This post comes from Duane and Marcia Binkley, CBF field personnel co-appointed with International Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA:
As many of you know, we have been traveling and were heading to Egypt after our trip ended in Thailand. We had a good trip to Thailand and just before we left to head to Egypt, our son Sean, warned us that the demonstrations might interfere with our visit to some degree. That turned out to be rather prophetic.
We arrived in Cairo just as the demonstrations grew intense. Last Friday (Jan. 28), we misjudged the time we had to return to the hotel and arrived in the area to see the police charge into the crowd of protesters. So we abandoned the idea of going to the hotel and wound up spending the night at our son’s apartment a few streets away. That was probably a good move as we saw the next morning that 5 police transport trucks had been burned around a traffic circle just past our hotel.
Saturday night Sean joined us at the hotel and from his room we could see groups of demonstrators heading toward the main Tahrir square. Saturday night got a little scary as vigilante groups began taking over security on the vacant streets. We could see some of these groups from the hotel. Looting was a problem in places and the vigilante groups were determined to prevent their shops and homes from being affected. Especially on Saturday night, they were on edge and jumpy and shots were heard throughout the night.
Sunday we decided to move into Sean’s apartment again and it was a quiet day until about 4 p.m. when fighter jets began circling downtown Cairo presumably to scare the demonstrators. It didn’t appear to deter the demonstrators but it sure woke up several of the people in Sean’s apartment and set off a lot of car alarms with every pass. Sunday night the vigilantes were out in full force once again. We heard one series of sustained shooting from Sean’s apartment and scattered shots throughout the night. There was a group guarding Sean’s apartment building and street so we felt quite secure though the general atmosphere was tense.
Cell phones had been cut off on Friday and returned late on Saturday. The internet had also been cut off early on Friday and as far as we know is still not available in Egypt. Sean was able to phone some information to friends in the U.S. who then posted some items on Facebook but cell phones and the English Aljazeera channel on TV were the only sources of information that we had.
Monday morning we made the final decision to go to the airport and try to get out of Cairo. The information we had said we could take one bag each. So after stocking up on lots of things in Thailand, we left most of it behind in Sean’s apartment. Sean decided to join us as well though it has been a difficult decision for him to leave so many Egyptian friends behind. He plans to return as soon as things stabilize a bit.
The normal one hour ride to the airport took two hours and the scene at the regular terminals was bedlam with people trying to leave. We and several thousand others cast our lot with the US embassy’s evacuation plan. The system involved standing in line for 7 hours, then waiting another two hours for our plane (chartered from the “well known” Tailwind Airlines) to get off the ground. So at about midnight Monday night we arrived in Istanbul. It was a long day, but with 100,000 Americans in Egypt, not to mention 100s of thousands from other countries all trying to leave at once, and probably most of the Egyptian airport staff out demonstrating, it would be hard to establish a smooth and quick process. We must compliment the embassy staff that were working long hours to process all the people while still maintaining good humor.
We were pretty tired so decided we might as well stay in Istanbul for a couple days. Maybe that was a fortunate choice as we are to fly through Chicago on the way home and they are in the midst of a big snow storm. We are now confirmed to leave Istanbul early on Thursday morning and if the crew at O’Hare can clear the runways, we’ll be there about 1:00 pm on Thursday. With the snowstorm in mind, we had hoped to put off our return until Friday but the flights were full. Sean is taking a different route back to the US flying through Amsterdam and Atlanta so we hope he doesn’t have any problems.
We owe a lot of gratitude to so many that have been praying for us, helping us know what was happening, helping get us out of Cairo and re-arranging our tickets. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Hopefully, we’ll be back in Ohio on Thursday evening but we’ll see what happens! We will write some more about our time in Thailand as well as Egypt after we get back to the U.S.
Duane, Marcia & Sean