Jo and the Airport

Jo. Before the pills kick in and the hand writing becomes illegible. I have been thinking of you this past half hour. I am in my most dreaded space. A plane. In the air. This time however, however, this time, is not like any other time and I am in a total state of high alert.

For all the years all that I have been where I am there has been an airport. Once it was called Lyd Airport after the stolen city of Lyd, a city renamed Lod to sound more local for the new locals. Jews moved into this city out numbering the Arabs and today the minority is either workers, unemployed, drug addicts, collaborators, or combinations of any or all of the above. One day, they renamed the airport Ben Gurion International. Luckily they did not give the city the same name and it stays Lod by most and Lyd to the rest. The baggage label says TLV. When you look for the name of the city on an internet site, it says Tel-Aviv/Jaffa, Jaffa being another stolen city, with the local name of Yaffo, which hosts a flea market and includes drug addicts, collaborators, and the unemployed. It’s a pattern.

Ben Gurion International was small next to New York’s version of the same item. It was a  seedy aerodrome decorated with posters fading under a brutal sun.Green turns blue when hung in the heat of the Middle East and the billboards were as old as the state. One day, they built a building around the arrivees. Until then you could kiss both the ground and your mother as you disembarked. Finally, they put in a fountain, painted the ceiling, and puffed up the duty free shop with mini carts that could be stuffed with products that were sold buy the dozen so you could get 4 free. Eight perfumes, get 4 free. Twelve facial creams, get 6 free.  Something to be said about cliches and stereotypes. Yes, it was the Jewish market pretending to be a humble version of La Guardia. All in all, it was fitting.

Red stickers are for suspects. Suspects are those people who work, play, convene, meet, drink coffee or consider working, playing, convening, meeting, or drinking coffee with a person of who claims Palestinian identity or persons living or working near persons who claim Palestinian identity. We are red sticker people. Red sticker people are like Guantanamo Bay people without the orange suits. “What was the purpose of your visit to Israel?” “I work in Gaza.” “This way please.” You could say it’s VIP treatment as your escort never leaves your side. The first escort action is to  pull the red stickers out of multi- pocketed jackets (which contain other colored stickers for other kinds of travelers) and which are then stuck onto everything including your coat. They scribble a code on it. We have yet to decode it but we think it means that we are red sticker people. Your are kindly escorted to place your luggage on an x-ray machine, a violent beast that, once it has done its job, blasts your luggage out like cannon balls which could seriously injure a person, place, or thing should (s)he be checking to see where his/her junk is. Your escort, a girl or boy of 18, some virgins, all defenders of the homeland, then become the waiters and waitresses to the contents of your red stickered baggage because after the x-ray, you are brought to a table, a reminder of abortion tables in bad films, and there, with rubber gloves and paper towels, they empty the contents of your luggage. They Harrypotter it with a magic wand that is then analyzed in an analyzer made to detect bombs or bomb-making material. The contents of your neatly packed suitcases are totally fucked and anything hidden from your spouse has been exposed.

We’ve been red sticker people for years. We could even be red sticker escorts if we weren’t suspects. So usually we get to the airport 2.5 hours ahead of the flight even though the ticket suggests 3.  We order our taxis as usual and as usual we are stopped at the entrance to the airport because not only are we are suspects but our driver has a moustache and is called Abu Mohammed and he might be putting a bomb in our luggage. But we’ve been working with him for years and he don’t have bombs. So Abu Mohammed, whose name is Mazen, picked us up at 13:30 as agreed.

I hate flying. When I know I’m doing it, I start preparing the day before. I dye my hair and I toggle between work and packing. I move the suitcase out of the hall and I work until I calm down. Then I put the suitcase into the room and work again. This continues until everything is packed and the items in my usual purse have been moved, one by one, to a bombless purse. My knife has been left behind. It’s not a weapon but an art supply, a tool I use daily for numerous cuttings, but it cannot travel so it stays home.  And when all this is done, I stop and wait for the taxi. I do what is called nothing. I need to have several hours of that. I do not like to be asked to do anything, I do not want coffee, food, tasks, or phone calls. I need to do nothing. This can be done in front of a television or sitting on the sofa or a combination of the two. Jo. I want the time to pass slowly.

I travel in large black cotton clothing with colored socks. They are usually yellow or orange.  There is nothing unusual about me nor is there anything with me to indicate any part of who I am. I do not have my 25 emergency pens with me. I do not have my super-market card, or receipts from the photography shop. I do not have the card from the Dutch Embassy that says I am a subject of Queen Beatrix and that I am under her protection. I do not have the letter from President Arafat welcoming me to Gaza and that I am under his protection. It all stays home. I do have several trillion k of material on flash disks in the event I need a document or a budget perhaps and luckily our escorts don’t care about flash disks which I think could be quite dangerous.

You must understand that I cannot stop writing. I am going in an out of panic like Arafat and his coma. I have also eaten which disorients me no end. I chew and I think oh god where am I chewing. I must keep writing or they will have to land this plane. Do you understand?

So my hair is dyed. It rained all day, large rain, exciting for us here in the beginning of the desert. When clouds come people say Hamdalillah. Cloudy is not a negative adjective.  By the time Jan came in, I was already waiting. He knows what I am doing but he pretends I’m not doing it. He wants to fix leaks and have meetings but I ignore him with my hair in combs watching tv. If you attached electrodes to me, I would not be able to tell you what I was watching. I was waiting slowly. And then I went to bed which was immediately followed by me waking up. I did my final toggling and returned to waiting. Jan stayed working, initiating new projects. As stated, the taxi arrived at 13:30. At 14:00 Jan started packing. Mazen understands us so he waited.

What has not yet been stated, and what is the cause of this text, to the unknown Jo is this: They rebuilt the fucking airport. They threw the old one away and put a new one, not in its place, but in another place all together. The old airport was nowhere in sight. The new airport was somewhere else and I didn’t know where that was. And (1) it had too many windows and (2) it didn’t have enough windows. I didn’t know which way was north, Tel-Aviv, Lyd, Lod, Jaffa, or Yaffo. In brief, I didn’t know where the fuck I was and I was supposed to.

New airport. The red stickers are now digitally linked to red bar codes and the x-ray machine digitally informs the escorts of suspects exactly in which bag to search for any item that comes up green on their screen.  Telephone, Palm, Camera, Peanut Butter (which luckily we didn’t have, we being on diets and all). New airport. They lost Amer and we ended up with his Palm. What good is a Palm without the rest of the person? New airport. They searched our bodies and shoes and found Amer, an Arab on the loose. New airport. We were escorted through secret doors to passport control because we are dangerous VIP’s who are also late for reasons stated.

I don’t like secret doors. I don’t know the floor plan and I like to know the floor plan. I am without a floor plan and with a red sticker. How could I ask for a floor plan? What would they think? Do they even have a floor plan? Moving floors, the flat escalators, does it have a name, I do not know, bring us to a large round room. Round is bad. You never know where you began. I asked: Where is Israel? What is this pretend airport that doesn’t belong here? Is this an investment for some future? Panic knocked. There were no windows in the round room full of shops that kept going around. And a food court. A mall in an airport. Where is the exit? The exit sign? Jan saw me doing that thing I do when panic knocks and he said pointing, “That’s north,” but he was lying. I had to get back to where we came in, the information booth, we came in at the information booth. She could tell me where Jerusalem was. That would be east. I stopped before I got to her. Lost. I have to go home. We rushed because Jan didn’t pack. I need to wait some more. Had I known it was a new airport… 

We had to go to Gate C when Amer returned from looking at socks. Gate C, directly across from the information desk. I have to start over. I have to walk back to the beginning of the airport, tell them I’m not well, and ask them to walk me through it again so I can understand where I am regardless of my red sticker status. I turned. Jan called, “Come.” He said, “Even in the airport in Holland we don’t know where we are.” I said “I know exactly where I am in the airport in Holland.” And it has windows. And you feel like a person. And here you feel small and lost because they want it that way, because it’s a fucked up country that doesn’t need a new airport especially one that makes people ill.

Gate C. They chopped our tickets. We walked to the sleeve, the hanging hallway that takes you to the plane, does it have a name, I do not know. A normal sleeve is short. Right? They chop, you walk, you say hello, take your newspaper, and fight over space for hand-luggage. Right?  Wrong. The sleeves in the new airport have 2 left turns and 2 right turns in them and no windows. I tired to walk it once. It was crowded because a selfish mother-fucker had too much hand luggage and the French don’t put up with Israeli crap like TV sets disguised as hand luggage. Or,  “This isn’t hand luggage, it’s only 14 plastic bags.” I had to leave.  To return to the lady who chopped my ticket. I did this 3 times until I knew where I was within the confines of these confines. You understand that my heart was beating hard. People were looking at me. They would help if something happened. I got to the plane door alone. Jan and Amer were already inside, they couldn’t clog it up waiting for an insane passenger. There is a space between the sleeve and the plane. I could see air there. I waited. Then I stepped into the plane and told the first person I saw (Laura), “I am not well, the airport is too confusing, I hate flying, I took pills.” She gave me water because that’s all she’s allowed to do. She asked what I needed. I said TIME. So we waited together in her little corner. What a wonderful person to do this job. Maybe she feels lovely and cozy in this plane. I would like that, tis not the case. I went to 27B but didn’t sit.  Jan and Amer took my coat and hand luggage. I went to another lady, the one who works the back section. I told her, “I’m not not well, I need time, the airport is too big and confusing and Jan didn’t pack until the taxi was there.” We waited together.

And then I felt better. I took my seat and started talking to Amer in Arabic – loud – which always unsettles the passengers and makes them insecure but they deserve it.

November 23, 2004

Air France Flight 1621