In this personal essay, instead of returning home after a trip to Israel like most Birthright tourists do, Pam Mandel goes on to Egypt, and beyond.
A Second Passport
A Second Passport
Pam Mandel | Longreads | February 2019 | 14 minutes (3,605 words)
In 1982 travelers’ wisdom dictated it was a liability to have a stamp on your passport for Israel. This traveler’s wisdom, we relied on it all the time, though I could not tell you where we picked it up, exactly. And it did not help us when we went to Greece, where we’d hoped to find work and found nothing but vacationers and a few abandoned construction sites. Traveler’s wisdom guided us to take the ferry to Haifa, Israel, where we picked up farm work, enough to line our pockets with what little cash we heard we’d need for our target destination. This unofficial information was how we’d planned our route, leaving London in winter, our sights set on India.
Word was India would not issue you a visa if you showed up with a passport covered in Israeli stamps. You could, however, get a second passport issued from the embassy in Cairo and use that for traveling in parts of the world that were anti-Israel. We had been working in Israel, harvesting bananas, cleaning houses. Egypt was the launch pad to nations further east, a stepping stone on the way to India. That’s why we were going to Cairo, to get new passports.
We. Me, a California girl of 18, swept up in the transient population of unemployed British and German 20-somethings after a summer tour of Israel. That thing where Jewish kids go to The Promised Land to become one with the tribe, to form a bond with Israel. It didn’t work on me. I was instead drawn to the backpackers, the first edition of Lonely Planet’s India guidebook, and a middle class English non-Jew, Alastair, in his 20s, tall and skinny with deep-set blue eyes and a simmering anger at the world. We worked, we saved, and one day we decided we had enough money to go to Cairo and get new passports, and from there, continue to New Delhi.