By Marion Franck
“Why are you wishing me happy birthday a day early?” my friend’s daughter asked. The phone call came on Jan. 31; her birthday is Feb. 1.
Nancy hesitated, “Well, cell service has been spotty. I wasn’t sure I could reach you on the right day.”
The answer was honest but incomplete. Nancy Adams, a retired 6th grade teacher from North Davis Elementary, was on a tour in Egypt with her husband and a good friend, Elaine. When waves of fear hit, she tried to stay calm. She didn’t want to alarm her daughter or tell her everything she had heard.
When I exchanged email with her, she didn’t want to alarm me, either. To my concerned email of Jan. 27 she replied, “Yep, we’re just cruisin’ and lovin’ every moment here in SOUTHERN Egypt.
“Don’t worry about us,” she continued. “We won’t be in Cairo until Monday and by then……we hope it will be very peaceful.”
I should have paid more attention to those dots. They stood for the unspoken part, the part I only learned about last week. Unsettling things had already happened where she was, too.
“One night, we were supposed to pass through the locks to Luxor,” she told me recently. “When I awoke at 5 a.m., the boat wasn’t moving. I looked out the window and saw we were parked in the bulrushes. I got dressed and went on deck.
“Somebody told me too many boats were trying to go north, so we were stopping for a while.
“That wasn’t the whole story. We learned later there hadn’t been security at the locks, so our ship of 100 people and its sister ship, hid together in the reeds for the night.”
When they reached Luxor, their group of 19 Americans watched as fellow passengers from England and the Netherlands left on flights arranged by their respective countries. They saw riots on CNN. They learned the American Embassy in Cairo had closed.
This seemed ominous. Their tour company, Gate 1, was arranging for them to leave early, but the international flight had to leave from Cairo. They would fly on short notice: Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to New York.
As I listened to the details of their ride to the Luxor airport, I got a strong sense of fear. A bus came for them during curfew. They drove with no lights in complete darkness on dark streets. They could have hit something or someone, but they didn’t.
At the Luxor airport they felt enough relief to take a picture of themselves in front of a poster of pyramids, the closest they ever got.
Then they flew to Cairo where they spent a night in the airport, trying to find a place to sit. All night, no flights posted. In the morning, flights went up on the board and almost as quickly were marked “canceled” in red.
Then their flight, EgyptAir 985, went up and instead of “cancelled’ it had a gate. This seemed hopeful, but they had no tickets because the computers were down.
Flight 985 stayed on the board and an hour and forty minutes late, it left. I tracked it using the FlightTrack ap on my phone. For the next 8 hours I could have told you within a few hundred miles where over the ocean that plane was located. I worried that my friends weren’t on it. I was thrilled when I learned that they were.
“It almost seems as if we weren’t even there,” Nancy said to me in our first long phone call. “We missed the pyramids, but that did not seem important. I don’t think it ever will.”
Food could have run out. American tourists could have become targets. Egypt Air could have shut down.
“I think a lot of people were flapping their wings to get us across the ocean,” Nancy said.
These days Nancy’s grief and concern pulses around her tour guide. Here are her words from an email.
“Rasha is a highly intelligent and educated young woman who loves her country and its rich history. She has (or had) her own weekly documentary program, with episodes on history, culture and travel in Egypt. She would film six episodes over the course of a month and then head out to do a tour. How incredibly lucky we were to spend every hour of every day with her when we were in Egypt.
“I remember that when the peaceful demonstrations began, she said, ‘Oh, we have freedom of speech, all right. It’s just that nothing ever comes of it.’ She spoke to us about the educated, young middle class people, who want a better life for all. They know that reform will not succeed unless wealth is more fairly distributed. Today 40% of Egypt’s population lives in poverty.
“We sit here at home in America, safe and sound,” Nancy wrote, “but I wonder about Rasha. The bottom floor of her TV station was ransacked, and all computers were stolen. Will she have a job again? I remember her tears when she heard that parts of the Egyptian Museum were ransacked. This is her life, her history. What now?
“Rasha brought Egypt to life for us, and especially for me, after teaching about Ancient Egypt for all those years. I only wish for her safety and livelihood to be returned to her.
I can’t stop thinking about her and wondering where she is today.”