Saturday 29th of January 2011 (Day 4, since the Million March, Tuesday 25th of January 2011)
From my window you would think nothing happened yesterday people are out in their cars driving around. It is too early for us to tell what will happen, but, again I am not optimistic.
We are still without mobile phone coverage and Internet.
We have no idea what will happen in the coming days, weeks or months.
There are so many questions whizzing by in my head right now that, I am finding it hard to think. Do we go to work tomorrow or not? Is it a wise thing to do if we have no means of communication? If we do regain our cell/mobile lines should we still risk going?
For now, I think the best thing to do is to stay put, until things become clearer.
Dad calls me to check up on how my friend and I are doing. He tells me that the four tanks stationed outside their apartment building are still in place. It seems to be some kind of tourist attraction; people are coming to greet the soldiers. Some drag their family members along to have their pictures taken and people are making them tea.
He also tells me that the ATM machine that was next to the Muhfza (Goveners Office Building) was ripped out of the ground and taken to Kom El Dekka to be broken in to.
He also told me that he had heard that Carrefour Maadi had been looted but he doesn’t know how accurate the information is.
We, (my family and I) are exhausted. We have been up for most of the night listening to the news and keeping watch for anything unusual.
* At around 10 am we regain cell phone coverage. We are able to receive calls and call out but we still can not send text messages, Blackberry Messenger, What’sapp and Internet are still down.
My friend realizes that she has left her passport and money at her apartment. I knot forms in the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to risk our safety by going out, but both items are essential for her to have in-case she needs to be evacuated. She suggests going on her own, but I can’t leave her alone and I don’t want to go anywhere where she might be in danger. I insist that I accompany her to her apartment to collect the items. I’m just thankful that she doesn’t live too far away.
We dress really quickly and make our way to her place. When we first get out of my building everything looks quite normal, but when we hop in to a cab and the car turns the corner to head towards Korba we are met with a completely different scene.
Marghani street that houses the Heliopolis Club and the Presidential Palace is completely blocked off. Riot police, military men and tanks are spread across the width of the street, denying access to cars as well as pedestrians.
Some people walk by taking pictures of the scene, I can’t blame them really. It’s not one that you would see on a day to day basis. Others rush by nervously and intimidated by their presence. While others are sat in a coffee shop and enjoy their mugs of coffee like nothing is happening.
A colleague from work calls to take my land line number in-case the mobile/cell phone lines go down again and to put together a phone tree. She also informed me that school would be closed for until Monday with the possibility of being closed longer.
(GREAT! Last year the school year was disrupted because of Swine flu (H1N1) and now this… these poor kids, haven’t had a stable academic year!)
She also warned that protests would start up again after afternoon prayers, which would be around 1 o’clock.
Upon hearing this, my friend and I increased our stride to try and get to her place and back to mine before things heated up again. We rushed around her place getting the items we came for as well as some clothes and food.
We walked back to my place because traffic was building up due to certain roads being closed off. As soon as we made it home we dropped the stuff off and went to a near by supermarket, Metro, to get more provisions.
When we got there, we couldn’t help but stand with our mouths gaping open at the scene outside and inside the supermarket. Outside of the supermarket was a big tank, filled with unhappy armed soldiers, watching the crowd of people passing by with suspicion. During Ramadan supermarkets are bustling with life and people are stocking up as though they are going in to hiding for a few months. The ambiance of the scores of shoppers was desperate and urgent. When we over came the sight we edged our way inside and split up to get what we needed. The shelves were almost bare. People were stocking up on oil, pasta, eggs, flour, bread, tomato pass as well as other items.
At the checkout I saw one of the supermarket personnel stick a paper on the door stating that the store will be open daily but will close at four o’clock to give the employees enough time to get home before curfew, which has now been moved to 4pm.
We leave the supermarket carrying our supplies in silence, trying to get our minds to comprehend the scene that we had just witnessed and taken part in. How did things go down hill so quickly? Just 2 weeks ago, things were relatively normal. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Could it get worse? I think it might. I need to stay strong and continue to think with a clear mind and put my emotions on the side, otherwise I won’t be able to think straight and will make bad judgment calls. Plus, I need to stay calm for my friend, I don’t need to alarm her more that she already is.
We get home and find out that banks are closed until further notice. That news sends me a warning signal. I go in to my room to check how much cash I have. I have some for now, but will have to try and find a working ATM with money in it tomorrow, so that I can withdraw all the Egyptian currency I have.
Now that we have our cell phones are working again, the calls are coming in fast and furious from abroad. I am very touched by my friends abroad who have gotten through and send their love, prayers, well wishes and concern. It keeps me sane and makes me feel hopeful.
I called one of my cousins in New Jersey to tell him that I’m alright. He proceeded to tell me that his brother had forwarded my last e-mail that I was able to send on Thursday to a radio station and it was read over the air ways.
Two of my close friends in Washington D.C have been following the news religiously and trying to get through to my family and I for the past two days but haven’t been able to. When we were able to get in touch with one another, the relief and excitement in their voice upon hearing mine almost brought me to tears.
It is very humbling to know that there are people who are genuinely worried about your safety and well being.
Friends here in Egypt have been amazing too. Knowing that I’m away from my family and protecting a friend of mine have called me every couple of hours insuring that I’m fine and relaying any new information that we aren’t getting on the news.
So, much for the curfew! People are still out walking, driving around demonstrating.
As my friend and I are about to sit down to have lunch my friends phone rings and was told the news that employees of BP are going to be airlifted out of Egypt tomorrow.
Hearing the news brought back memories of being in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War back in 1990. Knowing that expats are being evacuated means things that are going to go down hill at an exponential rate.
After lunch I called my sister to see how things were at their end of the country.
I was relieved to hear that they had been able to find an ATM machine, I didn’t want them to be without cash for the next few days.
My Mom’s friend got a call from the Saudi Embassy telling them to evacuate the country as soon as possible.
I still haven’t gotten word from the Canadian Embassy.
Another colleague and friend from work called from work called to check up on me. She lives in Rehab City, (It’s a gated community). She said that the are no longer any security guards standing guard at the gates of the compound, which made them targets for the band of looters. The looters did penetrate the compound, they targeted the stores first and then residences. The male members of the compound came out of their homes armed with nothing but sticks, stones and kitchen knives to defend their families, property and neighborhood.
My best friend calls to say that she just got word that the looters have raided El Rehab and are on their way to Masr El Gadeeda (New Cairo) and to get anything I can use as a weapon and to have a bucket of water and rags by the door in case they try and smoke the tenants out of the homes.
Since I was a little girl I had wanted to join the marines mainly to have a pair of combat boots, but so that I could learn how to use a gun and make a bomb if necessary.
I didn’t waste any time getting in to commando mode, I got out the fire extinguisher and checked that it was full. I got out every sharp knife that I had in the house. I concocted my own recipe of mace made from house hold cleaners, bleach being a key ingredient and filled 3 plastic spray canisters. My Dad’s hunting binoculars were out, so that I could keep watch on the road from my floor.
Being in that state of mind, it didn’t seem in the least bit out of the ordinary, my friend on the other hand was watching me and unable to understand how I was so calm and knowledgeable in making home made mace. I have to admit I surprised myself too. By 6pm I had barricaded the front with a marble top table, arm chair, sofa, and 3 boxes of books. The bucket and rags were by the door incase of an emergency.
Once I had checked off everything on my to do list, to keep calm my friend and I watch a movie to pass the time. We couldn’t watch the movie at a stretch because my best friend calls to say that the looters are now in her neighborhood and can hear gun shots being fired and can see that fires have been lit and smoke rising.
At 6:50 we hear on the news that looters attempted to rob the Cairo Museum, but Egyptians formed a linked arm chain to prevent them from entering and to protect our countries antiquities, artifacts and history. The looters did make it inside by climbing in from the top, they did succeed in damaging artifacts but everything was accounted for. The army has now secured the museum.
Not long after that report a civilian called the news station to inform them that civilians are out in the street defending their homes, because the police no longer exist and the army are under strict instructions not to get involved.
Citizens of Egypt wasted no time in forming neighborhood watches and patrols. Everyone was on high alert and armed with what ever they can find to protect themselves, family and property.
Those are the Egyptians that I came to know when I first moved here in 1991. They would go out of their way to help anyone in distress. The past 5 years those people seemed to have disintegrated, but now they are making a come back.
I look out of my window and see the same scenes that have been described on the TV and by friends. The men of our neighborhood are outside guarding the neighborhood.
I stay up and keep a look out from my flat, with the lights turned off, so that I do not draw attention to myself. Knife close at hand, binoculars around my neck.
The high pitched whistle is sounded, intruders are in the area. Everyone is up and ready. Shouts are heard. Looters are in the neighborhood and very close by. A chase ensues, sticks are clasped in both hands as they run in the direction of where they have been spotted. Shouts ring out that he has taken a side street towards my building. 3 shots next to my building ring out, a mother on the balcony above my flat screams and calls out her sons name. She can’t see him, he isn’t in her line of sight. She calls him on his cell/mobile phone and asks him to come closer to the house, so she can see him.
All is quiet after that…
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