“Where exactly in Cairo are you dropping us?” I asked the driver of “bus number six”.
“The airport…” he replied.
They still hadn’t given me my passport back. I should have suspected this all along. I saw a guy standing at the front of the bus with all of the passports in a plastic bag.
“I’m a foreigner,” I said, “I don’t have a flight booked and I don’t want to leave Egypt yet.”
“Yes, we know you have a British citizenship and a British passport,” he replied, “but you’re originally from Gaza.”
“No I’m not, I’m a journalist!”
“A journalist?” he laughed, “yeah right!” Speaking Arabic really helped in Gaza, but it certainly wasn’t helping here. Nothing I could say was going to change his mind. I was not leaving the bus until we got to Cairo International Airport.
Just because I had been to Gaza, the Egyptian authorities were treating me like a criminal, and because they were convinced I was a Palestinian, I got a taste of the constant racism the Gazan people suffer at the hands of people that are supposed to be their brothers.
I gave Sarah a call to let her know what was going on, but she didn’t seem too fazed. Just another day of living under a dictatorship, I suppose. It was almost 2am. I fell asleep with the phone in my hand.
When I woke up, we were arriving at the airport, and from there, the drama continued. At first, someone tried to physically stop me from getting off the bus. I gave him a look that said, “If you don’t take your hand off my arm within two seconds, you will seriously regret it”, and he got the message. Then, they tried to make me go through passport control, but I told them that I was waiting for a friend to bring me my wheelchair.
“Don’t worry,” one of the security guards said, “just go through and they can bring it for you later.”
“You must think I was born yesterday…” I replied.
Sarah did arrive with the wheelchair, and we set about buying the next one-way ticket to Beirut online. Only problem was, I needed my passport number to buy a ticket, and they weren’t giving me my passport.
I remember that one of the stories I read in that “Tales From Nowhere” was called “The Worst Country In The World”. They had settled for Equatorial Guinea. No, I thought to myself, this is the worst country in the world. It was the last thing I said to Sarah before I said goodbye.
I managed to get her my passport number eventually, but the website would only allow her to book a flight for the following day. What ensued was another whole day of frustrating waiting, wondering if they would let me change my flight to that evening.
No-one would tell me anything. Once they knew I’d come from Gaza, the racist attitudes were again prevalent. One official got so angry with me, although I was simply walking over to ask him where I could find a cafe, that he pushed me to the ground! I could not believe it had happened.
“Inte haraam! Inte haraam!” I shouted, the worst possible insult I knew in Arabic. I started asking them to bring the police immediately, but then I realised, this was the police.
Again, I read to escape my feelings of frustration and uncertainty; Rashid Khalidi, “The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood”. I knew that the only evening flight to Beirut was leaving at 8.30pm.
At 7.30pm, an official came up, and told me to get my bag. He looked at me, as if to say, “Let’s go then.”
“The wheelchair is broken,” I said, “you have to push it.”
Two hours later, I was touching down in the Lebonese capital.