Sunday, 30th of January 2011 (Day 5 since the Jan 25th March in Tahrir Square)
I finally gave in to exhaustion at 3am and decided to go lie down and try to get some rest. A word that I am quickly forgetting the meaning off.
8:30 am I spoke to my mum and she said that thug/looter/thief was caught near our house and was beaten really badly by the neighborhood watch. She also went on to say that she couldn’t believe how fast and dramatically things had changed in the past few days. She said that when she saw my father and sister preparing the shot guns she didn’t think anything of it, but when she had come out of her room later and saw the guns lined up against the wall with boxes of bullets next to them she said her mind had a difficult time of registering and accepting the sight. I told my mother the events of last night while I was standing watch and how thankful I was that my friend had slept through the whole thing. I didn’t want her to have to worry more than she already was.
9:00 am The traffic stops all of a sudden and the street is in dead silence. I leap over to the window in time to see a long convoy of black SUVs driving from Salah Salem to Khalifa El Ma’amoun. At the back of the SUV the trunks were open and armed military men had their guns pointed out the back ready to shoot anyone who tries to attack. As more and more people woke up, the more calls came through of reports of how bad lootings were last night. Mohendiseen and Maadi had been hit pretty badly.
10am My friend and I leave the house in search of working ATM machines. for the first time in my life, I leave my house armed. I take a sharp kitchen knife with me and place it in my jacket pocket. If thugs can attack during the night, what’s to stop them in the day time. My friend has a concerned look on her face and asks; ‘Are you prepared to use it?’ and with out any hesitation, I answer ‘Yes’. The sureness of my voice even shocks me.
The first few ATMs we came across were broken, empty or simply not working. After half an hour and several attempts I finally come across one that was working and was spitting out money. Many obviously didn’t know that it was working because the queue for the machine wasn’t long, but word got out quite quickly. I was able to withdraw all my Egyptian currency, which was a huge relief to me because; I would not have any other means if anything was to happen. While I was standing in line, my friend made a dash to her apartment to check on things there and to collect a few more things.
While I waited I made my daily pilgrimage to Metro, the supermarket and it was even more crowded than the day before. I looked as though people were actually awakening from their sleep of denial and were beginning to realize the seriousness of the situation. Well, for the most part any way, some were going about it as though it was a typical shopping day. One woman wouldn’t buy dried bread, because it wasn’t the ‘fresh’ kind or brown. That’s when I had to say something. I just said ‘I would buy the dried bread if I were you, because you don’t know when any other kind of bread would be available again and dry bread lasts longer.’ I would also stock up on canned food, like beans, vegetable and fruit because, fresh fruit goes bad quickly.’ They didn’t take much heed of me, but I kept on talking until I saw a light bulb go off. ‘I was in Saudi Arabia during the invasion and I know what I’m talking about, our embassy gave us a list of items that we should stock up on, so please take my advice.
The queue for the check out/cashier was very long and it took me almost and hour, if not longer before I was able to pay for my supplies. Which consisted of lots of canned food and aerosol spray cleaners for cleaning and other self-defense purposes, (just in case)
2:00pm I was still exhausted and wound up from not having slept well, or for a better word sleep deprived and I told my friend that I was going to go and take a nap, while things were quiet and before I had night watch duty in a few hours time. It was no use, I couldn’t relax, I could shut my mind long enough to get some sleep. My eye lids would fly open at any sound that resembled a gun shot or explosion.
3:00pm My friend whose father is the warden for the Canadian Embassy had told me earlier that he was going to the airport to check the ticket situation, but it turns out that he and his family had hopped on a plane to Boston to stay with family. I can’t blame him really, he being an only son and having to stand guard at night is not a risk any parent would want to take. Some friends thought it was a rushed decision, but if I had the choice I would get my family out too. Not long after hearing about my friends departure does my best friend of over 20 years call me to tell me that she is going to get on a plane tomorrow morning to go to London and that things are not what they appear to be and I should get my family out of here as soon as possible. Having not slept and being really edgy made me really nervous and panic slightly. I tried calling my cousin in Liverpool several time to try to convince my parents to pack up and leave, but the line wouldn’t connect. I called my future brother-in-law in London to ask him if there was anything on the news at his end that we were not hearing or seeing here. He told me that there was nothing that reported immediate danger; he tried to assure me that everything is fine and not to panic. (I found that amusing because I’m the one who usually keeps everyone else calm, and is level-headed) I called my good friend in D.C but she thought that my call was her alarm so she kept hanging up on me, so I called my other friend in D.C and asked her to follow the news. I also gave her my facebook password and a message to post for family and friends, to tell them that we were all fine and well. She too said that everything on the news seemed fairly calm and there was nothing that hinted danger. (My gut was telling me otherwise) I surrendered any attempts to try to sleep, it was a battle that I wouldn’t win, and so, I might as well just stay awake.
4pm I walk out of my bedroom to a ringing phone, my friend answers and hands it to me saying it’s for me. I answer and there is a familiar voice on the other end, but I’m so tired I can’t identify who it is. I am holding a conversation but I still don’t know whom it is I’m conversing with. In the end I just had to bluntly ask who it was. Turns out it was one of my cousins calling from Liverpool. She had been trying to get through to us for days on our cell phones but lines were down or jammed. I must have sounded exhausted because she just kept saying ‘you sound exhausted luvvy, you poor thing.’ I retold her some of the events of the past few days and information and accounts I had gotten from eyewitnesses and she just couldn’t believe what was going on. As if right on queue an F-16, fighter jet flies right over my house and at a low altitude. It sounded like Zeus’s lightening bolt had been released and exploded right in side my flat and had shaken (That makes it harder to convince family that you are fine and well)
No one really knows why the jets were told to take off and fly at a low altitude. Some say it was to show Israel that Egypt was still in control, (I highly doubt that), I personally think it was to scare the protesters in to leaving the square and go home for 4 o’clock curfew. The sound of the jets flying over head should have sounded normal to me, considering I lived next to an airport and an airbase in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia for 10 years, but today it just made me more jumpy than normal.
After I closed with my cousin, I called my family and more or less begged them to evacuate. I spoke with my father and pleaded with him, but he wouldn’t hear it, I told him about the jets and the looters carrying weapons, the prisoners that had broken out of jail. I tried to lay a guilt trip on him about me being away from them and in Cairo, but he said if you’re scared I’ll send a car for you to come to Alexandria. I told him that there was no way for me to get to the station and that there were no cars. My pleas fell on deaf ears.
I can’t leave without my family. So, if they stay. I stay and that is that.
5:30pm An old colleague and friend that I used to work with in Alexandria called from London after seeing my friends post on my facebook status that I had asked her to do on my behalf. She said that the whole world is watching and praying for a positive outcome She said that they are also impressed with how Egyptians have taken the law in to their own hands and have made many citizen arrests. 8:00 pm My best friend just called me and it was very hard to understand what she was saying. She was hyperventilating and trying to talk at the same time. She was going in to shock; she had just witnessed an exchange of fire between thugs and a tank. The last time I had heard her that scared was she had been in Naama Bay, when the car bombs had gone off and she had just walked out of Buddah Bar after the explosion. I was doing my best to reassure her that she was safe and that she was fine. I wanted to calm her down so that she wouldn’t frighten her grandmother that was staying with her. We did a few breathing techniques and we talked about the situation and after about 20 minutes or so of talking to her she was in a much calmer state. Not long after hanging up with my best friend, I get another call from a friend in Alexandria. He called to say that he had just had a rough hour. He had come of his patrol shift to rest only to have to go down again because a group of thugs had come in to his neighborhood. Unfortunately very drastic measures had to be taken and the thugs weren’t captured, they were killed.
9:00 pm My Mom called to check up on us and in the midst of the conversation the alarm was sounded. Intruders were in the neighborhood. I went to the window and saw that the men on duty tonight exceeded those that had stood guard the night before and this time they were in the street like a swarm of mad bees. They were stopping every car that passed by and checking the vehicles. Moments after the alarm was sounded a small convoy of black SUVs drove by at a hell of a speed, but this time the military men at the back of the SUV were firing continuously as they sped by. I hung up with my mom and grabbed my camera, and was able to get some footage. Like a motion picture summer block buster movie, the military guys from the National Guard, came running out of the base in front of my house and hit the deck, lay flat on the ground and took aim and were firing. Some of the guys were camouflaged on the grass; you could only see the spark come out at the tip of the barrel of the gun. Shouts from the military guys rang across the street as they warned the residence to take cover and to go back in side ‘Kul ye khush gowa’. I wasted no time in getting my friend down on the ground and away from the windows, because the chance of a stray bullet flying through one of them was very probably with the number of rounds that were being fired below. It was a continuous chorus of bullets being shot, along with riffles, hand guns and tanks being fired. It sounded similar to fireworks cracking and exploding in the sky on New Years Eve or on the 4th of July. I could hear mothers and wives screaming for their sons and husband to come to safety. Children were crying.
As we lay on the ground, my friend was coughing non stop, so I crawled like a marine and got her a blanket from the sofa to lie on so that she wouldn’t catch a cold and to retrieve my phone. There was so much happening at once and it was very hard absorb and to process. In the midst of madness that was taking place and whilst I was lying down on the floor two things came to mind. 1- I really need to vacuum the floor tomorrow morning. 2- Most of the people we spoke to earlier today had said that they felt things had calmed down and they felt safer…..ummm….they obviously don’t know what the hell they are talking about. (It’s amazing what goes through a person’s mind in a time of a crisis!)
Once the excitement had passed we pealed ourselves off the cold tiled floor and went back to the couch and finished watching the film “Julie and Julia” as one does after a big shoot out right outside your apartment building. When the movie was over we decided to go to bed and try to get some sleep. Only to get a call a couple of hours later telling us that Canadians are sending planes to evacuate them to Europe. Upon hearing that news there was no chance of getting any sleep. My friend went about packing her stuff.
As much as I wanted my friend to leave and be out of harms way, I didn’t want her to leave either. We had a strong bond before, but now I think it’s a bond for life. After the events of the night, I knew my parents wouldn’t want me staying alone and frankly, I didn’t want to be alone for hours on end day after day. So, I woke a friend of mine up in the dead of night and told him what had happened and he insisted that I come and stay with him and his family. He said he would pass by and pick me up later that morning.
By this time I can honestly tell you that I am drunk with exhausted. I haven’t slept well since the build up to Jan 25th began, my sleep then was 4 hours or less and it was interrupted and the past few nights I have barely slept a wink. I took a warm shower to try to relax. It did help me feel better, but it took me ages to get some sleep. Which was less than 2 hours.