UCF anthropology instructor Amanda Groff recently returned from Egypt, where she was “digging around an ancient Christian cemetery 11 hours south of the country’s capital.” During her travels, she witnessed some of the current uprising.
The Orlando Sentinel covered her journey:
Amanda Groff, an archeology instructor at the University of Central Florida, is more familiar with ancient Egyptian history than modern Egyptian history, but she recently found herself part of the latter.
After finishing up a month’s work of gingerly digging around an ancient Christian cemetery 11 hours south of the country’s capital of Cairo, Groff and a colleague traveled north for sight-seeing in Alexandria and Cairo. At the Mayfair Hotel in Cairo, staffers offered a warning for her instead of the usual tourist tips.
“The guys at the front desk said, ‘Don’t go anywhere, the revolution begins tomorrow,’ ” recalled Groff, 29.
It was two days after the anti-government protests in Egypt kicked off Jan. 25, and a day before the “Friday of Wrath” brought out thousands to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The leaderless movement is now entering its third week, with no clear conclusion in sight.
Until that point, Groff was on the coast in Alexandria. The smaller demonstrations in the Mediterranean city didn’t seem sweeping enough to engulf a nation. Cairo had a different feel. There was something in the air, even in the isolated and wealthier island enclave of Zamalek where she was staying, just a bridge across the Nile from Tahrir Square.
“They were very adamant about it,” Groff said of the Egyptians at the hotel desk. In stores where she shopped, owners also issued warnings. “I got a twinge of nerves, because it was out of our control, it felt really surreal that we happened to be there.”
Late Thursday evening, the Internet went dead, and Groff couldn’t reach family members on her cell phone. She and her friend ran into a few American graduate students staying at the Mayfair who were scheduled for the same EgyptAir flight home Saturday. They leaned off the hotel balcony and used their cell phones to capture chanting voices of protestors downtown.
The next evening, their own hotel had no food left, so they decided to wander out and find some. On the streets, they were startled by the crackling sound of gunfire downtown. Groff was struck by the “genuinely terrified” faces of protestors streaming across the bridge and into the safety of Zamalek.
Egyptian security forces were tear-gassing demonstrators downtown. Wisps of the riot-control concoction drifted across the Nile.
“The breeze carried the tear gas into our faces. It’s like a choking sensation almost, your eyes burn,” said Groff, who remembers it smelling “sour to almost raw eggy.”
On the highway to the airport the next morning, drivers were pulled over to the side of the road filming the protests on cell phones. Smoke billowed from a building on fire next to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Their flight spent hours on the runway before taking off, delayed by injured passengers being loaded from stretchers.
Groff said she learned lessons about how to act in an uprising. She felt safer in the larger group, and above all, she didn’t get too curious and stayed away from the action.
“If I ever get swept up in a revolution again, I kind of know what to expect,” she said. In her line of work, she can’t afford to stay away from a country brimming with ancient ruins.
“Inshallah (“God willing” in Arabic), if everything works out again in the country, I’m supposed to go back this fall.”
Watch video from Groff’s journey on the Sentinel’s website.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, UCF archeologist finds Egyptian history – in the making, Joseph Freeman, Feb. 8, 2011.