MY TRIP TO EGYPT WITH ONE HOUR NOTICE

For the September 2008 (?) issue of ELLE Magazine
  1. I was the photo editor, it was June and we were sending Serge Leblon to Cairo to shoot a blue story amongst the pyramids.
  2. I had hired a local producer, a male. He would not speak to me over the phone, so it was quite literally a game of telephone between us via his wife that was not otherwise employed at his production office.
  3. Friday late night before the crew is to leave early Saturday morning, I get a call from the wife asking how many bags the stylist is traveling with.
  4. I estimate 12-15 trunks
  5. She asks "what are trunks" 🚩
  6. She then asks if they can come in suitcases instead?
  7. I tell her they have already been shipped out for the airport, and I am frustrated this message is coming around 10pm the day before travel when we've been speaking for weeks.
  8. She says "not to worry" the other solution is that we add $500 to the budget and she will pay the customs guard under the table. 🚩
  9. She says "tell the assistant traveling with the bags, tell her she will be asked questions in Arabic, but do not answer them, just remain calm and quiet and the bags will make it through"
  10. She stresses not to worry, and that she only wanted to save me the $500 fee. I explain to the assistant and hope for the best.
  11. As promised the customs guard asks questions in Arabic, and the assistant responds to explain she doesn't understand Arabic.
  12. The trunks are taken by customs agents and are held hostage for $10,000.
  13. The crew is sitting in Cairo with nothing to shoot.
  14. Publishing companies are not quick to deliver payments even under these circumstances.
  15. I being the martyr that I am, western union $7,350 (all of my savings) and ask the producer to bill us for the rest. The EIC never thanks me, but does makes it clear there is no guarantee the magazine will pay me back.
  16. When the money is delivered the producer calls to tell me that was a 24 hour deal and now they want $25,000.
  17. I am told to get on the next flight to Cairo with all of the reject clothes that were left behind.
  18. I send my intern to my apartment to get my passport.
  19. I pack two body bags full of clothes, buy a tooth brush at Duane reade and Rush to JFK.
  20. I miss the flight and I cry.
  21. I call the company travel agent, and she says there is one more flight to Cairo, but it is not on an airline they recommend and for insurance reasons can not help me book the flight.
  22. I book it myself at the counter and make it to Cairo and through customs.
  23. The producer, not his wife is there to pick me up. I have hired this man, I am his only point of contact and the only words he will ever say to me are "how old are you?" (I am 23 at the time).
  24. The crew is happy to see me, but upset that they have to shoot the clothes they did not want.
  25. I am in Cairo for a total of 4 days. I wash my clothes each night in that bath tub, and wear a bathrobe to sleep.
  26. The pyramids, are mind blowing and every bit worth whatever it takes to see them.
  27. We are a crew of 7, but there are about 30 production people.
  28. Every one of us is sick from brushing our teeth with the water, and the only thing we eat is dry white bread.
  29. The production crew is literally serving themselves with a silver tea set in the shade.
  30. I can not explain how strange it is to employ someone that requires a staff of 30 people that drink tea all day in the shade.
  31. The pictures are beautiful, and in my 8 years in the photography industry, it is the only time a photographer has shot entirely on film.
  32. After 2 days in the pyramids we have completed the story.
  33. Any time I asked anyone ANYTHING the answer I always received was "insha'allah" which translates to "I hope" or "God willing"
  34. On our way out when I inquired if we would get the hostage trunks back the response was God willing. I lost it, and demanded a yes or no. I have never felt more American than at that moment.
  35. The producer paid a man to sleep over night in the airport so that we may get the original hostage trunks on our way back out. Still to this day, I do not understand why it was required that he sleep at the airport for us.
  36. The trunks are sitting on an empty runway next to wood crates filled with live chickens.
  37. Everything was returned to us, and I got upgraded to first class.
  38. When I landed at JFK I had to go straight to work, and I remember tears running down my face as I came out of the tunnel. I think I was just exhausted and so grateful to be an American.