A Canadian escapes from a nation on the brink.
by David Kumagai – Feb. 17, 2011
It’s early Sunday morning. My phone is ringing.
“Dave—” it was my dad—“Sorry to wake you, but we just got a call from Kira. We need your help.”
My older sister Kira is in Egypt. Her development organization told her she had 20 minutes to pack her things. My dad is asking me to post a notice on Facebook because my sister’s Canadian roommate can’t reach her family. She needs to tell them, reassure them, that she’s trying to come home.
“Do you speak enough Arabic that you can explain who you are and where you want to go?” my sister’s boss asks. She hopes so.
She gets into the cab, which takes a detour around the barricaded downtown and heads toward the airport. She drives by rows of petrified young police officers and is stopped twice by tanks on her way there.
Kira, 25, has spent the past two years in Mali and Egypt as a development worker. While my parents have gotten used to having a child outside of their Burlington bubble, it still wasn’t easy knowing their first-born was stranded in a revolution. Their worries grew when the government shut down Internet and cellphone service.
The night before the call, my sister spent a sleepless night lying in bed with her roommate listening to the chaos outside her apartment, a night she remembers filled with “sirens, three shots, then silence; tear gas, chanting and people calling in hysterics.”
A few hours later, she’s scrambling to get on a plane out of Africa. But Cairo International Airport, the continent’s second-busiest, is in frenzy. “It’s a zoo. Shoulder to shoulder from the second you walk in,” she says. “People are auctioning off tickets, screaming and throwing money.”
When she finally gets to her gate after two hours, she learns that her flight’s been called off. She gets a ticket for another.
Moments later, she looks up at a giant screen and sees the word “cancelled” flashing beside all the flights—hers included.
At the airport, frustrated and hysteric foreigners are gathering together by nationality.
My mom is keeping our extended family informed with email updates. We learn Sunday afternoon that Japan and the United States are evacuating citizens. There’s no word yet on what Canada plans to do.
The Canadian embassy begins bringing Canadians together at one of the airport’s terminals. The cab there, which normally costs around five Egyptian pounds, costs my sister 120.
At 5 p.m., the day finally takes a turn for the good. The Canadian government announces it will send planes to evacuate its citizens.
Several hours later and a full day since she left her apartment, Kira finally boards a plane.
The Canadians take their seats. As the plane takes off, everyone applauds. They fly to Frankfurt, Germany, landing at 2 a.m., to a crowd of embassy staff waving flags.
The next morning, she flies home to Canada.
As soon as she can, she calls friends and colleagues in Egypt for updates. The news is hopeful. “The people are shocked, but proud,” she says. “All my Egyptian friends were saying this would never happen.”
She plans to go back as soon as she can.