I rolled over to look at the clock, 6:30am…really? On the weekend!? Frustrated that I was wide awake and church wasn’t for 4 more hours, I decided to get online and check the news since things had been so crazy with the protestors all week. But my email site wasn’t loading…NO, I thought, tell me they didn’t block GOOGLE, too!
The night before, Facebook had been blocked, which was annoying, but not that big of a deal. I then checked several sites, none of which were loading. My internet connection…perfect…full bars. Hmm…it appeared all sites were simply that…blocked. “You are kidding me”…I kept saying. I needed internet to call the states, or use skype, or anything that would allow me to contact my family back home. Then I realized, contact with those on the outside was out of my control.
I ran to get my cell phone trying to remember the extra digits to call the states…I didn’t care the price, I was beyond ticked at this point. It was ringing! With both my parents on the line I basically said that it appeared internet was cut and they probably wouldn’t be hearing from me for a while. “How are we supposed to reach you?” mom asked. I thought for second…"you won’t be able to. Well, I guess you could call this number back..." but word was that they were preparing to cut mobile networks as well. “I’m sure it will get turned back on soon mom, no worries, they can’t keep us cut off from stuff that long,” I said with full assurance. “They can do whatever they want,” daddy said.
As I hung up the phone a new reality struck me…my freedoms were slowly being taken away. All these issues between the Egyptians and their government were now making more sense to me…being an American wasn’t going to help me with “freedoms” in this situation.
About twenty minutes later, my cell rang. It was daddy. He was reading online back in the states that the government had indeed shut down any access to the internet connections in Egypt. Amazing that he was able to confirm it before I was. As he was reading to me about the “day of rage” planned for today, my stomach started to turn. For the first time since my move to Egypt 15 months prior, I was concerned for my safety.
I then spoke with a friend of mine who has been living here for 17 years. “Get out some cash to keep on hand,” she said. “Enough for a plane ticket to a nearby country.” My mind was spinning. As much as I adore opportunities to explore new countries, these weren’t exactly the circumstances I liked traveling under.
Total chaos of expats swarming the Cairo Airport filled my mind. I’ve lived in Egypt long enough to know that stressful situations are not easily soothed here…chaos only multiplies in a city of 25 million. If we were told to evacuate, the process of getting all of us out of here wouldn’t be pretty. This wasn’t like “Plan your vacation to the country of your choice,” it was more like, escaping a fire. BUT, I then was reminded of the fact that things may not get to that point. It might not get that bad. Maybe …
After making breakfast, I decided to call my sister in the states to explain the situation. It wouldn’t go through…followed by a call to a friend here in Cairo…blocked. Phone connection was lost…there was no way to call out.
I sat there for a second in a daze. What does all this mean? How long are they planning on keeping people cut off from others? They can’t do this. But they just did. My mind was whirling. There I sat alone in my tiny flat, not sure what to do next. I was thankful church was in a few hours and I could re evaluate the situation with others. But once I was home again, connection to the rest of the world or even the city would be non existent.
How was I going to know if school was on or cancelled for Sunday? How would they let the families know? How was I going to know when it was safe to be outside again? How could I know ANYTHING? It was a rare feeling I hadn’t experienced prior…I didn’t know what to do. I quickly began to get dressed, and planning for the fact the day before me was unknown. The rallies were supposed to begin at 1pm, right after prayers at the mosques. So much I didn’t understand. So much I wish I could.
Church was almost empty... clearly, something was up. Because we live north of downtown, we thought we may be able to get a hot lunch in at a restaurant before getting “locked” indoors. As we enjoyed our food, the tv blaired with news displaying pictures of riots and angry police. It seemed across the world, when in reality, it was just across town…like 12 miles away. At one point, a table of customers near us turned the tv to face them, I quickly asked them to move it back so we too could see what was going on. They obliged.
Pastor and his wife invited me to come over so I wouldn’t be alone. As they drove me toward my flat to pick up my things, barricades stretched across streets preventing any crossing of traffic. Men standing side by side formed a wall, at all the key entrances to my street. How was I supposed to get home? Hundreds of security men with masks and shields lined the entrances of my neighborhood around the block and across major highways. I guess this was due to the fact that the presidential compound is right around the corner form me. Detour after detour prevented pastor from getting home. It was best for them to leave their car, and walk. As we crossed, I noticed the security officers were tense…I didn’t deal with the usual comments and flirting…they were very focused on their duty.
As we arrived in their flat we immediately turned on CNN. Having our access to cell phones and internet cut had left our minds in a total state of perpetual curiosity. There we were, in the middle of everything going on, yet relying on CNN for our information. For 11 hrs straight, we sat there, our eyes glued to the tv. President Mubarak finally made an appearance 7 hrs after he was scheduled to address the Egyptian people. As we listened to his words and read the cold expression on his face, we could see he was ticked…not backing down, as he fed his audience of hopeful Egyptians loads of fluff. “Uh oh” we thought, as he was wrapping up. That is NOT going to do it, the people in this country will take that as a slap in the face. And they did.
Curfew had been set for 4pm, so the next morning we headed out to pick up some items at the grocery store on the corner. As we slid through the chaos of an obviously panicked group of shoppers, things felt tense. People were buying everything they could get their hands on. Amidst the commotion and confusion my cell phone rang…phones were back on! It was my boss. “Where are you?!” she said urgently. “In the grocery store, why?” I calmly replied. I sensed she was calling to alert me about something.” It’s getting bad,” she stated. “They are looting. Some of the biggest shopping centers in Cairo and Alexandria have been looted and burned.” There was no police presence on the streets of Cairo…
I felt the need to drop by my flat a few blocks away to check in on things. As we rounded the corner, there right at the end of my road stood military tanks. The military had arrived and set up camp right next to my flat. As we walked through the barricades of military guards, I noticed a calmness in my neighborhood that wasn’t normal. Then, I heard a loud commotion. I searched for where the noise was coming from and quickly realized a mob had formed around the bread stand across the street from my building. People were angry, shouting…there was not bread. This made me feel uneasy. If food was already running out, then it probably was an indication that things were progressing quicker than anticipated.
We made our way back to Pastor’s house where we continued to watch CNN. As night fell and the curfew was being enforced, the only sounds we heard were tanks moving across the street. Eerie. I headed out to the 8th floor balcony to get some fresh air when my phone rang again. “You aren’t alone, are you?!” the voice on the other end frantically stated? “I am not,” I replied, yet slightly startled by the tone. “Why?” I asked. “You don’t know?” she replied. “Know what?” I said. “What is going on???” “Go look down at your street,” she said. As I leaned over the balcony I saw groups of men armed with sticks and knives pacing in front of our buildings and on all the surrounding corners. “Do you see them?” she asked. “How did you know?” I replied. She continued to explain to me that groups of neighborhood watch gangs had formed all across Cairo to protect their families from the newly escaped prisoners and looters swarming the streets. They built barricades with stones, ladders, and barrels to keep cars from driving through.
As the evening proceeded, fires were popping up in various locations where the men were stationed to guard our buildings. They weren’t planning on getting much sleep. I headed to bed only to be suddenly awoken at 2am to blood curdling screams, the shouting of a mob of people, and gun shots. In unison, pastor, his wife and I dashed to the balcony to see what the commotion was about. I stood frozen, as gun shots were fired just below us. “Stand back,” pastor’s wife said. “Bullets can ricochet.” We were terrified. Never had I ever experienced this feeling of total chaos right on my doorstep. Things were spiraling out of control, and there were not police to protect us. The balconies across from us were packed with anxious spectators fearful of the sight of commotion symbolizing the shift in stability of their once safe neighborhood. Nobody knew what to do.
Over the course of the next few days, we were on curfew, only able to be out for certain allotted hours per day. With limited minutes on my cell phone, I was in constant communication with my daddy and one of my bosses here, who is currently in the states. The decision was made late Tuesday night that it was indeed time for me to leave. I awoke early Wednesday morning to beautiful sunshine. But it was certainly a sad feeling to head over to my flat to pack up, not knowing how long I would be gone.
Some gracious friends in Prague opened their home to me, and I arrived late Wednesday evening.
Still a lot I am unsure of, but resting in His hands is where I will remain.