Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Rest of the Story

Sunday morning Peter picked us up at our apartment. As we walked out of the building, we said goodbye to the men who were standing guard on our steps. These were the same men who had held vigil all night, still holding their weapons: knives, sticks, or pipes. Some of them were people we knew, others were men we had not met before.

Along the drive we marveled at how Cairo had changed. Almost all of the streets were blocked off with large tree branches, police barricades, fires in buckets, dumpsters, all kinds of things. We couldn't drive more than two minutes without needing to stop at a road block. At each road block, we identified ourselves to the men who were there. These were other “neighborhood watch” groups, guarding their own areas. After we identified ourselves, they would move the obstructing object and we would drive on, down to the next group of men. These men were practically the only people out.

Never have we seen Cairo so empty. Never have we seen the roads or buildings so clearly. There has always been a never ending stream of people, cars, donkey carts, and bicycles. These things are too colorful for us to have really noticed the backdrop. Cairo looked run down.

We left for the airport at noon on Sunday. Our flight was early Monday morning, but because there was a curfew preventing people from being out from 3pm to 8am we had to go very, very early. The airport was packed with people. In our terminal, the duty free shop and a coffee shop were the only places open. All other stores had run out of food and goods. What the two remaining stores did not have is water. (Egypt is a country where you can drink the water, but if you are not accustom to it you will undoubtedly become sick.) I am sure this was frightening for all of the tourists who were stuck waiting. We came prepared. We had all brought along food to share. Our group of 10 people ate the entire kilo of cheese between dinner and breakfast! We “slept” on the floor. Mostly I think we just lay there to pass the time.

Monday morning our flight was a no-go. Not to worry, we had reservations on a second flight in the afternoon, just in case. Unfortunately, we would not make it onto that flight either. This was, apparently, a time when holding a ticket for a flight was no guarantee. As a group we had to choose; spend another night at the airport or go back into Cairo, to a place that had so far been quieter than ours. We were out of food and water so we chose to return to Cairo.

We arrived at 2:30 and I went with a coworker to the grocery store. There was a shockingly long line. We had 30 minutes before curfew, so I got in line right away while she picked up food for the group. This particular store was out of basic goods like bread, fruits, and vegetables. Later I learned that this was not the case in most parts of town. Even though I waited in line for the whole 30 minutes we did not make it to the front before 3pm. We finished as quickly as we could and returned to our housing. The rest of the day and most importantly, the night, was quiet with only a few sounds of gunshots or tanks rolling by. Despite the quiet of the night, I still felt afraid. This was a sad realization for me because I really loved living in Cairo.

Tuesday, February 1st we flew out of Cairo, courtesy of the US Embassy. We spent the night in Istanbul, a beautiful city, then we flew back to the US. Currently, we are in St. Paul, MN. We have been well cared for here by the ELCA and by surrounding churches. We are willing to return to Egypt, if the ELCA and seminary deem it possible. If we do not return, we will go somewhere else for Paul to finish internship. We will put out an update when we find out where we'll be headed next.

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