This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a lot of things. I am thankful that my small family is together, my husband here with us rather than deployed like so many soldiers who will be eating instant mashed potatoes and dried-out turkey in an Iraq or Afghanistan DFAC. I am thankful that my four year old is healthy and sassy and sleeping at the moment so I can write this. I am grateful to have fabulous friends here in Amman (two of whom – Sara and Kristin– are going to host Thanksgiving for about 60 Americans eager for pumpkin pie). I am thankful we have been able to spend this incredible year in Jordan, with a healthy dose of travel to other Middle Eastern countries that have opened my eyes and boosted my hotel membership status to gold.
Until a couple of days ago, I had been especially thankful about our upcoming trip to Egypt, which we’ve been planning for a month– the penultimate finale of our Middle Eastern adventures, our last grab at this world of wonders before returning to the United States in January. To sum it up, the trip would be Cairo, Alexandria, the Pyramids, Luxor. And most exciting of all for my daughter and me, a cruise down the Nile!
Of course, I started to feel a little less gratitude and a little more anxiety over the past couple of days when I learned that protestors were starting to gather once again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Especially since the plush Hilton Conrad we had booked (cashing in on our gold status) was a block or two north of said square – close enough for the tear gas to waft up. Especially when news reports started to speak of the protesters in “tens of thousands” and “rubber bullets” and “Molotov cocktails.” But my husband, being a man who has spent three years deployed to various Middle Eastern war zones, just cheerfully booked us a new hotel across town, and told me we’d be fine. “The protests are confined to a very small area,” he said with a grin. This from a man who once patrolled 200 square miles of Afghanistan with a mere 45 men, so his idea of a ‘small area’ is very different from mine.
Then my brother called last night.
“Ah, I don’t mean to talk about the elephant in the room,” he said. “But please tell me you cancelled your trip to Egypt?”
“Not yet,” I replied. “But the embassy won’t let us go if it’s not safe. Oh, and don’t mention the trip to Mom.”
“Mom’s been watching the protests on Fox News 24 hours a day,” my brother said. “But she thinks you are going to Greece. She will have a stroke when she figures it out.”
Afterwards, I called my mom.
“Siobhan, you are going to Greece in a few days, right?”
“Uhm hmmm, yes, Greece…” We were just in Cyprus last month. Southern Cyprus is sort of Greek so I told myself I wasn’t totally lying, then tried to think of a way to change the subject.
“But, Siobhan, I could have sworn you said something about a Nile Cruise? Is the Nile in Greece?”
“I don’t think the Nile is in Greece, Mom. By the way, what do you want for Christmas?”
“OH MY GOD, the Nile is in Egypt, isn’t it?” Voice rising. “Egypt? Siobhan, you are not going to EGYPT?!?”
Today, a few minutes after my husband had texted to say he had gotten our Egypt Visas and all was well, our trip was officially cancelled. He received an email from the embassy: Last night was the largest demonstration since the fall of the Mubarak regime. Although the fighting is still confined to a small area in all of the cities involved, the footprint is growing daily. There has also been a larger amount of anti-American sentiment than normal. With the added stressor of the elections next week, there is too much risk for your families to allow the trip to go through.
I should be happy to have averted an incident replete with the sound of tear gas canisters hissing in the distance. To stay safe and sound in Jordan, an extra eight days to write, get my house packed up, neuter a few more stray cats. But, like my husband, I am crushed. The Arab Spring runneth over, this is a moment in history, the outcome completely unknown, its effect across the region potentially huge. A writer can’t help but want to get a glimpse.
And, let’s face it, a blog about NOT taking a trip to a country seeming to fall apart at the seams is a hell of a lot less interesting than a blog about taking that trip.
But it also makes me thankful for the stability of my own country, that we are not currently under the self-proclaimed rule of a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, we don’t have to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood waylaying principles of individual freedom, we have a Constitution that has served us well for over 200 years, and our democracy, while imperfect and subject to slings and arrows in this time of economic difficulty and our own protest movements, is still that, a democracy.
So maybe I am missing out on a view of the Pyramids and a non-refundable Nile Cruise, but, trust me, that’s nothing compared to everything I have to be grateful for.