I am ANGRY . . . spitting angry. Here’s why.
Early sunday morning I met my good friend in Cairo (a Palestinian professor in Gaza currently studying abroad). He had just arrived at the airport and arranged a car to take us to the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza. He was very excited about seeing his family again, and I was looking forward to seeing my friends in Gaza again.
At the border, my friend passed through the Egyptian gate with no fuss at all. When it was my turn, my documents were taken from me and I was told to wait. I waited and waited and waited. Thirty minutes turned into an hour, turned into two hours, and at the end of the afternoon my papers were handed back to me and I was told that I didn’t have permission from Gaza to enter. Bah-humbug!
Pulling my suitcase behind me, I waded through a sea of men trying to get my attention. I was looking for a driver to take me back to a hotel in the small town near the border about 20 minutes away (Al-Arish). I selected a driver standing next to his car, asked him how much, and we settled on a price. He had one other passenger, a clean-looking man in his early 30s, who jumped into the back seat with me.
As we drove off, I started to worry. Traveling alone, with two men I didn’t know, in a strange land, with a language I couldn’t speak. It all spelled trouble, and I began to think some horrible thoughts. The other passenger kept looking at me trying to make eye contact. I could see him out of the corner of my eye and refused to engage with him. The minutes ticked on. Then I felt his hand on my leg, and I yelled “STOP”!!
The driver pulled to the side of the road immediately, stopped and the passenger got out and moved to the front seat without a word.
After we dropped him off in Al-Arish, the driver asked me in broken English what had happened. I explained, and he shook his head and told me the passenger was an Egyptian policeman — and “policemen are bad!” He apologized and took me to my hotel. On the way, he asked about my plans to go to Gaza; and he said he could drive me through the tunnel underneath the border for USD $200 if I have problems getting into Gaza the following day.
I was pissed and ready to call it quits! Who needs this? Egyptian border authorities telling me “NO!” And Egyptian policemen telling me “YES!” Screw them all!*!*!*!*!
But after a good night’s rest on a real mattress for the first time in nearly 5 months, and a good breakfast, and more official-looking papers faxed to me from Gaza giving me permission to enter, I returned confidently to the Rafah border.
I walked through the gate before the guard could stop me, handed him my passport and papers, and waited for him to wave me through. But he told me “Five minutes!” and walked off with my papers. About 10 minutes later he returned with a young woman (who turned out to be having difficulty herself getting across the border). She was a Palestinian with dual nationality in Finland, bringing a delegation of Finnish activists to Gaza. She translated.
The Egyptian border guard said I needed permission from the US Embassy, that I didn’t have permission from Gaza (I showed him the paper that said “Entry Approved” and realized he couldn’t read English). I told him that I am a teacher and my students in Gaza are waiting for me. I told him that I had been in Gaza from September to December, and was returning. I told him that I entered Gaza in September without any trouble. All of this with the help of a very nice interpreter. But to no avail. He just said “La . La . La” I know what THAT means!
By this time it was 2:30 PM and I knew I had better catch a ride back to Cairo. Again, I had to get through the swarm of young men pestering me for my attention. I found a van, negotiated a fair price, and after it was full (10 people plus the driver) we headed back to Cairo, arriving nearly 6 hours later.
I’m going to write a post just about the drive back to Cairo; it was memorable. All of the passengers were from Gaza. One young man in his early 30s with a full black beard sang words from the Qur’an. When we reached Cairo, he said in halting English “I want to give you a gift but all I have is my little black hat. Will you accept it?” I was honored and humbled. I gave him my hat from Norway, which he accepted and said he would give to his wife.
So I’m back “home” — my home away from home in Cairo. And I’m angry and ready to call President Morsi in the morning and tell him what I think of his police in the Sinai, and his border guards at Rafah. Morsi has publicly declared that he supports the Palestinians and wants to ease travel restrictions into and out of Gaza. Time to prove it MISTER!