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Out of Egypt

UNI students back in the States

February 4, 2011
By CARRIE OLSON Daily Freeman-Journal Staff Writer

CHICAGO - The Holiday Inn at the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill. had one thing that Marco Trujillo had been missing: The Internet.

On Thursday, the Webster City native was sharing video and pictures of his experience in Cairo, Egypt, with friends and family over Facebook. Although he escaped from Cairo, Trujillo could not escape the winter storm affecting the Chicago area.

Trujillo and other student teachers from the University of Northern Iowa had been in the country for a month when chaos erupted in the capital city. The students started their travels back to the States on Wednesday - from Jedda, Saudi Arabia, to Frankfurt, Germany, finally landing in Chicago at noon on Thursday.

Article Photos

Colton Marshall and Marco Trujillo, UNI student teachers, journeyed from Cairo back to the States after chaos erupted in the capital city.

Trujillo had been enjoying his experience in Cairo, teaching at the American International School of Egypt.

"I loved Egypt and the city of Cairo," he said. "The people were great, the food was good."

He said that the traffic was a bit crazy though, as he was in a car crash his first week in the city.

"My cab driver wasn't paying attention and smashed into a parked car," he said. "He had turned around to practice his English with these girls I was with when he T-boned a car."

It wasn't until Jan. 25 when Trujillo noticed that tension in the city was growing.

"The government announced that Tuesday would be a police appreciation day," he said. "When I first arrived in Cairo, people told me that one of the ways the government garner popularity is by giving out random holidays."

He was informed of the holiday a week in advance, and that his school was canceled for the occasion.

"On that day, there was a lot of buzz on the Internet - Facebook and Twitter - about people organizing on the streets, a call for change," he said. "I saw large groups of people walking to a big square in town."

Trujillo had been busy that week, moving with his roommate from Heliopolis - a suburb of Cairo - to Maadi - another suburb. He said that Heliopolis was full of government buildings and was home to one of the palaces of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Maadi is near the Nile River and a popular area for Westerners to live in. Trujillo started the transition to his apartment on Thursday, following the end of the work week.

"We moved into this awesome apartment that we never got to sleep in," he said. "It was great - I could see both the Giza and Saqqara Pyramids from my bedroom."

The protests started to grow throughout the week.

"On Friday, after the call to prayer, everyone goes to the mosques," Trujillo said. "After that, everyone came out into the streets to Tahrir Square to protest. The Internet and phones were soon cut off."

On Friday morning, Trujillo's roommate Colton Marshall, a UNI student teacher from Adel, had gone golfing with friends in New Cairo, a satellite city of Cairo.

"We had noticed four or five large military jumbo jets fly over us, bringing soldiers to Cairo," Marshall said. "We knew the protests were getting serious. They had shut off the electricity while we were eating breakfast."

On their way back to Maadi, a cab drove Marshall and his friends over the ring road that connects all the roads in Cairo.

"We were driving on the right side of the road when cars started turning around, driving toward us," he said. "The cab driver wanted to turn around as well, but we didn't know what would happen if we didn't get back to Maadi. We kept telling her to 'drive straight' in Arabic. We had to finally pay her two hundred pounds to drive through the traffic and get us back home. We were in one of the last vehicles to get through - the military put up blockades after us."

A police-controlled curfew of 4 p.m. was put in place on Friday - but that didn't hinder the young Americans.

"It wasn't heavily enforced, so we went out to a party," Trujillo said. "We stayed out until 2:30 a.m. Nothing crazy happened that night."

The Internet was still down but cell phones came back on Saturday. Trujillo left his mom, Dawn Trujillo, a voicemail to let her know he was OK. But conditions were starting to deteriorate quickly.

"On Saturday, lines at the supermarkets and ATMs were crazy," Marshall said. "All the bread and water were gone. People were taking out 5,000 pounds out of the ATMs."

The men bought bread, pasta and bottled water, thinking they would be hunkered down with friends. That night, another curfew was enforced - this time by the military- and the guys decided it was best to stay inside and follow orders.

Trujillo told of a friend that traveled to the Cairo International Airport on Saturday.

"It was crazy," he said. "He came back and said it took two hours just to get into the airport from the parking lot to the doors. It was total chaos - there was pile-ups on the escalator and people fighting everywhere."

Meanwhile, men in Cairo neighborhoods had been called to action by the mosques to make roadblocks to protect property and families from looters. Trujillo said that they made the roadblocks out of anything they could find - cinder blocks, trash cans and debris. Looters had started trolling the neighborhoods after police forces stopped having a presence in the city.

School had been canceled for Sunday and Monday. The student teachers found out from the AIS that they were not going to stay in Cairo on Sunday.

"There was a lot of gunfire happening on Sunday," Trujillo said. "There were tanks on the side streets - it was like in the movies."

Marshall and Trujillo had to hurry back to their apartment and fill their rucksacks with what they could. Trujillo threw in a pair of shoes, some teaching clothes and his computer.

The student teachers were put on a charter bus with other Americans and Canadians - bound for the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, located on the Sinai Peninsula.

"We had a military escort," Trujillo said. "The newly appointed vice president's daughter was a student at the school where we taught."

He said that he saw about 20 tanks on their way out of Cairo. The bus traveled through various checkpoints between the city and the resort town.

"There were some worries that the bus could be hijacked or someone would harm us, but that was not the case at all," he said.

Safely in Sharm el-Sheikh, Trujillo said that it wasn't until Tuesday that they found out that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and UNI President Ben Allen had decided together that the group of students would soon be heading back to the States.

"We didn't think it was that bad in Cairo, until we watched the news at the Jedda airport on Wednesday," he said. "We watched the pro-Mubarak people come in on horses and camels to fight the protestors. Until then, it had been somewhat of a peaceful protest."

Trujillo said that he hadn't encountered any anti-American sentiment during his time in Egypt.

"They really liked Americans and Westerners, in general," he said. "Egypt is a great country, there was no time where we were really scared for our lives."

He said that, right now, he is unsure of his plans.

"I just talked to a teacher with the AIS school and it won't commence until Feb. 20," he said. "UNI doesn't know what we are going to do yet - either we will continue our student teaching in Cedar Falls or Waterloo, or go back to our hometowns to teach."

And Trujillo plans to keep traveling. He said that he was going to attend UNI's job fair this spring to scope out other international schools. But he would like to return to Cairo if the situation calms down.

"I would like to go back, but if it seems Egypt will be a dangerous place, I won't go back," he said.

And while his experience was unique and a bit frightening - he is glad that he was there.

"It was exciting and it was scary," he said. "But it is history in the making."

Contact Carrie Olson at or call 832-4350.



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