Thursday, February 3, 2011

Leaving cairo

Emmett is napping, and Thomas is at our new hotel's kid's club for the time being, so I am going to take a stab at recording some of our experience of the last few days.

Starting from my last post, just to note: clearly, I underestimated the Egyptians. As we all now know, they did not need the Internet or social media or whatever to continue the protests. I've now seen some CNN and fox news analysis giving a lot of credit to twitter and facebook. Yes, these tools were instrumental in making things happen, and it's awesome how they work, ok. But to lionize that seems to me to slight what I did see those days the Internet was down: the incredible bravery and dedication of ordinary people.

The civilian patrols the days after the looting were enough to make you cry- sweet, sweet guys- dads and teenagers holding golf clubs and using branches and sand to form barricades to keep their neighborhoods safe. More on this to come-

I don't know how the Egyptians were so brave. Every day the rumors were bad- that the police and army would shoot people who came out, that not enough people would come and those who did would be thrown in jail and disappeared. And yet every day the crowds came out again, and larger. I have no idea what made people so brave- I do not know enough Egyptians. It could have been desperation but I don't think so. Say what you want about Egyptian gender roles, and Islamic traditions, and there is a lot to say, but I do think family and civic ties are stronger in Egypt and that the large and determined protests reflect that. And i would guess that the traditional religious observance makes up some of the difference.

More specifically, I think and from what Dave saw, what allowed the protests to go forward logistically were the mosques. This is a country where everyone who can attends prayer together daily. Friday, the day the internet went down, is the sabbath in egypt and everyone attends prayers. So it was maybe not that tough to coordinate everyone marching from different points to try to reach Tahrir square, because you were starting with large groups to begin with. These were not religious protests. At all. But Egypt is a religious society, and that social fabric helped. Sure, and so did twitter, but just sayin'.

Ok, but you can read dave's articles to hear about the protests. What about us? This has been so surreal because while Dave was out in the thick of things, and being so brave, we were pretty much just living life as usual.

The night before the big Friday protests Dave had just come home from tunisia. He was working late into the night on deadline about a story there. We were wondering whether the Internet would really go down the next day as the rumors were saying. Dave thought certainly not, Mubarak would not want to signal to the international business community that Egypt was so chaotic. Sure enough, the next morning neither of us could get online. Then we realized the cell phones were down too.

Dave had to leave with our driver and car to cover the protests. I couldnt really face being alone with the two boys and totally cut off from everything else, so I packed them in the stroller and walked to my friend chloee's house. Her kids are older and everyone was just getting up. We had a nice morning playing in their sandbox and with their impressive collection of trucks. Chloee and her husband are great foodies, and they fed us kiwi and bread and chocolate. At this point we were all still debating whether anyone would show up at the protests or whether people would be too scared. Everyone had asked their Egyptian drivers what they thought, and the consensus seemed to be that only crazy people would risk turning out.

At noon, Chloee and her boys set off for the playground but it was close to emmett's nap time so I started for home. On the way we met up with thomas' friend giacomo and his family. They had been driving over to our house to coordinate plans to go to Maadi House for kids movie night since phones were down. They stayed for lunch, which was nice, except Thomas and Emmett were tired and cranky and behaved terribly. Someone called on the home phone, which was working, to warn that protests were planned in Maadi that day after noon prayers. Isabella, giacomo's mom, got nervous and decided to leave - though we could pretty much hear from the house that nobody was protesting on the main square outside.

All of us were wondering and speculating how Dave and the other reporters could file anything with no phone or Internet. Isabella thought maybe they would try to hire protesters to act as runners ferrying news from the reporters back to the bureau. I called the office to check in and see if maybe I should be trying to round up helpful teenagers or something if they did in fact need runners. Dawlat, the office manager, said they did have a satellite Internet connection at the office. All the reporters (extra staff had flown in) were calling in from land lines in people's houses or the big hotels and dawlat was typing up the reports and filing them. She hadn't heard from Dave yet, but I decided to take that as a positive sign.

Later we met up with giacomo and family again at Maadi house. Lots of friends were there. Everyone was ordering beers and joking about the revolution. People who didn't have tv at home kept leaving the table to check al jazeera which was finally covering the protests. They had been massive- much bigger than at least we expats had anticipated. The nice Egyptian waiters were setting up the lawn for the movie and Thomas and giacomo were playing on the climbing frames. At about 5:30 the tv announced a curfew had been set for 6 o'clock. The nice waiters gently told us to get out, Thomas was furious and giacomo started crying when they heard there wouldnt be a movie. Mostly I think they were scared. Everyone was so nice to me- rushing to make sure I had a ride, and help, because I was the only one there with two small kids and no spouse. We got home to a messy house (no help on weekends)- I made a terrible dinner and let them watch a movie on the computer while I snuck peeks at the news.

It took forever to get the boys to bed. Chloee broke curfew to drive by and make sure we were ok since we hadn't been answering the phone and I hadn't told her about our Maadi house plans. Dave called and said he was ok and had had quite a day. Since the US is 7 hours behind Egypt he still had several hours of writing to do before deadline in new York. Emmett wanted extra snuggling and I lay down next to him and fell asleep.

I woke up to banging in the kitchen at about 4 am. There was Dave standing at the sink trying to finish off the dinner dishes I had left lying around. Before he'd left that morning he had said, as he usually does when he feels bad about working late, "leave the dishes for me.". I had pooh poohed him but when he got home and saw the kitchen he thought I really had gone to bed and left all the dishes for him to do. (Which ok I had actually done but not on purpose.) So, after a full day of covering protests and getting tear gassed and harassed by police, he rolled up his sleeves and started washing the pots. We had a good giggle about this. He ate some of our leftover dinner while I finished up and heard about his adventures.

Among other things he told me the back of the car window had been smashed by tear gas cannisters and the car smelled terrible. Two police men had ripped up his notebook, but he had not been arrested, which was a relief. earlier in the week dozens of journalists covering the protests had been arrested so it was a real concern. Mostly though he had watched unarmed protesters battle police over a single bridge to Tahrir square. The protesters had been beaten, tear gassed, and sprayed with water cannons but they refused to give up the bridge. He said he watched for hours. Finally the protesters pushed the police back off the bridge and continued to Tahrir square.

I guess I'll leave it here. It's now night time and the boys are sleeping. After a few hectic days we have had quite a soft landing into a beautiful hotel by the beach in Dubai. I hope this is interesting. It does feel as if I should write it all down, though maybe a baby blog is an unusual forum.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad



Anonymous said...

great post, Laura! the Egyptians are very inspiring - I hope the boys will bring home some of that revolutionary spirit and get the USA back on the right path. And I inspired by Dave, will do the dishes tonight. said...

This is interesting. Thanks for posting, Laura.

Anonymous said...

Wow--want to hear more!! So amazing. Thinking of Dave still in Cairo and glad that you are enjoying a little luxury. xo Nonie

Anonymous said...

As someone said before in these comments, there are two reporters in this family. You've told us an amazing story Laura.

Anonymous said...

Laura, I am so pleased to hear about your last few days in Cairo and your safe arrival in Dubai. You have such an amazing ability to convey the feelings and emotions of the moment that you let us feel as if we are there with you step by step. The scenes from Cairo tonight are heart breaking. Stay safe and Keep writing. Nancy K

annie said...

Laura, we just got off the plane from visiting our beautiful wee granddaughter in Oakland.  We sat down and I read your blog out loud to Andy.  You painted such a vivid portrait from an insider's view of what's happening in Egypt and of the brave people who are standing up for a better government.  Having lived abroad and knowing that news does not always paint the daily picture, I appreciated your insider story.  I loved Thomas' earnest comment about you taking care of him and him taking care of right in so many ways. We have also appreciated Dave's and his reporters' coverage of events...and especially knowing that he will do the dishes at 4:30 am after a long night of writing for us all.  We hope you keep the stories rolling, even from Dubai.  We send you and all your boys much love.  Annie

Laura said...

Everyone sends lots of love. Thank you for the posts that keep us up to date with the important stuff - you, Thomas and Emmett, not that the Egyptians aren't interesting too.


uncle A said...

More! That was better than the ny times.

Clara said...

Keep writing, Laura. I will hope for lots of fun pool time for Thomas and LONG naps for Emmett so you have time. Kiev is waiting when you get tired of the sun. Love and hugs. Clara

Kath said...

What is going to stand out for me with this wonderful description is the "sweet sweet guys" protecting you with their golf clubs and then the 4 AM banging in the kitchen which turned out to be ace journalist doing the dishes.