FIRST PERSON

Egyptian unrest brings vacation to a halt for industry player

Fern Krauss and her husband shorten visit as unrest worsened

We went to Egypt to see the antiquities. Instead, we got caught up in the revolution. And we learned two important lessons: What a lifeline the Internet has become for just about everything we do; and how precious it is to be an American.

Our trip ended prematurely after the riots that enveloped Cairo spread to other cities around Egypt. The government closed the museums, temples and other tourist attractions and as the demonstrations became more violent, thousands of Americans were stranded.

We were never in any danger even though the protests in Cairo grew larger and more volatile each day. On Feb. 1, we left Egypt with the help of our son and daughter-in-law in Virginia, who booked us on a Qatar Air flight out of Luxor, Egypt, where we were staying, to Doha, Qatar, not the normal routing. (In leaving, we did fly over the Red Sea, but it didn’t part for us.)

We were insulated from the disaster by our fortunate timing in and out of Cairo. But we watched the events unfold on TV on the cruise ship as we sailed up the Nile from Aswan (we flew there from Cairo) to Luxor, an ancient city surrounded by temple complexes.
We saw the devastation wreaked on the Egyptian Museum, where we had visited just four days before. We were prevented from visiting sites in and around Luxor because of demonstrators and heightened security.

Our son heard from friends who were trying to reach us but couldn’t because the Internet was unplugged by Egyptian authorities, silencing information to us and the rest of the world.

We became acutely aware of how dependent we have become on the Internet and the world of instant communications that keep us connected. We felt helpless without access to the Internet.

We couldn’t book flights out of Luxor International Airport or any place else because we couldn’t see what flights were available. We couldn’t communicate with the people who cared about us because email was dead. Thankfully, my husband’s Blackberry could make and receive international calls.

There also was plenty of calm around Egypt’s storm. Remarkably, Luxor looked normal. We saw cruise ships and feluccas (large sailboats) on the Nile, and people lounging about the hotel swimming pool. What’s the saying about Rome burning?

But as we watched events unfold, courtesy of CNN and the BBC, we realized things were getting worse and worse. There were food shortages, trains were no longer running, people were being attacked and killed, and there was no law and order. Finally, the U.S. State Department asked Americans to leave and was flying in jets to Cairo to ferry Americans out of harm’s way.

Worst of all were the reports of looting at the wonderful Egyptian Museum and other historical sites.

In our eight days on the ground, we saw magnificent artifacts and learned a great deal about Egypt’s amazing history. We got a taste of Cairo that we liked, including visiting the famous museum and seeing the well-preserved treasures of King Tut. And we went to Giza to see the pyramids and the Sphinx.

We learned a lot about the Egyptian belief in life after death, especially if you’re the Pharaoh. But it all paled in comparison to the powder keg Egypt had become. And, not being able to return to Cairo safely or see additional sites, we couldn’t leave soon enough.
We spent about $1,400 additional per person to return home. We have requested refunds from United Airlines (initially refused) for the tickets we didn’t use and from the tour company for several unused hotel nights and the Luxor-to-Cairo flight we didn’t take.

We’d like to go back to Egypt some day to finish our trip. Seeing the pyramids and temples was high on our “bucket list.” But it sure doesn’t look likely that the return trip will be anytime soon.

While it was a relief to leave Egypt, we were even happier to be back in the United States where we truly have the broadest range of freedoms and privileges of any country on earth. The customs official who stamped our passports and said, “Welcome back,” had no idea how much those words meant to us.

About the Author

Fern Krauss, of Potomac, Md., owns a public relations firm specializing in strategic communications services to federal information technology contractors.

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