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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ever Get Caught Up In A Revolution?

Cairo, revolution

-by Eden Bowditch

I met Eden Unger because I used to do a alt-metal rock show on KUSF in San Francisco and she was in an all girl hard core band, Rude Girl. Great band! Eventually, Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, The Clash) was going to produce their debut album for my record label and CBS, which had bought my company, was going to release it. But it never happened and I can't remember what exactly why or what transpired next. I remember Eden being a metal sculptor working with a blow torch and then the next thing I knew decades had passed, she was an author with a family and living in Cairo, teaching at the American University. Time flies. Her new book The Strange Round Bird is coming out in a few months, the third book in her trilogy, The Young Inventors Guild. It must have been at least a couple years ago that I asked her to share some of her thoughts about the Egyptian revolution with DWT readers. There's already been a counter-revolution, but today she sent in her post! You know metal people, right? And sculptors? Writers? Egyptians?

Aftershocks of a Revolution
-by Eden Unger Bowditch

The strangest thing was that we learned to live with the sounds of gunfire. As daylight began to fade each evening, Nate and Julius, our eldest son, who was 15 at the time, would join the other men in our building and barricade the glass entry. This was how the Egyptian revolution unfolded for us, in Cairo, in 2011.

Actually, that was how the unfolding continued. The beginning was just as much of a surprise for us as the rest of the world. Lyric, our daughter, was in Abu Dhabi for a Global Issues Network conference with other 7th graders from Cairo American College. She had plans for a slumber party with her two best friends when she returned that Friday. Julius had the lead in the HS musical, and Cyrus, then 6, was hanging out and being cute. And there was Olive, the dog, too.

The first night of the HS musical was Thursday, 27 January. There had been a massive protest on Tuesday, 25 January (now the date considered to be the Egyptian revolution) but that was on the other side of town. In truth, it was the 28th that everything went crazy. When Julius went to school to prepare for the Friday performance, he was told the school was closed. Closed? After months of preparation, his first thought was ‘Crap! No show?’ Looking around, he realized everything was closed. It wasn’t until later that the revolution dawned on us all.

Actually, technically, it wasn’t a revolution. It was the deposing of a dictator with nothing to fill the gap. At the time, we only knew we were in the middle of it, whatever it was. At 3am on Saturday, our car disappeared along with fifty other cars on the street. Tanks were filling the streets. At dusk, we and the other tenants barricaded the glass front doors of the building. Curfew was set at random hours, one day 4pm, the next day 1pm. We’d have to run home, hiding behind the ad hoc militia’s safe points (broken fences, benches, tires or chairs or other detritus blocking the road) where the local shop owners and bawabs (doormen) would band together to check for bombs and guns and folks who did not belong. Every few blocks, there was a different color of arm band, made from plastic bags. We had yellow. This allowed us to pass without being searched.

Then, they shut off the internet and mobile phone service. We had the only land line in the neighborhood that could call out of the country. This is how we contacted friends in Germany who contacted the hotel where Lyric was in Abu Dhabi. They found the teacher and told her to assure the kids that parents were OK. The teacher had no idea what was happening. They had been at the conference and had gone to sleep, never checking the news. Once they knew, The Global Issues Network kids crowded around the television, watching the tanks in the streets and the burning buildings. Still, it was surreal to them and they could not relate this to their own neighbourhood.

Back in Cairo, we had lines of friends and colleagues coming to our flat. Everyone was calling loved ones abroad to let them know they were alright. Many were scrambling to get to the airport. Those who tried to leave first were stranded at the airport for days before getting flights anywhere. Evacuations began in earnest and buses of colleagues started leaving. One of our dearest friend, former bureau chief of the New York Times in Cairo, now in Berlin, would call every few hours to let us know what was happening since we were cut off from our own news. He wanted us to leave, but we couldn’t. Lyric was still in Abu Dhabi and we had to be here when she got back. She was, we had heard, en route.Then we heard that flights were blocked leaving from Abu Dhabi to Cairo. The kids had to fly back through Bahrain. They flew from Bahrain to Cairo. Days later, Bahrain fell under a violent rebellion. That was too close.

When Lyric returned from Abu Dhabi, life had changed. Utterly. The friends who were planning the slumber party had evacuated, never to return. There were blockades in the streets, our jeep was gone, and there were tanks in the streets in front of our apartment building. The curfew sent people running through the streets for shelter. Lyric arrived at curfew. We ran.

For the next week or so, we would close the window when the gunfire became too loud or if we could smell clouds of teargas coming. We’d make whatever we had in the house since, without internet or ATMs, no use of credit cards or means of getting cash, we had few resources to buy food. Then, Cyrus began having nightmares of Bionicles taking over the city. The curfew became The Curfew, like The Bogeyman, and make us all run through the streets for shelter. It was time to get out of Dodge.

When you evacuate, you are flying away from something, not going to something, so you just get on the next plane out. We were put on a plane to Germany. In Frankfurt, they met us with blankets and fresh water. It was surreal. We called our New York Times friends when we landed and took the train from Frankfurt to Berlin. I remember thinking how strange the tanks at the airport looked… until I realized they were luggage vans. In Berlin, I was anxious about making lunch plans because of the curfew. But of course, we left that behind. Or did we? We were touched in ways we could not measure. Having been in uncertain circumstances has made us all more aware of the residual effects, the reverberations, of every experience we have in our lives.

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