daughter revealed to me that he had called his wife and his Palestinian friend to tell them he was sitting near a Gazan family on its way to break the siege. Albeit slightly embarrassing, it was touching to see such a diverse crowd of individuals interested in the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.

Eight and a half hours later, we landed at Frankfurt Airport and quickly shuffled our way to the terminal in which we would wait for our connecting flight to Cairo. Terminal B42 was the liveliest terminal in the airport. Toddlers climbed over seats, children singing Arabic nursery rhymes bumped into weary travelers, babies cried forever, mothers watched their children race through the rows of seats, and the tourists traveling to Cairo with us kindly pretended as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

We boarded, we took off, and we landed in Cairo’s newest airport. The last time I visited Cairo was in 2004 and I remember being hustled by airport employees and taxi drivers alike the moment I stepped out of the terminal tunnel. It was nice to see that nothing had changed.

It was almost midnight in Egypt and the Rafah crossing into Palestine – a mere five hours away – was going to open at 9 a.m. in the morning. We decided to relax for an hour or two before heading out, but our immense stack of luggage made us an easy target for solicitation by at least twenty different taxi, bus, and limo drivers. Mama nicknamed them ‘crazy glues’.

“Quick – another crazy glue is coming! Hold on to the luggage before he packs it into his taxi!”

And that’s exactly what happened. An hour into the new day, a taxi driver decided on his own that we would require his services. We stowed our bags and sat quietly (fearfully, really) as he weaved his way through the crowded streets of Cairo.

Sami Kishawi

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