Story time! Strangest moments in airports around the world

We’re leaving for the airport early tomorrow morning. Home for the Holidays, here we come! Boston Logan is typically a relatively calm and uneventful airport, but around the holidays, traveling is like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. While I procrastinate on my packing and present-wrapping, here are my all-time best airport stories, a sequel to my weird stories on trains and buses. Moments in airports that just made me do a double take and think to myself, “Wait a minute, did that actually just happen?”

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Grading papers in a near-empty Zurich airport in the middle of the night. Ever wonder where in the world your homework has been?

Cairo International Airport, March 2015

With my cohort of fellow Fulbrighters, I boarded an EgyptAir flight from Casablanca to Cairo to Amman for a spring conference. Here are some highlights from our EgyptAir experience:

  • The plane food looked very questionable, so I did not eat it and was starving by the time we got to Amman. But that was okay because…
  • Everyone who did eat it got food poisoning.
  • The plane was dirty.
  • The pilot said a prayer over the intercom before we left, and I had very mixed feelings about this because on the one hand I entirely support praying for safe travels and often do so myself, but I also want some reassurance that the pilot has confidence in himself and the plane, you know?
  • We flew home in three separate groups (as some left directly after the conference while I and a few other stayed to wander around Jordan). The second legs of ALL THREE flights were canceled, no explanation given, and we all got stranded in Cairo overnight.

So there we were in the Cairo airport late at night, in need of visas to leave the airport and go to a hotel. We’d thought this through beforehand, as we’d heard about the cancellation before our flight left Amman. While we were waiting in the Amman airport, we had traded our leftover Jordanian dinar for Egyptian pounds rather than Moroccan dirhams. So we all had enough Egyptian cash on hand to purchase our visas.

An airport officer pointed to six currency exchange kiosks surrounding the baggage claim area and told us we could get our visas at any of them.

So we approached the closest kiosk.

“Hi, could I get a visa, please? Our flight was canceled. We’ll just be in Cairo till tomorrow morning.” (hands over passport and form)

“Certainly. That will be twenty-five dollars.”

“Actually, can I pay in Egyptian pounds?”

“No, just dollars or euros.”

“I don’t have dollars.”

“You’re American.”

“Yes, but I’ve been outside the U.S. for the past seven months. I don’t have any American money.”

“How about euros?”

“I don’t have euros. I only have Moroccan dirhams and Egyptian pounds- how much does the visa cost in Egyptian pounds?”

“I’m sorry, I can only accept dollars or euros. You can try one of the other kiosks.”

So we made our way from kiosk to kiosk, and this conversation repeated itself at every kiosk, and when we finally desperately tried the sixth and last kiosk, I lost it and yelled, loudly enough that everyone in the baggage claim area could hear me- “You’re telling me that I can’t purchase an EGYPTIAN visa with EGYPTIAN currency IN EGPYT?!???”

The man behind the kiosk looked around nervously, slid an Egyptian visa across the counter, and said in a hurried whisper, “Ok, ok, just this once, and just for you. You can pay in Egyptian pounds.”

So, PSA, if you’re going to Egypt, bring your dollars.

Mohammed V International Airport (Casablanca), March 2015

As I sat in the domestic terminal, waiting for my flight to Ouarzazate, a stray cat wandered calmly through the departure gate waiting areas. People reacted exactly how they should have: They glanced at the cat, shrugged- just a cat- and went back to their newspapers or cell phones or coffee cups. A totally normal response that felt excessively strange to me because, let’s be real here, in an American airport this cat would have caused a terminal-wide code red freak-out. It’s a terrorist cat. There’s a bomb inside it. It’s an improvised explosive cat. It’s a cat full of drugs. Where is its passport? Where is its owner?  It’s about to detonate! HELP! Run for your lives!

Marrakesh Menara Airport, April 2015

This is the story of how I learned a very valuable life lesson called you get what you pay for.

A friend invited myself and two other girls to go to Italy with her to spend Easter with her cousins. We all readily accepted. We found a $16 flight from Marrakesh to Rome on an airline called Vueling. A deal almost too good to be true. We snapped it up. We’d never flown Vueling before, but we knew Ryanair pretty well and we were cool with those super-cheap no-frills European airlines. We bought a second (and equally cheap) flight from Rome to Lamezia- our final destination in southern Italy- on Ryanair.

Marrakesh was a ten hour train trip away from where I lived, but trains in Morocco are inexpensive and comfortable and I had no problem making such a long trek if it meant that $16 flight and being able to travel with my friends. I took that ten hour ONCF journey, meeting up with one of the girls in Rabat along the way and traveling with her for the final four hours, and we all ended up in the Marrakesh airport by midnight to catch our 2:00 a.m. flight.

Yes, you heard that right. Our flight had a two a.m. departure time. Whatever, it was worth it for $16. And ours was the only flight departing from Marrakesh at anywhere near that time, making a delay less likely.

Oh, wait. Take that back. Two o’clock became two thirty, two forty-five, three… and we were still waiting at our departure gate. No explanation was given. Just as we were starting to get worried about missing our connecting flight in Rome, we were finally allowed to board.

So we boarded…

…and proceeded to sit on the runway for another hour.

Once again, no explanation was given for the delay.

We found a flight attendant and asked her what was going on. We told her we had a connecting flight on another airline that we were likely to miss at that point- would Vueling be able to do anything about that? Could she give us a ballpark estimate of when we might be taking off?

The flight attendant simply shrugged at us- “like a sassy diva,” my friend said, and I can vouch that that is a very realistic description and no exaggeration.

It was now past 4:00 a.m. and passengers were getting very antsy and starting to complain loudly.

A man in an orange vest came on the plane and told us, and I swear I am not making this up, that they would have to turn the plane off and turn it back on again. He quickly ducked out of the plane before anyone had a chance to ask questions.

Rebooting a plane apparently takes at least half an hour.

So we continued to wait.

Some passengers got out of their seats and loudly demanded to get off the flight. They argued back and forth with the flight attendants and the man in the vest who reappeared out of nowhere and another airline guy in a suit. The guy in the suit and the guy in the vest disappeared, then reappeared, and announced to everyone that the mechanical problem had been fixed and the plan was ready for takeoff, but since some passengers wanted to get off the plane there would be another forty minute delay while their baggage was retrieved from the hold.

And that was IT.

Pandemonium broke loose.

Passengers were screaming and yelling in Italian, Arabic, and English. Yelling at each other, yelling at the people getting off the plane, yelling at the man in the suit and the man in the vest and the flight attendants, who were of course all yelling back. Babies were crying. Some guys shoved each other. Someone punched the back of my seat. It was nuts.

So the pilot employed an age-old trick passed down from kindergarten teacher to kindergarten teacher for generations. He turned off the lights for five minutes until we all calmed down.

We missed our connecting flight in Rome and had to cough up sixty euros for a train ticket to Lamezia and then sit on a train for seven or eight hours.

At least we made it in time for Easter dinner!

You get what you pay for. And sometimes what you get is a good story.

Abed Amani Karume International Airport (Zanzibar), July 2015

My husband and I flew from Nairobi to Zanzibar for the second half of our honeymoon. As we stepped off the plane, we were immediately greeted by giant, bright yellow signs: All travelers must show proof of yellow fever immunization. I had my yellow WHO card with me, but my husband did not have his, though he’d been vaccinated about eight years before. We were given two options. “You can wait here for the next flight back to Nairobi, or we can vaccinate you here.” My husband chose the latter option. So the TSA officer- and, I repeat, not a nurse, the TSA officer- opened a mini fridge, took out a needle, showed my husband that it was sterile, and proceeded to jab him in the arm right there by the baggage claim.

I like to end this story with “annnddd now he’s autistic.”

PSA, get your yellow fever shot before you go to Tanzania and don’t lose your WHO card cause they don’t play.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston), August 2014

The man in line in front of me at Starbucks was wearing cowboy boots and a giant cowboy hat completely non-ironically. Maybe that’s normal in Texas, but I’m an urban New England girl. It was weird.

Philadelphia International Airport, May 2016

On my way home from a girls’ weekend away, I was strolling through the Philadelphia airport in the direction of my gate, casually looking around, when, as I passed an information desk, the woman at the desk called out to me, “Starbucks is over that way!”

Should I be amused or offended? Do I really give off that strong of a “basic white girl” vibe? Should I work on that? Siiiiigh.

(The worst part: I actually was looking for a Starbucks.)

(Cringe.)

 

There are some other good ones too, but that’s it for today!

 

 

 

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My Two Favorite Recipe Hacks

In the spirit of goal #10 on my 30 before 30 list, here I am in the kitchen again! These are not recipes of my own, but rather, two easy and fast adjustments to recipes that already exist.

(1) Rosemary Cheddar Biscuits

Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary to the Food Network’s “Almost-Famous Cheddar Biscuits” before the kneading stage. I promise you, the rosemary will take them from almost famous to most definitely famous. These are easy to make and always a big hit.

(2) Best Ever Scrambled Eggs

Follow whatever method of egg scrambling you typically use, and just add a little bit of cream cheese when the eggs are almost done. Ta-da, the loveliest creamiest scrambled eggs you’ve ever tasted. Seriously, cream cheese, the secret ingredient to perfect scrambled eggs.

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto

In the process of working on goal #10 on my 30 before 30 list– cook at least 30 new recipes- I ended up combining elements of a few different risotto recipes with some tweaks and additions of my own. The result was delish and I definitely want to get this recipe in writing for future reference, so here it is!

To give credit where credit is due, I drew some inspiration from this recipe by Cookie and Kate and this one from NYT Cooking.

Ingredients:

1 lb cubed butternut squash

1 tsp rosemary

2-3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp minced ginger

10 sage leaves

1 cup rice

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

2 tbsp cream cheese

 

Toss the butternut squash with the rosemary, salt, pepper, and just enough olive oil to lightly coat it (1-1.5 tbsp). Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 375 for about 50 minutes.

Start the risotto when the squash is about halfway through roasting. Finely chop 4 of the sage leaves. Melt the butter in a dutch oven. Add the chopped sage and cook for about a minute. Add the onion and cook for two minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, stir, and cook for another two to three minutes. Add the wine and cook for two minutes. Add the rice and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer on low heat until the rice is cooked, about twenty minutes. If it starts looking too dry and the rice isn’t quite done, throw in an extra half a cup of water.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan and fry the remaining sage leaves until they turn a darker shade of green but not brown, just about a minute or two. Stir the cream cheese and parmesan into the rice when it’s done. Keep the heat on low and stir until the cheese has melted into the rice. Stir in the roasted butternut squash. Garnish with the fried sage leaves.

I served this along with a spinach salad and mussels cooked in a garlic butter white wine sauce. Yum!

Another awesome Swahili resource

It’s been a while since I posted about language learning! Because I love languages and learning and Kenya, and because learning to speak Swahili is on my 30 before 30 list, here I am sitting down with a glass of white wine and my little green notebook and an awesome online Swahili curriculum my husband shared with me. It was created by a friend of his as part of a pre-departure orientation for a nonprofit organization in Tanzania, but it is very generously available to anyone interested. The curriculum includes both written and audio explanations of Swahili grammar, along with listening comprehension exercises and worksheets. I posted a while ago about some helpful youtube channels for learning Swahili, but this resource is more comprehensive. Check it out, my fellow language nerds!

30 before 30 update: gratitude jar

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I’ve never been good at routines. And the next 3o before 30 goal I’m tackling depends very much on following a routine. This one’s going to be a challenge! So I “voluntold” my husband to join me in this endeavor. He’s good at the routine thing. I’m the spontaneous one. We both definitely need each other!

Goal #29 on my 30 before 30 list: Keep a gratitude jar for a year.

I thought Thanksgiving would be a good time to get a start on this one. I prettied up a mason jar with some festive ribbon, and each day, the hubby and I each write one thing we’re grateful for on a small slip of paper, fold it up, and drop it in the jar! Sometimes I write about something specific to that day; other times I write about something I’m grateful for in my life more generally. God is good, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I don’t always take the time to recognize it and when I do I’m just like… wow. Wow.

Here’s to keeping this up till Thanksgiving 2017, which will probably mean upgrading to bigger jars along the way!

30 before 30 update: cooking and booking

Since I first wrote up my 30 before 30 list and hung it on my fridge back in June, I have made it a third of the way toward accomplishing goals #9 and #10: Cook 30 new recipes and read 30 new books before my 30th birthday. Here are those recipes and books, for the record, and in case anyone’s interested in checking them out!

I’ve rated the recipes on a scale of one to five stars:

* = yuck, ** = meh, *** = okay but nothing special, **** = pretty good, will probably make again, ***** = yum, yum, delish, will definitely make again

  1. Greek chicken stew with cauliflower and olives from NYT Cooking ****
  2. One Pot Red Lentil Chili from Minimalist Baker *****
  3. Poulet a la creme from Sur La Table ***
  4. Asian lettuce wraps from allrecipes.com*****
  5. Pork tenderloin steaks with wilted cabbage and apples from the Food Network ***
  6. Blueberry Baked Oatmeal from Cookie and Kate ****
  7. Creamy tomato basil tortellini from TipHero *****
  8. Cajun Chicken Pasta from allrecipes.com *****
  9. Shakshuka from Tori Avey *****
  10. Salmon Alfredo Pasta from RecipeTin Eats *****

 

Books I’ve read since making my 30 before 30 list:

  1. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Read this if… you read The Great Gatsby in high school and found yourself thinking, “Every character in this book is a dysfunctional hot mess but I can’t look away and I don’t even know why I like this book but I kind of do.” (I should point out that you will find more punkrockers than roaring twenties speakeasiers in Goon Squad.)
  2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah. Read this if… you want to dive into complicated questions about race, culture, and identity while reading the work of an author who writes so beautifully that you’ll almost feel disappointed when you get to the last page.
  3. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink. Read this if… You like learning more about what drives human behavior and this fascinatingly weird world.
  4. Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican. Read this if… you love beautiful memoirs that read almost like fiction.
  5. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake. Read this if… you’re wrestling with questions about identity, or you’re interested in stories about immigration, coming of age, navigating multiple cultures, and finding oneself.
  6. Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men. Read this if… you’re into fantasy, fairy tales for grown-ups, and/or funny phrases in Scottish accents.
  7. Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown. Read this if… you liked The Wee Free Men and want to find out what happens next. (It’s not quite as good, though.)
  8. Lois Lowry, The Giver. Read this if… you like dystopian novels that make you think. This book is basically Brave New World for kids.
  9. Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation. Read this if… you like stories about immigration, coming of age, and overcoming challenges. The last couple of chapters will have you cheering out loud, then holding your breath, and then feeling all the feels.
  10. Ngugi wa Thiongo, A Grain of Wheat. Read this if… you want to know more about African history and literature because it was woefully neglected in your high school curriculum.