Seeing pictures of the latest riots and upheaval in Egypt has brought back vivid memories of our most recent visit this past January.
It was only 11 months ago that both Pat, my co-host of "Grannies on Safari," and I arrived in Egypt for a 12-day adventure. This wasn't a typical "Grannies on Safari" trip, because we weren't there to shoot for our show, but instead we escorted a group of Americans to show them the sights and sounds of this beautiful country.
It was also a special trip for me because my husband came along! Since I travel a lot to shoot footage for our Grannies on Safari television series, my husband opts to not come along because, as he says, "it's too much work." So you can imagine my excitement when he agreed to go on this trip. I assured him that it was going to be easy and enjoyable, no worry, no fuss -- nothing but a real experience walking in the shoes of the Pharaohs. Well, the trip was historic, and a bit more than he, I, or our group bargained for.
The day after we arrived, the revolution began and we were in the thick of it, as our hotel was a few blocks away from Tahrir Square. We smelled the tear gas and saw the bloody protestors walk past us. The "Arab Spring" had begun in Egypt.
Egyptians, for the most part in Cairo, marched and demonstrated peacefully. We met many friendly and helpful Egyptians who protected us and made us feel as comfortable as possible given the revolution and uprising unfolding around us. We soon left Cairo for Alexandria and then Luxor and decided to wait it out. Luxor was the calmest of the three, but we could still feel the contagion of unrest.
Was it scary? Yes. Did we want to end our trip early? Yes. Since travel in and out of the country was paralyzed, we contacted the U.S. State Department to begin the process of outbound options. We also did several media interviews with American networks such as CNN, CBS and ABC to give our perspective on what was going on. We were glad to have done the media interviews since we were able to validate the mood on the streets and our experience as witnesses. Within a few days, we were evacuated safely by the U.S. government. After I arrived home, I couldn't escape the fact that the entire experience reminded me of the American Civil Rights Revolution in the way that the police and military supported the people.
Throughout this year, I have stayed in contact with two Egyptians since our January visit -- our young guide Michael, who as a Christian, was positive and upbeat about the future of the country, and my friend Manal, an Arab and a travel provider. I was concerned for their welfare but both told me it was better and safer in Egypt now, and we should come back. Manal wanted us to visit and bring our production crew to shoot two travel shows so that people outside the country could see how safe it was for tourists to return. We told her we would be happy to come back and to let us know when it was a good time to return.
You can imagine how surprised, disappointed, and upset I was when I saw the pictures of large crowds rioting and clashes taking place on the streets of Egypt all over again this week.
What I see now is nothing like what I experienced in January. People are dying and the police and military are on the other side killing and hurting people. It makes me sad and I worry for my friends. This beautiful and historical country, home to so many archeological artifacts and treasures is in turmoil and it seems like there are no easy answers.
I was hoping to visit Egypt next year and now that seems unlikely. I worry about Manal and Michael and for all the people of Egypt. I want them to know that my hopes for a resolution are with them. They can make their country work again and it will be people like my friends who will do it. I pray for you.
Grannies on Safari
In Chicago and Praying
Grannies on Safari Tour Group Adventure in Egypt
“Welcome to Egypt” said our greeter at the Cairo airport as we arrived slightly bleary eyed after almost 24 hours of flying. Our arrival signaled what we believed would be an historic journey to a country steeped in the traditions of ancient pharanic culture with habitation aboard a luxury contemporary ship for a serene cruise down the Nile River. It turned out that we were certainly right about the ‘historic’ part but somewhat off about ‘serenity’ and ‘cruising down the Nile’, although we did have residency aboard a luxurious ship for four days. There was some unrest in Cairo when we arrived, but we managed to complete our first day of touring without incident. Our activities included the trip outside of Cairo to the great Pyramids of Giza and, of course, the iconic Sphinx.
Our planned visit to the Cairo Museum was cancelled the second day because of reported incidents there, so we journeyed to Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, for a look at some of its major attractions. This visit was abbreviated due to what was reported to our group as protest activities in the city. So we were hurriedly driven back to Cairo where we witnessed first hand marching protesters, fires and a major show of police force in the area near our hotel. Julio Martinez, our GOS cameraman ventured with our guide out to the street where he shot pictures of the crowds and encountered marchers who did not want him to photograph them. He was detained briefly by the police but summarily allowed to re-enter our hotel grounds. We were able to fly out of Cairo to Luxor the next day.
Most of you may have heard or seen us interviewed about our participation in the revolution that was indeed televised, although during most of our time in Luxor we had no TV or internet access. We were comfortable on the cruise ship but missed communication with the outside world except through intermittent telephone calls. Our exit from Luxor was facilitated by the US Department of State who sent a representative to our ship and managed the evacuation process for the 9 remaining tour group members. Four of our group made personal arrangements to leave Luxor two days before our departure. We are happy to report that our initial intrepid group of 14 (including a range in age from the forties to the eighties) had all returned to their respective cities and homes by February 6, 2011 with stories and memories to share for years to come. We have to give them full credit for being fully alert and ready to adjust to changes in itinerary and circumstances on a moment’s notice. In other words, they were all ‘troopers’ in the best sense of the word. We thank them for their patience and understanding.