Photo: mehmet ali poyraz/Shutterstock

Notes on Trying to Call Egypt

Washington, D. C. Narrative
by Elizabeth Zito Feb 1, 2011
Elizabeth Zito takes ground level notes from the Egyptian embassy, the crowds marching towards the White House, and sitting at home in DC, trying to skype friends and family in Egypt.

I WAKE UP to a text saying that they’re all ok, that the phones work sometimes.

I go to the Egyptian embassy and walk with the crowds of several hundred to the White House.

We have shut down Connecticut Avenue. We have a police escort. Taxis drive by and honk to the rhythms Egyptians honk during soccer games. Everyone cheers when a flag flies out the window of a sedan passing us.

I go home. I drink Yuengling. I obsess over Al Jazeera. A friend stays over to make dinner and watch the news too. We don’t sleep, but we hardly do that at all these days, so it doesn’t matter. I press the call button on Skype 3 times at least, every 5 minutes for 6 or 7 hours. Invalid number. Line busy. Number doesn’t exist. The beer goes flat, AJE goes off.

I get up Sunday, I demonstrate at the White House. I wonder if we can do any good but show pride in the Egyptian people. An Egyptian girl chants with me, then introduces herself and decides not to allow me to speak English around her. Arabic only… study partner. We leave feeling empowered, feeling humbled. We are not gassed, we are not attacked or beaten, we wear keffiyahs and write signs in Arabic and demonstrate disapproval of a foreign leader and are not arrested or shot at. Like my friends.

I go to church to set up for worship. But while I wait for the other members of staff to come, I sit at the computer and press call.

Call to Abdalla cell, no answer.

Call to Abdalla cell, no answer.

Call to Abdalla cell, duration 0:14.

Call to Abdalla cell, no answer.

He picked up, for a few seconds. The sound wasn’t working… but my minister overhears. I am about to break from holding this all in. He loads Skype in his office. He leaves behind a box of tissues.

Call to Abdalla cell:

“Ya Abdalla, are you there?!”

“Aywa, who is this?”

“It’s Zito… where are you.. Is Amr ok?”

“Yea Amr’s good. Ya Zito we’re in Shobra. In streets for the night watch. We will patrol for police.”

Amr, photo by author.

“You’re doing the nightwatch?”

“Yea we’re armed. We have swords, everyone in the street with knives and swords. It’s fun.”

A friend described the feeling she experienced reaching an Egyptian friend via Skype calls when the phones came back. “Like my body was shattering into 5,000 pieces. Joy.”

“Are you being safe?”

“Yes… but it’s very bad sometimes. The police are everywhere, they ride on motorcycles and shoot at us. They dress like us though. I saw 4 bodies at least yesterday.”

“What’s that?!”

Yelling broadcasts over a loudspeaker, like a muzzein but not beautiful, not comforting. I hear Abdalla shout to Amr and someone else and I hear rushing noises as if he’s running.

“It’s the mosque; they are telling us the police are coming. Sania wahid… we’re handing out sticks.”

He sets the phone down and prepares a Molotov cocktail.

“Nah, it’s a false alarm. Mashi, Zito. How are things in America?”

“Ohhh, Abdalla. There’s snow. It’s not interesting. I wish I was with you guys.”

“Ya! You will come soon?”


He pauses.

“You must come and we will make it up to you. Cause you miss the revolution… you’d be having so much fun. It’s not fair you’re missing everything.”

He knows me far too well.

“Abdalla we’re so worried. So, so worried. We’re praying every day, and we marched to the White House yesterday. I know it doesn’t help… but we were chanting, “Ishaab ureed isqad il-nezam” and singing.. and we want you to know we’re fighting for you here anyway we can.”


He laughs gently.

“Zito I’m sorry if you’ve had pain. Don’t worry for us. We have a fire, we have tea. Everyone’s in the streets. The whole neighborhood is out. It’s fun. We’re having a good time. We’re being careful.”

He coughs hard.

“Are you sick?”

“No, it’s from tear gas. It’s been very bad.”

Coughs again.

“Ya Abdalla, sadeeqy, I’m running out of money for the call. But I’m going to call you back in an hour, mashi?”

“It’s ok you don’t have to.”

“I’m going to. Don’t make me explain it.”

“Mashi. Talk to you soon, Liz. Miss you, come back to al-Qahira.”

Insha’allah, I will go back. I don’t know how or when but it has to be soon. Because one day I talk to these wonderful people and the next day they are hidden from us, deprived from us like they don’t exist at all. We put up with it and pray instead of checking in – not good enough.

I can only weep and laugh, there is no processing. Amr and Abdalla are playing cowboys, like Yul Brenner and Steve Mcqueen on the streets of Shobra… “It’s fun. We’re having a good time.” I know he’s being gentle for my sake, while I’m shamefully here, just fine.

Over the next 24 hours the words roll around in my head. Molotov cocktails infuse my dreams. I have been steeling myself for grief. I don’t need to anymore; they will be ok. Somehow this dream and dignity will save us all.

I cannot reach them again but I won’t worry; the Egyptians will overthrow the regime. I don’t press call; I refresh the search for flights, EWR —> CAI for the month of May.

Community Connection

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