I've Moved!

My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, in order to acknowledge that we no longer live in Maadi and that we are, in fact, global nomads, not staying in one place longer than two or three years. Please join me at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


First of all, thank you to all of you who posted comments or sent emails expressing your concern for us and for others in Egypt. Jeff and I deeply appreciate your concern and your prayers.

I obviously was not able to post anything during the internet blackout, but that did not prevent me from recording my thoughts and reactions to what was going on. I typed ongoing reports--my own personal, delayed Twitter-esque record--with the intention of publishing them on this blog when I was able. The final product, before any editing I do along the way (I promise not to edit the content, but I may edit for clarity or grammar before posting--but I will leave in uncertainties and even information that I later discovered to be wrong, because I want it to reflect what we were experiencing at the time), was 11 pages long. I'm going to post it in installments. It ends with the news that Alexa and I were going to be evacuated--after that, I was too busy to keep it up. I'll try to record what I remember of the evacuation process and post that too.

For now I'll start with the initial report, what I wrote as a typical blog entry, before the twitter-style updates were added. Those will begin in the next post.


Friday, 28 January 2011

We woke up this morning to discover that we had no internet access. This was not unexpected, with the protests planned for today. We had been warned that internet access and possibly even mobile phone coverage could be cut off by the Egyptian government as a way to limit the ability of the people to coordinate protests. Jeff discovered our lack of internet access around 7 this morning; we later learned that friends who arrived home from an evening out at 12:30am had no internet access at that time either.  As best we can tell, it was shut down shortly after midnight.

Shortly after 8am, Jeff told me that the expectation was that mobile phone service would be cut off around noon. This timing made sense, as protests were expected to start after Friday prayers, around 2pm. We decided to call Jeff’s father, despite the early morning hours on the East Coast, and ask him to post a Facebook status explaining that we were incommunicado, but safe, as we had no plans to leave our home today. We took this precaution because I had received expressions of concern from the States yesterday, so if there was any news coverage of today’s protests at all, we knew people would be concerned, especially if they were unable to contact us. It turned out that we were wise to go ahead and make the call early, rather than waiting closer to the anticipated noon cutoff time. Mobile phone service was disabled shortly after we used my mobile to call Jeff’s father.

Our plans for today—put in place a couple of weeks ago, before protests were even a consideration—included a drop-in here at our apartment for our old Bible study group, which dissolved last spring when our leaders moved away. We spent the rest of the morning preparing oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies, vegetables and dip, and brownies … unsure of whether anyone would even come, with today’s anticipated events. If people decided that they were better off staying home, they had no way of letting us know. (Landline phones were still connected, but most of us only know each other’s mobile numbers and email addresses.)

We had a brief period of worry this morning, not for ourselves, but for an embassy friend who needed to go to work today. He left his home in Maadi at 9 and took the metro downtown.  The trip by metro usually takes around 45 minutes. It was expected that it would take a little longer today, as the metro station under Tahrir Square has been closed for the last couple of days. Our friend was required to exit at a neighboring station and then walk to the embassy. But even with this extra time, the trip shouldn’t have taken longer than an hour. At 10:30, he still wasn’t answering his office phone. With mobile phone service unavailable, there was no way to contact him. Luckily, the worry didn’t last long—he arrived safely at the embassy and made contact by 11 or so.

All but one of the expected couples did come to our social event this afternoon—one of them with her embassy-issued emergency radio tucked into her handbag (ours was on the coffee table; the others were not mission members and therefore had no radios). They reported that the streets of Maadi were “eerily empty” this morning, although there apparently was a rush on the commissary when it opened. That makes sense, as many families do their shopping on Fridays and wouldn’t have wanted to be out this afternoon. Combine those families with even a few panic shoppers, and the commissary would have been slammed. We're very grateful that Jeff always insists on having a large stash of emergency rations here--primarily peanut butter, tuna, and chunky soup, plus lots of bottled water. No commissary run needed for us today.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours this afternoon chatting, eating, and admiring Alexa with our friends. We also turned the television on in the background, to the AFN news station, so that we’d see the news coverage if anything major happened. Unfortunately, the Today Show was on … so we were treated to fluff about adjustable beds and a teacher who had sex with her student ten years ago.

After our friends left, we received a phone call from Jeff’s supervisor. The embassy phone tree had been activated to disseminate a warden message that usually would have gone out by email—basically, there were clashes between protesters and police throughout Cairo, roads around the embassy are closed, there’s a small demonstration near the overpass in Maadi, and no one should attempt to get to the embassy. News of the protest here prompted me to tell Jeff that we need eggs; I can just run down to the metro market (practically under the overpass) and pick some up. Jeff wouldn’t let me leave the apartment. *sigh* I know, it isn’t logical, it probably isn’t even sane, but … I want to see. But I can’t, so I won’t dwell on it.

Then we got a phone call from another friend. She lives in Zamalek, an island in the Nile just across from downtown Cairo, and she could hear protesters from her living room. She was watching the coverage on CNN International and al-Jazeera English on her satellite. I lamented that we’d had our Orbitz disconnected and were reliant on AFN’s one news channel, which was showing fluff. She reminded me that our Orbitz satellite could pick up the free satellite channels—including CNN International and al-Jazeera English. Yay! Jeff hooked it back up for me, so now we’re sitting here watching CNNi while I type. We aren't getting al Jazeera, so CNNi or AFN are our only options. I prefer Fox News, which is showing now on AFN, but Fox News isn’t devoting themselves exclusively to the protests like CNNi seems to be.

Some of this coverage on CNN International is ridiculous. They’re reporting that prisoners have been released from Egyptian prisons and are being used as “shock troops” to put down demonstrators. They’re also reporting that one of these “shock troops looked wild-eyed, like he was on drugs.” I’ve got two words for you: No. Way. Do these reporters not know how drug users are treated here? Let me tell you, they DO NOT get released early and given the opportunity to bash some heads. Now, I still do not intend to reveal with whom I agree philosophically—the demonstrators or the Mubarak regime—but I will say that CNNi’s coverage is very biased. These reporters obviously are on the side of the demonstrators. They’re criticizing everything about how the government is responding, saying that the government is overreacting even though the government is reacting against protesters who are throwing Molotov cocktails and calling for the overthrow of the government. Whether you agree with the protesters or not, how would you expect the government to react? The CNNi reporters are saying that the government is showing “no restraint.” Really? No restraint? When they’re using tear gas and batons? If they were showing no restraint, they’d be using bullets. Dispersed from automatic weapons. There would be no protesters left standing.

Don’t get me wrong. The images on TV look pretty bad; the situation out there is bad. The government is responding forcefully, and the response is getting more forceful as the day—evening now—goes on. Police are using tear gas and batons. We saw one protester on the news get hit by an armored police van. Martial law has been declared. It’s bad out there. The case may be made that the government response is disproportionately forceful. But there is restraint. Is there enough restraint? I won’t comment on that. But I do wish CNNi would be a little less hysterical in their reporting.

Speaking of less hysteria in reporting, we spent a few minutes on Fox News. “Egypt is exploding.” Exploding?! Thank you, Shepard Smith. I’m sure my mother will be very reassured to hear that.

Okay, off the “objectivity in news reporting” soapbox. Back to what’s going on.

There’s a curfew in effect from 6pm until 7am in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez. I’m not sure what the consequences of breaking curfew would be—is it immediate arrest? Will they eventually go to “shoot on sight”? For now, it looks like they’re still using batons.  I guess our friends at the embassy are stuck there tonight—we did just receive a call from one of them saying that we shouldn’t buck this curfew; the government is serious about this. I guess I won’t go out for eggs after all … although I do wonder: Does Cairo include Maadi, which technically is a suburb? I won’t get to find out … and from some of the pictures I’m seeing on TV now, I think I wouldn’t go out anyway. The time for that was this afternoon.

I wish I could call or email my family to reassure them that we’re safe. I hope they saw my father-in-law’s Facebook post this morning and know that we’re not out and about in any of the chaos. More importantly, I hope and pray that the one protest-related death currently being reported is the only one.

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