Board, fasten safety belts, go

El Al planes

Everything at Cairo Airport was in Arabic. I never learned Arabic and even though Swahili vocabulary contains a lot of Arabic roots, that is not enough to understand Arabic. As such, I was clueless at the airport for those six long hours.

A few times I thought I heard calls for EL AL boarding and duly dashed to the gate only to find out that it was not an EL AL call. There was a consolation in these false calls though, in spite of the trouble of hauling my over-packed luggage. At the first false announcement, I dashed to the desk where our passports were held. I got back my passport and though the call to board was false I got to keep  my passport – one of the good things out of the chaos.

During one of those false calls I did actually board a plane. Then I heard a steward call as walked down the aisle: “Sanaa! Sanaa!

Dear Lord; Don’t tell me I am in a plane to Yemen! No; not to an Arabian country – even though I am in Cairo (but Egypt is an African country if that is any consolation). O.K. Step back from this plane bound to Sanaa. Let no one see your passport and the visa to Israel.

I was back in the departure lounge faster than I had stepped into that plane. Then a true miracle happened. They announced boarding for EL AL. I couldn’t believe it as I settled into that huge 747 Jumbo jet. I could tell I was surrounded by Jews on all sides, though I was not sure why I believed they were Jewish. Actually, I don’t believe I had seen a Jew before.

Then it was swift. The language was Hebrew, after all. Barukhim baim lesiphon. There were not the usual, long formalities upon boarding a plane. It was essential to depart the airport as swiftly as possible before news spread out that an EL AL jetliner had been spotted. It was a matter of minutes and we were airborne.

You could see a sense of relief in people’s eyes as we approached Ben-Gurion Airport. (By the way, it is Ben-Gu-ri-on with the accent on the last syllable and not on -Gu- as many Americans are prone to mispronounce). As we touched down, there was a burst of applause from the passengers similar to the finale of a concert presentation.