Tuesday, November 22, 2011: A million man protest is scheduled for 4 o’clock pm. During our classes and breaks we watch tv and discuss what is going on or eavesdrop to other’s conversations. Life, for the most part, continues as normal. At 1 pm, the director of our program knocks on the classroom door. This is unusual.
She pokes her head in and calmly states that there is a city-wide curfew beginning at 3 pm, that classes were ending early, and that everyone should go home after stopping by the grocery store and stocking up on ramen noodles.
Did I freak out? No. Did I leave more quickly than usual, make an urgent phone call to my roommate, and then speed walk to find a taxi after not taking time to say goodbye to my fellow students? Yes.
All I could think about was getting to the grocery store. I was almost out of coffee. And milk, we needed milk. I could probably buy a few cartons of milk, and then ration them if I needed to. Yes. I need milk. How could I drink coffee without milk? What if there’s no milk? I have to get milk.
This sick internal dialogue was accompanied by terrifying images of ravaged supermarkets, bare shelves poking out everywhere and not a drop of milk to be had for the roaming groups of latecomers who pick over the off brand mayonnaises and weird canned meats others have left behind. I simply knew we would get to the store and find there was no milk left, the shelves on which it was usually stocked completely empty, only the dust revealing that anything had ever been there. And then what would I do? In order to calm myself down, I made a contingency plan: “ I might have to drink coffee without milk and that’s fine.” But it didn’t feel fine. It felt awful.
We took a taxi home and didn’t even stop by our apartment before heading to the corner store to get the necessities. Unlike the wasted aisles in my day-terror, the store seemed quite normal. I didn’t have to elbow any portly twelve year olds to get the last roll of Choco-Biscuits, and there were no flocks of mothers screaming at each other and their children while fighting over the last bag of rice. I bought two cartons of milk (the long-lasting kind), and refrained from buying another. I was just so relieved it was there. I began to suspect the other people didn’t know about the curfew. They weren’t going to have any milk later on if they didn’t get smart. They also might be arrested for violating curfew.
We, on the other hand, went home and unpacked our groceries and prepared for a movie marathon complete with coffee and choco-biscuits. Curious, I checked the news to see what it said about the curfew. Interestingly enough, it said nothing.
I poked around a little more, searching in English and Arabic Western and Egyptian news sources, and found zilch. And then I went to the Twitter and searched “curfew.” Bingo. I discovered a slew of tweets deriding the curfew and alternatively begging others not to spread ridiculous rumors or mocking them for doing so.
Thus we found the curfew was, in fact, not real. I was glad I’d resisted buying 3 cartons of milk because then I would have really felt foolish. The lesson? Be careful about spreading rumors, including this one.
P.S. I am not one of the American students that was arrested. I’m not writing this from jail. They were all dudes anyways.