When in Egypt…

When people ask me, “What are some of your best moments at Yale?,” I usually do a double take. After blurting out “Bulldog Days!” (that too from my pre-frosh years!), I quickly realize why that was my first instinct. My best moments at Yale have undoubtedly been with Yalies. But usually not while we’re all pigeonholed as presidents, majors, and types in New Haven. My best memories and my closest friends have proven to be people I have spent significant time—and within close proximity—outside of Yale’s beloved gates. Connie, through high school and FOOT. Eliot through high school and freshman year shenanigans—and prefrosh weekends. We find our friends within Yale but sometimes it takes a moment to get out to realize the true potential of any friendship.

There we were. January 27, 2011. Tickets booked. Two days after 25 January, 2011, which some consider the start of the Jasmine Revolution. No one knew that things would blow up in Cairo, let alone us. As the weeks ensued, Niko got increasingly nervous. Anxiety is contagious. Before I knew it, I was too. Was I making the right call? Was I being stupid? Was I sacrificing sanity and practicality for adventure? I was so scared, I didn’t have the nerve to tell my parents—and I didn’t until I safely returned to New Haven. I figured, I had been to Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. This couldn’t be that difficult. Or scary. Plus, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We could interview locals for their perspectives and gain on-the-ground insight into why such an event had even occurred.

Author Snigdha and another student riding horses through the desert, with the Great Pyramids behind them.

So when Niko, a freshman I had just met during a crisis workshop for one of the Security Council Simulation at Yale (SCSY) committees I was running back in October, and I bonded during the conference itself, I didn’t think anything more would come of it outside of the typical Yale mentor-mentee relationship. I would take him out for Pad Thai at Bangkok Garden, he would seek my counsel, we would talk, and that would continue for the rest of his time here. But then I had the crazy idea that I wanted to go to Egypt and asked him if he wanted to, too. Before, I knew it, Athens was tacked on (Niko is from Athens) and what had previously looked like a bleak un-adventurous Spring Break (which I had in the past spent with eight other Yalies volunteering in Ecuador or traipsing about the Middle East) turned into a miracle.

We had a layover in Amman. After boarding our flight there, I ended up sitting next to a gorgeous, leggy Jordanian in a slinky sweater dress and sheer black tights. She gave me a chiclet and admitted she had been worried the plane would be empty and, for her, it was a good sign so many people were flying to Cairo. She used to work there but after the disturbance, had to return to Amman. It didn’t prevent her from visiting, though. I had a feeling she must be a flight attendant. Or something of that nature. She knew that the woman on the Royal Jordanian Welcome Page (that pops up on individual screens) was Lebanese and now fat. So yes, I trusted her.

Our first day in Cairo involved breakfast at the hostel, a three-hour tour of the Egyptian Museum, a 10-minute chat with a Columbia grad, Andrea, who had managed to blend in so well in Cairo, a conversation with an Egyptian man who helped us cross the street, a walk to Falfalel (sp?) for nice, cheap Chicken Shawarma (E£7 = $1.19), where we bumped into a Swedish reporter who interviewed us about why we were in Egypt,  a walk around Tahrir square (not as large as I thought it would be), backgammon, and then a taxi to Garden City, where we took a felucca on a 30 minute ride along the Nile, and then walked to the Intercontinental for some amazing Lebanese mezze. Turns out Sebaya, said amazing restaurant, is closed, and we settle for birdcage, Cairo’s best Thai food. We had a sumptuous meal, headed back, and planned our trip to Giza for the next day.

What was great about talking to Andrea, who had just graduated from Columbia and was worried about the missing artifacts from the Egyptian Museum, was how calm she was. Cairo was so calm. When we arrived at Tahrir Square, we were in such disbelief, Niko and I had to ask a gorgeous girl stuck in traffic whether this was, in fact, Tahrir Square. For Andrea, there was a human limit to how much a person can scream. The protestors had been screaming for 18 days and now they were waiting. Right after I returned to New Haven, the country did go ahead and approve constitutional amendments with 77% (of those who voted) in favor of presidential and parliamentary elections within a few months. The world is changing so quickly around us but I’m glad I could see a part of it.