Local

Ex-Tri-Citian stays in Egypt

As civil unrest grows in Egypt's capital city, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo is scheduling evacuation flights to safe haven locations in Europe and urging Americans to avoid travel to Egypt.

But a former Kennewick man who has been teaching with his wife at an international school about 30 minutes from downtown Cairo said Monday that he had no safety concerns and no immediate plans to flee the country he has called home since August.

"We feel very safe. ... It's not quite as bad as what international media is portraying," Wyatt Wilcox, 31, said in a phone interview just before 10 p.m. Monday in Egypt. "There's quite a few Americans who are choosing to stay in Egypt. In all honesty, aside from downtown ... it's still relatively safe in Egypt."

Wilcox teaches middle school science at a K-12 school where students are dependents of embassy staff and diplomats. His wife, Susannah, is a third-grade teacher there.

They live and work in Maadi, an area south of Cairo that is populated by middle- and upper-class Egyptians and where many international companies hold apartments for their employees, Wilcox said.

"The actual protesting itself is happening downtown for the most part," Wilcox said. "You do occasionally hear the pop of gunfire, but those are the police officers and military, who will sometimes fire warning shots into the air. It is not actual exchange of gunfire."

Meanwhile, Richland's John Startzel said his son, David, was finally able to get a flight out of the country after being thwarted on his first attempt to leave Sunday.

David Startzel, a construction project manager, told his father there was complete chaos at the airport.

"There were no porters, he found a couple of carts and got in there with his luggage (he had seven suitcases) and it was just a mass of humans. No organization. Just chaos," John Startzel said. "He said it was kind of like those movies you see where people were ... pushing and shoving and he saw a fight."

Startzel is the cousin of Wyatt Wilcox's mother, Karen, who lives in Kennewick.

David and his wife, Shauna, gave up trying to get a flight after about two hours Sunday, and his company put them up in a nearby hotel where they waited until the curfew lifted and tried again Monday.

They finally got a flight to Doha, Qatar, where he was being transferred. He called his father in Richland about 10 hours later from a cab after leaving the Qatar airport.

David Startzel, whose $2.3 billion resort construction project in the outskirts of Cairo was shut down, will be overseeing construction projects in Qatar as it prepares to play host to the World Cup soccer championships in 2022, his father said.

"They never felt unsafe," Startzel said about his son and daughter-in-law, who also lived in the Maadi area. "It wasn't and it isn't anti-American. It's about the president and his regime. That's what the people were protesting."

Protests that started the unrest last Tuesday weren't "really that big of a deal," Wyatt said, and his school, which runs Sunday through Thursday, operated as normal the last two days of the week.

Things began escalating on Friday when protesters started burning things down so school officials closed school Sunday and Monday, he said.

The couple, who moved to Egypt last summer after teaching for four years in South Korea, said life for them is going on as normal -- except for not going to work and having to abide by the curfew that runs from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Wilcox said it's tough for him to say what the situation is like at heart of the protests because they hadn't wandered outside their neighborhood in the past week.

"The irony with the whole situation in place is that with the curfew (and less cars on the road) the air quality in Cairo has improved significantly," Wilcox said.

The Wilcoxes don't have a TV, but they have gone to friends' homes to watch international news for updates on what is happening. The internet still is down, SMS text messages are still blocked and they can't make calls out of the country, but they can receive calls.

Wilcox's mother, Karen, reached her son on his cell phone Monday by using Skype. She said while her son is "world-wise" and has been in other countries -- such as Kenya -- where political protests have broken out, she still worries.

"Being a mom, you worry," she said. "It's your child. And they're expecting our first grandchild too. Being a mom, you are always worried about it, even though they tell you not to."

She said Wyatt went to the bank last Tuesday when rumors began circulating about the protests and withdrew extra money to get them through while the banks remain closed. The main market has been ransacked, but there are little markets in the neighborhood where they can still buy some food and other supplies, she said.

"They have started to get low on supplies, but they said it's just the two of us and they can stand it for a while," Karen said.

The Wilcoxes are packed and ready to leave if they're told to, but they expected to wait to see what happens after a planned meeting today at the school.

Wyatt Wilcox said there are rumors that things may pick up Tuesday -- Egypt is 10 hours ahead of Washington -- with a strike being planned. But he said it was tough to say whether that would encourage protesters to get stronger.

There have been reports of looting and burglaries throughout Cairo, but there have been only a few attempts in the Maadi area, he said.

A recent international news report about thugs on the streets in Cairo showed pictures of men with baseball bats and pipes, but Wyatt said those men more likely were neighborhood watch groups set up to protect their homes.

"To try to prevent looting, there's been a lot of positive. Guys will sit out in front of stores to try to protect the stores and sit out in front of apartment buildings so people don't break into apartments," he said. "Neighborhood watches have been formed and it's been very neat to see Egyptian residents" working together to protect each other.

w Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

  Comments