Brooklynn Hitchens' trip to Egypt was "amazing and fun" with visits to the Sphinx, the Pyramids, the Cairo Museum. But then "things took a dark turn," says the 19-year-old University of Delaware sophomore from Wilmington, Del.
Hitchens was one of 22 UD students evacuated from Egypt on Sunday. She was on a study-abroad program in Black American Studies/Psychology led by Prof. Yasser Payne and involving 10 students.
On Jan. 25, their adviser at the American University of Cairo (AUC) alerted the group that a demonstration would be held in El-Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) and that they shouldn't meet for classes downtown.
The demonstration escalated, and the next day, the Internet and phones were shut down.
"It was unnerving, to say the least. No Facebook, no Skype, no phone calls," Hitchens says.
From their dorm roof at AUC, the UD group could see the black smoke rising and feel the sting of teargas. They could see police and civilians running down the street. The next day, the group was moved to a hotel near the U.S. Embassy, but there were frightening moments there, too, Hitchens says, when they had to go to their rooms and turn off the lights, fearful of nearby rioters.
Meanwhile in Alexandria, Prof. Audrey Helfman, faculty director of the study-abroad program in leadership, and her husband saw a protester climb the flagpole at the police station near their hotel, grab the flag, and set it on fire. Then the rioters got a Toyota pickup and pushed the vehicle into the fire. The police station burned.
At one point, Helfman says, they heard more screaming and didn't know whether to run from the hotel. A volleyball team from Algeria staying at the hotel advised them to stay in their room.
"We just sat on the bed, holding hands and listening intently," Helfman says. "My only fear was that our building was going to burn."
Helfman credits tourist guide Hany Tawfik, whom she has worked with for years, for getting her and her husband to the Alexandria airport for the flight to Sharm-el-Sheikh, a resort on the Red Sea, where she reunited with her 10 students, who had gone there in advance for their first free weekend of the trip.
"We really owe him a lot," Helfman says of Tawfik. "He's just a super guy. He usually works with big cruise lines, and we are the only younger group he works with because he believes in what we are doing. It's about leadership and listening to the people."