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You can’t always get what you want

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CAIRIO — Twelve.

That’s the number of days my semester abroad in Egypt lasted.

In my last blog post, I commented that by the time you read this, Egypt would have Internet again or I would have been shipped off to the U.S. I never thought the latter would be the reality.

First, we heard it through word of mouth, other students relaying what their parents told them. We got the official call from Notre Dame Sunday.

After nearly a week of rioting, four days without Internet access and an advisory by the U.S. embassy that all Americans should return home, our semester abroad in Cairo has been cut short.

We leave on the next plane that will take us.

To where? I’m not sure.

Either back to Notre Dame or to the Notre Dame London program, so we hear. Neither of which feel like appealing options right now, but you can’t always get what you want.

With what? Whatever will fit.

We were told to pack one checked bag and one carry on item. That means I have to leave one suitcase full of clothes here and who knows if I will ever see it again. This is Egypt after all, so I doubt it. Not to mention the fact that I packed for 70 to 90 degree weather and wherever I’m headed will certainly be much colder.

Will I still be able to graduate on time? Probably.

Will I still be able to be an Arabic major? That’s up in the air.

These are heavy questions, with no simple or clear answer. And a million of them are running through my head.

As I attempt to pack up my life again, much sooner than I expected to and into half as many bags, I can’t help but think of all that I might have missed.

The Great Pyramids.

Climbing Mount Sinai.

Spring break in Greece.

Still, I do not regret my decision to study abroad in Cairo.

In fact, despite all that we’ve witnessed, the other study abroad students and I were steadfast in our desire to stay in Cairo at all costs. And when rumors started flying that we would be pulled from the program, we wanted to refuse.

We had chosen to come here for a reason.

We had chosen to push ourselves.

We had chosen risk.

But that was before today.

Before we found out that the United States advised all Americans to leave Egypt, we went to downtown Cairo to the U.S. Embassy to find out their stance on Americans in Egypt. It was our first time downtown since the riots began.

On the way, we saw the remnants of several cars that had been burned during the riots. The basic infrastructure was there, but every part of the car that was not metal — the tires, the seats etc. — was gone.

Our cab pulled up in front of the U.S. Embassy building only to find it barricaded by tanks and several members of the Egyptian army, equipped with rifles. Driving around other parts of downtown yielded more of the same.

One officer came up to our cab window, dressed in military gear and casually holding his rifle, and I realized that I had never been so close to a working gun before.

I kept my hand gripped tightly around my American passport and finally understood why it was important for us to leave.

I came here because I wanted to expand my horizons. This past week and a half has certainly done that. And while I wish I could learn and grow more in the next few months, I’ll take this week and a half over a whole semester in the U.S. any day.