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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lockdown Pseudo-Twitter: Saturday and Sunday

In this post, I'm continuing to publish things I wrote while locked down in our apartment in Maadi. Please remember that errors, contradictions, and uncertainties were left in deliberately in order to reflect my experiences at the time. The following updates were written on Saturday, 29 January, and Sunday, 30 January. This is the last of what I wrote while I was there.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

8:06am – Internet’s still not up. The curfew ended just over an hour ago, but we’re still being instructed by the Marines to stay in our homes. I’m not sure what’s going on outside. The AFN news channel is showing its normal lineup, meaning it’s showing what aired on Fox News last night (morning shows tend to be shows that were shown live in the States the night before), so it’s still showing images from last night. CNNi has moved on—it’s on some international business show now. I heard a siren a few minutes ago, but there’s no telling what that was for. I can’t even look out the window and see anything useful because of the direction our windows face.

Jeff came to bed around 2am. I hadn’t been sleeping well up to that point, so I woke up enough to ask what was going on. He told me that Mubarak had finally given a speech—what took him so long?!—and that Mubarak was dissolving his entire government, to be reconstituted, presumably taking into account the protesters’ demands. I’m not sure that’s going to be enough; after all, their primary demand seemed to be that Mubarak himself had to go. We’ll see what happens later today. If the protesters are satisfied, it will be quiet, or mostly so. If not … well, we made it through yesterday okay.

11:11am – We got mobile phone service back an hour or so ago. I called my mom even though it was 3am where she is. I thought she’d be worrying and would want me to wake her, especially because we don’t know if or when mobile service will be cut off again. I was right except for one thing: She wasn’t asleep. She’d spent most of the day blissfully unaware, because she was at work, but she got very worried in the evening when people started calling her.

Jeff just left. We’re still supposed to stay in our homes, but certain mission-critical people need to be at the embassy in a situation like this. Jeff’s office keeps the Cairo-DC communication flowing, so the office needs to be manned. Throughout the embassy, people who spent the night last night are going home, and they’re being replaced by others. The RSO sent transportation. We packed a bag so that Jeff has everything he needs to spend the afternoon, night, and all day tomorrow at the embassy. (No, I didn’t tell my mom that Jeff was going in and that Alexa and I will be alone tonight. The purpose of the call was to reassure her, not to worry her further. We’ll be fine, even if tonight is a repeat of last night, but she wouldn’t believe that, so she doesn’t need to know right now.)

11:25am – CNNi just reported that people are again gathering on the streets of both Cairo and Alexandria. It looks like Mubarak’s plan to dissolve his cabinet isn’t enough—the people want him gone.

1:56pm – Jeff just called from the embassy. There will be a curfew in effect from 4pm today until 8am tomorrow. So it’ll definitely be just me, Alexa, and the cats tonight. Jeff asked if I wanted him to send a mass “we’re okay” email or just email his sister so he can ask her to let people know without letting everyone know that he has email access (ergo that he’s at work and we’re home without him). I asked him to just email his sister.

2:06pm – The Today Show just came on AFN News. They’re actually showing real news! Yay! It’s the first live coverage I’ve seen today. I think the footage they’re showing is from yesterday though.

I’ve heard that 35 bodies were taken to a single hospital in Cairo yesterday. I wish the total had remained at one. But the protesters aren’t backing down, so it looks like there will be more, especially if the military decides to go all-in for Mubarak. The question now is: who will blink first, Mubarak or the protesters?

5:02pm – I’m sitting in the middle of a mass uprising that might topple a government … and I’m bored. I’m stuck in my apartment. The news is getting repetitive. There’s no internet to browse. Who knew being in the middle of history could be boring?

Ah, the news just got interesting for a minute. They talked about “rising angst against America” and asked if there had been any reports of the American embassy or Americans being targeted. Nope. They still aren’t interested in us. That’s fine by me—I don’t want it to get that interesting. At this point, I just want it to play out. However it’s going to end, go ahead and do it already. I want my husband back home.

6:56pm – Ok, I’d like to be bored again, please. I just got back from a building meeting called by the RSO guy who lives here. He didn’t have too much concrete to tell us as far as plans go, but he just wanted us all to get together for a minute. He was talking about having requested a fast-response Marine team, not being sure how he’d handle it if our walls were breached by looters (if he shot one, there’d be two; if he shot them, there’d be four, and they’d be really mad then; he could beat up a few—with the aid of the guards, I’m sure—but not a lot …) I think the bottom line is that we’re on our own, and if looters breach our walls, all we can do is hunker down in our safe rooms, let them take our stuff, and hope that they have no interest in us. He confirmed that there’s looting on Road 9 (VERY close by) and that there was attempted looting next door, but their guards fired into the air, the military showed up, and the looters went away. Basically all we can do is hunker down, ride it out, and hope that our walls and guards are enough to deter them, or that if they do come in, they’re satisfied with busting up our cars downstairs. I started hearing gunfire while I’ve been typing. I’m not a fan.

I’m worried now. I was fine before the meeting, but hearing the tension in the RSO guy’s voice, seeing the fear on the others’ faces … knowing that we don’t have the resources in place to protect us or to get us out if something happens tonight … I had been believing the news reports that today has been more peaceful than yesterday, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s been more peaceful between the government and the protesters, but now the looters are coming out and they’re the ones I’m worried about. I hate that Jeff had to go in. I’ve done all I know to do to prepare for anything. I have go bags packed for both Alexa and myself. If we have to go, I won’t be able to take the cats, but I put down extra food and water for them, because if we have to go, there won’t be time to do it then. Of course we can’t go tonight because there aren’t any plans to protect us while we go.

I have supplies for myself, Alexa, and the cats in the safe room … other than food. I’m going to go put some cans of soup and a jar of peanut butter in there. (I already have food for Alexa and the cats in there.) The logical part of my brain says that it isn’t going to be an issue; tonight won’t be any worse than last night … except that I’m not sure I really believe that. The looters make all the difference. They’re my fear now. The army won’t protect us from them, and the police aren’t around anymore. I’m not sure I’ll be sleeping tonight.

8:15pm – I just received a phone call from our floor warden. She told me that there is a group of people outside our walls with sticks and clubs, but not to worry about it: they’re the good guys. They’re the bowwabs and some residents from the neighboring buildings. They’ve banded together to protect the buildings from looters. I’m relieved. Their goal is not to protect our building, but in protecting their own, they also will increase security for ours. I hope our precautions also help them.  In a very real way, we’re mooching off of the risk that they’re taking.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

7:39am – Last night was interesting. I finally decided shortly before 11 that there was no point to staying up. I gathered our go-bags, the cats’ travel crates, litter box, and food and water bowls, put them all in the safe room, then called Jeff to give him an update on the situation.

The whole time it was obvious that both of the cats and Alexa all had picked up on my stress. Isis wouldn’t leave the safe room, once all of her supplies were in there; she’d approach the door but wouldn’t step foot out of it. Cleo left the room every time I opened the door, but if I called her name, she came running. Cleo typically does not come when called; like most cats I’ve met, she’s more likely to look at you as if to say “silly human; if you want me, you must come to me,” if she doesn’t just take off in the other direction. Not last night, though. She practically galloped down the hall if I stood in the door and called her, as if she were afraid I’d close her out.

The saddest, though, was Alexa. She was happy as a clam if I held her. She was content if I put her down but remained within arm’s reach and facing her. But the moment I turned my back or, heaven forbid, took a step or two away, her little face crumpled and she cried pathetically until I touched her. Some primal part of her little brain seemed to realize: “Mama’s afraid. If Mama is afraid, then I’m in danger. My only hope of survival is to keep her with me.” And she was very effective at keeping me with her.

I got in bed around 11:30 and fell asleep shortly thereafter. Around 12:30, I was woken by a phone call from the CLO. They were contingency planning: If an evacuation were authorized, how many in my family would go? Well, Jeff wouldn’t—he’s mission critical. I’d have to talk to Jeff about whether or not Alexa and I would go, but it would depend on … at this point, my sleep-fogged brain failed me. It would depend on a lot of things, I thought. Definitely on whether or not we could take our cats. She said that they’d be able to go on a later flight than us. My brain woke up enough to say “That’s the best you’re going to get; agree,” so I said that I’d still have to check with Jeff, but we’d probably go. We got off the phone and I called Jeff, who had wanted to know any and all developments. I told him what she’d said. He told me that downtown was eerily quiet; the demonstrators had heard that their homes were being looted and had gone home to protect their families and their stuff.

After the information exchange, I tried to go back to sleep. That part didn’t work. I heard what sounded like gunfire, possibly close, and it was all over. I was awake. I had to go to the bathroom. I was hungry. I took care of all my physical needs and still lay awake for at least two hours. I saw the clock hit 2:30. I was probably awake until 3 or so. Then I was woken at 7 by the Marines reminding everyone on the radio that the curfew is on until 8, the embassy is closed until further notice, everyone should stay in their homes, and no one should try to go to work unless their supervisor tells them to and arranges transportation.

Jeff called just a few minutes ago. He’s coming home this morning. He couldn’t say exactly when for security reasons—the situation out there has them treating Cairo as if it were Baghdad, from an op-sec perspective—but he will leave the embassy within the next couple of hours. The curfew doesn’t end until 8, so I doubt they would leave before that.

I’m exhausted. I need a shower but can’t take one because Alexa will wake up any moment. I have a headache. Being in the middle of a revolution—or attempted revolution, if they end up failing—really isn’t any fun. But it’s part of the territory sometimes, apparently.

8:18am – When Jeff and I were married, we registered for everything in blue and green. Blue for Jeff, green for me. We have a great set of dishes—12 dinner plates, 12 round salad plates, 12 square plates, 12 bowls … all of them six blue and six green. I’ve always organized them carefully in my kitchen cabinets; that’s just my nature. The dinner plates are in one stack, alternating colors: green, blue, green, blue, like clockwork. The small plates and bowls are in side-by-side stacks, one stack green, one stack blue. All neat and organized, like a store display. Yesterday as I put up some dishes, I thought it might be nice to introduce a random element. So I grabbed the dishes from the dishwasher and just put them up without concern for organization by color. I ended up with two greens, then a blue on top of a stack of blue plates. A series of three blues and then two greens on top of my dinner plate stack. This morning as I put up some more dishes, I realized what I was doing. I’m deliberately introducing a little chaos into my kitchen cabinets, because somehow that makes the chaos in my life right now seem a little less chaotic. Sometimes psych majors realize the darndest things.

9:19am – Jeff is home. We believe that an evacuation has been approved, but whether or not it will go into effect will depend on how things go today and tonight. It may be the beginning of the end for the protests, as people can’t focus too much on protesting when they’re having to protect their families and belongings from looters. The looters may have ended this uprising and given Mubarak a little more time, although the handwriting is on the wall for him. Jeff reports that things outside, between the embassy and Maadi, are “eerily normal.” Traffic is normal for a Friday morning (though not for a Sunday), very light and fast. Civilians are directing traffic, some with sticks and knives, replacing the missing traffic cops. Very few people are out walking around. Neighborhood vigilante groups formed last night and I would assume are still in effect, even though the members may be taking sleep breaks. Basically people stayed close to their own buildings but had whistles—hear a whistle, go help your neighbor, knowing he’d do the same for you.

12:06pm – It’s official; there is an authorized evacuation tomorrow morning. Now we have to decide if Alexa and I are leaving. Today is a pivotal point. If the security situation remains unstable, it will continue to be dangerous at night. But there is a military presence in Maadi now, making it much safer. Depending on the reactions of Mubarak and the protesters, things could get better, or they could deteriorate rapidly. If we leave now, we can take the cats out with us. If we wait and it gets worse, we may not be able to. Once we leave, we may not be allowed back in for some time, possibly not at all, if it takes long enough that they determine that we’re too close to our PCS date by the time they lift the evac order. And Jeff will be here, not with us. We have to decide today. I don’t want to leave, but there are factors to consider other than my desires, including Jeff’s safety too. If we leave, he’ll feel freer to just stay at the embassy instead of going back and forth, with the travel being the most dangerous part. We need to decide …

2:19pm—Looks like we have little to no choice. The pressure is on from Jeff's bosses in DC. Alexa and I are leaving. The cats can’t go after all. An employee who will be here for the duration is a cat lover who has agreed to take responsibility for Cleo and Isis, since Jeff won’t be able to take care of them if he gets stuck at the embassy. Her maid will care for them if she can’t get home. I’m probably done with updates for a while now; gotta get ready to go.


  1. Hey Deborah,

    This is Lauren Kerns' sister Lindsey. Absolutely incredible story! I'm glad to hear that you and your daughter are home and I hope you two continue to be safe. I'm keeping your husband in my thoughts and prayers as well as all of Egypt. Keep posting!

  2. Deb, how scary! I felt my palms sweating as I read this. I don't want to say "great post" because of the tense situation. But your ability to write and share that was amazing. I had to laugh a little about the dishes, only because i do stuff like that too. This was a great read, and i would like to share your experience with my Facebook friends. In the meantime I am grateful for your safe return. I know that God was watching over you and will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing; truly inspiring.

  3. Linz--Thanks. We covet your prayers! Not so much necessarily for me and Alexa, but for Jeff, his coworkers, and the others in Egypt--expats and Egyptians alike. Many of them don't have the option to leave or the protective resources that mission members have.

    Emma--Thanks :) Feel free to repost/share/whatever. It was a tense situation, and my experiences weren't even as bad as those of many others. My husband told me today that he organized my dishes for me :)


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