The next day, Saturday, was a big day for us. This was the day Paul's parents were to leave, the day we tried to get money out of multiple ATM machines only to find they were all out of service, and the day that police were no where to be seen.
After our failed attempt to withdraw money, we went to stock up on food. Could the stores run out of food? Would the employees stop showing up to open the stores? How long would our money last? Paul's parents helped us to stock up. Paul's dad insisted we buy an entire kilogram (over two pounds) of gouda cheese. At noon we said goodbye to Paul's parents. They gave us all of their Egyptian Pounds, hugged us and got into a taxi. From there we could only hope that they would be able to depart. We had heard that all planes had been grounded, but the US Embassy encouraged them to try anyway. In the end, they were on one of two flights that departed for Europe on Saturday. We did not have cell phone or internet service, but we did continue to watch the news on the TV. We knew that, like Friday, Tahrir Square and other parts of downtown swelled with people protesting.
Not long after that we began to hear stories of looting. Apparently with the lack of police, looters were going to the neighborhoods of the wealthy and expats. Already, some of the major stores had been broken into and their merchandise stolen overnight. At about 3 in the afternoon, I looked out on the balcony and my heart sank. I saw men, several dozen of them, standing on the door to our apartment building. They were holding sticks, lead pipes, and knives. Some of them were standing in the street, yelling at those who were standing on our stairs. I ran inside and told Paul what I had seen.
We ran next door to our neighbor’s apartment. I had actually never seen them, but Paul had met them once and told me there was a young woman who teaches English and lives with her parents and other family. So, we went to their door and the English teacher answered. After we introduced ourselves and told them what we had seen she told us, “Do not worry. They are men from our building and they are there to protect us from the looters.”
We live in a big apartment building, it has over 20 floors, and the other buildings by us are like ours, so there are a lot of men to protect us. This gave us some comfort. We returned to our apartment and after about 20 minutes someone knocked on our door. It was our neighbor. She handed us a pitcher and said “Orange juice. Do not worry, they will keep us safe.”
Such kindness in the midst of such anxiety and chaos, but also typical Egyptian hospitality.
That night, there was a lot of noise. Firecrackers, gunshots, whistles, men yelling, and on one occasion, women screaming from a nearby building. We learned we could recognize some gunfire from firecrackers by the rhythm. I remember one point Paul was on the phone with Michelle, updating them again on our situation when he abruptly broke off the conversation with, “Michelle, I hear a lot of gunfire really close to us. I will call you back.”
At one point we woke up in the night to very loud cries from the men downstairs, “Teleta Arabaya.” This means three cars. There was a whole message about these three cars, but our Arabic is not good enough to pick it out. The cries about the three cars began to our left. But the men were passing the message down, and the yelling moved down the block, below us, and then to our right. After a minute, someone from the local mosque, to the right of us, made an announcement over the loudspeaker to the whole community about the three cars.
At another time, we awoke to men yelling “Mustashfa!” This is the word for hospital. We crept out on our balcony, on our bellies because there was still gunfire, to see what was happening, because the hospital is just across the street from us. We saw lots of men had climbed up on the hospital wall, looking out into the complex. After some time and some yelling, they gave up what they were looking for and dropped back onto our street. Sure enough, when they dropped off the wall, we saw a man go running through the hospital field.
These groups protecting their homes became known as neighborhood watch groups. Throughout the city people had organized themselves. In many cases they organized themselves so that they protected in shifts, some sleeping at home while others were outside. When they were successful at catching looters, they were turned in to the army, who arrested them.
The last time we talked with Peter on the phone he told us we were going to leave. In the morning, he would pick us up in his car and we would go to the airport. So we packed our second bag and two carry on bags, unsure of what would happen or if we might return.