Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cairo-Istanbul-Chicago-Salt Lake

By midnight we had loaded all thirteen suitcases into the van and were headed off to the airport. Our final drive through Cairo was bitter-sweet. For days on end we kept telling each other thus-and-such was the last time we’d do this-and-that in Cairo. The ride to the airport certainly finalized those statements and that was sad. We’ll miss Cairo. But we were happy to be on our way home and I was already anxious to get the travelling part over and done with.

I hate flying.

Somehow, though, having to wrangle two kids for 30 or so hours kept my mind off of having the plane spontaneously break into pieces and plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean. I hardly thought of that once.

Anyway, we got to the airport and checked into our flight. We were glad to have Josie there so that she could push one of the luggage carts—we had to use three of them and even then ended up balancing the girls precariously on the handle bars that had warning pictures indicating that such a thing was not to be done. But we figured that it was alright since we were in Egypt.

I was a little worried about going through customs. Josie had purchased a visa at the airport on her way into Egypt but the visa didn’t say how long it lasted. Some tourist visas are valid for 90 days, others are valid for only 45 days. When Andrew’s mom came out her visa specifically said 3 months, or 90 days. We have some tourist visas in our passports that last for 90 days as well and since we didn’t want to visit the mugamma again (we still need to tell about getting Miriam’s paperwork done) we decided to assume that Josie’s visa would last for 90 days.

We started to get a little worried, though, when people kept telling us that their visas were only good for 30 days. The BYU study abroad group, for example, had to go renew their visas a month after arriving. Still, we decided we could either pay to renew her visa and deal with the headache of the mugamma or we could wait to try our luck at the airport. I voted for the legal way, but Andrew vetoed my decision since he would be the one to have to go to the mugamma.

Needless to say, we experienced a headache at the airport. Andrew, Rachel, Miriam, and I got through just fine but the guard stopped when he got to Josie. Her passport is new and there was only one thing in it—a visa for Egypt, which the guard informed us was invalid.

“Oh, no, it can’t be,” I said with a smile, “That’s a 90 day visa.”

“It is 45 days.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. It is only a small problem,” he said before forcing her away from us.

Watching my baby sister be led off by an Egyptian police officer wasn’t easy. In fact I was downright mad about it. We tried explaining that she was a minor—a child—still and that they couldn’t just take her off by herself. Someone—an adult—needed to be with her. We were ignored.

Meanwhile, back in the interrogation room Josie was being pestered.

“Give me 150 pounds right now or I will have you arrested and you will never leave the country!” a guard threatened her.

Eventually Josie did what any logical sixteen-year-old girl under arrest in a foreign country would do. She broke down sobbing.

When they realized that she truly didn't have any money on her person and that she was completely inconsolable they allowed Andrew to intervene. He pulled out his wallet and showed them its bare interior. We had spent our final pounds bribing the luggage scanners to let our luggage through without “inspection.”

He was sure there was a “bomb” in our suitcase (and asked us just like that—“Is this a bomb?” while pointing to the screen showing the contents of the suitcase, “Give me money or I will say it is a bomb.”) so Andrew slipped him our final poundage. Our last three pounds were gone but our luggage got through.

Now, however, we had nothing with which to bribe the border officials. Andrew told them that he’d gladly give them the money if they could direct him to an ATM. The only ATM was outside and miraculously enough the guards weren’t feeling callous enough to make us exit the airport and come back through security.

“Just this once her visa is a 90 day visa,” they told us, “Next time it will only be 45 days.”

Sounds good to us.

Josie was pretty shaken up about the whole thing, and I don’t really blame her. It took a while for all of us to relax into our traveling groove.

The girls stayed awake until 3:30 AM when we boarded the plane. Then they both promptly fell asleep and slept the whole way to Istanbul. I was as shocked as anybody.

Security detail in Istanbul was pretty intense. We had to go through three layers of security before we could go through to our connection flight. Luckily we had five hours in the airport so we still had plenty of time before our flight.

Andrew and Rachel slept on the floor the entire time. We had taken a pillow from the airplane for Rachel to use and she was as comfy as could be—she hardly stirred. They were quite the sight though. Many people stopped to wonder aloud about why they were sleeping on the floor—because all the chair were taken, obviously—and some even snapped some pictures. I didn’t because I was busy with Miss Miriam who decided to stay awake the entire time.

She busied herself with being admired by Turks, who apparently enjoy babies almost as much as Egyptians do. She was passed around a group of Turks all traveling together. They seemed to be uncomfortable in the modern environment of the airport—they were dressed ultra-conservatively and naively disobeyed the sign in the bathroom asking that wudu be performed at the mosque instead of in the bathroom sinks.

They kept talking to me even though I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. My Turkish is non-extant and the only things I understood were Arabic expressions like “Mashalla,” which they said over and over again while pinching Miriam’s cheeks. Since I could tell they were Muslims and since they had Arabic writing on their ID badges in addition to Turkish, I tried speaking Arabic to them. They didn’t understand a word that I said so it was clear they weren’t Arabic speakers.

Luckily there was a group of Russians sitting nearby who spoke Turkish for some reason and they translated back and forth. It was an interesting linguistic circle. Turkish to Russian…because English and Arabic just weren’t working for me.

In the end Miriam scored an apricot and made a huge mess and ended up having a blow out and so I was quite frustrated by the time we were ready to board. I couldn’t wait for Miriam to fall asleep so that I could get some rest, too. We had two bulkhead seats, which Josie and I took so that Andrew could sit with Rachel. Miriam would get a bassinet to sleep in after we took off which meant that I had to be in the bulkhead with her.

I tried to convince the guy sitting next to me to give up his seat for Andrew, but he explained that he enjoys the extra legroom. There was a couple behind us who volunteered to switch seats so that Rachel and Andrew could at least be close to us—they had been seated on the opposite end of the plane.

Once they were behind us, though, Rachel started screaming something about wanting her mommy so she had to switch seats with Josie. That left me in the bulkhead seating with two kids. By myself. Oh, joy.

Things only improved when they both started screaming about being tired and hungry and uncomfortable and so forth. I turned in my seat to confer with Andrew about something an eventually Legroom Guy wisely offered to switch places with Andrew so that he could help me with the girls.

I think this was a very smart choice. I mean, there’s legroom…and then there’s peace and quiet.

The rest of the fight was pretty low-key. Rachel slept a lot and watched Where the Wild Things Are three times, without headphones because she refuses to wear them. Luckily I had read the book and was able to describe what was happening.

Miriam ate a whole lot. Basically anytime she fussed I fed her. This kept her nice and lethargic the whole way. She slept a lot, too, but mostly wanted to be held. I think she only used the bassinet for an hour or two, which kind of made it seem like a waste but it was still nice to have a free lap for a little while.

The food on the plane was really gross. And by gross I mean, “What was up with all the seafood?!” Seriously. So gross. I almost tried a piece of shrimp and even went so far as to put it in my mouth but I just couldn’t bring myself to bite down so I spat it out. I think there should be some religious law against eating a whole animal at once. I mean, that can’t be kosher—sticking a whole animal in your mouth an chomping down. Gross.

Besides that, though, the flight was good and before we knew it we were back on American soil with only three hours to spare before catching our flight to Salt Lake City.

The Chicago O’Hare airport is huge and since we were arriving through abroad it meant that we had to go through customs and recheck all our luggage and find the right terminal all in three hours.

We waited in line to go through customs for about a half hour before it was our turn. The boarder patrol officer wasn’t very happy about our circumstances. He let me and Josie through with the girls but told Andrew he would have to be detained for further questioning.

Josie and I took the girls and most of the carry-on luggage through so that we could collect the rest of the bags while Andrew was questioned. We left him with some of the luggage and all our ticket information thinking he would be joining us soon after.

I had Josie watch the girls while I hauled approximately 450 lbs. of stuff off the luggage carousel. Considering my stature, this wasn’t any ordinary feat and took quite a long time. Twenty minutes later I had all our suitcases loaded onto three luggage carts. We stood by and waited and waited and waited. I got out some snacks for the girls who were getting rather fussy. Then we waited some more.

Rachel started demanding her father.

“Go and find my daddy so we can goooooooo!” she wailed.

Finally, after waiting for a half hour, I went to talk to a guard.

“Hi, ummm, my husband was detained for questioning and it’s been a while and so I was just wondering how much longer he’s going to be and how we’re going to find him because we need to catch a flight and…”

“Is your husband an American citizen?”


“He’s a citizen of the United States of America?”


“What’s his name?”

“Andrew Heiss.”

“I’ll go check on him.”

I waited for the guard to come back. He didn’t bring good news.

“They’re still working on him,” he said gruffly, “It’s gonna be a while.”

Brilliant. There I was with two children, twelve suitcases (Andrew had one) on three luggage carts. No husband, no tickets, no time.

We did the only thing we could do. We waited some more and eventually Andrew came out to join us. We rushed through to re-check our luggage. They were rather harried when we arrived and they noticed we were going to Salt Lake. They helped us pull our carts up to the front of the line and quickly got them on the conveyer belt while we rushed off to catch the tram to our terminal.

Andrew told us what happened while we were riding the train.

He was put in a room with a bunch of other people—mostly Arabs and Mexicans, and one Korean—while he waited to be questioned.

They asked him, again, what he had been doing in Egypt, why he chose to go to school there, how he had supported himself and his family, basic things like that. Then they started delving into the bizarre. They asked if he had done any military, militia, or guerrilla training or if he had taken any trips that he hadn’t reported (like, you know, to Yemen to get trained in radical Islam). It was slightly ridiculous but they obviously were eventually appeased with his answers and let him go.

It wasn’t the welcome-home I was expecting and I was quite annoyed with America until I saw a drinking fountain. Then all was forgiven while I enjoyed a cool, refreshing drink.

The girls loved the fountains. Rachel wasn’t quite sure what to do and tried telling us that we shouldn’t drink the water because tap water isn’t good for you and can make you sick. But we won out in the end and convinced her to try it. She got water all over herself—she just wasn’t quite sure how to drink from the fountain.

Miriam acted like I was holding her in front of a chainsaw and craned her neck so that her face wouldn’t get in the water, but she, too, eventually tried it and loved it.

We spent the rest of our wait making runs to the drinking fountain.

Both girls slept on the flight, which was so nice.

We were greeted in the airport by an army of family members: my parents, Andrew’s parents, Grandpa Frank and Grandma Sharon, Sarah and Cory, Patrick and David. They took the kids and the suitcases and we piled into the vehicles to go home.

Surprisingly Rachel didn’t fight about seatbelts and Miriam did. We pointed out some temples to Rachel on the way home before she fell asleep. And we, of course, enjoyed the smooth roads, linear traffic, and general order that is found on the streets of America.

Oh, and we almost hit a deer! How crazy is that?!

We had just turned to wind our way through the neighbourhood when I saw a deer grazing on someone’s front lawn.

“There’s a deer,” I said too quietly.

It started bounding out into the road.

“Deer! Deer!” Karen said frantically.

Reid slammed on the breaks and we skidded a little, but managed to avoid hitting the deer.

“I thought you were saying, ‘Dear! Dear!’” Reid said.

That isn’t the first time that confusion has been made.

What’s weird is that a deer was down in the city in June. Yesterday was the first day of summer—there should be plenty of grazing up in the mountains.

Anyway, we all survived the trip home and went to bed almost promptly. It has never felt so good to lie down horizontally, let me tell you.


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  2. It's an odd thing for a Norwegian to say to a Canadian, but welcome home!

  3. Aaaaaaah I'm so glad you made it! What a trip. It must have been a lifesaver to have Josie there. I can't imagine doing all that completely by yourself.

    So should I assume that our visas are 30, 45, or 90 days??? :)

  4. Welcome back! I'm sorry the trip was awful, but I hope things are going well now that you're here.

  5. Holy cow! What a trip! You are so strong to get through that. Honestly I would've sat in a corner and cried!! Welcome back!!

  6. So glad you made it home. I can't believe it's been 2 years already!!

  7. WOW! It sounds like quite the adventure. I hope you have a nice, relaxing few days to recover.

  8. I was really worried about you getting back home (I should say travelling back home).
    What a trip!
    I'm really curious to know how Rachel is reacting to the States, besides drinking tap water, I mean!
    Have a nice rest, all of you...
    Thanx again for sharing 'your' Cairo!

  9. I'm really sorry about what Josie had to go through in Cairo... Bribes make the main income for those people. I'm not making excuses, it's just a fact of life there. Fortunately, you've lived long enough in Cairo to see the good side as well :) I remember working as a PHYSICIAN in Cairo International Airport, I kid you not, my monthly salary was $50 a month. Yes, as a physician. That's corruption in third world countries for you... people try to figure out other sources of income. However, luckily, Egypt is a strange blend of third world and first world, co-existing in the same locations.... ANYWAY, welcome back home :) I look forward to your "coping with home" posts... so don't end it just yet!

  10. Wow. Wow wow wow! You are amazing. And thank goodness for Josie, right? I can't wait to see how Rachel deals with more stuff like drinking fountains. :D So glad you made it safely (even if it was dramatic) and that you ALL were allowed back here.

    Also glad that Andrew never spent time in Yemen.....imagine how much longer you'd have waited if he had to say yes to that one!

  11. Aahh, I feel you big time. We weren't in Jerusalem as long as you were in Cairo, but I still felt pangs in my little heart as we left Jerusalem. I'm glad you arrived safely.

  12. That actually made me sad! I wonder how it will be for me to go back home after living for 6 years abroad. Please keep ur fan base posted on how life back in the States feels like!