Boarding the plane
Despite being the fifth flight I’ve now done on my own, crossing the Mediterranean to come to Egypt has to be the one that has been the most intimidating. Of course, when you tell friends and family that you’re going off to Egypt just as a Russian plane ‘crashes’ into the Sinai desert, there’s a few raised eyebrows. When you clarify that whilst you’re meeting a friend once you’re there, you’re getting there alone, there’s a small amount of agitation.
But this wasn’t what got to me. It’s silly really, but when I looked across the bus that was taking us to the plane I realised I was truly alone. Not looking like the people you are travelling with is something totally new to me. This is what happens if you never travel very far. I think of ‘people like me’ as being the ones who sound like me and can name Henry VIII’s wives in order. Looking around a crowded bus and seeing headscarves and black beards had an unexpected effect.
I felt different.
An uneventful, but entertaining flight
So, when I sat down on the plane (windows seat – yey) who should sit beside me but a Scottish lady. Her Egyptian granddaughter sat with her parents in the central seats apparently pleased to be returning to somewhere that wasn’t so cold. As the 5 hour flight progressed the same Scottish lady entertained me with stories of her absent children and grandchildren, amazingly distributed across three continents and dotted across the wide spectrum of nationalities. This was a multicultural family who clearly embraced difference.
She reminded me of my own grandmother, who like the Scottish lady comes across as knowledgeable of the world.
The flight itself was uneventful. There was a little turbulence and a few negotiations with air traffic control about when exactly we were landing – explained to me by the knowledgeable Scottish lady who’s an expert on planes – and then we were down.
The chaos of Cairo International Airport – Terminal 1
The time was just past midnight, New Year’s Eve. We took a bus to the terminal and then stampeded through to passport control and the place to get your visas.
However, inconveniently, I didn’t know that’s where I was.
I was much too busy looking completely lost, confounded, rabbit in the headlights, overwhelmed, to actually process any of what was going on around me.
And yes, before you ask, I had done my research and had read the bit about getting your visa from the ‘bank’. I just didn’t really recognise the ‘bank’ when I was standing in front of it.
I was feeling a little frazzled, probably because I’d seen the chaos in the next room. The series of desks, each with an extensive queue sprawling out behind it, felt deceptively like shopping on Christmas Eve.
And the queues didn’t appear to be moving.
I didn’t have a clue whether there was a ‘right’ queue where English girls were meant to be. And to make matters worse, apart from an advert about re-energising the tourism industry in Egypt, everything was in Arabic so I had no idea how I was going to find out.
Luckily, I was too perplexed to panic.
Now, I like to believe that given time I would have worked the system out, but I am super grateful for the Scottish lady and her family who stepped in to rescued me. They explained how I was to get my ‘paid for a visa sticker’, what to do with it and invited me to queue with them.
It always pays to be nice to the person sitting next to you on the plane. You never know when you’re going to need a friend.
Then I was through.
The queue had taken ages, but thankfully my form was correct. I stepped through and my bag was waiting for me. Following my instructions, I avoided all the men offering a taxi ride, strode through the crowd (looking terrified apparently), and was swooped into a huge hug with my dear friend M.
Photo: A model boat from the Cairo Museum