The Cairo Experience (short in length, long in telling)

14 Feb

Well, with a new blog name/address, I might as well begin with the past. I know those who read this blog are truly wondering about my oh-so-short time in Cairo. And here, without censure, is the authorized autobiographical account:

As mentioned in my earlier post, Tuesday, January 25, the first day of protests, was good times. We went to Old Cairo, Islamic Cairo, and then Macarena, Eva and I had an epic journey home. (BTW, photos, since my internet in Morocco is horrible and I can’t upload to Flickr/Wordpress, can be viewed on my Facebook account at this link: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2092499&id=1066620072&l=37ba5fef6e)

And this is the post I had written for posting on Thursday, January 27, almost one week after I arrived in Egypt:

The issue with living in an authoritarian country with protests going on is THE INTERNET IS POOP!

Twitter and Facebook have been sporadically shut down by the government over the past few days. Which stinks, since I am severely addicted to Twitter. I MISS MY TWEEPS.

Today! Went to campus, attended a discussion/lecture on social development in Egypt. The professor however was a little boring so it wasn’t that good, but the information was interesting.

Then the student involvement fair happened and I signed up for 3 clubs, the Volunteers in Action, Help (I keep thinking HELP! like the Beatles), and the Theatre and Film Club. Hopefully I get involved with something community-service oriented, since I miss APO something fierce.

After that Eva, Macarena and I hung out with five or six of the orientation leaders, just chatting about stuff. It was fun times…THEY KNEW ABOUT PHINEAS AND FERB! I have a Phineas and Ferb folder for holding my papers and such and I had it out and one of them said, “You like Phineas and Ferb?!” Anyone who knows me knows I love Phineas and Ferb. Then we have an entire discussion on all the cartoons we love…Pepper Ann, Recess, Courage the Cowardly Dog. It was great! Then we began working on our visa stuff (since we’re here on only a tourist visa, which lasts 40 days, and need to have a student visa to stay longer/enter and exit the country with ease.

We left on the 3:30 shuttle for home, and got back around 5 (yeah, it’s a commute). Then I took a 4 hour nap essentially, since Facebook/Twitter, and Google and all it’s holdings are pretty much hit and miss in terms of working and without social media I have no way to define myself (plight of my generation, haha).

Anywho, we went out and got…wait for it….wait for it…..SUSHI for dinner! I’m a sushi fiend and holy smokes, THIS SUSHI WAS SO GOOD. I actually had a sushi bowl, which, to put in perspective, is like going to Chipotle and getting the burrito bowl, not the burrito. So delicious nom nom nom.

I took pictures on my iPod to put up tonight to show you all, but the internet has actually completely stopped working at the moment so this will have to be posted later.

I’m going to bed…CREPES AND WAFFLES IN THE MORNING!

But the internet was shut down by the government and I couldn’t post. Also interrupted my Skype call with my mom, and I believe the last message I sent to her on Skype was…ah yes:

SKYPE HAS BEEN COMPROMISED. WILL TALK TO YOU LATER (kinda kidding about the compromised part…but only kinda!) I LIVE IN A POLICE STATE NOW. NOTHING IS CONSIDERED PRIVATE. BE VIGILANT.

Catherine Litten: Love you! [1/27/2011 10:20:04 PM]

It was meant as joke, but hey, reality has a fun way of existing, apparently, and shutting me off from contact with the world.

So from that point onward, my only true contact with the world was by calling my mom on my Egyptian phone, which was difficult, because obviously it cost money and so I would have to get phone cards, but once curfew started and I ran out of money on the cards, no calls.

It was very, very strange being without internet. While so many people talk about how the internet is corrupting the minds of people everywhere, the internet has become a vital part of life for billions, and I happily and gratefully recognize. Being unable to look up news, to contact friends and family, to find out what the hell was going on in the very country I was in…it was completely unnerving.

Obviously, things got a little intense in Cairo. But for those of us in Zamalek, it was completely different than what the news stories in the States were saying. I never, not once, felt in danger. While I won’t say that I felt safe in the sense of complete comfort and no worry, I did not feel as though as any time I was going to be hurt.

Before people ask, I did not go into the actual protests. For many reasons, but most importantly because while my heart was with the Egyptian people, this fight was not mine. And while I could have gone into the fray, could have rallied and cheered and protested and cried out with the misreen, here is the truth: no matter how much I believed in the cause, my participation in part would be because of the “thrill” of it. While I’m an adrenaline junkie (hey skydiving), something like this cannot be entered into with an idea of it being entertainment. It’s not. In addition, while I cared in my heart, I did not care in my bones and when it came down to it, I was not willing to have the worst happen to me. I would not be willing to have that ultimate sacrifice happen, so I chose not to go.

So my experience was very sheltered, and I’m okay with that. But here’s the thing: curfews suck. You are stuck inside, for us it was usually 4pm-8am, with nothing to do. Just watch the news, which is either in Arabic and you don’t understand or is CNN and tells sensational stories that are not the truth of the matter. For those in the dorms, it was a state of limbo. I hated it. I hated not knowing what was going on and what my life was going to be like, whether I was staying in Egypt, whether I would have to leave, and where would I go after.

One day, my friends Eva, Danny and I walked to the end of Zamalek (remember, island in the Nile) and saw different things…a charred out motorcycle, a burned out building, an unlit Molotov cocktail, and people walking across Al-Tahrir Bridge to Al-Tahrir Square, already filled with thousands around 11:30am that day. The weirdest thing, though, was how quiet everything was. Cairo is a city of 18 million, and during the day, and especially after curfew, everything was quiet. Very quiet.

During the evenings, we’d sit up on the terrace and watch smoke rise from various buildings on fire throughout Cairo, hear tear gas grenades being shot off, hear gunfire, hear shouting, and above it all, the call to prayer ringing out from the thousands of mosques in the city.

It was surreal state of life.

One night, some scuffle happened outside our dorm. And yes, the news reports were true that people of the various neighborhoods were creating civilian militia to protect their homes. And that their modes of defense were sticks. Even male RAs in our dorms were doing duty outside. That scuffle outside our dorm freaked us out, because we didn’t know what happened…something about a guy smashing in a police vehicle’s window. It was actually funny, because I was standing with Danny on the terrace at the time and he said, “You know, I haven’t seen any sort of violence or vandalism happen. I feel completely safe here.” SMASH GOES THE WINDOW.

Another night, Sunday night, the night we were told that evacuation flights were starting the next day Monday and we needed to make the decision if we were leaving or not, it was around 2 in the morning when RAs came running up to our doors on the floors knocking and shouting, “Lock your doors from the inside! Lock them and stay inside!” My door didn’t lock from the inside, so I went over to the next room and was all, “’sup.” It was a false alarm, some confusion outside, but for a lot of the students in Zamalek, it completely freaked them out and almost all left the next day for the airport and theirs flights to safehavens in Europe (Cyprus, Athens or Istanbul).

Danny, Eva, Macarena, Patrick and I decided to stay on Monday and leave Tuesday…there were no guaranteed flights out Tuesday, but we figured it’d be fine. We kept in contact with our friends at the airport and learned a few things: one suitcase (which we knew), one carry on (not personal item and carry on, no, ONE carry on), and a weight limit of 44lbs for the one piece of luggage. Which was a problem. We assumed since it was one suitcase, we could pack as much into those bags as possible and it’d be fine. The people at the airport on Monday assumed the same…and as such, had to take stuff out of their bags at the airport, wearing layers upon layers of clothes or just leaving stuff behind. Us in the dorms at least could put even more stuff in the luggage we’d be leaving behind (AUC says it’ll ship it to us back home). I had 65lbs in my one suitcase…so I had to give up another 20lbs of my life. Our friends at the airport said bring food and water, there was none there. They got to the airport around 11am. They did not actually get into the terminal building until 9pm at night. And they did not get on a plane until 1:30am. So we expected the worst and prepared accordingly.

The next day, February 1, 2011, only 12 days after arriving in Cairo, we go to the airport to fleave (flee+leave) the country I had planned to call home for the next four months. We get there at 11am, didn’t have our bags weighed (so we could have brought more), and were on a plane within 2.5 hours. Yeah. Crazy how life works. My group and I were all headed to Istanbul (which we weren’t told until we arrived at the airport and they looked on a list and just said, “Yup, Istanbul.”).

Next post: our evacucation in Istanbul.

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