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Friday, October 26, 2012

4m Gaza to NYC: 4m Gaza to Cairo & back

4m Gaza to NYC: 4m Gaza to Cairo & back

Pic taken at the hotel, showing Africa on the Globe

Gaza, October 26, hmmm where should I start from? Ok, so after losing any hope of doing my US Visa interview in Jerusalem due to Israeli hindrance I shifted all my efforts to Egypt. US Embassy in Egypt gave me an appointment on November 13th, which is 10 days after my assigned date of being in NYC. After emailing the US Embassy in Cairo expressing the urgency of having an appointment ASAP and attaching the UN invitation, I got an email from the embassy on the afternoon of October 18th saying I have a special appointment on October 21st.

I had only two days to fathom this. I headed to Cairo on October 20th and things were going relatively easy. We reached the Egyptian border very fast. Fewer than 20 persons were leaving Gaza that day so the border was empty until it was crowded by endless flocks of pilgrims heading to Mecca. My sister was the only female. We waited anxiously while I was watching nervously 90% of the guys being asked to head back to Gaza for not having a strong reason to reach Cairo. One of them had medical reports.

I thought my turn will come. I will be rejected and asked to head back home. But after hours and hours of waiting, I was asked to an interview with the Egyptian intelligence office at the Egyptian border. They were very respectful and cooperative. He let me through after he saw my UN invitation.

My journey to Cairo began with a long 5 hours ride from Egyptian Rafah to Cairo. It felt weird, overwhelming and I felt like a fish that is being taken out of water as the distance between us and Gaza grew.
I reached Cairo at night. We checked in at the hotel and I started getting nervous about my appointment at the US Embassy in Cairo the second day. 

I woke up early and head to the embassy 1 hour prior to my special appointment to find lines of people waiting entry to the embassy. I freaked out and nearly danced in the cab. I showed my email from the embassy saying I have a special appointment, the guards checked if my name is on a list they had, then motioned to me to enter after they found my name.

Security procedures were strict.  I had deodorant in my handbag and it kind of set the biggest alarm. I was asked to take it out and spray it on my hand. We then waited for a few minutes to check for any reactions on the skin, when nothing happened, I was granted entry. I went through all the regular routine, I waited for an hour and then my time came. I was asked to go to window 6. I went with a smile, I was being super polite but I was treated so poorly by a girl who had a constant frown on her face. She seemed like she hated her job, when I asked her, "Why are you upset and treating me with hatred?", she replied that she is just doing her job.

I didn’t have an original receipt of the paid Visa fees since Nusair (An amazing Egyptian brother and friend) did it to me and I had no time to go get it from him before I headed to the Embassy. I was asked to immediately leave and never come back before I get it. I asked her if there is someone else I can talk to, she talked to a lady on window 7 who claims to be the manager of the office. They were discussing my issue while laughing. Lady on window 7 said she is the manager and she cant do anything without the original receipt, a copy wont help.

"Look, we do our best to help "you" (people coming from Gaza) but we aren’t obliged to surpass common procedures for you. What goes on everyone, goes on you, you aren’t special. Go get the receipt then we can talk," lady on window 7 said in way that made me feel like she is superior while I am inferior just because I come from Gaza.

I left the embassy and headed to Nusair's house to get the original receipt then headed back to the embassy. It took two hours and I didn’t get to see Nusair after that. They made me go through everything once again and wait for more hours until I finally had my interview with the counselor after waiting, fixing every wrong thing you can ever happen and jumping every obstacle that was placed infront of me.

I decided not to judge the US Embassy in Cairo just because of an angry girl. Lady on window 7 was very sweet and friendly at the end. The consular was new and she was also very friendly and sweet. She chatted and asked questions to confirm the info on my US Visa application. The system went down a few times and many small but frustrating things happened but at the end I was approved. But the down side of being from Gaza is that you have to wait for a week or more to get the final approval. Then you will have to wait for another week or 10 days for the DHL delivery.

I told the consular that I cant afford all that time. I explained how important this is to me, my aim isn’t just to make to NYC for the UN media training, my aim is to give Gazan youth hope and motivation to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles they had to leap over. I wanted to show Gazans that nothing is impossible if you put your mind and heart into it. She sympathized and asked everybody if she could help, but she cant, it’s a common procedure.

I felt defeated. I tasted failure and desperation. I felt like I betrayed Gaza's youth. I headed back to the hotel and informed the UN about everything and told them that I will be heading home. They asked me to sit tight for an additional day so they can intervene.

I headed back to Gaza on October 25th after guarantees from the UN that everything will work out. But in reality, no one can guarantee anything. This is your life if you live in Gaza. You live in mere uncertainty, nothing is guaranteed even when they are guaranteed.
If you live in Gaza, your future is a mystery, tomorrow is a surprise, uncertainty is a lifestyle and guarantees are built on shaky grounds.

Due to Qatari Emir's visit, Rafah border closed on October 23rd so nobody crossed. Gazans piled up and hundreds of Gazans headed back home on the 24th. Myself and my sister were among them. It was so crowded. We were pushed, shoved, hit, smacked, spat on, stepped on, humiliated, tortured and subjected to endless hours of waiting and standing. At first I blamed Gazans for not being organized. Then, I blamed the Egyptian border patrol for not being organized or able to control all of us in a civilized way. Then, I discovered that the problem is in actually both parties. Egyptian patrol didn’t know how to handle us and actually treated us like a 2nd degree species and we didn’t help them or each other instead we made things more complicated by being selfish, inconsiderate and reckless.

I couldn’t feel any happier or exhausted when I entered Gaza. Now, I have to head back to Cairo in a few days and soon head to NYC although till this second I have no guarantees that it will happen in time.
I try to not take the easy road, ever, because taking the hard road always pays off. I am still fighting and I will keep fighting until I make this trip and prove to Gazans that we can break the siege and leave for better education\training no matter how impossible it may sounds.

Will I make it to NYC or not? We would know soon for sure. I have passed a long journey till now after all.

P.S. A looooooong individual blog post will soon be posted about "Egypt". I stayed there for a few days and saw so little but observed allot. My opinions and observations will come from a narrow point of view because I saw less than 1%  of Egypt but I definitely plan on visiting it again and again.
Yes, I miss Egypt but in Gaza I feel like I was home.

Omar from Gaza


  1. Dear Omar; I am so sorry for your experience in the American Embassy. FWIW, as an American, I was treated just as rudely by my fellow Americans at the Embassy in London, and I was trying to pay my taxes! I do hope you are able to get a visa so you can come to New York. I will keep you in my prayers. Blessings to you on your way.

  2. Gosh, your life seems to be so much in synch with mine...and we seem to suffer and worry the same way. I'm sorry for anyone who feels, suffers and worries like I do...

    On the day you went back to Gaza, I was leaving Palestine. 3½ hours after I arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv I was finally at the gate. My trip was a nightmare from beginning to end. I haven't even begun to write about it... And with no home or anywhere to live, my life is precarious and uncertain too. And you, with all your observations in so little time, are just like me. We understand William Blake's poem:

    To see a world in a grain of sand
    and a heaven in a wild flower
    To hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    and eternity in an hour.