I have never really understood the word “unrest”. It seems so much like an afterthought; a simple word stating the opposite of “rest”, but no more. Isn’t everything and everyone in a state of unrest at times?
Semantics aside, the word unrest is often used today to describe heated, politically charged situations in countries like Egypt. This unassuming descriptor conjures up feelings of unease in people halfway around the world as they absorb the media’s sometimes skewed story telling along with the most shocking images a news source can scrounge up. Unrest means danger, unrest means terror, and unrest means stay the hell away lest you be caught up in the violence. Unrest means remain at home.
We had booked a weekend trip to Cairo over a month ago. The week before our departure unrest reared its head as Egyptians once again took to the streets to protest a corrupt government. My friends around the world began a protest of their own. They protested my decision to continue as planned with the trip.
I can’t say that I wasn’t a little unsure. I was. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I wasn’t frightened. I felt no real fear about a trip to Cairo. I wasn’t terribly worried. Not until we were on the plane, pushing away from the gate at Abu Dhabi International airport. That is when I came face-to-face with unrest. And it scared the hell out of me.
Events unfolded benignly enough, as tense situations often do. The plane had just started its lumbering trek to the runway when the shouts began a few rows in front of us. One of the members of the Egypt Air cabin crew was shouting at a female passenger, and she was shouting right back. The aircraft shuddered to a stop. The pilot informed the passengers that we were returning to the gate due to a “disruptive passenger”. The plane made a sharp, 180 degree turn and back to the jetway we went.
As often as I fly, and as much as I am convinced disaster is inevitable on an airplane (see fear of flying), I have never experienced a disruptive passenger situation. However, I assumed that the authorities would board the plane, remove the offender and we’d be on our way. Not so. A strange song-and-dance routine began, with the song as screams in Arabic and the dance as a near brawl in the aisle of the plane.
You see, according to the man seated behind me, the woman simply refused to buckle her seatbelt. Her simple act of weird defiance was delaying our flight, and the Egyptians on board were not happy about it, not happy at all. As more and more people in uniform boarded the flight to attempt to deal with the situation, more and more of the other passengers became pissed off. Shouts directed toward the woman soon evolved into shouts directed at each other. Then the shoving started and the fists were drawn back in a show of force and I panicked. I panicked with a spray of tears, grabbed my bag and got off the plane.
Thankfully, Egypt Air employees prevented my all-out retreat back to my house in Abu Dhabi. They allowed us to wait at the gate until the situation had been resolved, which took over two hours. Two hours! Eventually, Abu Dhabi police removed the lady from the plane, and gate security escorted us back onto the aircraft. As we pushed through the drawn curtain separating first class from coach, my fellow passengers erupted in applause. I almost burst into tears again as we found our seats and got settled.
The man behind me gently tapped my shoulder and I turned around. “When you began to cry I was so angry”, he said. “I just want you to come to Egypt. I just want to welcome you. I am so happy you returned to the plane.”
I was happy as well. Cairo is a raw, gritty and stunningly gorgeous city. The Egyptian people are kind and warm and fiercely proud of their heritage. Tahrir Square is filled with men and women whose ideals are not up for discussion, or for sale. I fell in love with the feelings of angst and despair and hope that are the very breath of this amazing country.
And the Pyramids were great too.