10 January 2006

The journey from hell...

It's only natural that one would assume I by that mean "The journey from Gaza" - otherwise know as hell to some, but I actually mean THE JOURNEY from hell. Hold on to yourselves, this should be my longest post yet.

Of course my relatives were very sad to see us leave. We spent the last evening in my husband's sister's house. The morning we left they all cried. Being Gazans, I'm sure they could not really understand why I left. They love their Gaza so why didn't I?

I was accompanied by a relative (my childrens cousin) and after many phonecalls to check the status of the border we sat off for Rafah, with butterflies in my stumach. Ibrahim looked out the window to see the last part of Gaza.

We finally arrived to a rainy Rafah that morning. The taxi-cars were waiting outside. We got out and had to take another taxi to the border itself. Then we arrived to a small tent were our passports were checked. There were some questions, but we got through and into the bus that drove us to the real pass port check. And there the real problems came as well.

"She cannot pass here!" End of story. The man refused my passport. We tried to explain, my relative explained and the looked at my papers... Then a european looking woman came up to me after seeing my passport and said (in swedish) "Are you Swedish??". I think I'm the only swedish woman who passed Rafah, Palestine, under the control of a swedish policewoman. She said "Let me make a few phonecalls..." and after the palestinian officers pretended it was all their doing by writing a lot of stuff on their computers, we got through. Thanks God.

Then we arrived to the new and imroved Rafah... Very much thanks God.

After spending a few hours (nothing compared to our last visit there that lasted three days...) we finally got our passports back. I remembered how difficult it was for us last time. I remebered the places, the dirty toilets, the unpolite egyptians. I recognized some of the people.

We got out and then started looking for a taxi to travel to Cairo. The taxi-drivers were dressed with old and torn winterjackets, scarfes around their heads. It was really cold. Finally somebody agreed for the price that my relative offered and we were on our way. He drove fast and sometimes I just closed my eyes in order to not have to see how fast he was going through small villages.


Late at night we finally arrived to Cairo. There my relatives were waiting for us and had prepared a big meal for us. I put my children in their pyjamas and then we slept. Lovely. This is the view from her apartment.

My relative, whom I had never met before, turned out to be just what I needed at that time. She and her sister, who had also come to meet me, were both very critical to the conservative Gazan way of life.

You know, sometimes you FEEL a lot but you just don't know how to explain it or describe it. These two women helped me to put words on many of my feelings and for that I am very grateful. It was also a great relief to hear some straight "Tell it like it is" - kinda' talk after hearing to much "Kalaam fadi" for the last six months. My relative from Gaza (who unfortunately have gone through a difficult divorce recently) had his, I'm sure first, honest opinion told him straight in the face by this woman (that I stayed at) and I enjoyed every minute of it, sitting beside them trying to understand as musch as possible. When we left the room in order to pray we did "high five" when he didn't see us!

Here's my children playing with her's in her living room.

Coming to Cairo after Gaza made me realize many things. Like that we haven't seen a shoppingcenter for a very long time (that's not a bad thing however, the world really don't need more shoppingcenters). But from time to time, it can be enjoyable. Here's me an my niqabi relative looking at hidjabs (looking is the right word, the were between 10-25 dollar each, in Gaza I paid between 1-2 dollar each).

In this place I saw the most amazing hidjab constructions I have ever seen. For example I saw one woman with a scarf around her hair and in the back tight as a rose. Oh, had I only been a little bit more brave to ask for her photo and also not had two girls in need of visiting the toilet in the same time...

Another true sign of civilisation : eating at McDonald's. Trying to eat only halal it's not that often that you have the chance to eat a burger at McD:ies.

We spent some very nice days in Cairo. We relaxed in the great care of my relative. Here we are having arabic coffea at a local place nearby her house. My arabic skills were tested and I was happy to at least be able to hold a conversation and we were able to understand each other.


Thursday morning 6.30, we woke up. Put clothes on the children. My relative came to help with the bags and to say good bye. We left 7.30. I was hoping that my children gonna sleep, but nooo... The played with each other in the back of the car. My taxi-driver was very polite and didn't seem to mind. In fact he photographed my children with his mobile.

We drove through Sinai. It was very beautiful. Mountains. Sand. Sun. Blue sky.

At 15.00 we arrived to Sharm el Sheikh Airport. My driver helped me to pack all the heavy bags on a trolley and then left us. We sat here in this place for the next hours. Boooooring. Very boring for me. Extremly boring for small children.

My 3-year old daughter took this picture of a very tired blogger. And after she took it she told me "Mama, o'odi muaddabin" - "Mama, sit politly!" See what six months in Gaza does to you.

We finally got to check in our bags and then had to wait another few hours outside the gate. My children were so tired and hungry and I had the worst headache. Just before boarding the plane my youngest had a tantrum (I watch Dr Phil) - she wanted a bottle with milk. After 15 minutes of screaming I left the queu and my children in the care of that arabic "anti-arab-but-polite" man who helped me and went with my crying "baby" of 2 ½ to search for milk. Let me tell you, hidjab and blue eyes will get you anywhere. At the airport cafe they gave me a warm bottle of milk for free ("only for you!").

Then at 20.00 we got on the plane to Frakfurt. Arrived at 01.00 something. Collected our bags. Here I really felt that we were different when my two daughters staring singing nasheeds (islamic songs), loud and clear between all the tired Germans. "Mohammed nabina, ummuho Amina, Abo Abdullah, mat marra'a, jeddo, ili robba, abu Taleb ammo..." and so on. (Mohhamed is our prophet, his mother was Amina, his father was Abdullah...).

Outside my husband was waiting for us. It had been three months since we saw him. Here he is with our daughter and all our bags, in Frankfurt Airport.

However, Frankfurt has two airports... So our next flight was from the other one (of course). We waited until 03.00 when the bus came to drive us 1½ hour to the next airport, and there we waited until 10.00 until our flight for Skavsta outside Stockholm left. We slept on uncomfortable airport chairs. Here's Amal doing just that.

The flight from Frankfurt to Skavsta took like 2½ hours. The girls slept, Ibrahim was so tired and hungry that he just cried. It was awful. We were so tired, all of us. When we arrived to Skavsta Airport my parents were waiting for us, which was a big surprise. The children were so happy. We ate and rested, then continued to my parents house... another six hours by car...

So, from Thursday morning 7.30 until Friday evening 22.00. That is 38 hours on the road.

But who cares? We were home! There was snow!


nazali said...

Ah, very interesting. I'm thinking about visiting (someday-- not anytime soon) myself.

Just a thought, perhaps you did not like it there because you cannot understand their connection with their own home. People generally become attached to the place they are born or where they grow up - whether it is considered inhospitable to the rest of the world or not.

take care sister.

UmJannah said...

Asalaam Aliakoum Sister & Eid Mubarak to you & your family! So great to hear your story again, its a lovely feeling to arrive "home" isn't it!!! I remember when I stayed for some time in Morocco...arriving back in the US was wonderful. I love Morocco, but America is home.

Savtadotty said...

Great photos! Thanks for this post, although it makes me tired just to read it.

Anonymous said...

EID MUBARAK!!!!Masha allah Imaan. jag fick tårar i ögonen av att läsa allt du och barnen gått igenom. vilken upplevelse! insha allah ses vi snart.
wa salam islamiah

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Eid Mubarak :)

Abdelstar alslimat said...

If you can live in gaza you can live any wher.

lisoosh said...

Quite a journey and you deserve full congratulations for doing it with three small kids in tow.

I'm curious about two things, although feel free to tell me if it is not my business -
1. Did your husband remain in Sweden to work?
2. You had mentioned at the beginning of your blog that you had originally thought to move to Cairo. Seeing as how you did not enjoy Gaza but felt much more at home in Egypt, why did your family not consider returning to Cairo to live?

Abu Sinan said...

Great pictures and story. As a newcomer to Arab culture myself I HATE the kalaam fadi.

Anonymous said...

Salam alejkum Imaan! I've been reading your posts for the last two days and found them very very interesting.

I have friends in Gaza and am invited to visit. One of them offered me to stay in his family house . I've followed the recent developements in Gaza and realize that situation there isn't easy even for local people which doesn't discourage me from going anyway.

I live in Canada but am a citizen of Ukraine.
I've had a strong interest in Arab culture particularly Palestinian for many years. There was a chance for me to go to Ramallah a couple of years ago which I didn't use but nevertheless ended up with Israeli stamp in my Ukranian passport.

I will be travelling to Gaza the same way you did via Cairo which means I will have to go through the same ordeal. I have a visa from Egypt and I also asked in their embassy if i will be allowed to cross into Gaza on what they gave me a positive answer.

However my friends in Gaza let me know that I will have to pass through Kerem Shalom (israeli checkpoint as you know). Of course Israelis don't want anything to do with Gaza anymore so their official told me that it's not their problem if I pass through thier checkpoint or not.

I would appreciate if you can help me by giving me information about how it works for foreign nationals these days. People who want to enter and exit Gaza. My stay is intended to be only 2 weeks. Also, I wonder if having israeli visa will cause complications.

Best regards


Judy said...

Hi Imaan
I've only just caught up with this post-- it's such an absorbing and interesting account of the journey, and the photos are great. If your daughter can take a picture that good of you at the age she is, I think you should buy her a camera of her own as soon as possible. Of course, you've ended up making the journey look utterly desirable...

I particularly liked your insights into the views of your relatives and shopping life in Cairo.

Thanks for all the trouble you took to put all this up. And it would be nice to know more of these relatives' views as well as yours.