Thursday, February 3, 2011

Timeline from Cairo

Here's a timeline of events from the last week starting on Thursday, January 27th and leading up to Tuesday, February 1st. I'm afraid if I didn't write it down soon, I'd start to forget the details. When I find the time, I'll upload photos and videos. I'm sorry, dad. So so sorry... for being disobedient and foolish and cavalier but mostly for bringing Chris with me.

Thursday: Government blocks Facebook. I realize just how deep my addiction to Facebook runs. Bad news.

Friday: We wake up and find that the internet and cell services are blocked as well. We get ready and head down to Maadi for church. Church is cut from three to two hours in anticipation of the protests that are supposed to start after noon prayer. The drive home from Maadi to Zamalek is surreal. The streets are empty except for a huge police presence. Tons of blue trucks used to round up and haul off demonstrators are out on the streets. We get home and say goodbye to my dad who heads off to the embassy. We don't see him again until the next day. Before he leaves, he tells us to stay in Zamalek, stay away from any bridges, stay away from the police, stay away from any crowds, basically just stay away. Naturally, Chris and I head out and happen upon a group of demonstrators near the Sixth of October Bridge. We wanted to get shawarma and juice but everything is closed. We hang out for about half an hour. Several people mistake me for a journalist and try to tell me their stories. Others ask me to come and take pictures of the blood on their shirts, etc. Everyone begs me to put the images on the internet and I promise to try. Chris and I hang out during prayer but decide to leave shortly after someone throws two molotov cocktails. Back at home, we turn on Al Jazeera News and watch what is unfolding just 1 km from the house. Because we have no internet and very limited phone calls from my dad at the embassy, the news is our only source of information. I'm glued to the TV for the next 5 days. Much later that night, we learn that the police have been driven off the streets. I try to get some sleep but keep waking up every time I hear gun shots and men shouting from just a few streets away. After several panicked calls to my dad, he assures me that we are safe in Zamalek and if anything should happen to get everyone into the safe haven (bomb proof room), lock the doors and call the embassy. This should reassure me but it only makes me more anxious. I locate several fire extinguishers and try once more to get some sleep.

Friday night was a scary one for me, but it was nothing compared to what the staff at the embassy were experiencing. I hesitate to put this information on the internet, but if you're interested in knowing what kind of damage the embassy sustained I wouldn't mind to sharing it privately. The estimated monetary amount is staggering. Once the police (who are usually positioned outside the embassy perimeter) abandoned their posts, the protesters were able to do some real damage. The embassy, by the way, is located just outside Tahrir square, the epicenter of the protests.

Saturday: We wake up and notice that the uniformed policemen (usually 3-4) who sit outside the house gate are gone. Thankfully, the embassy guard is still in the guard house. We walk around Zamalek and notice just one shop is burned and looted- a travel agency. Several other shops have placed newspapers over their glass windows, including the cupcake shop... because we all know how much looters love their cupcakes. We stop at the Alpha Market which is unusually crowded to stock up on some basics. We spend the rest of the day glued to the news. With my very limited access to communication, I call my friends the Glausers to give them a rundown of the situation. Clark has already boarded his flights to Cairo and I can't get in touch with him. We watch the news. all. day. long.

At this point, the embassy has gone to "authorized departure" which basically means voluntary evacuation. If you want to leave the country, they will help you. My dad comes home briefly to talk with my mom and brother about what they would like to do. Hoping that things will improve, they opt to stay and wait it out. I decide to stay too as long as my mom and brother are around. Dad returns to the embassy.

Saturday night, we are without the usual policemen who guard the house. I notice a large group of men assembling outside the gate. They are carrying large pipes, sticks and rifles. They are blocking off the road and frantically yelling when cars or motorcycles approach. We turn off all the lights inside and outside the house. The embassy guard moves outside of his guard house and into the driveway where he can better see this group of men. I call my dad but he is impossible to reach. I'm panicking. I'm just about to wake everyone up and move them into the safe haven, when a news story runs about how the young men of each neighborhood are banding together to form neighborhood watches. In the absence of the police, they are organizing themselves to protect their homes and shops from the looters. The men with sticks and guns are on our side! I finally get in touch with my dad. Around midnight, a military truck shows up with several army guys and parks in front of the gate. Relief. I sleep a little easier despite the gunfire.

Sunday: We walk around Zamalek and things are very quiet during the day. Most everything is closed. We stop by the Alpha Market to get some groceries but the lines are too long to stay and buy anything. People are frantically stocking up on water and groceries. Clark is supposed to arrive but I don't know what time or if the plane even took off. I have no internet to check. I can't go out to the airport because I'm basically under house arrest. Around 2 p.m. Clark calls from someone's cell phone at the airport (the pay phones aren't working). I tell him to catch a cab and to hurry- he has just two hours before the 4 p.m. curfew kicks in (the next day, the curfew moves to 3 p.m.). His cab pulls up and the driver wants almost double what the fare would be under normal circumstances. He also notices a water bottle that I'm holding and he wants that too. Times are hard and I wish I could give him a hundred water bottles. At this point, the banks are closed (thankfully I withdrew lots of cash the day before in anticipation), gas stations are running out of fuel and grocery stores are cleaned out. We gladly welcome Clark into our little circle of house arrest.

Monday: We take the boys swimming in the morning but come inside soon after because Booker is frightened by the military jets that are flying overhead. Clark wonders out loud if the jets mean that Mubarak is flexing his muscles. Later a news story confirms that he is right. We see jets and helicopters flying overhead all day long. At this point, the embassy is moving towards mandatory departure which means that my mom and my brother no longer have a choice- they have to leave. My dad starts working on their departure plans. I call Delta and the soonest I can leave on a commercial flight would be Friday. I decide we're better off on an evacuation flight with my mom and brother. My dad starts to make the arrangements.

During Ike's nap and Booker's quiet time, Clark, Chris and I head out for a walk. I figure this might be my last chance to buy some souvenirs and Clark's one and only chance to see some of Cairo. Everything in Zamalek is closed. We head over to the Marriott hotel where most of the shops there are closed too. I manage to buy some Egyptian flags. We're feeling brave and decide to cross the bridge from Zamalek over to the corniche. On the bridge we run into a familiar face- one of the plain clothes policemen who normally guards the house. We try to explain to him that we're just going for a walk and we'll return to the house soon, but he refuses to leave us and joins us on our walk. We take the same exact route as we did a few days earlier on Police Day. This time the road is closed and blocked off by tanks. Some uniformed police have been redeployed to the streets and we see some protesters harassing one and quicken our pace. I try and take pictures of the tanks but the military guys tell me not to. I try to take photos of burned out police cars but the military guys tell me not to, etc. Clark and Chris are feeling anxious, and frankly so am I. I manage to take a few photos, but I start to worry that my camera might get confiscated. We cross back over to the Sixth of October Bridge where we have a great view of the burned out NDP headquarters. The building is still smoldering. I look across the skyline and notice several buildings on fire. I look over in the direction of Tahrir square and it's a sea of people. I long to go inside the Egyptian Museum. We head back home in the opposite direction.

Tuesday: Our bags are packed even though we're not sure we have a spot on a flight. At 8 a.m. my dad arrives and it's go time. My mom and Chris say goodbye to their house and their things. Chris never got to say goodbye to his friends. The staff haven't been able to leave their various neighborhoods to make it into the house and I long to see Su-su just one more time before I go. We load up and head out to the airport. It's a mass exodus on the roads to the airport, cars are piled with suitcases on top. The traffic jam is bad but eventually we make it. At a special terminal at the airport we're immediately met by a Consular Officer from the embassy who keeps asking if we're okay and I thought I was, but then I start to cry right there on the curb.

I say goodbye to my dad's driver and his bodyguard and I wish I could hug them or at the very least, I wish I had the words to say thank you or I'm sorry or please take care of my dad, but all I can do is blubber. The evacuation flights are headed to 5 places- Nicosia, Athens, Milan, Istanbul or Frankfurt. In the car, we took bets on where we'd be going and I win! Istanbul was my first choice. We say goodbye to my dad and hang out in the terminal for about 30 minutes. The bathroom attendant in the terminal wants 50 pounds ($9) to use the bathroom, I give him a one pound coin and end up using the bathroom 5 or 6 times while we wait- I'm both pregnant and nervous. We board a Tailwind Airlines plane with about 150 other Americans. My mom and Chris are some of the last "official Americans" to go, most everyone else is a private American like me and Clark. We sit on the tarmac for about two hours before the flights attendants start asking us row by row to exit the plane to go identify our luggage on the tarmac. This isn't your typical flight and none of the luggage is tagged. Apparently there was some mix up with the luggage. Eventually it gets sorted out and after three hours on the tarmac we take off. There is a round of applause when we take off and again when we land. In Istanbul, we are greeted by the U.S. Consulate employees who give us water, crackers and paperwork. Clark is interviewed by a Turkish newspaper and they take several pictures of the boys playing with the Turkish customs officials. We head off to a fancy hotel that is free for my mom and Chris, not so much for me and Clark ;)

Sleep, sleep, sleep.


Scrivener said...

Photos or it didn't happen.

Bridget said...


Carbonneau said...

can't wait to hear the story in person! enjoy your adventures! so glad you are safe!

btw loved the food pictures!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write-up, Mar. You have such a fascinating perspective and you communicate well. I really appreciate that you take the time (and honesty) to share with us.

Amelia said...

Wow. I think this is fascinating! I'm glad you are all safe.

Julia Mar said...

I felt like I was reading an article in a magazine. Marg, you should write and get paid for it. I'm so glad I drank diet coke too close to bed time so I could read this.

Maryah said...

This was beautifully done! I'm sorry your trip to Cairo wasn't what you expected. It's a beautiful city, and I love it all the more now that the people are taking it back! I hope you'll be able to come back another time!

daveandlisa said...

I cannot wait until you guys make it home and I get to hear the really good stories that you can't post online. I'm so glad that you guys made it out safe. That's some crazy stuff.

Erika said...

Margaret - so glad you and your family are safe! Wonderful description...I'm thinking of you!

Emily said...

Oh my gosh! My heart was just racing reading about your crazy adventure. I am just so glad you are safe. I hope you are having a great time and are enjoying seeing some places you wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

We need a Fergus update.

Dan and Jan said...

When will you be in Mesa so we can hear from you in person and ask you all kinds of questions?