......and here I sit in Cairo, in my cheap little hotel. It's getting scary, when I return from embassy visits, wandering around my neighborhood, a trip to the bakery...I run, well quickly walk, up the steps, hop on the little two person elevator, get off on floor three and I'm home. That's even before I'm in my room. The Cairo Central Hotel, never did I think it would become my home away from home.
A word about the staff...fantastic, amazing, awesome. I know, that's three words. They have been wonderful to me. I think I cause them to think of their grandmothers and what they might be doing had they not been so restricted by religion and culture. The twenty-three year old manager and three of his friends invited me to spend Iftar with them, will tell about that later. All staff are young men in their early twenties except one who's about thirty. One night I mentioned fresh mango juice, how delicious it was in Gaza, how I'd love to have a big glass right now....fifteen minutes later I'm handed two medium size paper cups of fresh mango juice with an apology, the shop didn't have large cups. I'm invited to eat the evening meal with them (they are all fasting) Often they won't let me pay for my share. I was instructed to use only the white taxis that have air-conditioning. Someone saw me getting into a black taxi with no air conditioning....now I must let them get taxis for me. I am spoiled! They certainly keep my spirits up and make me feel special..
Iftar with the young men was an adventure. We piled into a cab and drove through traffic more insane that usual. Traffic lights are few and no one pays much attention to them anyway. I fact, I saw a traffic light for pedestrians...the type with a green light and a little person walking....the light in Cairo had a little green man running as fast as his legs could carry him. Too funny! As we approached a very large open intersection the cars and trucks were squashed together; horns were blaring, every once in a while a space would open up, there would be a flurry of movement and then back to a standstill. Most cars were trying to drive down a small side street, with little luck.
We left our cab and began walking toward the side street. This was where we were to celebrate Iftar. On either side of the street were small restaurants with out door tables in front...as many as would fit. People were sitting in chairs (plastic, wood, aluminum) crammed around the tables and the tables? They're filled with food; salads, rice dishes, chickpeas and veggies, sauces, chicken, beef, lamb, soup, innards (liver, heart, etc.) in a stew...piles of pita. Everyone was poised, waiting for the magic moment 6:30, sunset. When the moment arrives, in unison, they begin to eat. Because we were late we had to wait for a table to become vacant, according to my escorts the food is better after the first seating.
The traffic congestion eased up as we began to eat...not as many horns blaring which was a relief. I looked up from my salad and passing our table was a man leading two camels through all the craziness. I could have reached and touched them. They were oblivious to the cars, people, food, noise, etc. One of my goals during this trip is to have my picture taken riding a camel. I decided this was not the right setting for a picture taking session and the camels were so calm I didn't want to upset them.
I have been asked numerous times if I've seen the pyramids and other sights. I haven't! Some day I'd like to return, visit Egypt and do it justice; but not this trip. There are many emotions and reasons involved...Gaza is on my mind. is my goal...I want to be with people not tourists...the Egyptians I've been with are offering me a cultural experience most people don't even think about seeking out. If I want noisy Americans, I can find them in the US, why go to the pyramids for that. As silly as it may sound I feel it would be almost betray Gaza and my motivation for being here to turn into a tourist on holiday. I am having fun and wonderful experiences...not walking around in a hair coat or being a martyr...just having my own type enjoyment while I wait, wait and wait.
Yesterday I went to the US Embassy in hopes of leaving with a clearer picture about the future...should I prepare to change my flight reservation or secure a ride to the Rafah border with my bags ready for Gaza. Well...as I said at the beginning...here I sit in Cairo.
At the time of my last post I had scheduled an appointment with the Embassy for Sept. 14 at some point I decided to check the website again and found an appointment had opened up on September 8. I signed up for it immediately. Then I noticed you had to cancel any appointment you had already made. I started to cancel my September 14 appointment but was worried I'd end up with out any appointment so I kept both of them. Later I thought about the fact I hadn't received a confirmation email but put it out of my mind.
The night of the 7th I went to a restaurant I'd found that serves liquor...ordered a glass of wine and an appetizer, took out my notebook and began to plan my visit with the embassy staff. I certainly didn't want to become "wild woman" but becoming "the rabbit" would not be the answer either. I tried to write down every stupid question, response or statement anyone at the embassy could possibly make to me. Then I thought of all the ways I could respond and work my way towards "being in charge" and obtaining what I needed. I had a second glass of wine, a lousy dessert and went "home" where I proceeded to go over possibilities and make certain my goals were cemented into my brain and emotions. I fell asleep around 2:00 am.
When I arrived at the Embassy there was already a very long line waiting at the entrance and I could not find the entrance for citizens. I inquired about the citizens line and was told by the man in charge there was no line other than the one he was in charge of. Not believing him I went on a wild goose chase...found the embassy's computer/communications center, was invited into a research library for employees only and finally decided the man in charge of the line knew what he was talking about.
I went back to plead my case. Where was my appointment confirmation letter...I didn't have one, didn't receive one...Without one you can't enter! finally he asked who the appointment was with American Citizen Services or Visa and Couns Services. Here was my opportunity...I wasn't sure who I should see but I had a 9:00 appointment He checked with a man behind a glass window...you have no appointment. But I had to have one, I'd used the internet, he wasn't budging. I mentioned speaking to B in the legal department who'd said I could call if I had problems...no appointment, no confirmation, no entrance.
I said I'd like to speak to the man behind the glass. He immediately asked for my confirmation letter and just as quickly I slid my pass port through the glass and began explaining my problem and how much I appreciated his taking the time to help me. He confirmed I had no 9:00m appointment. We went through my problem again...this time I mention B in legal, maybe I should call him; could I please use the phone...Lets think about this...I mention Mohammad L. in the Egyptian Intelligence who had put my name on the Egyptian list to get into Gaza. Out of the blue he says, "Go, go, go in" and began waving toward the door into the Embassy. I quickly moved toward the door before he changed his mind.
"You don't realize how very lucky you are!" booms the man in charge of the line...he is shaking his head as I swish through the door. I give a sigh of relief when I hear it close. I'm directed to the same place I'd gone to sign my affidavit. I take a number and join the other tired, discouraged looking citizens.
When my number is called I go through another door where again there are glass windows, this time there are four of them. I've drawn window 2. The clerk thinks she remembers me, wasn't I here in the winter when all those people were in Cairo (Gaza Freedom March, Code Pink...trouble) No, no, no I was here in May 2009. When I explain why I'm there she says she can't help me. I need to wait for window three. When it becomes available my number is called....it's the man who'd notarized my affidavit, he doesn't have a clue who I am.
What can we do for you? As soon as Gaza is mentioned he begins the speech about warnings, danger, affidavit must be signed. When he's finished I show him my documents, including my signed affidavit and explain all I need for him to do is fax the papers over to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry so they can process my request to go to Gaza. He can not possibly do this....the US considers it a danger zone and can't approve my going there. I don't want their approval, all I want is for the Embassy to follow the new Egyptian procedure and fax my documents. Finally I thank him so much for trying to help and for spending so much time with me but I think I need to talk to his supervisor. He offers no resistance, I think he was happy to be rid of me.
I was given a long form to complete including a release giving them the right to do a security check, etc. Right! They'd do that whether I gave permission or not. I wait for my number to be called, when it is. I find the supervisor is in window number three. It's a repeat of my conversation with the first man. They certainly have learned the script for the Gaza speech. He is shocked that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry would ask the Embassy to forward documents. Perhaps I should go visit the ministry...yes, that's where I learned of the new procedure. Oh! After ten minutes of getting no where I thank him for spending time with me, I appreciate his concern and suggestions but I think I'd like to speak to his supervisor. Dead silence...Well, she's very busy, she may not even be there, he knows she has appointments. I explain I'm in no hurry, I don't want or expect her to change her busy schedule but I'd appreciate having a few minutes of her time. I have no plans for the rest of the day and I'll wait.
Twenty minutes later my number is called and behind window two I meet Y the supervisor...she looks more alive than anyone I've seen since I stepped out of taxi hours earlier. She shares, this is what I have been told...now Susan you tell me about it. She actually listens and thinks. I have to remind myself...she's an Embassy employee be cautious. She has not heard of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's new procedure. But that wouldn't surprise her, often they don't learn about changes until someone like myself makes them aware. I share my interpretation that forwarding my documents is a procedure and nothing more...I am not asking the US for anything other than to follow a procedure. If there are concerns, I would gladly sign a release or statement...