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July 10, 2009

Back in the Belly of the Beast—رجوع إلى بطن السوء

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 3:40 pm

I’ll continue with the travel narrative in a bit, but here’s something a bit more recent

Well, after a hellish day of traveling, I’m back in the US of A.  It was something of an unhappy arrival.  I had a short scheduled layover in JFK  airport in New York before proceeding to my new home of Washington DC.  Unfortunately, neither the fates nor the Department of Homeland Security were with me.  First, I got stuck behind an American dude with his new Spanish wife and kids and their dachshund (which had previously managed to escape during landing).  That required some amount of paperwork, including the immigration official checking through the Spanish woman’s secret envelop (she was obliged to carry it with her, but was not able to see it before the immigration officer did).  When it came my turn, the fellow was courteous enough, asking me the usual questions about what I was doing in the Middle East, etc.  He assured me, “don’t get me wrong, I’ve visited Egypt.  I like Egypt.”  “I don’t,” I replied, while trying not to be too impolite.  He did, however, find it quite strange that I would chose to take a trip to Sudan for tourism.  “It was winter and we wanted to go somewhere warmer,” I said.  “I’ve been to to Cairo in winter and it’s not that cold.”  “We’re from California,” I clarified.  “‘Nuff said!”

He then escorted me back to another room, saying to one of his colleagues, a Mr. ‘Abd al-Aziz, “I know you’re gonna hate me, but I got a CTR109 [or some such nonsense code] for you.”  “You’re right.  I do,” came the response.  My name had popped up on the monitor and I was getting some special treatment.  Me, a young Egyptian kid with an unfortunate name, a guy with a bit of a zabiba and a skullcap, an Egyptian family and a very tall New York Jew working between Cairo and Chicago, sporting a shaved head that nevertheless failed to disguise previous decades of Orthodox grooming.  Depending on what you consider the latter, I was the only white person in the room, and the second to last to get questioned.  Before it was actually my turn to go through the process, Mr. ‘Abd al-Aziz made a bit of small talk about Syphilis (that’s our cat), asking what kind of cat she was.  I responded that she was a tortoise-shell.  His answer was that he had some special breed at some point (I forgot what it was), but he had to get rid of it because it was “too emotional.”

After the poor kid who shared a name with an equally unfortunate Arab was waved off by ‘Abd al-Aziz, annoyed that he was obliged to bother this kid and have him open his bags, and after the New York Jew was advised to write to his Congressperson to complain that he is stopped and processed like this every time he goes back between Cairo and the US (writing the head of the DHS just won’t be going high enough, they assured him), I was then once again asked a number of routine and, considering the situation, not particularly invasive questions about what I had been doing in the Middle East, none of which would have been news to anyone reading this blog.  About two-thirds of the time was spent not answering questions, but waiting while Mr. ‘Abd al-Aziz typed who-knows-what into the terminal.

Next, I had to proceed through customs, where I spent about 15 minutes waiting for someone to show up.  The Customs official on duty was tied up dealing with the 20 cartons of Marlboros getting smuggled in by an Egyptian dude.  The person that finally came again asked me a number of questions, most of which I had just answered with the previous two guys.  Again, most of the time was spent waiting for the Customs official to type whatever it was he was typing.  I should have just told them to save themselves the trouble.  I’ve already done plenty of typing, they could just cut and paste from this blog.

Of course, by this point, I had missed my connection, so I was obliged to wait around for four hours for the next flight.  Contrary to the Egyptian handlers who were more than happy to take my baksheesh in exchange for slinging my cat into the X-ray machine, the woman at JFK prit-near had a conniption when I slid Syphilis in her cat-carrier toward the X-ray machine with every intention of removing her before reaching the machine.  I walked to the gate, where I was immediately assaulted by the sound of CNN turned up to 11.  What’s more, aside from a couple minutes here about the police shooting of a serial killer and 15 seconds there about Honduran President Zalaya in the US, CNN spent every other moment “covering” the Michael Jackson memorial—”coverage” which largely consisted of footage of black cars driving around backed by repetitive interviews with people who had nothing interesting to say about Michael Jackson or anything else.  I tried for a few hours to sleep through this ridiculousness with old Bruce Springsteen blasting in my ears to drown out CNN.  Eventually, I realized there was a bar upstairs, so I proceeded to medicate myself with a Sam Adams cherry wheat beer.  The cherry flavor was over the top.  I felt like I was eating a McDonald’s cherry turnover with a beer chaser.  Welcome to America.

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