Sunday, May 14, 2006

You're from where?

well, I made it (one border crossing, an 8-hour taxi ride, two planes, and a broken generator-induced delay later). I must say I feel totally dislodged from my element. I feel I have no sense of time or space or being, as odd as that sounds (and from the sleeptalking Yousuf has been doing, neither it seems, does he). Our plane was late leaving Cairo by 3 hours due to a mysterous problem with the engine generators ("the first time we've ever experinces something like this", according to the Captain).

So we missed our connecting flight in London's Heathrow, which wasn't all bad-given BA put us up in a five-star hotel for the night, complete with a jacuzzi tub (which Yousuf seemed to enjoy..). and yes, it took the ticket counter people a while to "place" us, ala "you're from where? *click click click*"...[hushed whispers to colleagues]...and finally typing in the correct code to "bypass" the system's neglect of my identity. I must have been asked that questin a dozen times over the course of our trip.

Of course, it took us a while to get through immigration in London where we were put up for the night-and given our strange combination of passports, mispelled names, and travel history, I wasn't the least bit surprised (and the fact that a Nigerian woman in the line next to ours was stopped trying to get into the country on a forged German passpart didn't help either).

"Palestinian what?" asked the bare-headed man at behind the counter. After lengthy consultation, and questions about why we were carrying two passports (an expired Jordanian travel document, which the Jordanian government is phasing out for all Palestinian Authority passport holders), and our PA passports, and who received what passport and why, including various interventions from from each of my parents and attempts to retstrain Yousuf who made a canvas out of the immigration halls's metal poles, we were finally allowed through, only to be stopped by an unnamed, bearded, somewhat scrawny intelligence officer for "further questioning", which included "whether we thought the Middle East Conflict would be resolved?".

I hate all-encompassing borad questions like that. What the hell is "the middle east" conflict anyway (i posited a slightly more toned down rhetorical)? and is the approval of my entry visa contingent upon my answer? Will a resounding "hell no! not in our lifetime!" ensure I sleep in the airport, not the nice comfortable bed with four belgian chocolates tucked under the pillow and shower with complimentary mint-sage shampoo? I thought for a few seconds, and then replied "There is a famous Palestinian novel-a sort of absurdist tale with a comical, Don Quixotesque hero, called-the Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist. You should read it" I replied, to his raised eyebrows. "That sort of sums it up."

He gave us a cautious smile and called me "diplomatic", and then proceeded to ask me about the "new" government, about whether they wanted a place in the international community and how they would go about doing that, about what Palestinians thought about Olhmert and whether thing would change under his rule. I babbled something about the reign of unilaterism as my father tried to shut me up with his glaring eyes. Obviously the officer knew everything, at least I assumed as much. i had been exposed to this line of questioning before-by both Israeli and American intelligence: he was simply testing the waters, fishing for certain answers, and checking for consistency.

He then asked about our mysterious passports, why we all had different names in them, we we each had two passports (and to make matters more compliated, our names spelled differently in each, no thanks to the incompetent passport officers who issued them... my father's name: moussa el-haddad in one, mousa alhaddad in the other, mine Laila El-haddad in one, :Laila Dawood in the other, while Yousuf's was Yousuf get the picture). So I had to take a few minutes to explain the history of the Palestinian -Israeli conflict, the issue of identity documents, refugees, 1948, 1967, family reunification...

We were finally let through, and helped ourselves to the all-expense paid hotel buffet, and a beautiful walk through London's parks.

the next day we made it to the US, and received similar quizzical looks from a Chinese-American immigration officer who barely spoke English, and of course no Arabic, and who I think was even more confused than his British colleagues. Luckily we were not taken for fruther questioning, as I breathed a sigh of relief (given my past experiences with US immigration, including my detention and the confiscation of my passport for 3 1/2 months). Customs checked our bags (all seven of them) and confiscated a single bag of green wheat my mother insisted on bringing (known as freeka in Palestine), and after asking, once again, where exactly we were from (and then, "oh, how is the weather over there, I'll bet its great all year round!) , we were off, and reunited.

Now I'm trying to recover from the jetlag, and still finish up the insane amount of work I have-including an interview I'm working on with the head of the Council of Unrecognized Palestinian Villages in the Negev to mark the ongoing al-Nakba tommorow.

For now, I sign off...and get back to unpacking my bags!!


Blogger Fatima said...

Hamdillah 'ala al salama! Enjoy your time off!

10:09 PM  
Blogger shlemazl said...

Wow, this was hard! So much easier for Israelis!

You think it could be because of the little terrorism problem you have among your compatriots and within the Government?

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you have experienced is slowly going to become the norm in this new world of globalisation -illegal immigration, international crime, international terrorism, drug, money, and people traffiking, and so on, is making it harder to cross any border. I can only expect it will get worse especially in Europe, the US is even tighter.

Anyway, have a great time in the US and forget about borders for a while.

10:56 PM  
Blogger ياسمين حميد said...

Enjoy your trip, I wish you a good time!
By the way... the book, what is it's title in arabic?

11:41 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

it is something like: hayat Saeed al-mutasha'il al sirriya

11:50 PM  
Blogger umkahlil said...

"I babbled something about the reign of unilaterism as my father tried to shut me up with his glaring eyes."

LOL, I can relate to that!

11:57 PM  
Blogger moi said...

Glad to hear you've arrive safely (albeit not easily)!
Btw, I can totally relate to the different spellings of your name on passports. Seriously, we have *really* incomptent passport officers in the Arab world; I think I have like 5 different spellings :S

12:29 AM  
Blogger moi said...

oh and about the book's name in arabic, I think you meant "al-mutasha'im" not "al-mutasha'il" :)

12:31 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

actually, no, it is "al-mutasha'il".."the pessoptimist"..fusion of "mutasha'im" and "mutafa'il"..."pessimistic" and "optimistic".,..that is the beauty of it, and what I meant when I told the immigratin officer "that sums it up". :)

and for anyone out there in the DC area drop me a line so we can meet up! I already met up with Will from Kabobfest yesterday by coincidence (we were boht recording segments on ART's downstairs cafe)

12:34 AM  
Blogger umkahlil said...

Oh, Laila, my comment reads funny. I didn't mean I can relate to "shutting you up." I meant that my dad used to always try to get me to shut up afraid I'd get in some kind of trouble! He didn't succeed very well.

3:01 AM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

the next day we made it to the US, and received similar quizzical looks from a Chinese-American immigration officer by the name of Xu who barely spoke English.

Good thing for you, otherwise he might have been a reader of your blog. If you're going to be staying in the US, you might want to tone down the overt racism a bit. It's really frowned on here.

3:54 AM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

What the hell is "the middle east" conflict anyway

I would think it would be obvious, but the answer to your question is "you," Laila. Re-read your own post and you can see the "the middle east" conflict in teh words you wrote, and the hate in your tone.

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim says :

thanks for the update. that's so funny. To have an immigration guy quizzing you on general politics. I wonder what his opinion of the conflict is ? That reminds of a time I went to Ireland in the 80s and the airport guy was asking me strange questions like where was I staying.

Next stop America. If they don't refuse to allow the plane to land you have done better than Cat Stevens ;)

Hope you caught the good weather on Saturday. Its back to rain again.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim says :

oops, you are in the USA already. well done. enjoy :)

5:08 AM  
Anonymous KarenM said...

Glad you and Yousuf have arrived safely in the US. May you have a pleasant stay.

KarenM in NC

5:19 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

thanks Karen! I should be heading down to NC soon.

5:21 AM  
Blogger الفلسطينية said...

wow that does not sound like a pleasent trip at all. i wouldnt even call it a trip-- sounds more like some kind of twisted version of monopoly. "do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. go to jail!" sometimes i serisouly think if we told them we came from mars we would have it easier.

middle east conflict? phshh. i dont know what ur talking about...what conflict? middle what? lol.

anyway hope your stay is more relaxing/enjoybale than your trip!

6:18 AM  
Blogger Heba from Gaza said...

Liala happy you are finally there ..i can immagine what you have gone through taking into consideration the unjust prejuidiced racist view of Arabs these days ..wish you enjoy your trip

9:25 AM  
Blogger Kel said...

Glad you made it to the US!

Can't believe the questions you faced from Customs officials.

Would you have been refused entry had you answered differently?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Imaan On Ice said...

Also glad you made it safe. Enjoy - and don't work too hard.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous ratttu said...

As a Israeli abroad I get really sick of people I just met asking me 'ah, so what do you think of the conflict then?' as if I could just sum it up nicely and succintly in one sentence.
It must be even more irratating when it's an Immigration Officer.

Imagine if American citizens would be asked in every airport what they think about their country invading other countries on bogus claims.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Abu Shaar said...

Mabruuk, Um Yousuf!

I don't know if you've had the ordeal of travel through TLV.

American airports seem like amusement parks in comparison.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous The Raccoon said...

Let me tell you a little tale, cous'...

After I finished my service in the special forces - we have finally left Lebanon, and good riddance! - I was transferred to the Jericho Joint Patrol. Not sure whether you have heard of it, but it was a fairly common practice back in the days of the hudna; IDF and PA police patrolling PA-controlled turf together. In Jericho, it mostly included driving around in Jeeps a bit and then having coffee and houmus under an old tree for a few hours.

Well, Jericho of these days was a splendid place. The casino was bringing in the big bucks, the city had more restaurants and gift shops than population, agriculture was booming, the streets were clean... Really a good place to live in, save for the godsdamn heat. Oh, sure, we had our share of unpleasantness - petty crime, the Jericho psycho that got the kicks out of raping young boys (we got him in the end), the daily heart attacks among the tourists in the casino... but it was nothing major. The biggest thing we had there during that period was the time when the Islamic Jihad, IIRC, threw a Molotov cocktail into a passing car and burned alive an Israeli woman and her 2-year-old girl. But, as I said, it was the exception rather than the rule.

But there was this feeling in the air... a feeling of foreboding, you know? Eveybody knew it was a hudna and not a real peace. Khaled, the big chief of our Palestinian counterparts, smiled secretively when he remembered his good old days in the first Intifada (he was crazier than a loon, but that is normal for a paramilitary commander). The Force 17 fucks gave us all dirty, knowing looks... but most of all, there was the feeling in the air. Like a gathering storm you cannot see.

And boy, did it break. Old Yasser - the Rayiss - pushed the button that started the new intifada. And within the span of a single day, everything changed. The guys we had coffee with on a daily basis suddenly started shooting at us. Khaled stopped being nice and let his inner beast surface. The casino was occupied by gunmen that constantly fired on us. The old tree under which we drank coffee was blown up. Shops were looted by militias. Restaurants closed. Hothouses were shattered. The streets filled with gunfire and rubble.

Our base was burned down and riddled with bullets - where once we had only plaster walls, now stands reinforced concrete. The casino was shelled to get rid of the snipers. The local population descended back into violence and poverty.

And this, my friends, is the sad tale of what briefly was the most successful town in PA. It might have many morals, or it might have none at all. Me - well, I take it simply: there is no point in buiding that which be destroyed by stupidity and bloodlust. There is no point in paying the Hamas when they could have easily resurrected the prosperity of Jericho... had they only wanted.

I mourn for Jericho. Sorry for rambling.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Batyah said...

Wow, raccoon. What a tale. Kind of like what's happening with all the greenhouses in Gaza, which could have been fostered so much economic growth but instead, the Palestinians saw fit to destroy them in that way that only they can destroy hope and opportunity. It is really mindboggling. Not the sharpest tools in the shed, I guess.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Alethia said...

Marhaba, where in the US are you? The east coast it sounds like? I am in California, but hope that your trip goes well. I appreciate your writing and perceptions...It has been about a year since I was able to be in Palestine to visit, but I love it despite the hardships...blessings, alethia

2:04 AM  
Blogger Christopher Brown said...

Well well well, for the first time ever a Palestinian colleague of mine isn't thrown in a room and smacked around by US immigration officials! Glad you and your family are safe, Leila!

2:16 AM  
Anonymous heavenhelpus said...

But maybe the immigration guy was just curious and wnated to know what life was like in Palestine? Am I being horribly naive?

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm sorry, but can we not start to be a little more forgiving to our ingnorant friends overseas? So he asked you a naive question, a question with no real answer, a question that only creates more. BUT is this not also an oppurtionity. One that maybe should not be ridiculde? But embraced, a chance to share the stories and opinions, rid some of their rumours and predjudece. Is it not curiousity on their part when asking of the political state of your country? From India to the U.K people have asked me questions as to... 'what i think'.. i cannot tell them what i think, i can only tell them what is. They will have to draw their own conclusions. Just a little more compassion, we all know this world needs it.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree 11:03pm. it actually can get really tiring. also, there are usually other reasons why they could have stopped her. she wears hijab, AND has a palestinian document AND has a son with is american AND is travelling with family who have random papers too.
Also, I think in the states especially ignorance is not always malevolent. Sometimes they honest to god have no clue and being obnoxious isnt always the answer.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just checking...

1:01 PM  

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