So last night was the start of Shabbat and I guess I didn’t realize how much of an impact that would have on me.
My AirBNB hostess warned me as I headed out at 4:30 pm that everything was already closed. I thought Shabbat started at sundown and the sun was still out… albeit setting. But I was wrong. Sundown must be a clock thing sometimes as opposed to a natural thing. Grocery stores, a lot of restaurants, services all were shuttered and dark. Even the nearby McDonald’s was closed until Sunday morning.
I had hoped to grab a falafel or hummus or some other local fare but alas that was not meant to be.
The only things I found that were open were a 24 hour AM/ PM convenience store (which was jammed with locals by the way) and Dominoes Pizza. The former was a crowded cacophony and a Hebrew signage debacle for me. Some things were marked with price tags, but a lot of things were labeled in Hebrew and I couldn’t figure out how much various individual pastries might be. I can’t close to buying a yogurt thing but realized I had no spoon.
Fortunately Dominoes has a picture menu where I could point to toppings. As has often been the case here in Tel Aviv, it was a bit pricier than I might have liked. I used the last of my shekel paper currency. What does 48 shekels look like? This:
As exhausted as I was, I found myself drifting in and out of focus as I lazily ate sitting on a park bench, the sun fading into the horizon. Walking back to my AirBNB I watched a movie and again kinda floated in and out of consciousness. Yet the moment I did settle in to sleep, I was wide awake. Jet lag or anxiety over traveling in the morning or done other hiccup precluded slumber.
By the time my alarm went off this morning at 3:30 am, I think I had slept cumulatively through fits and starts a grand total of 78 minutes.
Half of my laundered clothes were still damp, 15 hours after clipping them to a clothes line. Packing them away in spare plastic bags I can only think they will turn moldy and will be far less suitable than if I had just not washed them. Sigh.
My taxi arrived on time… which is nice considering the king’s random GETT charged me to get to the airport. But I guess I should be glad they were working anyway. Shabbat doesn’t end until Saturday night … until technically three stars appear in the night sky if memory serves… and seemingly a lot of public transport is also not running until then.
Not a lot of traffic at 5 am on Shabbat.
Security at the airport was hyper-Israeli-vigilant. Par for the course here but fairly invasive and intense for me who has grown too accustomed to TSA Precheck in The United States. I almost set off an alarm when I took a selfie photo as I arrived at the airport. It was of a much needed morning caffeine pick me up… I look bedraggled and weary and I thought I should document it.
But the first layer of security thought I was casing the joint … which I get. And I know typically one doesn’t take photos in secure locations or of military posts. But when I sheepishly explained I was taking a selfie of a soda, well, the guy just shook his head and laughed. “Selfies are ok,” he said.
After four (!!) more security/ticketing/passport checks, I’m sitting at the gate waiting to board my flight. I was asked why I was visiting and I explained I was here for the Tel Aviv Marathon. There were also lots of questions about my travels to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Indonesia. When each location was queried I explained I was there to run a marathon. The one agent flipped to another stamp and just shook her head and asked, “Marathon?” Yeah. Another marathon.
There’s a commotion. A passenger apparently is in a medical emergency. That’s my best guess but I don’t speak enough French or Arabic to know what’s being said by my surrounding passengers or the all-too-infrequent PA announcements.
But I do know there’s a rapid descent happening.
I flag down a harried and hurrying flight attendant who is checking seat backs and tray tables and ask what is happening in English. He tells me there’s no problem, a passenger just needs medical attention and we are landing at another airport. His definition of problem free and mine are different but I suppose in some small way it’s good to know the plane itself isn’t in trouble and can still land.
It’s a surreal feeling being surrounded by a controlled emergency chaos and not knowing for sure what is happening or why. There wasn’t anything I could have done had I known what the situation was but by knowing has one spinning through the various worst case scenarios.
In 2015 I was on a flight to Alice Springs, twenty minutes from landing, when the pilot said they had to turn around and return to Sydney … three hours the other direction. There I spoke the same language and didn’t know what was happening either. None of the passengers did. After tears and frantic texts to loved ones, the dangers of the mind cutting into our psyches as the whispers of this is the end crept into our minds, the captain finally came on the PA ten minutes from landing say there was a mechanical issue that if they had landed at Alice Springs there were no maintenance facilities there like at Sydney so it was a business decision to return to a main hub. No problem, he said, flying or landing but the plane was going to be grounded for repairs and this needed to be at a workable repairing hanger. And also, he said, don’t worry – the airline was going to put us up for the night. Forty of us missed the Outback Marathon that was held the next morning while we waited for a replacement plane.
Today, TunisAir flight 215 made an emergency landing at 1:15 pm in Italy for a medical emergency and all I’m thinking about is myself… mainly because I’m trying not to think about the worst case scenarios for the ill passenger.
Other passengers are taking photos of the tarmac and various other elements, including a few folks who are trying to take photos of the ill passenger laying on the cabin floor. The flight attendants are yelling at them I think… and rightly so. I guess I’m one to talk; I’m writing about this. But there’s something a little less intrusive to be describing things as opposed to somebody shoving aside people who are trying to help in order to get a better Instagram post. Maybe that’s a slippery slope.
And after all that, 45 minutes on the ground, the ill passenger walks back on the plane to her seat with applause from the passengers. What in the holy hell just happened?!
A PA announcement and everybody stands. I have no idea what is happening. Another passenger takes pity on me and tells me we all have to get off so they can refuel.
So people are pushing and shoving into the aisles and then … nothing. We stand there like an overpacked subway car at rush hour. Nobody moves. Time ticks by. I have no clue what is going on.
I join the rabble and snap some Instagram posts. If nobody’s dying… or at least if nobody I can tell is dying at the moment… who cares anymore.
I hate to be this jerk but much like Australia we could’ve long since landed at our original destination. I know discretion is important and you do not want to take chances with health scares but that’s hard to think about when you’re standing around on a plane like sardines and you don’t speak fish. Whale, sure. Everybody speaks whale. But this?
Eighty-five minutes on the ground and a game of Arabic telephone/whisper down the aisle happens. A rolling laughter follows much to my confusion. Another passenger takes pity on my incomprehension and lets me in on the joke. Apparently there’s no bus available to transport us away from the plane so they can refuel.
This day drags on.
2:45 pm – Still no bus. Still stuck on the ground. Hoping I make it to Tunis eventually.
Even with the delays, I’m hoping it will still be faster than walking from Istanbul.
3:02 PM – this guy has decided he’s going to smoke ‘em if he’s got ‘em. I guess it does make sense to remove us from the plane before refueling.
And yet, still no bus… or explanation in English, French, or Arabic.
3:17 pm – The translated rumor is that two buses were run route but had to pick up passengers to/from regularly scheduled flights (go figure). So now we are waiting for… what? A lull in air traffic in and out of Brindisi, Italy?
3:25 pm – Just as I’m yelled at for getting up to use the lavatory, buses arrive and we deplane. I don’t have my jacket. It’s a little chilly for short sleeves.
The Tunisian couple who translated for me ask me if this is my first time here and I say yes. They apologize by welcome me anyway. I like them. I don’t like the various people smoking on the bus. Again, this is why we can’t sit on the plane while it refuels.
3:31 pm – The buses are slowly doing donuts on the tarmac waiting to take us back. Why not just drive us a little ways away and stop? Are these buses like sharks and if they stop too long they’ll die?
3:36 pm – refueling is complete and we are reboarding the plane. Two hours waiting for a bus. Five minutes to refuel.
We finally land in Tunisia at 5:30 PM, give or take. Immigration is relatively painless but the wait for my checked luggage is interminable. And when I turned on my phone, I was confronted with this data reality:
$15 a MEGA-byte?! Good gravy, Marie! Uploading that single image above would’ve cost me $45+!
I was able to grab 15 minutes of free WiFi at the airport and contact my AirBNB Hostess and the Race Director to try and coordinate the evening. I apologized profusely for the delays and they both were incredibly kind and understanding.
I wandered outside to grab a taxi and it was… a lost cause. Lost in the sense that the address I had for the AirBNB didn’t make sense. I couldn’t call or text Ons, the lovely hostess with the mostest (more on her in a moment). But the cabbie could. And their French conversation was the stuff of grumbling snorts. But he seemed to work it out… until he got lost and kept taking me round and round on the same roundabout NEAR to the place but never quite finding it.
He actually stopped at one point and through charades I figured out he needed to top up his cell phone to call Ons back.
Abandoned in a cab on the side of a roundabout. Yeah, that’s about how this day is going.
Eventually we did make it to my AirBNB and Ons is beyond lovely. A finance officer who decided to chuck it all and pursue her true passion for Tango Dancing, she’s an inspiration… and a planner for making the dream a reality. She also was kind enough to shuttle me over to the nearby packet pickup just before they were closing up. The Race Director had offered to stay until I got there over WhatsApp and was super charming and welcoming when I saw him as the booths were being taken down.
So despite some crappy traveling, the outcome is I made it and I’m settled in to try and grab some shuteye before the race tomorrow.
Posts will be delayed going forward as I have limited WiFi bandwidth… and I’m sure as hell not paying $15 a megabyte.