Monday, May 16, 2011

Wusool Mahtar (Airport Arrivals)

Article first published as "Travel Tension under Military Rule in Egypt" on Blogcritics.

Photo by author of Egyptian Army Soldier at Tahrir square

My husband arrived last week. Everyone in the house is much happier. The kids sleep through the night. The baby does not need three bottles. The house is lively, full of activity, full of fun.

Getting him here was a bit of a production. He is Kenyan, with a green card. Accordingly, he needs a visa before he enters Egypt, whereas Americans can simply buy their visa at the airport for $15. My husband decided on the spur of the moment to come do some business in Ethiopia, and then to come to Egypt. We only had a few days to apply for his visa. Needless to say, it was not ready by the time he arrived.

This resulted in a nervewracking situation for me,  the wife (zogah). I asked my university to apply for the visa. They applied, but he only told us on a Friday, which is the equivalent of the western Sunday, i.e. Nobody works because it is the Lord's Day. As a result, the time to apply for the visa was shortened even more. So, here it was, Wednesday, and Hamadi did not have a visa yet. In addition, he was travelling, so it was hard to communicate with him.

Let's just say that I went on an "all systems alert." I am a worry wort and anxious by nature. But now I was facing the prospect of two outcomes: good case scenario my husband is detained at the airport, and bad case scenario, my husband is deported from Egypt. Not a fun scene.

So, going through my obsessive compulsive checklist I liased with the travel office, the business services office, the center for migration and refugees, a friend who is a travel agent, and my boss. The business service office was working on speeding up the visa. The travel office provided me (at a reasonable fee) with an official driver and an "expeditor." I brought my passport and my AUC badge just in case the distraught wife thing might work.

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. The current "government" of Egypt is nothing more or less than the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. They are very strict, and they are not known for their easygoing flexibility. I had basically steeled myself for Hamadi being locked in some small room at the airport for an unknown number of days. The business service office strongly recommended that he not travel and stay wherever he was till the visa cleared. However, since I had no way to get in touch with him, I had to just steel myself for the inevitable.

We arrived at the airport and met the "expeditor." I handed him my passport and my AUC badge. I informed him that Hamadi had received a visa and entered the country and left the country before the Revolution. The expeditor was a jolly man named Mark, and he remained pleasant yet impassive as I told him these details. All of us were in the dark. No one new what the reaction would be to this bureacratic error in a time of military rule.

The driver and I stood anxiously at the gate.  Women passed by, some in black Nekab with feet covered and gloves on their hands, only their heavily kohled eyes showing. Young women stood with their boyfriends in tight jeans and high heels. Taxi drivers came up to me repeatedly asking if I needed assistance in Arabic. I anxiously checked the board, flights from Tripoli, cancelled. Flights from Benghazi, cancelled. Flights from Aden, on point. Where was the flight from Dubai?

As we waited, the driver worked on my Arabic with me. His wife is from Morocco, where they speak Arabic and French.  I learned to speak my first Arabic sentence waiting for goozy (my husband). It surely sounds like nonsense to you, but for me it was a significant moment to go from single, isolated words to an entire sentence. "Ana saafa dunia bil nahaar." I see the world in the daytime. I picked this sentence, because this was my first time coming to Cairo airport in the day. Suddenly, I could see where it was going in the bright Egyptian sunshine. As I mused on my accomplishment, my husband appeared at the gate, safari jacket pockets full. The expeditor had expedited. Goozy fi el beit.


  1. Warigia! Tense moments indeed! Incredibly happy that everything ended are a marvelous writer my friend...

  2. That's nice. Glad things worked out OK. Tell Hamadi hello from me.


  3. Dear Pop,

    I will share your greetings with Hamadi!


  4. Dear Erica, Thanks so much for the kind words! WMB

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