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Saturday, April 24, 2010

A long day's journey into Israel

After much too much work, much too little sleep, and obsessive last minute planning, I left San Francisco on April 20, having worked the 19th till midnight and then stayed up packing till 4:30 am when I had to leave for the airport.  As a result, I forgot just a few basic things, like toothpaste, deodorant, and I'm sure if I had been wearing socks they would have been horribly mismatched.  I had not taken out a suitcase till after midnight when I came home from work, the better to deceive my cat that all was normal.  As soon as he saw the suitcase, he was Not Happy.  He followed me and the suitcase up the stairs, crying, which made me feel terrible.  At 4:15 am I called the usual car service that I use to get to the BART.  They picked up after a million rings, to tell me they didn't have anyone available.  They suggested dialling another number.  That car service said sure, 15 minutes.  After a half hour it turned out that the first driver had apparently "given up" (anyone who's tried to drive in my neighborhood in the pouring rain in the dark for the first time would understand why) and the second one was waiting ... 3 houses away.  So, the stress continued as I was no longer sure I'd make it to the airport on time.  However, it turned out I had made a mistake and while I thought the flight was leaving at 7 am, it was leaving at 7:20 so it all worked out!

I apparently had taken a suitcase with a ridiculously stable and therefore heavy frame, so it weighed in at 49 lbs, with another overhead bag with a huge amount of heavy paper and books in it.  Whew.  Just under the cutoff.  When I boarded the plane, I was so tired that I barely noticed the man next to me except that he had a somewhat unusual accent.  I became immediately comatose, even before the plane took off, and woke about a half hour before landing.  On landing, my seat-neighbor pulled out a cell phone and I realized it was Hebrew he was speaking.  How's that for a bizarre omen!

My mom picked me up at JFK airport and all went well with that.  We went out for dinner and then I had to spend the rest of the night and next morning reorganizing my ridiculously packed and heavy luggage, repacking it into one of her extra and lighter suitcases.  I also organized my Israel info into various folders.

The next day we had been told to arrive at the airport by 4 pm for a 7 pm flight.  We actually arrived at 3:30, got checked in relatively quickly with just a few extra security questions beyond the standard ones, and my mom felt a little disappointed/let down at the lack of interrogation on the way to Israel.  I did point out to her that we both do share that innocent look and perhaps they were questioning other people more?  When we got upstairs we sat waiting next to a woman with a cat in a carrier who turned out to be a vet who had come to Oklahoma from Israel for her 7 year training in veterinary internal medicine.  She was paying >$1000 for the cat to fly in the seat next to her.  He was a redhead, and his name was Simba.  She confided in me that she was flying her other 13 cats and a few dogs in cargo...

When we got on the plane, we realized it was unbelievably tight seating with zero leg room.  I literally had to crawl over the 2 outer seats to make it to the inner seat.  We were just totally fortunate there was no one between us in the middle seat!  And the two of us had a dinner with excellent hummus and pita bread, but lousy chicken, and then fell asleep almost right away, (as Schaffers are excellent sleepers) and slept for many hours, but woke up still well before the 11 hour flight was over.  We woke up to realize that there was a very large number of ultrareligious people on the plane (who I will henceforth refer to as 'penguins') and that they were very annoying.  They kept getting up to pray (because with the changing time zones, I guess it's always ma'ariv or shacharit (the timed evening and morning prayers) *somewhere* in the world, isn't it.

It turns out that penguins are very messy, as you might imagine, when they go to the bathroom, and Israeli flight attendants think it is below them to actually clean anything.  So that was a really bad combo by hour 11 of the flight.  Enough said.  Suffice it to say that in the future if returning to Israel I will purposely look for another airline to fly, other than El Al.

We arrived at Ben Gurion airport, and went through a very long and disorganized immigration line in which I met about 20 people from Mexico who were friendly and nice to talk to and on a religious pilgrimage.  There was a 'march of the penguins' into a separated line.  Finally we went through and the Israeli immigrations official was not at all interested or concerned about my passport including several Muslim countries.  And customs was a nonexistent thing where no one declared anything and everyone just went through and the three guys there looked to be having a very boring afternoon.

More in the next entry ... :)

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