Hala Daher is stuck in Paris. Sure, she's staying at her aunt's house in the 4th arrondissement, steps away from the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou. And it's a step up from Beirut, where she was previously stranded until she hustled her way onto a flight from Lebanon to France a few days ago. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old engineer is ready to come home.
Daher is just one of many Americans (or, in her case, a Canadian citizen who has lived in America for years) who is still stuck in Europe, flights home grounded due to the destructive ash spewed into the air from the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Daher was on vacation in Lebanon to visit her family, a trip that began on April 7 with a brief stop in Paris to change planes and gather additional family members, and was scheduled to return home to Houston on April 18. A Twitter update on April 19 summed up her reaction to the news that she was grounded: "Since I'm stuck here I figure I can spend the rest of my trip eating falafel sandwiches on the beach."
Hair Balls interviewed her via IM from Paris, where Daher laughingly struggled to respond to our questions via a French Mac Book, where "nothing is where it should be" on the keyboard.
Daher first heard about the volcano on a French news channel in Beirut. But, she explains, "I didn't really understand what was going on. My aunt came by the next day and explained what happened in more detail and let us all know that the airport in Paris was possibly closed. My uncle was flying there the next day and he sort of freaked out; he's a doctor and had an operation scheduled the day after his return." Thus began the family's many attempts to get from the Middle East back to Europe.
Daher's uncle had perhaps the most circuitous journey back to Paris. He first flew to Rome, where the airports were still open, then took a train to Milan, another train to Turan and finally a train to Paris. "The trains were free," Daher said. "But the hotels were on his dime."
Daher's mother decided to remain with her family in Beirut, a city which Daher describes simply as "dirty" (and, in a solitary Twitter update on April 13, as potentially violent: "Things my cousin pulled out of her purse while we were having coffee in a very public place: two Taser guns and a huge knife."), while she and her sister, Nada, eagerly made their way back to Paris.
Although her earlier flight on Air Liban (better known as Middle East Airlines) was canceled, Daher was able to talk her way onto the standby list for the very first Air France flight out of Beirut to Paris. Nada followed shortly after.
Although she only expected to be away from her job at a west Houston engineering firm for two weeks, Daher quickly realized that her vacation was going to turn into nearly a month-long adventure. Her employer's reaction was surprisingly kind: "They were really understanding," she said. The best part, according to Daher: "I emailed my boss and he said he hoped the extra days were 'wonderful.'"
And considering the extra time she's spent with her family, shopping in Parisian vintage boutiques and dining in quaint cafes, it's not the worst place in the world to be stranded. "It's a good situation," she agreed. Far better than sleeping in airports, taking whore's baths at the public bathroom sinks and subsisting on leftover scraps from the food courts, as some travelers have had to do. "Since I have family here, I didn't have to worry about hotels or anything."
Still, Daher says, "I love it here, but I can't wait to get home." She'll get her wish on Saturday, when she'll finally arrive back in Houston after an 11 hour flight.
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