Flight Into the Unknown

JFK Airport, New York, USA

“And the flight’s still leaving as scheduled?” I asked the man at the check-in counter.
“Yes, the weather’s good, and expected to stay clear for a few more hours,” he replied.
“I’m not so worried about this end of the trip, but about the Cairo end,” I said. He looked confused. “There’ve been protests in the streets there for a couple of days now.”
“Really? What are they protesting for?”
I have to say, I was taken aback. This is an Egyptair employee, and he doesn’t know about the brewing revolution in Egypt? “It’s kind of like Tunisia,” I said. “They’re trying to drive out the president of 30 years, that kind of thing….”
“Oh,” he said, very casually. “We do that all the time in my country. I’m from Pakistan. As they say, insha’allah it will all be okay.” And that was that. I didn’t know whether to be flabbergasted or reassured!

When I arrived at the appropriate gate, I was sure I was in the right place when I saw the distinctively embroidered skullcap of a Coptic monk along the bank of windows. I’d gotten to the airport quite early, worried that the snow would delay my shuttle, so I had over an hour left till boarding.

As I waited, I called my parents. Mom asked about the weather at the airport, and whether flights seemed to be leaving on time. “I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news,” I said, “but I’m kind of more worried about what I’ll find when I land in Cairo.” In fact, she hadn’t heard the news, and they’d had nothing to talk about for days except Obama’s State of the Union address anyway. She’d heard something about the self-immolations that happened in Egypt last week, but hadn’t understood their significance. Apparently NPR hadn’t commented much on why the Tunisian man who sparked a revolution had been motivated to burn himself alive, so she didn’t understand its correlation to Egyptians burning themselves alive. She hadn’t heard anything about demonstrations and riots in Egypt.

Dad came on the phone, and he knew a little more. His brother and aunt had emailed him to ask if I was okay in Egypt … but since I wasn’t in Egypt, I guess he hadn’t given it too much thought. I’m actually sort of sorry that my great-aunt is so tuned into the news. When I was in Jordan the first time, she used to email me regularly, and between every line of her emails was clear fear for my safety. After about a year, she seemed to have realized how safe Jordan is, and her emails lost their concerned edge. Now, though, she has a reason for concern.

I’m a little worried. My roommate heard yesterday that the airport road had been blocked, perhaps because that’s where the secret police have their headquarters. I know that the heaviest protesting has been going on within a 10-block radius of my apartment in pretty much every direction. Several of my CASA friends have reported encounters with teargas on Facebook, but it’s unclear whether these were chance encounters, or because they went out in the streets to either observe or participate in the protests. On the other hand, we’re on a fellowship from the US government, studying at American University, and registered at the US embassy in Cairo, so if things were really bad, they’d be evacuating my classmates. Instead I’ve gotten just one very generic email from the embassy suggesting that I “avoid places where people gather,” and one from American University saying essentially “we’ll let you know if you should be worried.” Until that email comes, I’ll try not to be.

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