What it’s like in Egypt: An email from my mom

Posted: February 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

I just received this email from my mom who has been visiting my sister in Cairo. Some background: My sister Noelle lives there and teaches at the American University of Cairo. She is married to John, an Egyptian man. My father is Lebanese and my parents lived in Lebanon during much of their civil war before I was born.
Here’s a lightly edited version of what she wrote:

Dear Friends,

There is still no internet here in Cairo as I write. The servers and the internet have been turned off, but I have decided to get my email ready so that I can send them when there is access again. The mobile phone system has been turned on again, according to Noelle who called hers from her land line. But it’s so busy that it’s almost impossible to call anyone yet, and the internet has not come on all of today.

It will be interesting to see who has written to check that I am still alive, and yes, I am still alive. As I asked before, please pray for the poor people here. They live on almost nothing, and my heart goes out to the parents who have nothing to feed their children. The poverty and suffering is so difficult, and the rage of the people is true. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are so unable to find jobs and ways to care for their families.

With my BA in Biblical Archaeology, I have been tempted to go to the National Museum of Cairo and stand guard with other Egyptian citizens, but what could I do with my cane as a weapon? We have seen photos of glass cabinets broken into and now empty in the museum, and it saddens me that a few foolish people would steal the gold and some of the amazing antiquities from the pharaoh’s times, an incredible treasure of Egypt.

On Friday, Noelle’s husband and my son-in-law, John, with his friend, were out for many hours in the vast crowds, photographing, dodging water cannons but still very wet from them and suffering from all the tear gas in the air. He and his Belgian friend, David, a houseguest who is planning to move here, went out together to observe and report on the events. David, who left for Brussels, going to the airport on Saturday morning as soon as the curfew lifted at 7 AM, said that the gas was terrible and miserable.

John wrote a news story for his Arabic newspaper which is both an online and in a printed paper. And he brought us home a tear gas canister so that we could see “the gifts that America sends to Egypt”. It was made on Kinsman Road in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, 16134. Manufactured in 2003, it is three years beyond its expiration date, but John said that it still worked very well. I rubbed my eye after I handled the canister, and I am regretting it now. It’s a few feet from me, but I can smell it from here. We are putting it into a clear plastic bag as a reminder of yesterday. Done.

People and families of those who have been injured, over 1000, and killed, over 150, like the young woman hit in the head with a tear gas canister while she stood agreeing and shouting from a bridge that Mubarak must be deposed, need so much prayer and care. John and David gave their scarves to men who were bleeding, and they called us on the land line from the newspaper office to ask for first aid advice. People were helping each other, but only some went to hospitals. But there was a shortage of fire trucks to quell the fires or ambulances to help the wounded.

Last night the citizens set up check points to search vehicles that were heading into areas where there were still riots. An ambulance that civilians searched had weapons and bullets in it going to the security forces. The people went crazy and took these weapons away from being supplied to the police who were going to use them on the people. Still, John said that people brought to the newspaper office both large and small bullets that had been removed from people or found on the street. So the police started out using rubber bullets which can wound and some times kill, and later used real bullets that can easily kill the citizens.

People here usually do not have weapons. This is not true in Lebanon. Last week I saw a hand gun, a rifle, and a semi-automatic machine gun at a neighbor’s home. He was happy and proud of them and felt they helped him keep his family safe and protected. John describes the police here as being brutal and inhumane and the jails as frightening places where torture is common and terrible.

Last night, the army was shooting multiple rounds into late in the evening, and I woke up this morning to that sound. With the curfew, people are protecting their own property, which is a good use of their time, since the police are not in evidence, and they have taken responsibility for chasing them off the streets. Some friends came over, I made a soup, and we prayed together for Egypt, and we watched TV for a while. Then we played RISK. We didn’t finish the game until 2 AM, and I, having won and lost the USA and won Europe, was the winner at RISK. How fun was that!

Personally, on Friday, I hobbled three blocks to the vegetable and fruit market and bought some fresh produce. Red cabbage, dirty potatoes, small zucchini, sweet potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges and bananas. They usually wash their salad items in vinegar, but most of the vinegar had been taken by John and his friend to fight the worst effects of the tear-gas, so I boiled tomatoes to pop the skins off and peeled the other items.

I found and bought a good fresh crunchy romaine lettuce, and I am going to find more vinegar today so we can eat a salad, I hope. I found a sweet little village farm lady on the side of the road with a basket of greens, so she sold me the lettuce and some green onions. She wanted 65 cents. I paid her $1 because I wouldn’t ask her for change! Usually you cannot find anything that was just picked that day, so this was a bonus for my having hobbled out to shop. […]

I will include a photo of the scene, but I am hoping to turn out an impressionist painting of the scene of Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of protestors in it in front of a huge government building at night. The largest protestant church in Egypt, Kassar Debara, is hidden behind it. Of Egypt’s 80 million people, 10% are Christians. Some Muslims have been guarding Coptic churches while Christians pray, and on Friday, Christians were guarding the mosques while Muslims prayed.


Hearing the gun shots late into the night (as the army is firing into the air to keep looters away) has reminded me of the war years Georges and I spent with André and Noelle in Lebanon. We always slept in the most hidden bedroom, and we kept the children with us so they wouldn’t be afraid. One evening, our apartment parking area near the stairs had a car that blew up because someone had wired a bomb to it. We had been at a party playing RISK, and we were fifteen minutes late getting André home for his bed time. We heard the loud blast of the car bomb as we were leaving, but only knew it was our building when we arrived home and all the doors had been shattered open. If we had been on time, we and our ears would have been finished. Georges spent the whole night with his drill and common sense repairing people’s doors so they could lock themselves in their apartments.

John’s mother and brother, Nadia and David, are staying with us for several days now that the other David has gone home. It’s too far to come for a visit during the curfew and then to go home by the subway, over an hour away. David, an architect, has a terrible and painful sickness, familial mediterranean fever. Different ethnic groups have this, Armenians, Jews, and Egyptians. What a difficult and painful sickness it is. The mothers get to share a bedroom. You can read about it on Wikipedia, but, of course, I cannot. I don’t have access to the internet. Another teacher also stayed with us last night to understand the news and watch some TV stations here.

Now that we finally have had the internet turned back on, I shall look forward to reading your emails! I am flying out on Friday or Saturday, depending on when Lufthansa finds a space for me. […] I am asking God to help me find a way to the airport. Gas stations have been rather closed. I hope to see and talk with many friends next week! Please pray for the helpless and hopeless in Egypt. Link here


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