2011
01.29

To go or not to go – that is the question:

I thought Egypt would be boring well, let’s say uneventful, when I planned this trip.  Iraq, Israel – you might expect things.  But Egypt?  And here it is – rioting for days and no end in sight.  US government warnings are pretty useless as a guideline for choosing travel destinations as I have noticed in the past.  At every “sneeze” somewhere, Americans are advised not to travel.  I have to look for different indicators to make my decision.

I am not suicidal – just in case you were questioning that.  But I am reminded of my time in Pakistan in December of 2007 after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  Nicola and I, our driver and our guide, had just arrived in Lahore that day.  Minutes after we got home from visiting the famous fortress in Lahore spontaneous riots broke out right outside of the hotel we were staying at.  They followed almost immediately the announcement of Bhuto’s death on TV.  We were in a sensitive area since the People’s Party’s  headquarter was right next door to us.  Tires were burning and groups of men were gathering and shouting.  That night I saw them using iron bars angrily clubbing just about any car going by.  Friend or foe, it did not matter.  We were lucky that we were inside.  The next day the men seemed to be a bit less hostile and gathered to march off in more peaceful demonstrations.  The country was under a general strike for several days.  Gas stations had closed, stores did not open and people stayed home.  A cosmopolitan town such as Lahore, with millions of people, seemed like a ghost town.  It’s a long story, but even under these circumstances we managed to continue some sight seeing and eventually kept on traveling South to Karachi in Sindh, the home district of Bhuto where according to all news accounts riots were out of control.

If you were following the news then, you would have thought the entire country was burning and fighting and there was no escape.  But with 160 Million people and a country as large as Pakistan, there were only pockets of violence even in the major cities.  And if you were daring enough to venture out you were actually rather safe as long as you avoided the downtown areas where the riots were concentrated.  Most people went about their business quietly and behind closed doors.  If in Egypt 10, 000, even 50,000 people are rioting, than most of the country is still safe.

I decided to get an assessment from the horse’s mouth:  First I called the Egyptian embassy and asked if they anticipated any restrictions for foreign travellers to enter the country.  No.  Then I looked at international evacuation efforts:  Israel had pulled out several hundred Israelis out of Egypt.  No surprise.  But America had not made any such move yet.  That was encouraging.  And finally, I called the Pension Roma hotel.  Since their front desk operates with a land line, I got through to them without problems.  Internet and mobile phone services have been interrupted in all of Egypt for a few days by now.  I asked if the hotel was in a reasonably safe area.  Yes, it’s safe here, was the answer.  And then I asked what to do about the curfew.  I would arrive in the evening in Cairo, hours after the curfew, which had just today been moved from 6 PM to 4 PM.

“No problem.  Just call.  We will send a cab.  You will be fine, honey!”

Ok then.  I am not sure how a cab will be allowed to break the curfew, but I will be there.  Tuesday.