The gun shots in the distance echoed. My co-worker screamed. She began running down the path leading to the two big palaces hidden away behind the riding school. My other co-worker and I shrugged and followed her blindly as she raced, panicked towards the big houses. Hidden behind the palm trees and bushes, the car headlights could be seen. We didn’t know what was going on. All we knew were rumors.
The riding school was inside a massive compound which—so we had heard—was surrounded by over 300 soldiers, all armed with loaded ammunition and a direct order to shoot (and kill) any one attempting to enter the compound. With a 12 o’clock curfew each day at noon, there wasn’t much room for anyone to enter, much less leave. Which is why the dozens of car headlights caused so much panic in our co-worker. Shortly, we discovered that it was nothing other than the Ex-wife of the man who owned the riding club. She lived in the big palace on the end of the property, away from the horses, and worked at a car dealership. It seemed they found the best place to store the brand-new cars were in fact inside the locked walls of the riding school.
Ever since I was a little girl, growing up in California, I had this burning desire to go to Egypt. I don’t know what it was about Egypt that drew my attention. Was it the Pyramids? The Pharaohs? Was it the fact that it was an Arabic country? Whatever the reason was, I was more than ecstatic when I got my first job in Cairo. I packed my bags and set foot on my first big solo adventure to an exotic country, of which I had little information.
My plane landed in Cairo January 25th, 2011—the day the Egyptian Revolution began and the start of the Arab Spring. Although I was working just outside the city at an equestrian facility, the lack of phone, internet and communication with the outside world was a nightmare. How was I supposed to tell my family that I was OK? Not to mention the fact that as a single blonde, twenty-one-year-old girl. I couldn’t exactly leave the stables where I worked. Even if I needed something as simple as groceries I had to write a makeshift list of the bare essentials and give it to my boss and pray he would be able to scrounge up half of what I had written on my list.
During my first year in Egypt, I saw many new and foreign things. I lived in a land with no police, and yet I never felt safer. I made many close friends, both Egyptian and expatriate and I felt as if my mind had been opened to a whole new world. I saw civilians directing traffic and cars in the middle of the city. I saw fathers and brothers and sons guarding their home and keeping their family safe. I witnessed compassion and kindness from complete strangers during this shocking and trying time.
I couldn’t leave the stables for the first month that I worked there, however once the Revolution ended, the Egyptians were desperate for life to continue as normal. Unfortunately, the disruption in the country had caused the tourists and expatriates to be evacuated and every time I had a free day to explore the city or the amazing sights, I felt that I had the entire city all to myself. I was doomed to be the only blonde girl wherever I went, it seemed, and for that alone my ability to speak Egyptian Arabic began to pay off.
I enjoyed my time in Cairo and towards the end of my stay, my mother got her very first stamp on her American Passport and came to visit me. I showed her around Cairo as if I was a local. I don’t think I ever felt prouder of myself to have shared that experience with my mom!