The internet came back on. I replied madly to worried friends and relatives; trying to explain my geographic isolation from Cairo.
I'm miles away in the Sinai.
The worst thing that could happen to me is if I run out of cigarettes.
Yes, don't worry, I'm safe.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
Mubarak was going to go. No he wasn't. The military may stage a coup. Or they won't. There was the Day of Rage, the Million Man March, the Day of Departure, when nobody actually left. I tried to guess what would happen next and failed. Lost within the pundits' commentaries offering up conflicting opinion and hype, I watched desperate protesters breaking up the dusty pavement for ammunition on the TV screen.
Tahrir Square had never been part of the Cairo I loved. More eyesore than attraction, its petrol-haze stench hung low near the ground and my eyes stung whenever I was nearby. I lay in my hammock and remembered the swelling despair of navigating the labyrinth underpass between its roads to arrive, sweat trickling down my back, into the blinding sunlight in front of the Mugamma building's slab of Stalinist-chic and swallow metallic-tinged gulps of encrusted air. Hawkers flogging kitchen pans and plastic cups; one man selling popcorn; everybody rushing in and out the doors of the Mugamma with papers to be signed and stamped; engulfed whole into the building's gloom.
The bamboo huts lay empty, the sea un-swum in and the snorkelling gear unused. My friend sent his staff on holiday one by one. I went to Nuweiba to try and find money. Flocks of goats scuffled along the stone-pitted roadside between drooping palm trees and spindly acacias with their Christmas tree decorations of discarded plastic bags. In the manicured gardens of the Nuweiba Hilton where I finally found an open bank a lone camel, busily chewing on a wilting bush, was the only guest.
The Cairo-bound bus began running again. It was time to head back.
Welcome to a Different Egypt
Tahrir Square. A tide of people enveloped the roads; taken over by tanks and tents, men, women, young, old, wide-eyed and weary-eyed. Toddlers slung up onto shoulders and flags flown high. A boy sat with his grandmother on the pavement draped in black, red and white. A group of men lent against a tank reading newspapers and smoking cigarettes. One man had climbed to the top of a lamp post and was waving a huge Egyptian flag in the air. There was music blasted from loudspeakers, there were prayers.
In the background the Mugamma building glowered down upon us. Posters were tacked across fences. The facade of KFC had become an exhibition space for revolutionary art. A man offered me a cup of free tea from his trestle table on a street corner. A fruit vendor had decorated his cart with flags and was selling revolutionary bananas. I fought against the sea of people still swarming into the square and walked out down a car-less Talaat Harb Street. A man approached me as I took a photo of the traffic-free road.
"It's amazing isn't it?" he asked.
I wasn't sure if he was referring to the silent street or the revolution or both. I nodded in agreement.
One more street block up, a five minute stroll from Tahrir, a street vendor sat on a pavement corner surrounded by plastic dolls dressed in pink and purple sparkly dresses and shaggy toy cats with flashing green eyes. He wound up the dolls so that they circled jerkily around on their little stands accompanied by scratchy music from a child's nursery rhyme. A group of young men—faces red, white and black—marched down the road with voices raised high in a chant. The vendor looked up and watched them as they headed towards the square. He took out a duster and began brushing the desert dirt off a doll's dress.
"Welcome to Egypt," he said as I passed by.
Travel writer Jessica Lee is the author of Footprint's Syria, Lebanon and Jordan guidebooks and has also contributed to various Lonely Planet travel reference titles. Born in Wales and brought up in New Zealand, she hightailed it for the road at the age of 18 and has been perpetually on the move ever since. She has been based in Cairo since 2007. Visit her website at www.jessicaleetravels.com.
That First Night in Cairo by Jim Johnston
Boomerang Hieroglyphics on the Nile by Bruce Northam
Death's Prediction and Disaster, By Way of Dharmsala by Dave Lowe
Other Middle East travel stories from the archives
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