Garfield resident, aunt see history unfolding in Cairo
Elizabeth Martin, left, of Garfield and her aunt Patricia McKissick of Murrysville in Cairo in January.
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After Garfield resident Elizabeth Martin studied architectural history at the University of Pittsburgh, the chance to travel to Egypt with her aunt seemed like a living trip through her old art history textbooks.
But Ms. Martin, 26, never dreamed that on her first visit to Egypt, she'd be witnessing the next chapter in the nation's history unfold.
It's absolutely incredible," Ms. Martin said from her guesthouse apartment in Zamalek, an island on the Nile River fewer than two miles from Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Outside, crowds brandishing red, black and white Egyptian flags flooded the streets, while sounds of incessant car horns and calls of "Alhamdulillah!" -- "Praise be to God!" -- filled the air, just hours after reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ceded power after a nearly 30-year rule.
"It's like watching magic happen," she said.
Ms. Martin and her aunt, Patricia McKissick, 67, of Murrysville, have been living in Cairo since early January as volunteers with Refuge Egypt, a Christian aid organization that works to prepare Sudanese refugee children for school.
They had been keeping tabs on Tahrir Square, watching with uncertainty as hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded Mr. Mubarak's resignation as part of an escalating 18-day uprising that has left at least 300 dead, according to estimates from the United Nations.
But as they snapped photographs of the Nile Friday, Ms. Martin and Ms. McKissick also happened upon the Square, walking past barbed wire fencing as local women-turned-makeshift-security-guards calmly examined purses and passports.
Minutes later, it happened.
"It was like this sound erupted from many people as we were moving with them, and a man was next to me with a cell phone to his ear ... and he's saying, 'Mubarak gone!' 'Mubarak gone!' " said Ms. McKissick. She is a former Peace Corps volunteer to Iran who has spent two years traveling back and forth from Egypt, where her husband, John, worked.
"It was a chorus of horns honking, waving flags, so we joined them all. Women smiling, crying. It's just wonderful."
Ms. Martin said the crowd was "more people than I've ever seen at one place at the same time," noting that more adults, children and even people in wheelchairs joined in jubilant marching, embracing and chanting.
The euphoric mood in Cairo came as a marked change from just days earlier, when city curfews and shuttered storefronts added to thick tensions after Mr. Mubarak delegated some authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but reiterated his refusal to leave the presidency Thursday.
Ms. Martin and Ms. McKissick said their Internet and cell phone service had been restored following periodic blackouts, and they spent part of Friday evening chatting with family members in the United States.
As the clamor of horns continued to rage outside, Ms. Martin noted that she felt safer in Tahrir Square's shoulder-to-shoulder crowds Friday than in her Cairo apartment less than three weeks ago.
Moments later, though, there were three gunshots outside, and police sirens. Then a pause.
"I am afraid things will turn sour tonight, and I am afraid there will be some organized chaos happening," she said.
"But we'll see what tomorrow brings."
First Published February 12, 2011 12:00 am