In 2009, my dad had the opportunity to go to Egypt for work. This also happened to be my senior year of high school so for my senior trip, I flew out and met him in Cairo. This was the first time I would be traveling so far by myself so I insisted that I have an international cell phone with me. I was going to have several long layovers during my trip from the US to Egypt so I wanted to be sure I could reach either of my parents if I needed to.
I left out of Washington DC and flew to New York. My layover in New York was not long but when we began to board the plane, the airline people at the gate would not let me board. They held me back until everyone else had boarded and then began looking at my flight information. I was supposed to get on that flight and fly to Paris and then onto Cairo. For some reason, their computers were not showing that I ever had a final destination. In a post-9/11 New York, this was a huge red flag. After a lot of waiting and explaining why I was going to Egypt, I was finally let on the plane. I was in a window seat with a French couple sitting between me and the aisle. They were very nice, but didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak French. So getting up for any reason was complicated.
The plane landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport at about 4 am local time. My next flight did not leave until 2 pm, so I had a lot of waiting to do. I had not slept much on the flight over so I was exhausted. I pulled out my phone and tried to call my dad in Cairo to let him know I had landed. The phone wouldn’t even turn on. I panicked. I was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language and I had 10 hours of waiting for my next plane. After several attempts to get the phone to work I found a pay phone and dialed my dad. Luckily he picked up his cell phone, even though he was in a meeting. He calmed me down and told me it would fine. He then called my mom and they tried to figure out how to get the phone to work. My mom called the airport several times to have them page me. Of course they paged me in French and I never heard it. So my phone didn’t work until I got to Cairo. Turns out, all I needed to do was take the battery out, put it back in and restart the phone.
I was so tired, so I found a place to sit down to rest and thought about going to sleep for awhile. I sat there for awhile watching the other people in the airport. I noticed a Gypsy woman wandering around talking to people. Then I noticed she was stealing things from people who were asleep. I decided sleeping was not the best idea so I moved to a different area. When I was little, my grandparents lived in Germany. We would visit them a lot and I became very familiar with the German language. So when I started seeing tall, German looking people who were all speaking German heading to a gate, I followed. I hung out by the gate for the flight to Munich until it took off. It was comforting to be around something I was familiar with. Until that point, I had been fighting off tears. Tears of exhaustion, confusion and fright. After the flight to Germany took off, I wandered around until I found a flight to Mexico. I took Spanish in high school so I could at least understand what people were saying, unlike the French spoken throughout the rest of the airport.
After I ran out of flights to hang out by, I started walking. I have done this my entire life during layovers. I like to people watch and the exercise is good. After about 20 minutes of walking, I noticed someone was following me. I thought nothing of it at first, but I kept checking to see if he was still behind me every 10 or so minutes. Every time I checked, he was there. I started to panic but then I saw the Women’s Washroom, so I ran inside. I stayed there for about 30 minutes, sitting on the floor, hoping the man would just pass by and I was just being paranoid. After I left the washroom, I didn’t see the man. It was about 15 minutes later when I noticed he was behind me again. I am observant and have taken multiple self defense classes. I had also boxed for a year just before I left on this trip. I knew how to keep track of someone following me and I knew how to lose them. After several attempts to lose the man following me, I went into another washroom. This pattern continued until about 12 pm. Suddenly the man stopped following me. I thought I could walk to my gate and be safe there while waiting for my flight. As soon as I got to the gate, I saw the man again. He was sitting in the waiting area in front of my gate. Again, I panicked and walked away. I found a shop selling water and forced myself to drink. I hadn’t had much to drink since I left home and I had hardly eaten at all.
I tried to stay away from the gate until it was time to board the plane. When I finally handed the attendant my ticket, she told me I could not board the plane and asked me to come with her. I broke down at this point. I was exhausted, scared and a little annoyed. The woman told me that my flight itinerary did not show I had a final destination. I had been told they had fixed that problem in New York, I guess not. The woman took pity on me, I also think she didn’t know what to do with a crying teenager, and let me board the plane.
Once on board I found my seat and started to get settled. The man sitting next to me wanted to switch seats with someone so he could sit closer to his wife. I heard another man volunteer to switch seats with him and thought nothing of it. When I looked up, it was the man who had been following me all over the airport! I braced myself to confront him but before he got to his new seat, someone else sat down. Another man had decided to sit next to me and told the creep who had been following me to find a new seat. I was worried, thinking how could this new man be any better, until we started talking. This man was from Egypt but lived in California where he taught Arabic to US Air Force officers. My grandfather had been a colonel in the Air Force so this some how comforted me. The man talked to me about where I should go in Egypt and actually got me to eat something. He even promised to help me through customs when we landed.
Once we landed, the man walked me through what I needed to go to get a visa and even helped me get one. When it was my turn to go through passport control, I looked for him as I exited. I never saw him again. I truly believe that there are angels walking the Earth and to me, that man was one of them. I was never able to thank him and I don’t know if I will ever be able to. It seems silly looking back now, but he was able to comfort me and help me feel safe when I terrified.
I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see my dad as I was that day. I think I might have scared him a bit with the hug I gave him. He took me out to the car and our driver took us to the hotel. My body clock was so messed up at this point that I fell asleep the minute I got into bed.
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