I knew I was at the right gate in Munich when I saw Hasidic Jews rocking back and forth with bibles in their hands, the fringe of shawls swaying and little boxes attached to their heads.
“I’m going to Israel,” I thought.
That first 10.5-hour flight had been rough. I had traded seats with a father so he could sit next to his wife and son. This put me next to an ornery woman whose husband was sitting in the row behind her. She complained and fidgeting the whole flight, leaning towards me and poking herself between the seats to have conversations with her husband. I think she had hoped I would offer to trade with him. It’s one thing to trade one aisle seat for another for a nice young family. It’s another to trade an aisle seat for a middle seat on a 10.5 hour flight. She was a grown woman. She could deal with it. She didn’t deal with it very well.
True to form I had already rearranged my things several times, stuffing my purse in my backpack and putting my passport and little black book in the side pouch. I didn’t realize how many times I’d have to pull that sucker out. In Munich, I scanned it at the gate and rushed forward with the crowd of people.
You ever have those moments when you go to put yours keys down in a different place than you usually do and you think, “Don’t put them here,” put you do any way? Well, I think I must have stuffed the book and passport in my back pocket, temporarily, thinking, “Don’t leave that there.” And this pocket wasn’t as deep as typical blue jean pockets. It was sort of a half pocket.
We crowded onto the bus and I scanned the crowd, not understanding anyone and smiling. “We’re taking a bus to Tel Aviv,” I thought. I wished I had someone to joke with. It’s amazing how you just go where they put you in airports. That bus could’ve been going anywhere. We got off the bus and a family of Orthodox Jews, with two little girls dressed exactly alike, a stroller and some hatboxes were lumbering up the stairs to the plane. The man stopped and opened his overnight bag to get his camera out. He posed his family on the stairs, forcing those behind him to stop and back up while he took a photo. They looked so happy. “We’re going to Israel!” they were probably thinking.
The overhead bins seemed to be full, so I asked a flight attendant if I could just check my bag, since this was my last flight. She said sure. I left it with her.
Once in the air, I started to reach for my little black book and its treasure trove of important information and phone numbers. “Where is it? It’s not there. It’s not in my back pocket. Shit. Where’s my passport?” I combed through every square inch of my purse and backpack. It was nowhere. “Ok. Don’t panic. I can’t be the first person to lose my passport. I have copies. I’m sure there’s a solution.”
I told the flight attendant that I lost my passport at the airport. She was very nonchalant about it. She told me to write down all my information and she would call the airport and see if someone found it. “
You got through our security already,” she said. “You shouldn’t have any problems.”
This sounded incredibly naïve to me. I read about Israeli’s border control. I knew that if you had a name that sounded remotely Arabic, if they didn’t like the answers to the questions they asked, if they didn’t like the way you looked, they could deny your entrance. I’ve seen the movies. But I have a French name, LaCour. I just wanted to be a tourist and see Jerusalem. I didn’t think I would have any problems.
Until I lost my passport.
I had drifted off to sleep when the flight attendant woke me up. “They found your passport,” she said. “Someone on the ground found it and turned it in.”
“Oh, great!” I said. I was so relieved.
“They’ve informed the Israeli’s that they have it and it will put on the next flight to Tel Aviv,” she said with a smile. She was so nice.
As we descended, I looked over and watched Tel Aviv float beneath us. The plane leveled and I saw sand and green hills in the distance. A few people clapped, as is customary upon arriving in Israel.
“I’m in Israel.” I thought. “I’m going to see Jerusalem. By tonight I will be walking distance from the Old City. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Getting off the plane, things were still rather vague. Who do I see about getting my passport when it arrives? Who knows that Lufthansa has my passport? How do I confirm that? The flight attendants were very reassuring.
“It’s going to be fine,” they kept saying.
They gave me a piece of paper with a communication in German saying that someone had found the passport. They told me to go to the Lufthansa lost and found to let them know that I would be expecting it.
I made my way to the long row of border control booths. I waited my turn.
“I lost my passport. I have a copy and Lufthansa said they informed you that they have it and will be sending it on the next flight,” I said nervously to the woman behind the glass.
“Let me check on that,” she said. She picked up a phone and spoke quickly to someone and hung up.
“Stand aside m’am.”
I stood next to the booth with another couple and waited to be “helped.”
to be continued….
next: You Shall Not Pass