gargoyle@flagler.edu "Hiding for my life, dwindling food supplies, roadblocks and gunfire at 4 a.m. is not how I pictured my vacation in Alexandria, Egypt," said Betty Jane Stewart of Orange Park, Fla." />

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Orange Park resident witnesses Egypt’s Jasmine Revolution

By Michael Isam | gargoyle@flagler.edu

“Hiding for my life, dwindling food supplies, roadblocks and gunfire at 4 a.m. is not how I pictured my vacation in Alexandria, Egypt,” said Betty Jane Stewart of Orange Park, Fla.

When her Department of Defense contract ended in Nov. 2010, Stewart was offered the use of a friend’s apt in Alexandria. “I jumped at the chance,” said Stewart. “I got a one year tourist visa, registered with the U. S. Embassy and settled in for a nice, long respite.”

The respite was short-lived.

Life was quiet and peaceful in the first part of December. As the New Year got closer, tensions seemed to be growing. “It wasn’t any one thing I could point at and say that was the reason, it was just a feeling,” said Stewart. The unrest began to grow. The bombing of a Coptic Church on New Years Day really started things in motion,” said Stewart.

According to a Jan. 1 article in Aljazeera, “the Copts are the biggest Christian community in the Middle East and account for up to 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million population. The attack was the worst act of violence against Egypt’s Christian minority in a decade. It came two months after al Qaeda-linked fighters in Iraq attacked a Baghdad church and threatened to strike Coptic churches in Egypt, accusing the Egyptian Christian denomination of mistreating female converts to Islam.”

Later in the month, when the anti-government demonstrations began in earnest, the internet and cell phones were cut off. “Travel was by foot only, as the taxis had ceased to operate, all the banks were closed, and ATM’s were shut down. Even if one had cash, there was no place to spend it,” said Stewart.

“I was getting scared. There was occasional gunfire at night, but it wasn’t until Jan. 27 that evidence became visible that I needed to get serious about leaving,” said Stewart. “I had television, Aljazeera, BBC Worldwide, and something else in English, so the information was somewhat reliable.”

Two days later, it got worse. “Streets in my neighborhood began to sprout roadblocks and gunfire at 4:00 a.m. had become the norm,” she recalled.

She finally arranged transportation to the airport through her friend for 9 a.m. on Jan. 31. The only airline really operating was Jazeera Airways, the first privately owned airline company in Kuwait.

“By this time, I had pared my belongs down to a couple of bags. I left food, clothing, and a laptop computer behind,” said Stewart. “Will I get it back? I hardly think so, but stranger things have happened so we will see,” mused Stewart.

“Would I go back? Maybe, but if I did, I would do things much differently,” says Stewart. “The worst thing I experienced, really, was getting information out of the U.S. Embassy.” Having traveled extensively in that part of the world, she learned to always check in at embassies and register, just in case.

“All the countries were very good at keeping me informed by text and phone about travel concerns, except my own embassy,” she said “I felt rather abandoned as the embassy attitude was pretty much that if I wanted to travel here, I’m pretty much on my own. I was notified one time about the embassy’s concern regarding travel in the area and by the time I got it, the reason for concern was passed,” she said

2011 Gargoyle Anthology Award Winner: Gold Award for Feature Writing

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