We rushed back to our little apartment in Nachlaot. We had an hour to finish packing and pray isha. Our landlord triple-booked us–we were moving out at 7:30, and the house cleaners and new residents were moving in.
We have a lot of bags…for three people, each of us basically has two pieces of luggage to check in, and based on the souvenirs and gifts, I can’t lift a one of them. Hassan has to take five big bags of luggage downstairs. He makes a prayer. We are already so tired from running around the Old City, with the stress of leaving the apartment on time. Hassan makes a prayer for Allah to give him strength and support in carrying the luggage on his own down two flights of stairs.
It’s 7:15 p.m. Knocks on the door. Two big burly men are at the door. It’s the new residents. They’re from Florida and don’t know anyone in all of Palestine or Israel. They don’t speak Arabic or Hebrew. They are taking a vacation. What in the world were they thinking? The new residents are two couples. Hassan, Noora, and I barely fit in this one bedroom apartment ourselves. Allah help them. Will they help us remove ourselves from this apartment? They did. Prayers answered.
As the two men help Hassan, Hassan gives them all the tips we’ve learned from the past three weeks. Today is the Sabbath and they are hungry. Everything in West Jerusalem is closed on the Sabbath. They will have to find a taxi. We have some leftovers in the fridge, but its not enough to feed four people. Allah help them!
7:20 p.m. Two more knocks on the door. What?!? Who’s knocking now? Hassan is downstairs with the men still moving luggage. I look out the peephole. It’s a woman and a younger-looking boy. Based on their looks, I open the door. They are speaking to me in Hebrew. I tell them I don’t speak Hebrew. They don’t speak English. I hear them murmuring to themselves, trying to figure out what to say in a language I understand…they speak Russian! Hey! I speak Russian! I find out it’s the cleaning crew. I tell them about where I left the used towels and sheets and how I basically did their job already. They are relieved. Again, our landlord triple-booked the apartment. Good grief!
7:29 p.m. We’re in our car pulling away. Goodbye, Nachlaot. We might do some sightseeing to see you next time…but I don’t think we’ll stay again. No offense.
The hour long drive to Tel Aviv, I’m sorry, Palestinians are telling me to call it Lid (written as Lod). We’re clear of checkpoints until we reach the airport’s terminal. To our right, we see two Palestinians inside with their luggage being searched. Their cars are being stripped, wanded, and checked for bombs. Nothing is spared. The hood is up, the trunk is open, the car doors are open. Now what does this mean for us?
The security guard flags us over upon seeing our Muslim identities. Other cars that have a blue pass designating their Israeli citizenship are waved through with no problem. We are questioned.
What is your relationship with the people in the car, sir?
This is my wife and my fifteen month old daughter.
But your wife, she doesn’t share your last name?
Gosh people! To live in a country full of Muslims, you should school up! Plus, I always see you security officers checking details on a computer. Can’t you look back to our entrance to this country and see that they asked the same thing?!
Okay, sir. We’re going to need your car keys and cell phone.
Oh no, I’ve heard horror stories about cell phones being taken, checked, and bugged, and I’ve been blogging whatever in the world I want to stay in cyberspace. Will they delete my most precious posts?
Thankfully, Hassan is a quick thinker. “I don’t have a cell phone. Well, actually, I do. But I didn’t use it here. It’s packed in my luggage. I rented an Israeli cell phone here to use but returned it as we are flying out today.”
“Okay!” the guard disappears in the back with the car keys. Okay?! We’ve never received a simple okay. Well, okay is good by me. The man never asked for my cell phone…..hee hee hee.
Sitting by the road, watching other cars go by and waiting for the official word, I start to think…after we spent our time and energy packing up all our goodies, are we going to have to unload these humungous monsters of luggage and unpack them? Will we have to wake up our 15 month old daughter who has been sleep-deprived today to assure Israel of their security from us?
The security guard comes back. “Okay, you may go.”
What!?! What’s with all the scare tactics?! Hassan tells him we need to go through a certain closed gate to return our rental car. “Okay”, he responds, but he forgets to open the gate. We tell another soldier–he takes our word. “Okay”, and just like that, he opens the gate.
So we return our rental car and take a shuttle bus to the terminal where our plane awaits. We find the airport to be confusing and because it is so late at night on the Sabbath, mind you, there is minimal staff to direct us to our gate. We finally figure out that we need to go to Gate G and proceed to go get our luggage examined a total of two times before being able to get our boarding tickets. In the first line, an Israeli woman looks back and forth from our faces to our passports to make sure our pictures match our identities. Even in the U.S. I don’t think people really pay attention to my passport photo. She makes small talk, asking about our stay, then gets down to the nitty gritty. “Has anyone given you anything to bring?” she asks. We must lie. No. “I only ask because I fear that you have been given a bomb.” What? No. We were given mamoul and presents to bring back for ourselves and others, but is that really any of your business? We know what’s in our bags. There is nothing hazardous in there lady, but we won’t tell you all of that. So, the woman puts stickers on each one of the bags we are carrying, and we are allowed to proceed and put our luggage on an x-ray machine.
I thought the x-ray would be enough, but it isn’t. Now our luggage must go through a second screening…by hand. Each one of our bags which total eight (including my purse, Hassan’s backpack, and the baby’s diaper bag) must be opened and checked by hand for gunpowder residue or something that their little-squishy-wand-thingy can pick up. I have no idea what they are checking for, but I know we don’t have whatever it is that it might be. So they proceed to open up all of our bags and disassemble all of my hard work of packing them to a tee so that the luggage doesn’t break. Items that were folded and neat aren’t so neat anymore, though they are making an effort to put things back. There are two females and one male checking our luggage. At first, it was just the two women, but then the line grew longer with other passengers they wanted to check…so…they called for backup with the male officer. One female security officer who isn’t that personable says that she must move the Dead Sea Mud that we brought. I’m thinking it is because so much liquid can’t be in one bag? But it really doesn’t make sense at all. She catches a little attitude. I already had an attitude. Hassan tells me to be positive and calm. The officer says either she must move it or open up the dead sea mud. Well, where she moves it causes one of the zippers on my luggage to break. That bag only could withstand cloth items and was already packed to the max. That was the bag holding the “secret” gifts from Ana, Khadra, and all of the other wonderful people we met during our stay. Now it had to hold up to mud as well. Oh well, it didn’t. One of the zippers broke. What am I to do now? I tell the security officers that they aren’t repacking the luggage right and should help me. I tell them that it’s their fault that the luggage broke. The kinder female officer tries to help me repack the luggage. I do have a whining baby in my arms who wants to nurse AT THIS INSTANT! It’s in everyone’s best interest to help us. So they do. And alhamdulillah, this luggage has two zippers.
Because of our long stay in the x-ray and hand search lines, we now must wait in line for our boarding tickets. Our turn finally comes and I’m bribing Noora with mamoul to keep quiet…thanks Ana! We find out that our luggage is too heavy. The female attendant who is waiting on us tells us to move things around so that we won’t have to pay. We tell her we can’t. All the luggage is on the brink of breaking and we are tired. Can’t she just ignore the weight and make it seem like its spread out? No, of course not. We say we’ll pay. She’s shocked. I guess no one ever pays. But hey, it’s late at night and we are all tired and cranky. So we pay.
There seems to be a lot of conversation between the airline attendants…in Hebrew of course. We don’t understand anything. We just keep hearing our names pop up in the conversation like little spikes amidst the cacophony of Hebrew sounds. They are looking from us and back to each other chatting away in their secret language. Eventually, the female attendant asks if we want to sit in the aisle designated for babies…you know, the one with the leg room where everybody crosses in front of you during the night to use the bathroom and so neither you or the baby can sleep…especially since other crying babies are sitting nearby. No, thank you, we respond pleasantly. More Hebrew secret chatter. The woman finally breaks the cacophony with English: “We are going to give you four seats in a middle aisle so that you all can be comfortable. Is that okay?” What?! Is that okay? It’s the best news I’ve heard all day! Wow! How unexpected! How nice! Though the flight back is 2 hours longer, totally 12 hours, we will all have a little bit more room to rest and relax instead of being scrunched up between the seats like before. Toda raba! *(That’s thank you very much in Hebrew, I did pick that up!)
The female attendant says we just need to clear customs and then we are free to go to our gate. What?! We have to answer more questions?! At this time of night?! After we’ve gotten our tickets already? Is there any guarantee that one can enter or leave the country or its cities, ever? So what else can we do? We go to customs for questioning. Basically the same questions as when we arrived, but much quicker and no green room. Not for us anyway. The lines are shorter because of the time and day. Hassan is still asked, “what is your father’s father’s name?” The woman who is questioning us dials someone on the telephone. It seems like there is a problem and she doesn’t know what to do about it. I don’t think she likes one of our answers. But Noora helps speed up our process. She smiles, coos, waves, and practically blows kisses to the questioner through the glass. The woman melts, hangs up the phone, and stamps our exit visas. I think we might have been questioned for all of 2 or 3 minutes. I love my daughter. She can soften anyone’s heart, mash’Allah.
We make our way to our gate to wait. The same attendants that checked us in and surprised us with their discussion about us behind the counter admit us first into the plane to get our seats. Wow! Do they want to put us in first-class too? We are getting royal treatment! No line, no waiting, ample space and time to get our bags up and comfortable! Are we the only people traveling with a baby?!
We find out later that we aren’t the only family traveling with a baby. We know because everyone is smiling at us because Noora is sleeping peacefully after a 10-15 minute cry, and the other baby…hmmm…well…that family needs some Benadryl too.
Twelve hours later we arrive in Philadelphia, back to place where it seemed to all start. It’s about 5 am here. I’m alarmed by the sound of English. I’m not used to being completely literate and understanding everything that people are saying. I’m also super excited to see people who look like us. African-Americans. Black people. Brown people. Cafe con leche people. A whole bunch of different people. I want to give them all hugs. Is that strange? I’ve become foreign. Or my country has. Nevertheless, we have to clear U.S. Customs. In contrast to the facility of our departure from Israel, entering our home country proves harder. I think the countries must be mixed up. We must be entering Israel again. We are waiting in long lines, and are actually the last to be questioned. We picked the wrong line. The customs officer in front us seems to be the slowest officer in the world. Everyone else is breezing by and this guy is running on slow-mo. He’s going so slow that he doesn’t even get to us, another officer gestures to us to go into his line. It doesn’t really matter that he called us quicker than the slow-mo cop. It’s almost the same story as when we entered Israel. Noora and my passport are stamped immediately. My husband, however, must wait in another room. It’s not green. It’s black and white with police officers. And people’s luggage are being opened. They call it the Secondary Screening Room. Sighs.
Enter slow-mo cop. Just to give you a picture, he’s African-American and tall. He signals to my husband. He says that we won’t have to wait much longer. We’ll be okay. Everything is okay. All of the customs police officers are checking a computer screen. They are speaking lowly, but we know what it’s about. It’s about my husband’s name. It’s similar to one on a list…
A lady calls my name. “Have you gotten your luggage?” No, I reply sleepily. She offers to get it for me. I feel so helpless I don’t even offer to help her. I have to tend to this baby and it’s not like I can actually lift it. The only good thing about being the last in line for everything and having to wait is that you don’t have to wait for the baggage claim. Your luggage is already taken out, pieced together, and ready for you.
They call my husband’s name. We are free to go. Slow-mo cop says to us, “See? Didn’t I tell you everything would be alright?” We smile. Yes, slow-mo cop. Thank you.
We start our trek to our new gate, with our connecting flight to D.C. The journey is almost over. We perturb one of the airport workers by bringing our stroller down the escalator. Oh, well, we can’t please everyone, can we? We couldn’t find the elevator, and just want to get on the shuttle that will take us to the plane that will take us home. We board our plane, fasten our seatbelts, and soon take off. We land in our native D.C. and after walking just a few paces outside of our plane’s gate, we are immediately greeted by two separate Muslim families with the customary salaam. We don’t know them, and yet no provocation is warranted. Ah, it feels good to be home.
Our baggage shows up almost immediately…yippee! And the only thing standing between us and home is as simple as a ride. My mother-in-law arrives to take us to our home. I want to be able to just kick off my shoes and sleep, but you know that didn’t happen. There was too much to discuss..and well, to clean. While we were gone, our house was undergoing some renovations and let’s just say I left it in a certain condition for maximum relaxation upon return and it was given back to me in a different condition which made my stress level spike. Oh, well. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Just as with our arrival in Jerusalem, I again must redo a task that I had already done. And just like in Jerusalem, I enter my “new” home in my green Kuwaiti suit with greetings of peace.