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Monday, February 28, 2011

Every Day Counts

This morning, I woke up next to Brandon.  Instead of sitting on a plane crossing the Atlantic, he was next to me.

Approval from M has not come yet, and we were told not to look for it until mid-week, which means that we have another week with Brandon before he has to return to Cairo.  The situation there is still unstable, and so my secret hope and prayer is that we will have longer than just one week.

Every day, however, is borrowed time and so we pretend that every day is a normal one.  We get up, get ready for the day, and send Brandon off to work so he can return after everyone is in bed.  It's not the life I prefer, but I'll take any time with him here that I can get.  And I thank my Heavenly Father for every day I have.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lunchtime conversation

Kathleen, praying: "And please bless everyone in the world that they can evacuate well, and get visas."

Sophia: "You didn't bless us!!  Kathleen, you didn't bless us!!!"

Kathleen: "But we already have visas."

Sophia: silence

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time to pack... again

A few weeks ago, when Brandon called to tell me he was coming to the US, he cautioned me that he might be sent back to Cairo before the evacuation was lifted.  Which meant that I would be left here with the children.  I waved it off, delighted to be seeing him, if only for a month.

I didn't even get that month.  He received a call from his boss today, telling him that they needed him back in the Consular section.  If all is approved by M, then he'll be boarding a plane for Cairo on Sunday, three weeks to the day since he came to the US.  And I'll be alone, again, for who knows how long.

I understand that we signed up for this possibility when Brandon joined the Foreign Service.  I don't like it.  But I know that sometimes these things do happen.  But he didn't necessarily need to leave yet - two people from his section are returning.  Four people are in DC.  Two people from his section are married with small children.  Two people are single.

Guess who they are sending back?  And to add insult to injury, the two management who decided to send the two married people are... you guessed it - two single people.

I was going to write a post yesterday commemorating three weeks of being evacuated.  I was going to write how life has settled down to something really approaching normal; we have a daily schedule, we have parks we like to visit, I have a library card, I've even started running in the morning again.

But now, my life has been blown apart again.  I'm getting tired of this.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Being back in the US has given me the opportunity to enjoy some of the things I have missed.  Of my top five favorite things in the US, parks are number two.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Today, I took a walk with the children.  We left our apartment complex and walked down the street, and after a few blocks we found a park.  It was situated next to a creek and in the middle of trees.  Kathleen found a friend to play with, and Edwin and Sophia enjoyed the swings.  We all came home, happy and ready for the pot pies I had put in the oven before our outing.

After such a nice, unexpected afternoon, I can catch everyone up on the last week.

Kathleen, Sophia, Edwin and I landed at my parent's house on Wednesday evening.  Thursday I unpacked, and that night my sister came with her three children to spend the weekend with my parents and attend the temple.

Friday morning, I got a call from Brandon.  He had been asked by his boss if he would like to leave, and he told him yes.  There would be a flight on Saturday, and he would most likely be in DC Sunday night.

Friday afternoon, I called corporate-stay apartments, and found an apartment in Chevy Chase to rent.  I also called a car-finding service, and had the owner start looking for a car that we could take to DC.  I called my aunt, and asked if she could shelter us all on Sunday night before we moved into our apartment on Monday.

Saturday I received and email from the car service about a Honda Pilot he had found for another client, but the client had backed out.  I talked with my parents for a few minutes, and then called Mr. Berger to tell him that we would take the car.  We wouldn't be able to complete the transaction until Monday as I didn't have a North Carolina driver's license to register the car in state.  So I called my aunt and cancelled our Sunday evening stay.

While thinking about our apartment, I considered the location, and contacted a few more companies about housing in Arlington.

Sunday we went to church, and Sunday night I transferred money to my checking account while purchasing car insurance.  I also read the driver's handbook to prepare for my license exam.  Brandon made it to DC Sunday night, and checked into a hotel until we could come up Tuesday morning.

Monday morning I stood outside the DMV, waiting in line to take my exam, which I passed.  I came home to arrange a new apartment, at Oakwood Falls Church, and kiss my security deposit goodbye for the previous apartment.  Then I went shopping at Target for a car seat for Kathleen and Costco for a GPS.  After visiting my dad's office to say hello and goodbye, I packed, again.  That evening, I drove with my father to pick up my 2007 black Honda Pilot and hand over the largest check I've ever made out in my life.

Brandon trolled the halls of Main State, looking for a job.  He was told of a position as staff aide in the front office of NEA/SCA, and accepted it.  Baaaaaaaaaad idea.

Tuesday morning I finished packing and stuffed everything into my new car, and left for Virginia.  We checked into our apartment, exploded our suitcases, and ordered pizza with a gift card sent by an amazingly kind FS/LDS friend.  Brandon came 'home' around five-thirty, the earliest he's made it all week.

Wednesday, instead of unpacking, I read a book while the suitcases continued vomiting and the girls played.  We attended a session about SEA payments, and I turned the house into more of a disaster looking for one missing boarding pass (out of a total fourteen).  I still haven't found it.  That evening we went to my cousin's house for dinner.

Thursday I pulled enough together to rearrange the furniture, the first step to making this tiny shoebox with a tinier kitchen into 'home' for an unspecified amount of time.  When Edwin was asleep, I cleaned up.  Brandon got home at eight thirty.

Today, almost all of the suitcases are packed up and the apartment mostly clean.  Mubarak stepped down this morning, and Kathleen told me should would dream about it during her nap.  Brandon still isn't home, and won't be for another half hour.  But the children are in bed, the house is quiet, and at least Brandon is coming home to an apartment in America and not Cairo.  At least for now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What next?

Dirty dishes are in my sink, waiting.  My clothes sit in my suitcase, in the same hastily-packed mess that they have been in since Tuesday morning.  A bag of trash sits by my door, and scraps of receipts, papers, credit cards, crayons, and passports are strewn across the desk that is mine for the next... two months?  four?  Who knows?

And I can't tear myself away from my computer, checking every few minutes to see what the BBC has updated on their website.

I watched Mubarak's speech this afternoon, after reading predictions that he would be stepping down.  As the children played with their toys, I saw the crowd's angry reaction to Mubarak's reaffirmation that he wasn't leaving.  Sophia asked me to turn the TV off, and I tried to explain to her that this was about Egypt, where we live.  Or lived.  She shrugged her shoulders, and went back to Just So Stories.

I turn to the computer, and see Egypt, and worry about what will happen next.  I look out my window, and see Oakwood's sparkling blue pool.  I read the news, and wonder if I'll ever go back.  I get in my car, and drive to Target, just like any other resident of Falls Church, carrying my secret of Egypt inside, somewhere that only I can see and feel.

The girls view this move as just one more in a long line of moves, and Edwin has become my personal leech.  Only once has anyone asked to go back to Cairo, and only when Sophia was particularly upset about eating her lunch.  I have started to return to the rhythm of being an American in America again, but for how long?

My heart goes out to those who are in Cairo tonight.  Be safe.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 1

12:30 AM
            We’re in Athens, and safely installed in the very nice, very close Sofitel.  Whoever made the hotel arrangements, may they be blessed into perpetuity.  This is the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, with a down bed, down comforter, and down pillows.  We’ve only got one bed, so I’m going to make a pallet on the floor for the girls.  They’re happy to have a ‘sleeping bag,’ and I’m happy to not be kicked.  Edwin has a baby crib, the most awkward, enormous one I’ve ever seen.  Europeans need to look into Pack’n Plays.  But I am happy that he has a bed, too, that isn’t mine.
            After the bus came at the airport, everyone had to show the one (!!!!!!) man their exit stamps and give him their ‘boarding passes,’ before getting on the bus.  We waited for half an hour for everyone to board before then being shuffled onto an entirely different bus.  We drove around for awhile, and then finally found our plane – a very tired looking Lotus Air plane, but one with wings, and engine, and the capability to get us out of Cairo.
            We were able to get seats behind the R, and although we were four people, we crammed into three seats as nobody wanted to leave me.  We waited for another half hour for a busload to complete the plane and then waited another hour to have a spot to take off.  When we finally were in the air, the passengers broke into spontaneous applause, and again when dinner was announced.
            The ride was pretty calm, and I was able to get Edwin to sleep.  Unfortunately, dinner came and he woke up and screamed for at least half an hour before I could get him to calm down.  Nobody ate their dinner, and I never had the opportunity to touch it, so we would have been better to have not bothered with it.
            We had a pair of college students behind us when another baby had been screaming disconsolately earlier, and I overheard their conversation to the effect that somebody should do something about that screaming baby.  Feeling for the mother, I turned around and asked them to stop talking like that.
            “We’ve all had a very long day that started early this morning, we have just been evacuated from our homes, and we don’t know when, if ever we will be coming back.  That mother is trying to do everything she can to help her baby calm down, but sometimes there’s nothing mothers can do.  Trust me, it’s much more annoying to her than it is to you.”
            Stunned silence followed, and I went back to calming the children down.  I’m not one to dress down strangers, but it had been a long day and I’ve been in that situation and known that people were heartily annoyed.  But I felt that I should defend her because it could have just as well been me.
            And, it was me not much longer, and I’m sure those girls felt the karma coming right around again.
            We landed in Athens around 9, and were greeted by the ambassador on our way inside.  I saw a photographer, and so tried my best to look under control and oh so happy to be hauling three children alone to another country.  When we were ushered inside (I think we were the first people), and very, very nice lady showed me to a room equipped with toys, cookies, games, and a movie for the children.  She gave me a bottle for Edwin and showed me where to change his diaper.  I could have kissed her.  The girls happily sat down to play, and I took Ewin out, strapped on again, to find out what to do next.
            I was directed, by another incredibly helpful mission member, to a visa table for our dip passports, and he found me a pen and some forms to fill out so we could enter Greece officially.  After thirty minutes of visas, I got in line for travel arrangements.  I made friends with the ladies around me, both from NAMRU with four and five children apiece.  We chatted and I rocked Edwin while we waited in line.  Edwin fell asleep and we continued chatting.
            After an hour and a half, I made my way to the front.  There were no flights out tomorrow, but there was a direct to JKF on Tuesday, February first.  I was happy to wait another day at the hotel to let everyone get some sleep and a few good meals before continuing on.
            After travel arrangements were finished, we had another bus to ride before one last line– passport control.  I thought that perhaps my shoulders wouldn’t last on more line, but thankfully there were up to the challenge, and blessedly, more wonderful, helpful, amazingly cheerful mission members were there to meet us at baggage.  May they also be blessed into perpetuity.
            They asked if we needed anything for Edwin, and I thought that perhaps formula would be nice, and Mr. Williams got on his phone with the CLO, and said that he would bring it up to our room later.  They helpfully wheeled our bags through customs, skipped past the waiting television crews, and trotted across the street to the Sofitel.
            We were led into a room with more wonderful, blessed Athens mission members who gave me a card to show that my hotel would be paid for, and sent me out into another line.  By this time, Edwin was screaming and crying non-stop and somebody took pity on me (or on everyone else’s ears) and took me on.  We were given room keys, times for breakfast, somebody to help with the bags, and shown personally shown upstairs.
            And so we’re here.  When Brandon told me that we would be helped by the mission in Athens and put up in a hotel, I had no idea of the amazing lengths everyone had gone to in order to help us out.  Everyone was cheerful, helpful, and kind.  I know that the last place they wanted to be that night (and all day) was at the Athens airport, and we were the first plane to land for the night.  I know that I’ve grumbled when Brandon has had to work later than normal, but he’s never had to do anything like the mission members did for us tonight.  They made our entry into Athens so very, very much better than our exit from Cairo was.  We left the world in chaos to find kind, helpful people and a feather bed at the end.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

January 31

            We have finally made it through passport control and I believe that my shoulders are about to separate my from my body and fall off.  Edwin is strapped on my front and has been since we arrived at the airport three and a half hours ago.  My twenty-five pound backpack, filled with only the essentials – computer, movies, diapers, passports, cash, wallet, blankets, bottles, and Benadryl – is strapped to my back.  The weight of the baby and the backpack perfectly even each other out for my balance, but are no good for my shoulders.
            After leaving the commissary, we drove the back road by Carrefour before pulling onto the ring road.  Carrefour didn’t look burnt, but somebody confirmed that it was bare inside.  On the ring road were tanks every few miles, and outside the Mirage City Marriot were three or four.  I hadn’t realized that the tanks were so prolific.
After getting to the airport, we pulled into a special terminal at 1, and as we drove in and saw the crowds and crowds of people milling about, I thought that we had come to the wrong place.  There are not this many people in the Embassy community by a long shot, and there were a lot of older people.
            After we got off the bus, Brandon helped with the luggage, and we were herded into line next to the Risleys.  As soon as he was done, he had to run to help the other, overwhelmed, consular officers.  As he ran away to help, Kathleen started sobbing, ‘Daddy!  Daddy!  Give me a kiss and hug!!  Please!!!!’  He came back, gave us all kisses, and was gone.
            We stood in line for about twenty minutes, and as soon as it became readily apparent that nothing was going to happen for some time, everyone disrobed and pulled out lunches.  E had made sandwiches and sandwiches and was happy to share.  The girls were delighted to eat jelly and butter sandwiches followed up by chips and were happy as clams.  I was very grateful as I fed Edwin most of mine and the M&Ms she had also brought along.  
            Pretty soon everyone had found friends and the children played while the adults talked.  Rumors flew everywhere about destinations, airplanes, the government, water being cut off in Maadi, who was and wasn’t evacuating, and what had and hadn’t been looted and burned.  Around two, a very very harried woman came to find the people on her list and handed out boarding passes – slips of paper with numbers written on them.
            I saw J and the J.  There was a man with his four year-old son who was happy to share his toys with Kathleen and Sophia, and I passed the time easily with everyone else, chatting.  I am very grateful that we are doing this in January instead of July.  I imagine, however, that the protests wouldn’t have happened in July anyway; it’s just too hot in July to do anything but survive the heat.
            Around 2:45, Kathleen announced that she had to use the bathroom.  Another lady behind us in line handed us toilet paper and we frog-marched off to the bathroom, which thankfully was mostly clean.  It stank, of course, and Kathleen pitched a fit, but I made her and Sophia use the bathroom, not knowing when next we could.  Right when I was having my turn, Brandon came rushing in to find us.  Our name had been called, and we needed to go.  So, I rushed out with him, figuring I would find a bathroom somewhere, sometime.
            The R helped us haul our luggage up front where we filled out departure cards (of all times!  What were they going to do with them?), got checked off the list, hauled our bags inside… and got into another line. 
            After twenty minutes of no movement, we put everything down again, and got to know our new neighbors in line.  We had become separated from the R, and so a nice family with five older children helped move the bags when the line started moving forty-five minutes later.  The line slowly snaked around as everyone put their bags through the one scanner (!!!!!!!) and walked through the one metal detector (!!!!!!!!) that nobody cared a fig about as it beeped for every single person going through. 
            And then we lined up again.  We found the R in line and they watched the bags while I sat with the girls.  We made more friends, and talked to some tourists who had to spend the night sleeping in their tour bus in the Citadel on Friday.  They had been able to get on the flight, but had signed a note saying that they had to pay the government back for the flights.  The paper didn’t say how much that would be, however, but they were happy to pay whatever it took.  They had tried to get commercial flights out, but there were absolutely none available.   Some people had spent two days at the airport waiting for flights and still couldn’t get out.
            Finally the line started slowly, slowly, slowly moving through the one (!!!!!!!) passport control booth.  After a long while, one other booth was opened and my shoulders almost gave out.  We’re through now, however, and waiting for… something.  Evidently we’re to take a bus to the plane, so who knows when they’ll decide when we can go.  There is a lady with a baby traveling by herself who came on a dip, but is leaving on her tourist and they’re making a stink about no entrance stamps so of course she can’t have an exit stamp.  I called Brandon, and he says he’ll find out how to help.  Hopefully she can get out on this flight, because who knows when the next one will go.

No Good Options

Yesterday, Brandon called me.  He had been given the option to leave, and after much much consideration, he decided to go.  I knew that I should have felt happy, relieved, excited when I got the phone call, but I felt nothing.  And so I arranged for a corporate rental apartment, got in touch with a car-buying service, started going through the mental lists of what  had to buy to stock the apartment, and offered a very heartfelt prayer of thanks.

I called him this morning, and he was (and probably is) still sitting at the airport, waiting to leave.  I asked him how he was feeling, and he was was very distressed about having to leave; he feels that he is abandoning his co-workers, his job, and his responsibility for Rere. He gave her all of the cash he had on hand when he left, but it was barely enough to cover a month's salary.  The only reason he is leaving is for me and the children.

If we knew that we were coming back, I don't think Brandon would be distressed - but we don't.  We only have six months left on our tour, and how long the evacuation will last is anybody's guess.  If they do let Brandon go back, they might not let me and the children go back.  If Brandon doesn't go back, then we will be PCS'd to DC.

We had been planning on being TDY for Brandon's training, and the per diem would neatly cover all of our housing.  If we are PCS'd, however, we will be given an eight percent pay raise, everything we have in storage, and a hearty good luck for finding any kind of reasonable housing for three children less than three hours away from DC on a very low FS-5 salary.  We have been very careful with our money, and have saved quite a bit, but if we're in DC for eighteen months on our own power, there won't be a penny left by the time we leave.  And I'll be crammed into a tiny apartment with at least three children (we don't plan to be done any time soon) for a year and a half tearing my hair out.

If Brandon goes back to post, I'll be in an apartment that is paid for, but I will be without my husband for three or four months.  Either way, I'll be prematurely bald.

If I knew what would happen next, then I could plan.  But I don't.  I don't even know when Brandon will be coming back to the US.  I always prefer to have the disaster happen so I can get to cleaning it up rather than bracing for an undefined coming evil.

Nothing in life is ever neat.  We often move from one disaster to the next, and I suppose I'm owed one after the last year of peace and calm.  Philosophy, however, only gets one so far when reality stares you in the face.  But, what can be done?  Not much except to get out of bed every day, take care of those you are responsible for, and do it again the next day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

January 31

            We’re at the commissary, waiting.  Last night the evacuation was announced over the radio, and we were told to be ready to 8 am for the shuttles to come and pick us up.  I finished up the packing and Brandon put Edwin and the girls to bed for the last time in at least a month.  After the children were in bed, we watched a movie just to have something normal to do so we could pretend that I wasn’t leaving in the morning.  When the movie ended, however, the pretending was over and I couldn’t deny that we were going to leave.  We got a good night sleep, despite the gunfire.  Well, I did; Brandon said that the gunfire kept him up. 
            We woke up at 6 and got everything ready by eight.  When nobody had come by 8:30, I put Edwin down for a nap, knowing that it might be the only nap he would get that day.  Our neighbors came to get us at 9:30, saying that the buses were here, but when we got down, they drove off.  Mr. Dempsey chased the buses down to 55/17 only to discover that they were for HSBC evacuations.
            And so we waited outside until 10:30 when the Embassy shuttle came.  Edwin’s pink eye had flared up again this morning because we ran out of drops and the pharmacies were closed.  While we were waiting, Brandon called some pharmacies, but just as he was giving one our address, the shuttle pulled up. 
            The driver tossed our bags into the back, and Brandon got in with us.  He is supposed to help out at the airport, so thankfully he gets to ride up with us.  When we were in, the driver asked if we knew of anybody else nearby, so we directed him to the Goering’s building.  The Goerings were outside along with the Risleys, but the driver only had room for the Risleys. 
            I had not been outside since Friday afternoon, and was surprised to see the roads.  Concrete blocks, logs, guard shacks, and whatever was on hand had been pulled partway across the roads to prevent looters.  As we left Maadi and drove toward the commissary, crowds of young men manned  areas with the same pulled across them.  One used a telephone pole that had been pulled down.
            When I first saw them, and the pistol shoved into one boy’s belt, I was alarmed.  But as we drove further, I realized that these people were not out to cause trouble, but to prevent trouble.  I haven’t the best opinion of Egyptians, after living her for a year and a half.  They have their own was of doing things that often drives me insane.  An amazing lack of attention to detail in just about everything makes the whole country an almost rubble heap.  And their friendliness often drives me into the safety of my own, private apartment.  But when I saw those men taking the job of peacekeeping into my own hands, I found a new respect for them.  I don’t know if this would have happened in the States; most people would probably hunker down in their own homes, protecting what was theirs.  I was proud of Egypt and the Egyptians when I saw them taking their own safety and well-being into their own hands.  Seeing this has made me believe, for the first time, that they might be entrusted to take their own future into their own hands.
            After arriving at the Commissary, we were unloaded and the driver went out for another run.  Brandon checked me in while Eileen and I watched the luggage and children.  When he came back, he handed me an envelope; inside were five hundred-dollar bills.  “Travel advance,” he told me.  I looked around at all of the people milling around.  That’s a lot of hundred-dollar bills.
            So we sat for about ten minutes, and then were told that the buses were around the corner and ready to be loaded.  Brandon put our bags and ourselves onto the buses, and then he and Dave left the women and children on the bus and went out to help.  Kathleen has found some friends from Maadi House behind her, and is happily chatting away.  Edwin is happy to flip the seat tray repeatedly up and down and up and down, and everyone is making friends and saying hello to other friends. 
            Sometimes I’ve thought about the advantages private sector employees have – nicer homes, often houses, drivers, cars, better salary.  But today as I sit on a bus chartered by the US Government waiting to go to a plane chartered by the US government with my travel advance in my backpack, I am very glad to be in the protective fold of Uncle Sam.

January 30

January 30, 2011
            Last night was the most frightening night of my life.  When I crawled into bed around eight, Brandon was shaking from fever, so I made him take medicine to bring the fever down.  While trying to soothe him, we heard the gunfire start.  Around ten, a voice came over the radio telling the Marines that looters were on their street, and gunfire was heard only a road away.  Two minutes later, someone else reported gunfire around streets 17 and 18.  We live at 17 and Orabi.  The radio grew quiet for a time, and I drifted off to sleep.
            At 11:45, the phone rang.  If there were voluntary departure, would we like to leave?  Brandon told them yes, and we tried to go back to sleep.  Brandon slept, but I only slept fitfully, the sleep where I woke up thinking that I had never been asleep in the first place.
            This morning we woke up, and everything was quiet.  The day was a clear as I’d ever seen it and the birds were singing.  After breakfast, I sent Brandon to bed and folded yesterday’s laundry.  The girls and Edwin played quietly, and I could almost believe that it was a normal day.
            Then Brandon came in.  They were starting authorized departures.  And so now my room is full of suitcases, mostly packed.  Sophia and Kathleen have their shoes on and are busy packing their carry-ons.  They are excited and keep telling me, “Mom you have two options.  You can stay here and be killed, or leave and be safe.”  I don’t want to leave, more than anything in life I don’t want to leave.  I don’t want to be with my parents for an unknown length of time, at least 30 days.  I don’t want to be without Brandon.  I don’t want to leave Egypt this way and never come back.  I don’t want to have to be transferred to DC early and live in DC for a year on five suitcases.  I don’t want to have to worry about Brandon every single minute.  I don’t want to be in somebody else’s house as a guest for who knows how long.  I don’t want to leave.  If I could have a magic wand and wave it just once, now would be the time. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

January 29, continued

Brandon just told me that one of his callers, who lives across the street from the Maadi Grand Mall told him that the mall has been looted and is now burning.  I never thought that Maadi would see looting and violence.  Mark commented earlier that when looting begins, it is the end of the end.  I have two sets of go-bags packed – backpacks for a quick trip on foot, and carry-ons for something more organized by vehicle.  I never thought that I would have to pack a go-bag.  When I look around my apartment and think that I may never see these things of mine again, I do not believe it.  Five percent of my mind considers it as a possibility, but the rest knows that nothing like that can ever be. 
As the day has progressed, I have become increasingly alarmed.  If Brandon were not taking phone calls, I would be much more sanguine.  However, when somebody reports seeing the mall burned, I can’t help but be alarmed.  I am not a naturally nervous person, but I feel my limits beginning to be tested.  This was somewhat exciting fun at first, but I don’t like it now.
I have discovered how news travels when there is no official source – rumors.  Yolanda will talk to Brandon who tells me and I pass it on to Mark.  I talk to Rere and pass on what Samir has told me.  This is like passing on juicy gossip about horrific events that are happening around you.  I can understand how rumors grow larger with each passing.
The children are watching Mary Poppins, and I am grateful that they watch so few movies so that they can be entertained for a few hours.  Edwin has caught on to the mood and is disconsolate unless being held all of the time.  I grew tired of hauling his 22+ pounds around, and so pulled his high chair into the study and he’s watching the movie snuggled up to his blankie and thumb. 
I told Kathleen that I had to pack some things, and she asked if they could come to.  I told her that of course, and she asked me where we were going.  When I told her that we might have to leave and fly to the US, she brightened and clapped her hands with delight.  One of the primary children had the same response yesterday in church.

I just saw two tanks drive through Nahda Square.  They rumbled past and I assume went to the Maadi police station.  Rere called a few minutes ago and said that looters are coming through her neighborhood.  The men of her building are standing outside with knives and hammers to keep the looters away.  Apartment by apartment looting is occurring in Moquattam.  Mark thinks that we will be evacuated, and so I’ve gone through the house with our video camera to film all of our possessions. 
The girls are excited to leave; Sophia just brought me her shoes to put on and was disappointed to learn that we wouldn’t be leaving just right now.  I have that surreal sense of now that I suppose has been described as living in a dream.  Everything that is happening is real, too painfully so, and I am scared.  I know that faith is a rock, but right now it feels a flimsy support.  Brandon assured me that everything would be fine, and it will in the cosmic sense, but right now I wouldn’t describe as ‘fine.’  In the end, however, as long as I have my family, I have all that is important.

Something is burning.  A very large something, judging by the huge clouds of billowing black smoke coming from behind a building we can see from the front room.  The fire just started, and I don’t know where it is coming from.  The building is across Nahda street north of the metro.
In the street below, crowds of boabs are gathering with baseball bats, golf clubs, and assorted long, deadly weapons.  I am impressed.  They have almost no stake here in Maadi – no family, no property, and only a very little pay.  But they gather to protect that which is not theirs.  There’s not much I can do, but we’re baking cookies.  Whatever the situation, cookies are always appropriate.

I put my head outside, and Maadi is eerily quiet.  No horns honk in the passing traffic; no traffic is passing.  The ubiquitous rrrrrrr-tu-tu-tut of delivery scooters is silent.  No music comes drifting out of a passing car window.  All I hear is the quiet talk of the men in the street and an occasional sound of gunfire.  Sometimes the single shot is close, sometimes it is far away.
Mark called earlier and reported that Road 9 is being looted.  As he says, ‘looting is the beginning of the end.’  Egypt has changed irrevocably.  Tomorrow morning or next week when the rioting has stopped, the stores will still be smashed, the buildings burnt.  The storeowners will be destitute and some nameless man will hoard all of their work after winning it in a night of larceny. 
Brandon thinks that if we are to be evacuated, it will be tomorrow.  The girls keep asking when we will go to the airport, and don’t believe that something bad could happen.  I think it is better that way – if they did believe they’d never sleep.  I hope, of course, that we won’t need to be evacuated.  I can believe the situation is slowing more readily because Brandon is off right now and is trying to get some sleep.  I imagine when the calls begin again, I will feel the fear again.
Brandon thinks he is coming down with strep throat, and has a rising fever and chills.  While he was getting ready for bed, I blocked our front door with the sideboard, the front entry table, and two chairs.  I tried to use the study sofa, but I couldn’t get it through the door.  Hopefully I’ll just laugh when I see them in the morning.

The Next Day

January 29, 2011  12:27
            Last night the gunfire continued for 30-45 minutes, and then went on sporadically for a while longer.  Brandon took phone calls until 2 AM, so I took a Lunesta and put earplugs in.  The phone calls never quite stopped, so Brandon didn’t get any sleep until 2.  Thanks to the Lunesta, however, I didn’t hear anything.
            When we woke up this morning, nothing was to be seen or heard.  I called around to see if anyone knew anything, but nobody knew more than protests throughout the city.  Brandon started taking calls again at 7, and most calls were about getting to the airport and whether they should leave. 
Around 10, he started getting phone calls about evacuation.  There was a rumor that the ambassador had been talking to CNN and had announced an evacuation.  Everyone wanted to know what they were supposed to do for the evacuation.  Brandon has had to tell them all that no, there is no announced evacuation and even if there were, they would not be included.  He has had some people grow quite belligerent and ask what the Embassy planned to do for them. He has pointed out several times that 30,000 American citizens live in Egypt and there is no way the government would be able to transport all of them out of the country.  Someone asked if the doors of the embassy would be opened for sanctuary.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard him tell a caller that they need to stay home, sit tight, and do what they thought was a good idea, but the embassy couldn’t do anything for them. 
Around 10, we got broadcast on the radio announcing that the struggle is continuing around the city and that the police and army were deployed at strategic points, but that the streets were not considered safe.  All employees were advised to stay inside.
The cell phones came back on around the same time as the announcement, and Brandon got a call from Samir.  He had watched as the police station and NDP building were burned.  There was some attempted looting, but the surrounding citizens had stopped the looting.
I called mom and told her about the situation, and she reported that all of the news was full of the happenings in Egypt.  She had thought that we were safe in Maadi, but then I told her about the things that had gone one.  She didn’t sound very worried, and I am grateful for that.  After I got off the phone with mom, Y called.  A hotel in Giza had been burned and private residences were being broken into and looted.  There had also been an evacuation plan discussed, but no decision made. 
After my nap, Brandon told me that the curfew had been instituted for tonight – from 4 this afternoon until 8 tomorrow morning.  My phone was still on, so I called Rere and she told me that there are food shortages and that everyone is going to the souk to stock up.  She also had heard that a bank had been looted and that the army was surrounding the embassies and Egyptian Museum.
M called about an hour ago and passed on the information that Carrefour has been looted and that a burned out police trucks were by the Maadi Grand mall.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Back in the US

As I sit in bed writing, the whole world is gently heaving.  Although I've been off a plane for a while now, my inner ear hasn't forgotten the previous eighteen hours very easily.

Our flights went well, after the inauspicious beginning this morning in Athens.  The children were wonderfully well-behaved, and I didn't even have to pull out any drugs to produce the behavior.  After the landing of our long nine-hour flight to Dulles, the passengers (young, not married, no children), commented that they hadn't even known there were children in front of them.  Thank you for your prayers; I know they helped everyone get through a long, long day.

My parents have lovingly welcomed me and the children, and the girls were in fine form, screeching as Grandpa riled them up in the bath this evening.  Edwin isn't so sure about this whole arrangement, but I'm sure the toys will help convince him that this is an okay place to be.

I'm doing as well as can be hoped; now that I'm here the reality has begun to set in.  As long as we were traveling, we were just traveling - that existence that is nowhere in particular for an unspecified amount of time.  But as the end of our trek neared, I had to keep from crying as my thoughts ran back to Brandon, still in Cairo.

The only thing to do, of course, is act like life continues on and so it will.  I'm grateful to be in a place with so many friends from my youth who have children like me so I am not alone.  All of the friends in the world, however, can't make up for my best friend who we left behind.

At the beginning

This is from my journal a few days ago

January 28, 2011
            Right now Brandon is talking on the phone to someone in the US.  All evening the phone has been ringing, and now I realize the downside of being married to a Consular officer.  Although he comes home around the same time every evening, emergencies are very troublesome.
            A few weeks ago, the government of Tunisia fell, sparked by a disgruntled man’s self-immolation.  Similar acts followed in several Middle-Eastern countries, including Egypt.  This past Tuesday was Police Day, and somebody (I don’t know who) dubbed it the “Day of Rage.” 
Brandon had the day off from work, and so we packed a picnic and went on a felucca ride.  After the felucca ride, we went to Maadi House and finished off the day with a fireside.  I was sick and Edwin was tired, so I stayed home and Brandon and Kathleen had a date.
While we were enjoying a nice day off, protesters gathered in downtown Cairo.  Around 4000 gathered in Tahrir Square, and 400-500 gathered on a bridge.  The police responded with fire hoses, tear gas, and suppression methods.  We talked about it at Maadi House while the children played on the playground.
Wednesday Brandon was sick, and Thursday was a normal day.  I hadn’t heard much about the demonstrations, but I don’t pay much attention to the news.  Wednesday night Bobbi called to see if we were okay, and Dad emailed the same.  Thursday I read some blogs about the protests and the RSO sent around a security message.  More protests were planned for Friday (today) after prayers, so stay away from large crowds, gathering police presences, and areas where people congregate after prayer.
Thursday night after our movie while Brandon prepared agendas, I checked Facebook.  It didn’t pull up.  I tried another browser – no luck.  The government had blocked it.  This morning, Brandon went to check the email, and the entire internet was down.  When I got to church, Brandon told me that all of the cell phone service was cut off.
Church was shortened to two hours, and we had a meeting before everyone left to discuss emergency plans and walking trees if the landlines go out.  Brandon told me that Brother T had been in contact with M, Brandon’s boss, and that he and M would have to go up to help M out with phone calls.  I bitterly protested.  Brandon had compared this situation with Iran in 1979, and the last place I wanted him to go during demonstrations (right near the embassy) was to the embassy to be taken hostage.
Thankfully, Y thought the situation through, and called to tell Brandon that for now the phone calls were being routed to individual’s houses and they would all ride up in motor pool together if necessary.  So we made dinner, chicken curry with naan, cleaned up the dishes, and listened to the embassy radio that I had thought so superfluous when we moved here. 
Mark called to tell us that all Embassy personnel were told to stay home and not attempt any travel to the Embassy – the road was blocked off, and all metro service stopped.  I sighed in relief, and strung a necklace that Brandon had designed for my birthday.
While stringing beads, we listened to radio traffic as the dispatcher announced that a curfew was imposed in Alexandria, Suez, and Cairo from 18:00 until 7:00 tomorrow morning and that anyone out on the street would be shot.  While writing this entry, Brandon and I heard chanting.  We ran to the bathroom window in time to watch 400-500 people walk past Nahda Square while chanting.  It seemed that people were gathering as they walked past.  I heard helicopters a few minutes ago and the traffic is as quiet as I’ve ever heard it.
I have never been anywhere that has been part of history.  I thought when we moved to Cairo that not much would be happening, but perhaps I was wrong.  We don’t know where this will lead to – perhaps to nothing, perhaps to the government’s fall, perhaps to a prolonged government.  Gamal Mubarak, president Mubarak’s son has left the country with his wife and children, and specially flew back to make a TV appearance to confirm that he is still here and hasn’t left the country.  Evidently Gamal doesn’t know where this will go either.  Gamal flew back because a member of the mission slipped a tip to NBC about his departure, after which everyone in the Embassy was firmly told that they were not allowed to speak to media by themselves.
So we are in a strange situation, a surreal one.  I don’t think anybody thought that the situation would get to this point.  Surely shutting down facebook, the internet, and cell phones would have nipped everything in the bud.  But I guess they shut all of those down a few days too late and the impetus is fairly strong, judging by the fact that crowds were marching by in Maadi, one of the quietest neighborhoods in the city. 
When Brandon and I were talking earlier, we predicted that despite valiant efforts, nothing would be done day.  I think, however, that the curfew is evidence that the government is not secure in their position.  Further evidence is the protesters clearly violating curfew this evening.  We just heard gunfire, and so things are clearly continuing.
So what will the morning show?  Part of me, the part that rubbernecks with everyone else, hopes that it is something exciting and that the government falls.  The reasonable part of me hopes that all will be normal and I will take the girls to Maadi House in the morning while Brandon writes.  Because protests and riots are interesting from a distance, but when it interferes with my normal life I want no part of it.  Exciting may sound fun, but in the long run, boring always wins.
And what about the Egyptian people?  As Rere told me on Wednesday, nothing is going to change until they change what’s inside, and that will take more than just protests and riots.

Update: Brandon just heard a rumor [which turned out not to be true] that the military just switched sides, and he and Mark think that the Maadi police station just got overrun.  We can hear significant gunfire, although it has just stopped.  Now, I think, I’m starting to get nervous.

Athens Airport

We're at the airport right now.  This morning we woke up at 4, got ready, left the hotel, and went to check in for our flight.  The lady at the desk looked at our tickets, called on the phone, looked again, and then told me that the tickets were for tomorrow, not today.  

So I went and threw myself at the mercy of the ticketing counter and looked forward to the hotel's excellent breakfast.  The very kind woman told me that the flight from Athens to Munich was fine, but from Munich to DC was absolutely booked, even business class.  Since our ticket is a government fare, she was not allowed to change the routing.  However, United had an emergency hotline, and she would call them to see what she could do.  

After some waiting and looking forward to fresh-squeezed orange juice and pastries, she called us over with the good news.  We were booked through Frankfurt on Aegean and then on to DC where we could catch the same flight to Raleigh that we were supposed to take tomorrow.  She apologized for the wait, and I just smiled and told her it was no problem.  After the wait we had on Monday, I have a whole new tolerance for standing in line.  

The girls have been very well behaved, and so has Edwin.  We are at the beginning of a very long day which we devolve to growling from me and whining from the girls - it's inevitable - but at least we're starting out well.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ordered Departure

I just spoke with Brandon on the phone.  He is safe, but probably won't get sleep for another week.  He and everyone else in the consular section is doing American Citizen Services for those who are trying to get out.  He slept at the Embassy last night after leaving the airport around two in the morning.  All of the Embassy personnel were evacuated, but there was a planeload of tourists that there wasn't enough room for.  I'm not sure what happened to them.

The embassy has just been put on ordered departure, which means that all non-essential staff has to leave, and they cannot come back for sixty days.  Not having been evacuated before, I'm not sure what that means for those who left on voluntary.  I am now glad that I chose voluntary.

Brandon is essential staff (remember all of those American citizens left?), and so I don't know when I'll see him again.  If he does get to leave, he'll be sent to DC, and so we'll meet him there.

Thank you so very much everyone, for all of your prayers and well-wishing.  I'm worried for Brandon, of course, but I think that he should be okay.  We travel in the morning, and so hopefully all will go well.  It can only last so long, right?

Still in Athens

This morning, after a rough start to the night - Sophia would wake up crying, I would calm her down and go back to sleep, Edwin would wake up crying, I would calm him down and go back to sleep, then Sophia would start it over again 20 minutes later - we all woke up feeling much better around 8:45.

We had some people on our flight that scheduled outbound flights for this morning at 6:10 and so were thinking of spending the night in the airport with their children.  I was happy to sleep in my down bed with down pillows and a down comforter and have a leisurely breakfast with fresh-squeezed orange juice, exotic fruits, delicious pastries surrounded by a family of embassy people who were doing the same thing.

Evacuation is rough, but embassy Athens has done a marvelous job of softening the landing.  I confess this is the first time I've stayed in a hotel as nice as the Sofitel.  I don't intend to make a habit of being evacuated so I can stay at nice hotels, however.

The children are waking up from their long, long naps that were long enough for me to get a nap also.  I nap every day, but despite being quite tired, I had a hard time falling asleep - too much going through my mind.

We're going to go swimming, and then play with some friends while their mother volunteered to watch the kids for my massage.  I think my day tomorrow will go better if I can get yesterday worked out of my back and shoulders.

Our flight tomorrow was booked through JFK, and then over breakfast, I heard the first of the snowstorms blanketing a lot of the US.  With a silent prayer of gratitude for those who knew about the storm and told me, I called the embassy and they got me through to Carlson Wagonlit.  They were happy to reroute me through Dulles, and we'll even be coming home a little earlier, although we will be leaving earlier too.  A small sacrifice to avoid being stuck in the JFK airport for who knows how long.  There's no ACS and CLO there to set me up with a very nice hotel, baby formula, diapers, and whatever else I might need.