After Saturday night, we made the decision to stay with friends who live about a mile away from us. There were several reasons for the decision. First of all, we wanted to be around other people, and the family we were staying with lived in a building with several other friends and colleagues. In particular, there are lots of other kids there for R to play with. Second, their street was a little bit quieter. Our flat is right off of one of the main roads into Maadi, which was why we had to listen to so many nearby tanks and guns the night before. Third, they have satellite television so we could keep abreast of things by staying glued to Al Jazeera. Fourth, because there are other colleagues in the building, we also found ourselves better apprised of what the university was and was not doing.
A friend with a car picked us up on Sunday morning. He parked at the end of the block because there were cars still blocking the road from the night before (and they remained in place for most of the rest of the week). We packed carefully though not comprehensively. There was, somewhere in my mind, the possibility that we would never be able to get back in (for a range of reasons). I was extremely concerned about a decade worth of research documentation culled from archives on three continents, which, at the risk of sounding dramatic, represents my life work. Its loss would be devastating, though our primary concern was and remains the safety of our family, friends, and neighbors. (I spent Monday and Tuesday back the apartment, scanning materials, organizing and packing, realizing that we would probably be evacuating later in the week. I made the 20-minute walk in the morning after the 8am curfew lifted and returned to our friends’ place before curfew which was 3pm those days.)
The place where we were staying is closer to Maadi Sakinat, and generally did seem quieter although on Sunday, there were helicopters and fighter jets flying low over the city and neighborhood. (You can see a helicopter through the trees, to the left of the flag, in the picture at left. Both photos are from Tahrir, Wed., Feb. 2.)
Our friends also live somewhat close to the Interior Ministry’s notorious Tora Prison, which has been the site of the torture of countless political detainees over the years, and where there was a well-publicized escape. There was a lot of noise—gunshots and explosives of sorts—coming from the direction.
View Torah Mahkoum Prison in a larger map
We were on Road 14. I should point out that the noise from the prison never seemed threatening because although the distance the sound travels is not particularly far, the prison is (or was) located across a highway overpass from our neighborhood so it was not as “close” as it appears on the map or sounded during those days. Some of the stories coming out about the prisoner escapes are among the most remarkable that I have heard in the past few weeks.
From the roof of the building, we could also see tracer fire being shot into the air (often followed by live rounds). It was hard to discern precisely where it was coming from. It may have been coming from the prison. Or it may have been coming from two nearby apartment buildings that are residences for retired military personnel.
We stayed three nights there and need to shout out big thanks to those who put us up and put up with us.