It’s almost impossible to put our Egypt experience into words. By Saturday, I was keeping my journal by the hour.
Our group of twenty-four was kept out of harm’s way by our amazing guide, 29-year-old Nora, who was so bright, beautiful, passionate, and forthright. Our only sightseeing was to visit the Sphinx and the pyramids in Giza on Friday morning before we were rushed back to our hotel, which was considered safer than any other place. We had tight security and our own tanks and we were in lock down from noon on that day. A window was broken in the lobby late Friday afternoon, so from then on the elevator stopped at the second floor and we were not allowed below that level. It was pitch dark down there anyway.
Our hotel looked out on one side over Tahrir Square, the center of the demonstrations. On the other side was the Nile River and the bridge that the huge wave of demonstrators marched over on Friday afternoon, only to be driven back to the other side by the dreaded police force looking like so many Darth Vaders locked arm in arm. This we watched from about 100 yards away on the terrace of the hotel while being served fresh mango and strawberry juice. I couldn’t stop thinking of those who continued to waltz on the Titanic.
Our room was on the twelfth floor facing the square, so we watched as buildings burned and a human circle formed around the Egyptian Museum. We saw cars exploding, including a truck right below our balcony, and believe we saw one man killed when caught by a mob just below us. My husband, Bruce, took the stairs at one point because the elevators were tied up and was bowled over by tear gas, which we also had on our balcony; it’s an incredibly effective weapon.
Through all of this, our guide, Nora, was constantly updating us, reassuring us, changing plans, and, in every spare moment, demonstrating with the crowds. She would say, “It’s 2 now, and curfew is at 4, so I’m going out to demonstrate and will be back by 10 of 4.” We became her parents, telling her to be careful and come home on time. She was out all Friday and Saturday nights, claiming that Egyptians don’t need to sleep. She shared her views and hopes with us, as well as her incredible pain Saturday evening after helping to carry a dead man, wrapped in a shroud, in the throng. She had never seen a dead person and saw several that night. As her heart broke, so broke ours.
The thugs appeared by Saturday. They looted residential neighborhoods. Some came on motorcycles, while others walked the streets carrying samurai swords. The demonstrators were not armed, but they organized themselves spontaneously to guard the banks and the shops and the museum. There were many children in the crowd. Turns out, families wanted their children to be part of this remarkable revolution.
When we finally got word that we were leaving on Sunday morning, we had to wait for the curfew to be lifted and then were told that buses couldn’t get to the airport, so eight taxis had to be rounded up—no small feat under the circumstances. Our trip to the airport is impossible to describe. It seemed that the entire country of 80 million people was going to the same place. A four-lane highway suddenly turned into a nine-lane escape route. All around us, I saw cars with luggage exploding out windows and strapped to car roofs. The scene at the airport was like the seventh circle of hell. We eventually got home after midnight Sunday night, after a 30-hour travel day. Home never felt so wonderful!
There was ever so much more, but I can’t sort it all out yet. It was extraordinary to be in the heart of ancient history, watching modern history unfold. Above all else, we have been reminded in such a dramatic, poignant, and exhilarating way that we are so fortunate to live where we live and how we live. As I was at the supermarket yesterday, looking at fresh blueberries for $2.99 a pint in January, I kept thinking about those wonderful, kind, friendly people asking for basic rights, while we take so much for granted. It makes a lot of things that we complain about seem pretty inconsequential.