CYTI goes to Egypt… and nearly doesn’t get back!
CYTI Alliance monitoring and support visits are often much more interesting (and challenging!) than staff may anticipate. Get the lowdown on a recent CYTI Alliance trip to Cairo in Egypt from the pen of our CYTI coordinator, the indomitable Sebastien Le Mouëllic, who gives us an insight (and some tips) on keeping your cool when it’s not just the weather that’s hotting up…
- 3 weeks in Egypt, from the streets of Cairo to the fish of the Red Sea…
‘The first day I arrived in Cairo, everybody asked me if I would stay until the 30th June – my answer was yes, of course!
Bad idea: as a big anti-government demonstration was planned for that day, which might be followed by weeks of protests and fights…
I’d heard rumblings about a demonstration when I was back in Cambodia, but hadn’t imagined it would be so big this time.
Many Egyptians were worried about potential bloodshed and were thinking about leaving the capital or staying at home, but many also planned to join the protests…. so I had to think about staying away from Cairo for a few days to wait to see how things went.
My choice was made – go to Sharm-el-Sheik on the Red Sea, for three days of “report writing/snorkeling” (although not at the same time…!).
Lesson learnt 1 – next time, get more information about the political situation of the country before you go!’
- I swear I am not Egyptian… neither is my father…
‘Egyptians think I am Egyptian. ‘Great!’ you might think: remain incognito, easy to walk around etc…
Indeed great! But Egyptians, as a friendly and warm people, usually easily start conversations with people around them (at the restaurant, on the streets etc)… the problem is that I do not understand what people are telling me and I cannot answer what people ask me!
I came across some situations (and assumptions):
– Children at FACE (one of our CYTI Partners in Cairo) asking social workers (about me): ‘Who is this guy? We talked to him and he does not understand anything. Is he slow or has intellectual problems?’
– ‘Why are you not Egyptian?’
– ‘Why do you speak English?’
– ‘You are not Egyptian? You are French??! Ah from Morocco or Algeria so… (Referring to the colonial past of France)’
– At the airport immigration I was asked:
‘Why do you have a French passport?’
‘Why do you look like an Egyptian?’
‘Why is your father named that?’
Lesson learnt 2 – First sentence I learned in Arabic during my first trip: ‘I do not speak Arabic, I am not Egyptian’!
- No easy way out…
‘As demonstrations were still going on the day of my flight, I was worried about potential checkpoints or protests that would block the way to the airport. So I got to the airport very early: 5 hours before the flight. Helpful? No.
Bad luck 1: the flight was delayed.
Bad luck 2: I could not catch my connection so I was stuck there
Bad luck 3: I asked what to do at the check in counter? “It is ok, just one minute sir” the guy told me after I gave him my passport.
A detail, but in Egypt this is usually a very bad sign. Last time I was told “It is ok, just one minute”, it was before going on outreach with FACE and that one minute eventually turned into three hours.
After one hour waiting and many “It is ok, one minute sir”-s, looking at all the other passengers checking in, I asked: ‘I think it is not ok, so what is going on?’
The officer asked me for my passport (which of course I had already given him). He told me he did not have it.
Actually they had lost my passport…
Bad luck 4: Passport lost, it is almost 3am, protests going on in Cairo… that is not how I was expecting my holiday to start.
It took another hour for them to find my passport after I shouted so much and actually yelled: ‘ I‘ll block the queue!! Until you find my passport nobody will check-in’.
Finally it worked. They found my passport and put me on another company’s flight.
So I eventually flew out at 6:30am after spending 9 hours at the airport and without sleep for 24 hours!
Lesson learnt 3 – In Egypt to get what you want, you sometimes need to shout…
Anyway, Egypt is a great country, nice people, and we have some wonderful CYTI partners there – It’s our hope that there will be real stability and peace for them!’