Monday, 7 February 2011

Egyptian Uprising - Part 2

This morning we completed the packing and I decided to go back to school to see what the situation is. The HT has told me the school is closed for three days. Sadly, the phones are out and so is the internet. I have not been forward looking enough to advise the children to be prepared for online lessons although they know to check the learning gateway every day (I was also told by the IT department at school a few days later, that parents were emailed with the request for students to log in to the learning gateway for instructions). The HT allowed us to use the landline to call relatives, embassies, etc. From there I returned home and we grabbed a taxi to begin moving. During the move, several teachers saw us with our bags and initially thought we were fleeing. They were even more amazed when we explained we were just moving. During the move, we noticed the petrol stations were closed and that the grocery stores were doing a booming business. I learned that the local police station had been attacked overnight and set alight and weapons stolen and that the largest local shopping mall, had been set alight, flooded and ransacked by looters. That mall was about 15 minutes drive from our location. We also learned that the curfew was in effect and that by 5pm everyone had to be off the streets.

As soon as we had finished the move, about three hours later, we made a mad dash to the local shop and the bank. The shop had of course, been cleared out but we managed to pick up a few things we needed. People were panic buying like I had never seen. In the end we hit about four shops and basically came away with some of what we needed except water and milk. As we walked to our new flat locals were shouting to us to hurry home.

Eventually, the banks were closed. We were in a better situation than many because we had withdrawn the  maximum daily allowance as soon as we realised the situation was serious. Since there was very little warning, some colleagues were caught short and were concerned they would need to survive on the equivalent of $20 for an unknown period of time.

In no time at all the police had simply evaporated, banks had been closed, mobile phone access had been shut down or limited, a curfew imposed and panic buying was the norm. Where once one saw police on every corner or standing outside important locations, there were vacant chairs. They were replaced by the army but very few infantry, mainly armoured vehicles and vigilante groups made up of concerned home-owners and boabs (caretakers). Shopkeepers defied the curfew and took chairs out in front of their shops for the overnight job of deterring looters. Some were armed.

As soon as we got home after being urged on by locals we started unpacking and sorting out the few meagre groceries we were able to collect. By the time we were finished, it was well after 19:00 and several hours into the first curfew. We did what so many of our colleagues and neighbours did, and tuned in to BBC World Service and CNN. Sadly, these two pillars of news and information were often left wanting in terms of providing information we, as residents, needed to stay informed. While the government station frequently ran emergency hotline numbers for medical aid and the army we hoped that the two major news services would do the same but supplement that information with news and advice from the various embassies. In reality, there was very little of that and in fact several colleagues complained that the BBC and CNN gave absolutely no information for residents who were not residents of the UK or USA. Personally, I cannot confirm that, since I did not have the luxury of continuously watching the television, but I would agree that the coverage was limited in its usefulness to those on the ground beyond Tahrir Square.

Eventually, it came time to determine our shifts for the evening. It was suggested that since there were looters about, that we should barricade our doors and have a member of the family awake over night. I decided to do the night shift from 20:00 to 5:00, while my wife tried to sleep in what we decided would be the easiest room to defend. I was given various bits of advice on what "weapon" to have at hand so I felt fairly prepared.

By this time, we were already hearing semi-automatic weapon fire, some closer than others. Occasionally I would look through the patio doorway to witness what was happening. I saw the various owners, tenants and boabs encircling a fire and each was armed. The gun fire continued throughout the night in waves of severity. In some cases the shots were close enough I could tell from what direction they had come from. At about midnight I happened to be sitting in the living room trying to determine what we would do the next day when the floor of our ground floor flat began to vibrate and the cup on the side table near me began to shake as well. I got up and opened the door to see an Egyptian tank rolling from the far corner of our commons towards the corner closest to the main street. The dust it kicked up caused me to close the door again - and lock it. The tank was no doubt moving in to support a troop carrier at the T-junction nearby from where the last round of shots had been fired. The sounds of weapons fire became less frequent but still occurred a few times each hour lasting from a few seconds to 5 to 7 minutes.

That is how I passed the evening, until about 2:30 when another piece of equipment rolled down our street amid heavier than usual gunfire. There were a few cases of looters trying to get down the streets. They were always interrogated and in some cases turned back. Tanks and troop carriers made their way up and down our street a few more times over night.  

Earlier in the evening, before my wife had turned in, I called a few colleagues to try and support them since I knew they were alone and may possibly be the only people left in their low-rise apartment blocks, since many Egyptians had already started fleeing along with some foreigners. I kept that up until my phone credit ran out. A few days later, since many of the shops had been cleared out I, along with many other foreigners and Egyptians, lost use of the mobile phones not because the phones had been shut down again, but because it was impossible to locate recharge cards. It appears that mobile recharge cards where not immune to the panic buying spree as some people had bought hundreds of dollars of cards at a go. Not only that, but some shops which did have recharge cards were profiteering, charging in some case 100% premiums over the face value of the cards.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Egyptian Uprising - My Experience (part 1)

End of the day 290111 :
I am sitting here in our darkened living room at 21:33 on Saturday 29th January, wondering how I came to be in this situation and how things will turn out. Yesterday, the governement cut the mobile phones and early that day we realised that the internet was down. There was added uncertainty for us because the 29th was to be our moving date and we had originally told our ISP to transfer our line. So, just to clarify the situation I went into the school, a short walk away, to check. But, much to my disappointment, the internet was definately down. For several days before that, the network was running but people had been saying that, for example, Twitter was blocked. Despite that information, I was able to access Twitter via a third party application right up until yesterday. Yesterday, seems like a week ago but it's only been 24 hours.

When I got home, the first thing I said to my wife was to call or sms her mum because I we were systematically being locked out of our methods of communication and mobiles and sms would be the next to go out. Unfortunately, I was right. Shortly afterwards, the mobile network went down and stayed down until about 10:30 this morning when it crawled back into service without any sms capacity. One of the compounding problems we had was the lack of any other method of getting information. The TV in our flat was unable to get any channels because construction work to the bulding, I think, severed the cable. As a result we had gone 2+ months with no tv so the latest information came when I went in to school this morning. Our neighbours didn't speak English and they seemed to leave soon after things started going pear-shaped.

Anyway, back to yesterday. I had delivered the news to my wife and she had contacted her mum shortly before the phones went down. From then, it was as if we were in isolation. One or two people called us but that was it. They weren't able to tell us more than what we had already surmised. There was an uprising, it was out of control, don't take chances, wait for instructions from our school management. So, we continued our packing. It was surreal, it seemed like every other day. Aside from the rumors of looting at the local Carrefour, that was it. We heard no gun fire, saw no chaos, nothing.

One thing I did notice, was the absence of police as the day went on. We went in to the local market to get a few things and wandered off home.  Oblivious that then next day we would be lucky to get basics and that we would be battling against time.

I cannot believe it was only yesterday, because so much has changed since then.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Egypt Uprising - Introduction

On January 25th, there began protests in  Egypt demanding the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has led Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat over 30 years ago. Over the next few weeks, I will retell, for my own reflection really, the events which occurred and how they affected the provision of education for the children in my class and how Web2.0 learning tools helped to deal with the situations which arose. To some extent, the story is still unfolding and may continue to do so for some time. While I hope that someone may find some kernels of information which they may find helpful, the main purpose is for my own reflection so I can more effectively deal with similar situations in the future.