Why I will always say God Bless America, Stay with Bank of America: Racist happenings in Egypt

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Alhamdullilah 3la salama as Egptians say (Thank God for safe arrival)

I got home yesterday and it was a smooth trip.  I am back in the country that I love with the people that I love…

In light of my previous post being sort o fa downer, I want to continue in that vein (ha, ha) but spike it up on the positive tip.  Something happened on the trip that is one of those “everything happens for a reason” or as my mom would say “what the devil meant for bad, God turned it for good” moments.

We arrived to check in around 2 in the morning for a 4 am flight.  Little did we know, we are apparently only allowed 1 item to carry onto the plane.  Mind you we are only allowed 1 suitcase and were already going to have to pay for suitcase number 2 (70 dollars)… a second piece of extra checked lugged cost 200 dollars, prohibitively high, if we weren’t at the airport and desperate to get home.  I literally saw a woman cry, probably because the Lufthansa staff people were frankly,  not particularly nice…. They certainly did not invoke confidence in me and I hope to never have to use them again. Here’s why.

I have explained the suitcase scenario to give you a better background story as to what was going on… I, was not aware of this suitcase drama until we were headed to immigration to get out of Egypt (forever?  Oh God please)….Gazelle had another type of drama to deal with, one that unfortunately has become all to familiar:

As soon as I got to the ticket counter and handed over my passport, the guy at the check in desk asked me for my “original nationality”… It was a weird question, especially since I have the freeking US passport what does original nationality have to do with anything?   In all my travels I have never been asked that question at check-in.   But I figured it might have been some sort of security question.  So I told him, “Sierra Leonean.”

He then, as usual, doesn’t know what I’m talking about, so I tell him, the place of birth is written in the passport and that he can have a look at that.  At this point, they have weighed my bags, I have to pay for bag number 2, not a big deal, I knew that before coming.  But one suitcase is underweight by 3 kilos and the other one is underweight by quite a bit amount.  So, Gazelle had to do some opening and closing of suitcases and taking things out and putting them elsewhere.

my carry on suitcase was apparently too heavy as as well, so I had to take some stuff out of there too.  In the midst of doing this the guy at the counter asked me to write my signature on a piece of paper.  Again, this is weird, but it’s late/too early and I just want to get the heck out of here.  It wasn’t a receipt or anything, just a card with Lufthansa’s logo on it.  I sign my name.  He then asks me to do it again, which I do.  Granted the signatures do not look alike, mainly because that is what I tend to do… sometimes when I scribble at the end, it doesn’t produce a 100% identical signature.  It hasn’t really been a problem before.  I am sure I’m not the only one.

The lingering question for me, is why was I made to do that in the first place?  no one else was asked to perform that task… and once again, never in all my travels have I been asked to do that.  Trust me I have had some horrendous passport photos, ones that made people do double takes and squint their eyes because they couldn’t quite believe that the creature in the photo is the same woman standing in front of them… oh well.

At any rate, in the midst of rearranging my luggage weight, a woman comes over talks to the guy at the counter and then calls me over yet again.  She says to me with lots of attitude as she holds my passport, “sign your name the way it looks in the passport.”  “oh,” I think.  They want a super clear signature.  so I do it.  Noting that she holds my passport away from me tauntingly almost… like, she’s trying to catch me red-handed at something….

And that’s not enough for her.  I tell her, my signatures don’t always match. And the passport was issued a while ago, so I’m not sure of how it looks in the passport.  Then she replies with derision, which was completely uncalled for  with some head and neck action was well “well, it was supposedly only issued three years ago so what’s the problem, it’s a simple signature.”

at that moment I wanted to tell her that she was a simple person and some other choice words, but I thought better of it.  She then asked my for my middle name, I told her what it was.  She then requested that I write that down on this little Lufthansa scrap piece of paper. Understandably, but this point I am getting mad, and realizing that these fools don’t believe that my passport is real.  I sign my middle name and that is not good enough for her either, the F is not exactly like how it appears in my passport.

She then beings to consort with the guy at the ticket counter about how different my signatures look (In Arabic of course… sigh) and I had to say a prayer for the good Lord to keep me from going Ape shit…. I then interrupted their little handwriting analysis and passport identification (by this point they were also flipping through the pages of my passport as if they know how to tell a real one from a fake one… I’m pretty sure that is above their pay grade and skill level)…

I say to them in Arabic as a I pull out my phone and call the director of my program who was also traveling with us “look, if you guys for whatever reason are doubting my identity, I am here on a group trip you can talk to the director of my program, he knows that I am who I say I am.”  I think after that for the first time they realized that I wasn’t going to be some stupid push over.

The woman continued to be rude, said to me, “Well do you have any other form of id”  I of course do, although I forgot what kind of cards I had actually taken with me to Egypt.  I pulled out my University ID and my Bank of America bank card (had my picture on it)…. almost wanted to say do you think I faked these too?  but Gazelle was realizing that they might not let me on the train.

Her reaction exasperated me, “well, you see the problem is, you look completely different in the two different pictures”  I think I let out a gasp and had the ‘Are you effing kidding me ” look on my face.  I just said, well, half yelled at her really,  I took theses pictures at different times, of course they are going to look different.

She then turned her attention to the bag that had my laptop in it, demanding that it be weighed as well.  My patience was wearing thin and plopped the thing on the scale with some attitude.  But after that, I thought better of it, rolling in the mud, wasn’t necessarily the best way to deal with the situation.  She quoted a ridiculously small allowance for a a laptop case and I told her my lap top alone weighs more than that, plus I had an external fan/cooler with it.

After telling her that I knew that she was just doing her job, her tone softened a bit.  “well, I just want to see how we can help you out…”  As a began to take things out of the laptop bag as well, the guy from the behind the counter finally pipes in… well, you can check your carry-on for free.  I just look at him and say “fine” and then mumble “whatever” under my breath.

After that, my check in resembled other checkins.  Still peeved at what seemed to me to be a clear case of racial profiling… and not even intelligent racial profiling.  None of my white and nearly white program mates were asked the stupid questions that I was asked or had their signatures analyzed and all that b.s.

But, none of them got their bag checked in for free!

ha, ha… so I had to feel grateful…. the guy behind the counter perhaps felt silly for his bootleg, no count, 100% inaccurate, downright racist profiling.  So, to make up for that, I got a pass.   Alhamdullilah.. everything happens for a reason.

As far as the incident itself though, it was such a fitting way to end my Egyptian experience, and represents a lot o what I have to deal with as a black woman abroad. I mean this experience does take the cake, I mean they acted like someone had died and made them head of the US passport inspection office! What made them pick me out like that, besides my skin color?  I came in with a group we were saying hello and hugging each other while in the line. I mean did I look like some random person trying to sneak into the States?  I don’t have an accent in English… my Arabic accent is not that bad, but it’s not quite native… (hmmm then again, I have been told that I sound Sudanese, don’t know ho much of that also has to do with skin color than anything else).

 

I don’t understand how in 2012, with a black president and an even blacker wife and child, I have to prove my “Americaness.”

 

Does my passport photo look that different from the normal me?

AT the US “border I was tired and eager to just get the formalities over with.  The guy asked me if I was ok, and I said that I was just tired.  I bent over to close my bag as he asked me where I had been coming from.  Of course I told the truth and said Egypt.  and note that I was bent over and not standing up straight while talking to him.  He then asked what I did for a living, to which I replied student.  And then he asked me to smile, of course I did, and after that he remarked “oh there we go, now I see the resemblance.”  He then asked me where I studied and I told him where.  His reply was to ask if I had a student ID, I said yes, I do and asked him if he wanted to see it.  No, that won’t be necessary was his reply.

 

But that’s over now, I’m out of Egypt, savoring America for 6 days and counting, and then headed off to face one of my biggest study abroad fears “Morocco.”  I am going much older, and more mature.  But I’m not stupid.

Those memories of the harrassmetn and horrendous treatment I received while there are still with me.  So Gazelle will be packing some safety measures (head phones and sunglasses, which are a must in any place where you might get harassed) witty comebacks and of course lots of scarves…. we might have to go hijabi style for the next few months… sigh. Gazelle’s gotta do what GAzelle’s gotta do.

ha, ha… honestly, I think I was just a bit scared that they would have tried to keep me in Egypt!

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2 thoughts on “Why I will always say God Bless America, Stay with Bank of America: Racist happenings in Egypt

  1. Liz

    This reply’s pretty late, but I had some issues with my passport photo, as well. I didn’t have to go through all the rigamorole you did, but one airport employee clearly doubted my identity for a couple of minutes before I smiled out of nervousness. The response? “Oh, the smile’s the same.” Ummmmm….yeah. Because I’m the same person. On a somewhat related note, I have had other airport employees laugh out loud at my picture. Maybe it’s time for a new photo? Haha.

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