Your first thought is probably, "What's so hard about smiling while seeing ancient landmarks most people can only dream of visiting in their lifetimes?" What is hard is smiling while your stomach battles an evil epidemic of Middle Eastern digestive monsters.
Two weeks ago, I spent more than five hours over the course of two days at the municipality office in Rabin Square. I was trying to conquer the Israeli bureaucracy, a necessary evil in making a successful Aliyah, and receive a discount on something called the Arnona tax (only in Israel). After dealing with desk clerks who clearly hate their jobs, scream at each other, and argue in Hebrew with my landlady (who was so kind to assist me), I was again questioning this Aliyah thing. Feeling frustrated, I was elated to be hopping on a plane with my friend and bouncing over to Cairo for a few days.
Flash forward to the Cairo Airport. After receiving about a dozen marriage proposals between Stephanie (my friend) and myself, we haggled with the cab driver trying to overcharge us by about 500% of what we should pay (we won, obviously), and arrived at our "three star hotel." My version of three stars and Egypt's version of three stars are worlds apart, to say mildly. But the fact that we weren't vacationing like rock stars did not deter our moods at all.
The first few days of our trip will filled with tourist euphoria- seriously, seeing the pyramids and the sphinx has been something I've wanted to do since Chapter 3 of my sixth grade history book, so I was over the moon (see photograph above). Stephanie and I were those annoying tourists with smiles and cameras, reminding each other every five seconds, "Dude, we're in Cairo right now!" We befriended Egyptians, went on a dinner cruise on the Nile River (where I discovered a talent for belly dancing after joining the professional's performance on the dance floor), and saw amazing artifacts taken from the pyramids at the Egyptian Museum.
And then it came. On our final day I woke up feeling like I was hit by a truck and my stomach was engaged in civil war. And we had to check out by noon. And our flight was not until 3:00am. Maybe it was the hour and a half cab rides where our driver was lost and driving in circles for what felt like centuries. Maybe it was breathing in heavily polluted air I'm not used to. Maybe it was the funky shakshouka or the funky eggplant dip. Whatever it was, it left me sick.
By the time we arrived at the airport, my stomach was somewhere between a cartwheel and a back handspring and the energy had been sucked from my body and replaced with the feeling I just refer to as "death." The thought of boarding an airplane was anything but appealing. Couldn't I just click my heels three times and have the Wizard of Oz make sure I teleported to my bed in Tel Aviv?
I couldn't. My suitcase was checked, I got through security, waited, waited some more, and got through the 70 minute flight. Finally, at 6:30am, as the sun was rising, the very talkative taxi driver transporting us from the airport delivered Stephanie and I safely to my apartment entrance. I have never been so happy to see that building.
Traveling is something I'm very passionate about- even if it's not always a smooth, illness free experience. Seeing new places and being in new cultures thousands of miles from home and then knowing you have "conquered a new place" is one of the greatest satisfactions of (my) life. But there is something comforting about returning home. Even if my Hebrew isn't quite so good, and the Israeli red tape turns me into a mad woman, and my American-ness commands the attention of a traffic jam, I feel not only safe and secure in Tel Aviv, but a sense of belonging. The city is becoming my home.