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 Daoud...you 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!!