Welcome Back In America!

17 September, 2010

I’m writing this from Gate 14 at JFK International’s Terminal 5. In about an hour and a half, I’ll board a plane back to Long Beach, California, and our journey will be officially complete.  Set’s ended yesterday when her parents picked her up after our 13-hour flight, and mine will end when mine pick me up after my 6-hour flight.

I don’t think I can top Set’s last beautifully written entry, but I can add one thing to the list of “Things We Will/Will Not Miss About Egypt.” I’m personally amazed that she didn’t mention driving/transit. Who would ever miss nearly dying every time you try to cross the street and arguing with cab drivers? Who has an affinity for frantically trying to buckle a non-functional seatbelt as your cab driver weaves in out of crowded street lanes, honking and flashing his brights whilst doing 120km/h and blasting Islamic prayer songs? Who would hold a fond place in their heart for the crowded mashrouas (microbuses), jammed with more people flinging money around than the floor of the NYSE, or have fond memories of watching hundreds of Egyptians literally trying to beat the train to the tracks as it inches out of the station?

Well, me, for one.

Egypt, by and large, is a land of contradictions, cognitive dissonance in the form of a nation state. It’s these contradictions that make one want to off themselves, yet eventually, it’s these contradictions that make you fall in love with the place. Everything that I hated about Egypt is going to be something that I look back upon and laugh about with a twinge of fondness. Everything I loved about the country will be the things I carry with me and never forget.

Set covered our last day in Egypt pretty well. We had a lovely dinner with our friends at Ibn-al Balad (Literally, the Son of the Country) and then hung out with our friends until it was time to go. At 4am, we were picked up by Osama, our driver, and had an uneventful drive to Cairo. Aside from seeing two people get in shouting matches in line to board the plane, our flight home isn’t worth writing about.

However, our arrival back in America was slightly more exciting. After disembarking at JFK, Set and I approached our first Customs checkpoints. After handing in the little Customs declarations cards to the agents working there, Set blazed right through when my agent decided to ask me a few questions. “What were you doing in Egypt?” He asked.

“Studying Arabic and teaching English,” I said.

“Ah, okay. I see.” And with that, he smiled, crossed out my customs declaration, took my passport, and beckoned me to follow him. I ended up in a small area filled with Arab and Pakistani men, none of whom spoke English very well. I would spend the next 2.5 hours waiting in this area as the ICE/Department of Homeland Security guys apparently examined every crinkle, crease and fold of every passport in front of them- of which there were many. Finally, it was my turn to be questioned.

It started off with pretty much the same questions I’d been asked at the first checkpoint. In my incandescent rage at being detained without explanation for the past 2.5 hours, I’d been coming up with all kinds of pithy responses to the questions I thought I’d be asked, but I decided I’d just play it straight forward lest I find myself in a beachfront cell at Camp X-Ray. It took about ten minutes, and pretty much ran the gamut from “Where did you stay/where did you work” to “Did you receive any specialized military training over there.” Aside from the hand-to-hand combat that I’d mastered after working the Young Learner’s Program for three weeks, no.

With that, my passport was finally stamped and I was let out of Diplomatic Limbo America and into Real America. On my way out, I asked the agent what the reason was for my detainment and questioning. He said, “It’s a completely random screening” as he looked past me and at all of the Arab men and Pakistani guys in their shalwar kameezes. Despite what may seem like some pretty blatant profiling, I should temper my exasperation by mentioning that the DHS employees were very professional and polite with everyone they were talking to.

And now, after an all too brief visit with some great friends, I’m back at the airport, waiting to fly back to California. I’m so excited to be back that I think I’m probably going to land about 20 minutes before the plane actually does. Reading back through the entries we’ve written over the past year has been a serious trip, and I’d like to thank you, our dear readers, for your comments and for sticking with us and our ramblings. As Set mentioned, these certainly won’t be our last entries in this blog.

!مسلاما يا أصحابي

(Goodbye, friends!)

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4 Responses to “Welcome Back In America!”

  1. Patricia said

    Welcome back, guys! Can’t wait to see you both.

  2. Setters said

    Our driver’s name was not Osama, it was Sameh! Also, I will definitely miss the harrowing taxi drivers and traffic in general. It was nice to have a mortality check every now and then, it keeps my mind sharp. hehe. Say Ahlan to the West Coast for me!

  3. -K said

    I could have sworn it was Osama!

  4. Ben said

    This post made me think of this other blog article I recently read about Americans returning to the US and going through customs. Curious what your take is on this since you’ve just done this (been abroad for a extended period of time and returned).

    http://knifetricks.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-am-detained-by-feds-for-not-answering.html

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