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Last Days of Cairo

RP
Κείμενο Rachel Pollock
31.1.11

Since we last heard from our lady in Cairo, Rachel Pollock, the situation in Egypt has obviously gotten a great deal more intense. Rachel sent us this update via a bunch of text messages from an apartment in Dokki. Update: We edited the text messages into one long article so you don't have to read a bunch of broken up text messages. That's why it doesn't look like a bunch of text messages. Update over.

Our landlord came upstairs while we were sitting on our roof terrace drinking the last of our beers. “Hey guys, what’s up?” he said as he went into the storage room and emerged with a cricket paddle. Then he headed back downstairs to give it to an unarmed security guard.

We watched silently as looters and criminals ravaged the city and groups of Egyptians armed with knives and metal poles staked out their neighborhoods. No one mentioned it, but everyone on the rooftop was aware that our friend Ahmed was doing the same thing in his neighborhood in Heliopolis. And like the last few nights there was no chance of sleep.

My friend J was having panic attacks from the sounds coming from outside, so I spent hours rubbing his back and trying whatever encouraging words I could think of. “Come on, let’s watch the Mighty Ducks,” I pleaded.

When the gunshots went off, I looked at J and immediately ran into the next room to where L and T were sleeping. “We’re naked,” they both chimed in. I must not have heard them because I continued to hurriedly talk about the violence. L came into the living room and we talked about the situation within a situation developing outside our window: a bunch of people with suitcases standing outside the Jordanian embassy who were obviously intending to get the fuck out of the area any way they could.

The next morning we decided to walk from Cairo to Tahrir. The UN has urged all foreigners to leave the country and scheduled outgoing flights for Monday, but I am staying here. Egypt is my home now. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me for doing this. Some things are bigger than I am.

Some men walked by with handguns. People on the street suggested that we take another street. Eventually a man holding a metal pole escorted us. Gunshots rang out everywhere. Tanks moving away from Tahrir kept passing us. We stopped for food and some little kids with sticks asked if we are Egyptian. We said yes. “OK, same deal as our trip to Gaza,” I said to L. “We stay smart and look after each other.”

People kept asking where we were going. We said “home” and kept walking. Eventually we got to the first bridge we had to cross to get into Tahrir. Stores were looted and vacant. Then we made it to the second bridge. We saw abandoned tanks. Some guy shook his stick at me, but when he saw that I was scared he put it down and said he was just kidding. We ran into Lucy and Muhammad, friends we were supposed to meet up with earlier. Muhammad’s voice was shot from screaming. We left and said we would come back soon.

We headed to Tahrir and it was amazing. The people there were all chanting and praying. We ran into Jack, another reporter who was recently dragged into the middle of the desert and beaten. But he was fine. El Baradei spoke and most people were supportive, and by supportive I mean that no one threw rocks at him. Nobody trusts this guy.

Next we ran into our friend Merc who has been stuck downtown for days. We brought him back with us. L was being a bitch about getting cigarettes, but eventually we left with Merc. He was the only foreigner in his building. Even the Egyptians had left. He was sitting alone, watching people get shot in the street. Then they started burning the police headquarters, which was next to his building. We decided to go home, but first I had to convince everyone to forgo looking for a place that’s still selling wine. I asked, “Do you really want to die over a bottle of wine?” No one put up a fight.

We crossed the Kasr-el-Aini bridge, and a man gave me a bullet shell as a souvenir. It’s printed with the words Made in the USA. On the way back people seemed calm; no one was carrying weapons. We crossed the next bridge. I don’t know the name of it, but the Sheraton was on my left and Dokki was ahead.

Egyptian people were and are still controlling the streets. They are much more organized than the police ever were. At every checkpoint there were people with knives and sticks who told us to be careful. Eventually we made it to my friend’s house. We are finally safe and have celebratory cigarettes and beers.

I question my identity every day. During all of this I question making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Picking out my outfit seems trivial compared to Egypt picking a new government. We will never fully understand but until you come here and ask yourselves the same questions neither will you.

Things are quasi-normal the next day, but Americans are evacuating like crazy. I coughed up blood, probably from the teargas and whatnot. There’s been talk of food, water, and electricity being cut off. We talked about eating my dog.

We haven’t had internet access in about a week—that’s why I had to send this dispatch via text message. Some people have had success with dial-up modems, but that’s not really an option for us because all of the stores are looted. We don’t even have TV. Everything we know is via rumors. But that’s exactly the point here. You can never know what’s true.

RACHEL POLLOCK