Salim has made it to Egypt from Tripoli. He phoned on Saturday afternoon, it was so good to hear his voice! I was not sure if he was one hour from our home, one hour from the border, or at his home which was one hour away! No matter, such confusions are usual with so little language in common, but never got in the way of a friendship.
I texted him our house address, and today when I came home he was waiting. Luckily I had a friend with me who speaks Egyptian so we sat, took tea, and listened to his story. Boris our cat, never one usually to be demonstrative, was overjoyed to see him again.
“We were accused of being behind the demonstrations by some Libyans, and of being mercenaries by others, it was very dangerous” he says. “I stayed four days at the airport, but there were so many people there, some who had been there one week already. So many people and no planes, no food, no water and it was cold. I went back to my home,”
For ten terrifying days he stayed there, afraid to go out for food and hearing gunfire nearby every night. A Libyan neighbour sent him food which he paid them for. The Korean and German ambassador residences nearby were looted and burned by mobs because they were owned by relatives of Gadaffi. He went back to the airport.
Some 8000 Egyptians waited at the airport. The two EgyptAir flights per day increased to five and then seven. Families had priority, but 50 single men could leave per day. After three days he got out. The flight was free with a fee of LE100 (approx US$80) per person to the Libyan authorities – those who did not have it had to wait.
Other nationalities were less fortunate than the Egyptians, but there were also fewer of them there – Nigeria, Niger and Ghana sent some planes.