Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mr. J's "Escape from Cairo"

This was written by my former co-worker, Mr. J about how he left town:

Well, as everyone now knows, things have gone all to hell in Egypt. Before I tell you our heroic tale, let me make the point that the Egyptian people are very nice and kindhearted people who treated us very well while we lived in their country. In dire times, both the best and worst sorts of people rise to prominence, and this story has examples of both.

We had been keeping a close eye on developments in Egypt for a while. After the bombing of a church in Alexandria and the shootings of some Coptic Christians on a train, I had begun to feel nervous about the situation in Egypt. My spidey-sense was tingling. However, we were assured by everyone we knew in Egypt that things were ok and not to worry. Then January 25th came. January 25th is known as Police Day in Egypt, a holiday to celebrate the men in uniform. However, the police had become a symbol of oppression and corruption in Egypt. After the uprising in Tunisia, the Egyptian people felt emboldened enough to try and make a change of their own.

When the protests began, I was a little worried. Jessica and I talked about what would need to happen to signal to us it was time to go. We had watched the news on the Internet rather than on TV, and though things looked sketchy, it didn't seem overly dangerous. Then, on Friday, the Internet was cut off. As we turned on CNN, we saw things escalating before our eyes. We watched, more concerned, but still not feeling that we needed to evacuate soon. However, a headline came that changed it all for us...

"Delta Airlines is canceling flights into and out of Cairo tomorrow."

Oh dear. We knew then it was time to get out. We packed in an incredibly short time, in no small part to my wife's expertise as a packer. I asked a man who lives in our building, a Christian man, who was a taxi driver if he could take us to the airport the next morning. He agreed and I was relieved. My greatest fear about getting out was getting to the airport safely.

I didn't sleep at all that night, and Jess barely slept. It was the first time in my life that I felt really powerless to take care of my family. Luckily, the looting hadn't started by then and we made it through the night without incident.

In the morning, we packed our bags in the cab and went. As we drove, we passed central Cairo to the west and could see smoke rising from the city. Army vehicles were along the road, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic. We got to the airport and I rushed to the ticket counter, leaving Jess and Sammi to wait in the taxi.

I have to admit, I was very aggressive in the ticket office. I had it in my mind that there might be only a few tickets left and that my family's life and well-being might depend on me getting them. I cut in front of slow people and pushed when I had to (which is normal in Egypt, but I was ridiculous) but I got to the front of the line. I made a reservation but learned that you had to pay in cash!! I didn't have enough cash on me to pay for the whole trip to Canada or the States, so I made the reservation and ran downstairs to try and take out the few extra pounds I needed. The bank machine wasn't working. Damn.

I ran back outside and got Jess and Sammi. The cab driver refused to take any money from me. What a guy. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what he did for my family. As we went back inside, Jessica suggested that we just fly anywhere instead of all the way back. In the next city, we could use our credit card to get out. Good idea! I pushed my way back into the ticket office (imagine cutting in front of a mob of about 60 people, good thing I'm big and strong!). When I got inside, the people at the counter told me there are no tickets left! Oh no! However, my Stewart brain kicked in and I knew what I had to do. I passed a guard some money and said, "I need a ticket." He nodded, pocketed the bribe and pointed me to another counter.
The lady at the counter was refusing to help anyone but the guard pulled me to the front and told the lady something in Arabic. She used my old reservation to get me a spot on a flight leaving for London. I had enough to pay for all three of us. I was more than willing to stay behind and send Sammi and Jess on without me if I had to, but thankfully I didn't. I had the tickets!

Next, we checked in and got to our gate. Our plane was supposed to leave at 1:30. We waited. 12;40 came and people started to line up. Next came the announcement that our flight was delayed. Great. After waiting another hour or so, we hear again that the flight is delayed, but no explanation. A group of 5 of us men, myself included, started to make some waves. We wanted to know what was going on. If the flight got canceled, there was a good chance we might not get on a flight the next day either! We came to find out that the reason for the delay was... get this... there wasn't any catering on the plane!?!?! What the hell?? Our group demanded to speak to a manager. By the time he got there, we were about 5 hours delayed. Pilots can only stay on the plane for 10 hours. If we waited much longer, the flight would be canceled. We talked to a manager finally and he said he couldn't do anything, if there is no food, the plane cannot fly. Great. But, again, my Stewart brain kicked in. We took up a little collection and handed the man some money. Within 5 minutes (no kidding) food was going on the plane. We were told to board! Huzzah!!

I can't describe the relief I felt as that plane took off, getting my family and I out of Egypt safely.

The rest of the story consists of mysteriously canceled tickets in London, misplaced baggage in Toronto, and a bag not arriving in Rochester, but, as annoying as those might be, I don't care. My family is safe and there are lots of people right now, stuck in the airport in Cairo or sealed inside their homes, living in fear. I can't complain at all.

Thanks, everyone, for all your thoughts and prayers. I can honestly say that we were never in any real danger since we decided to leave before the really bad stuff started happening. It means a lot to us that you were so concerned. But don't worry, we are moving back to Canada now, so barring an attack from America or Alien Invasion, we ought to be pretty safe.

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