As much as I love New York, I despise flying into JFK! I hate it, the airport literally drives me insane and why, can someone please tell me why the hell every flight spends forever on the runway awaiting takeoff! Ok, let me start with the first moment of extreme annoyance and go from there! After a quick, no frills transition from Atlanta, a smooth landing, we arrive in JFK and transition to the international terminal because our bags could not be checked from Atlanta to Cairo. Now, I loved Flying Egypt Air, loved it, no complaints, but I was not prepared for the reality that I had basically stepped into the Middle East when I arrived in the airport.
Not sure why but the men refused to answer any questions and were very rude at the counter, all we were tying to do was check bags and make sure we were seated together because this was a 14 hour flight! After finding a female to answer our questions, we were able to clear security and board without further issues. Looking out the windows it seemed like rain was coming, but surely that would not prevent takeoff. Excited, we found our seats, and began chatting with a few strangers who seemed as excited as we were! Now, the next statement, might offend some, but I am being honest about all of my observations and feelings and this is not to offend anyone. If you are sensitive to natural body odors, you need to change that mindset during international travels. Everyone does not have the same beliefs around the world, and should not be expected to. As a person who sweats profusely I have struggled to find the right deodorants, but natural body odors are very obvious when you are not used to smelling them, get over it, and get over it quickly! As we settled in our seats, I was simply amazed at the amount of families that were traveling together, when I say family I mean 8-10 people everyone from newborns to grandparents! I knew these were people either going home because they had visited family in New York, or visiting family for the summer months. The young adults quickly engaged in conversation, and told you the spots that were a must, even though we knew we couldn’t see it all, the love they showed for their country was infectious!
As we begin to taxi out, the flight attendants giving instructions, begin the safety briefing in both Arabic and English, and the pilot comes on and says “we are holding on weather”. We look outside and a storm rages with sky to ground lightning and heavy thunder and sheets of blinding rain. “Are you fucking kidding me was all I could say to myself, are you fucking kidding me” we are on the runway and a damm thunderstorm is holding up my trip! Had I known then what I know now about disastrous trip beginnings, I would have told my younger self “calm down girl, this trip will be fabulous, stop being unnerved” but all I could think of was I was going to miss something! After about 3 hours, and allowing a few people to use my cell phone to send text messages in Egypt, one made a call “not sure how much that ended up costing me” the pilot came on and literally said this “ TAKING OFF” ! Now, in all the waiting the flight attendants served dinner, so we had tray tables out, full meal eating in progress, and the pilot hauled ass and next thing we knew we were holding on to our tray tables as this big ass plane with I know 500 people, began lifting in the air! Now I am not a flight attendant, but I pride myself in knowing inflight protocol, YOU CAN’T TAKE OFF WHILE TRAY TABLES ARE UP AND SEATS ARE BACK, BUT YES THE HELL WE DID! A break in the weather provided a hole, and the pilot took it. This is when I began my practice of looking at the flight attendants mannerisms to determine if I should be worried, they seemed fine, so what the hell did I know! I finished my dinner, which was delicious, and sat back and did what I love to do on long flights, people watch!
Another reality you must be prepared for while flying to the Middle East, Muslims are going to pray, they will get out a prayer rug several times during the flight and pray, be respectful. I thought it was a beautiful display of faith, I had never seen anything like it, and it seemed perfectly natural. The flight continued with no issues, smooth, minimal turbulence, but what strikes you is you open your eyes and realize that you are not over ocean, but desert! Hours of nothing but desert, and I don’t know about everyone else, but I seemed to feel the difference in temperature as we grew closer to the final destination. When the pilot announced we would begin our descent and were about an hour away from landing, everyone began to get our fresh clothes and went to freshen up in the bathrooms, get used to the scent of lemon, it is everywhere on the airplanes. I thought it was just an Egypt Air thing, but all of the small flights we took within Egypt used it as well. I understand why, it was very refreshing after a long flight, why not, I used some too. Landing is rough, and just know you will land and have to board a bus on the runway, the first moment when you realize that while you thought you knew heat, you had no idea. So here I am, tired, sweaty, delirious, and excited beyond words because I just landed in Cairo! And let the adventure and exploration of the greatest civilization begin!
The airport is a challenge, not sure what has changed, but remember I am writing from a 2007 perspective! Don’t expect much chatter from the men, don’t ask them where the restroom is, and no they are not going to speak English to you. Pay attention to the signs, and learn some basic Arabic quickly, I struggled with that, a lot! Don’t expect to find a toilet in all places, if you see a hole in the ground and a hose of water, yes, that is the toilet and use the water to rinse. Word of advise, keep wet wipes with you and a small pack of tissues at all times. The tourist spots have great restrooms, but in the event that the toilets are not working, that hole is what you will need to get comfortable with, its good for the calf muscles! And ask one of the ladies what to do, they will show you, happily. Don’t expect your bags to come quickly, it takes forever, remember the flight is huge and the plane is not parked directly at the terminal, pack patience. Most women do not travel alone, you will get some stares that say “where is her husband” pay it no mind, its normal. Once you finally get your luggage the tour guide will be anxiously awaiting your arrival, and don’t worry if you are late, nobody is in a rush, especially if you arrive on a Friday. Most guides will be men, don’t be alarmed, they will take very good care of you and be very protective.
Ok. Last word of advise on getting to your hotel safely and enjoying the first few days of your trip. Do not, and I repeat, do not eat any fruits or raw vegetables, really no uncooked foods for the first 3 days, none, and do not use ice in your drinks. Yes your guide will want to take you to a falafel stand, there will be greens on the falafel, don’t eat them. Your hotel will have a beautiful display of exotic fruits and salads, don’t do it! DON’T DO IT! Save your self the embarrassment of your bowels betraying you on the streets of Cairo, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
This brown girl dreamed about seeing the indescribable pyramids of Giza as a child, what could possibly beat that as a travel adventure? As much as I loved National Geographic Magazine, I knew that it wasn’t possible to experience Egypt any other way than being amidst the soul sucking heat and scorching sand………..