Friday, October 10, 2014

I lost my underwear in Cairo - dateline 1999

It is nearly ten thirty on Monday evening and I am still flying, having left CS at 2:00 Sunday afternoon. CS to Denver to Chicago to Frankfurt to Munich to Cairo. I had no time at all to make a connection in Frankfurt that had left before we arrived. It is a first world airport, most of the time. Except for those times when an airline from a third world country (that would be Egypt in this case) sets up shop. Having missed my lovely Lufthansa flight to Cairo, it was off to Egypt Air, whose motto is (as Dave Barry might say)  No Crashes Since the Last One”.
I got to the gate about five minutes before departure to find this situation: there was no plane, half the crew and all of the passengers were locked out of the departure area, nobody was checking anybody in, the clocks were all broken, and one of the Egyptian pilots looked more like Moses than an airline pilot. Long white beard, the whole bit. No robes and staff, but I didn’t know but what they all had to change into robes when they got into the cockpit. Heck, maybe they had to fly towards Mecca at prayer times, so we all wouldn’t have to get up and find east.
Plus, as I said, the clocks were all broken. You need to know that when Germany got rid of God a few generations back, for some reason they got really uptight about being on time for things. You know, being pretty precise about things and all, without God to sort of oversee everything, I think they got so they thought the world would fall apart if they were a few minutes late for a train or something.
 (By the way, I am writing this on the flight to Cairo – I’m glad I watched the movie coming into Frankfurt. It’s the same movie on this flight, but with Arabic subtitles all over the bottom. I don’t want to sound like the total Arabic illiterate person that I am, but it looks like some taggers with spray paint got into the editing room and thought the movie was a bridge. It's actually quite lovely, apart from getting in the way of the actual movie.)
Flash forward to Bahrain. Did I mention that my suitcase didn’t arrive in Cairo? Well, that wouldn’t be strictly true – I arrived at about 2:00 am Tuesday morning, and the bag arrived sometime Tuesday evening. But, the Egyptian authorities wouldn’t let anyone deliver it to me, so I next saw my bag as I was leaving Cairo. It showed up behind the counter as I was checking in, but I couldn’t touch it since it hadn’t been through Customs. Bear in mind that what I didn’t have was underwear, plus socks, clothes, toothbrush, deodorant – the bare essentials of life. What I did have was clothes that I had been wearing for a 31-hour plane trip and two days of conferencing in Cairo. Plus my own personal cloud of smog.
So I watched my bag leave again as I took off for Manama, Bahrain, via Dubai.

Cairo – I saw the Pyramids. I also saw the Pyramids Pizza Hut right outside the entrance. KFC was next door, I think.

Then I went to Bahrain.

Did I mention that my suitcase didn’t? It went somewhere else. It’s Wednesday night, and I am wearing the same clothes I put on at home Sunday morning in Colorado. The nice little man promised me it would come on Thursday. I tried to stand close enough to him so that the smell would make him more helpful, but smell is pretty common in this part of the world where many folks wear full body-armor-style robes all day long in 140 degree heat. They make the women wear black. They go with the men to the beach, and the men get to swim, and the women get to sit and watch in the sand, covered completely down to their eyeballs in black.
So what I’m saying is, he didn’t notice my body odor, because the main air quality problem they have out here is all from body odor.
Thursday I got desperate and bought some clothes. Socks. Underwear. A couple of shirts. Some deodorant. That was key, deodorant.
I saw Bahrain. Bahrain could generously be described as flat, hot, and dusty. Sunny, though. Really sunny. All the time. This would be the Sahara desert, I think. An easy job would be weather reporter. I was told that the reason that all the flights leave in the middle of the night is that it is too hot for them to sit outside during the daytime – the fuel might explode. Exploding planes are bad for tourism. Plus the air is too hot for the planes to get any lift on take-off. They'd have to drive through the desert to get anywhere. No lift - not a good thing for a plane.
I went to the airport to leave that same day. I arrived at about 1:30 in the morning. Did I mention that my suitcase didn’t? Yes, well, I went back to the airport for a 6:40 p.m. flight, only to find that my bag was scheduled to arrive at (go ahead, guess) 7:00 p.m. You can imagine my joy.
The good news was that my flight was delayed two hours, so once again I saw my bag. In fact, this time I got to touch it, if only to roll it from customs downstairs to the check-in desk upstairs. I couldn’t exactly open it or anything, but at least I had felt it with my fingers briefly.  I longed for clean jeans with a longing that could only come from five days in the same pair.

In Kuwait, my bag arrived. It’s a miracle. I burned my jeans. Wasn’t hard, just threw them out on the pavement and they caught fire almost immediately. It was over 100 again in Kuwait.
Kuwait could generously be described as flat, hot, and dusty. Sunny, though. Really sunny. All the time. It has been my favorite place so far, because I got my underwear back in Kuwait.
That’ll about do it for Kuwait. Apart from the gold Lincoln Continental with the really large gold fist punching up through the roof. I think it's a war memorial. Not really getting the symbolism.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the UAE. The UAE could generously be described as flat, hot, and dusty. Sunny, though. Really sunny. All the time.
Flying on Emirates Air (this year’s best airline in the world – this is true) is great. Not only do we have touch sensitive TV screens at every seat, and remote control units with a phone on the flip side, the cabin TV screen periodically shows us how far we are from Mecca, and what direction it is from us. So that we can orient ourselves in the right direction when it’s time for prayers. First class get their own VCR at every seat, with a choice of videos personally delivered by lovely air hostesses.

I don’t want you to have to worry, so I’ll tell you now that my bag made it the rest of the trip with me. It would have been funnier if it had continued to follow me, meeting me briefly in airports as I pick it up from customs and carry up to check it in again, but not funnier enough for me to have been happy about it.
Random trip stories : I was told of an African man who recently got drunk and fell asleep by the side of the road late one night. He woke up to find that a python had swallowed him feet-first up to the chest. He got out somehow – a black man, he was bleached white from the chest down to his toes;
Leaving Bahrain (where Muslims go to sin), we had to stand in a long line to be searched by the Booze and Porno Police, who were checking to see if any of us were trying to smuggle liquor or dirty videos into more strict and fundamentalist Kuwait;
Some fishermen on Lake Victoria from Uganda got tired of actually fishing, so they decided that  it wold be lots easier to just throw poison in the water and  scoop the dead fish up in nets. They sorta forgot that what is poison for the fish is poison for the fish-eaters, so after a few dozen people died from the fish, they had to ban eating any fish from the lake. Bad idea.

We saw giraffes driving home from the airport in Nairobi. Well, giraffe heads. The rest of them was hidden below the trees.
Actually, that first sentence was bad. We did not see any giraffes driving home – it’s illegal for wild animals to drive in Kenya. The actual human drivers are wild enough. First, the roads have apparently been bombed. Your basic path weaves through the potholes like a drunken sailor, and that’s if the roads used to be paved at some point in the past. Most of the roads are dirt, with ruts big enough to swallow aircraft carriers. Add to that two opposing lanes of traffic, and the whole enterprise gets pretty exciting as everybody weaves and bobs through the potholes and ruts and cars coming from the other direction and donkey carts, plus jaywalkers and the occasional elephant. OK, I lied about the elephant.
Plus there are these vans called “mutations” or “matatus” or something which are driven by crazy people who jam as many people into the van as possible and then drive like suicide bombers. I think they kill a lot of people on the roads in Kenya.
We did get to go to the Nairobi Game Park, which is sorta like a city park only it’s 625 square miles of stunning African plains with animals that can stomp or eat you, instead of squirrels and pigeons. We were hoping to see lions, so don’t ask me why we were sitting on the roof of the jeep. We maybe saw a cheetah. We did see elands and impalas and cape buffalo and a rhinoceros and baboons and giraffes (more than just heads), but no zebras, and hartebeests and cool birds that I don’t know what they’re called. 
Then we went to a restaurant called the Carnivore where guys walked around with big haunches of meat on Maasai warrior swords hacking off chunks of zebra, eland, waterbuck (I don’t know what that is either, but it tasted good) and other, more pedestrian meat like pig and stuff. So the whole experience was like one of those restaurants where you choose your own lobster, only we were choosing our own zebra. If we’d seen any.
In a final irony, as I stood in line at Entebbe International Airport, waiting to check in to board a gleaming British Airways 747, all the airport power went out and the computers went down in the terminal, forcing the agents to check us in laboriously by hand.
I flew home Entebbe, Nairobi, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Newark, Denver, and Colorado Springs, another 32-hour epic. Africa had one final chance to let me know who was in charge – the power outage in Entebbe led to a luggage miscount, so they had to off-load all the bags onto the tarmac in Nairobi, and off-load all of us passengers so that we could identify our bags.
Did I mention that my bag didn’t make it to the USA? I have now lost my underwear on four continents.

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