PORT McNEILL – “Mom, hear this.”
Jocelyn Dansereau listened and clearly heard the gunfire in Cairo, Egypt coming over her daughter’s cell phone.
“I’ve lost ten pounds,” said the worried mom, who got another phone call Thursday afternoon from her daughter. This time the sound in the background was the busy airport in London. Amelia was safe. But getting her there wasn’t easy.
Jocelyn’s 26-year old daughter Amelia Stanevicius, who grew up in Port McNeill, has been teaching first grade at the B.C. Canadian International School in Cairo, Egypt since September. When protests against the government broke out in that city nearly three weeks ago, Jocelyn was concerned for her daughter, but at first Amelia planned to stay.
“At the time the teachers were just waiting to see what would happen,” said Jocelyn. “The situation has evolved over time. Amelia and her colleagues started staying together for safety. They started wondering ‘should we leave or not?’.”
For the teachers, it was not an easy decision.
“Many of them have made their home there. Some families have been there four or five years,” said Jocelyn. “They have their jobs, their friends, they are part of the community. It was sad for them to leave.”
Even for Amelia who had only been in the country a few months.
“She loves being in Egypt,” said her mother. “She loves her job and she loves the Egyptian people. They have been very generous to her.”
But it became clear it was time to leave the country as protests and violence escalated.
“Amelia said they decided ‘we’re going to get our for a little while, assess the situation, and then come back’ but now they don’t know what will happen,” said Jocelyn.
And while those in Cairo faced uncertainty, for Amelia’s parents back in Port McNeill the situation has been “very difficult and stressful'”.
Jocelyn’s husband Tony Stanevicius monitored the news and kept Jocelyn apprised of what was happening.
“We worked as a team,” said Jocelyn.
While Amelia was calm throughout the crisis she knew the danger was escalating.
“When the tanks came into her neighbourhood and cars blocked the ends of the street, I felt a little better,” said Jocelyn. “The local men were very protective and patrolling the streets. One time when Amelia was out, they knew something was happening and told Amelia, ‘Go home, now’.”
Money was also becoming scarce as banks closed and bank machines ran out of cash and credit cards were useless. Amelia was thankful for some Egyptian pounds given to her and for the euros her father had given to her before she left Canada.
“Dad saved the day with the cash,” said Jocelyn.
Then Jocelyn heard those gunshots over the phone. It was time for Amelia to get out. And so Jocelyn started making the arrangements.
“What I have learned through this process is everything is about communication,” said Jocelyn, who has kept a log of every call, every contact. “Something as simple as call waiting is crucial. You just don’t want to miss that call. That has saved the day more than once.”
The few days when cell phone service in Egypt was cut off were “very uncomfortable” said Jocelyn. “Having the phone and being able to talk was very useful and reassuring.”
Especially when you are trying to help your daughter get out of a country in crisis.
“I had Amelia on the cell phone and a travel agent on the landline at the same time,” said Jocelyn who said they had contacted the Canadian Embassy, but went ahead with their own travel arrangements. “It’s a time of crisis. You have to be resourceful and look out for yourself.”
But getting the ticket was just the first step. Internet access in Egypt was blocked, so getting the ticket to Amelia was the next challenge.
“How do you get an e-ticket to someone who doesn’t have email access? She had to have a ticket to get into the airport,” said Jocelyn. Eventually Amelia found someone with a fax machine, and she received her ticket.
But then Jocelyn got another call from the travel agent.
“The travel agents had checked on their own to see if everything was fine with the flight and discovered it have been changed from Friday to Thursday,” said Jocelyn. “So we had to do it all over again, phoning and faxing.”
The greatest danger, leaving her neighbourhood and getting to the airport, was still ahead. On the day of her flight, Feb. 3, Amelia stayed in constant contact with her family.
“She called on the way to the airport, she called from the terminal and she called once she was on the plane,” said Jocelyn.
Amelia left her home before dawn Thursday morning in a taxi with a friend and her friend’s mother. She took only one bag, leaving behind more than half her belongings, to make travelling easier. Forty-five minutes into the trip she called home.
“She said, ‘we’ve gone through about 20 checkpoints’,” said Jocelyn. “There were tanks all along and the checkpoints were managed by the Egyptian people. ‘Mom they are so organized and they are polite’, she said.”
Amelia told her mother the side roads were all blocked off and their car was the only one on the road. At the checkpoints they asked to see passports, the plane ticket and the cab’s license.
“Amelia said, ‘I feel so bad for them, they look so cold’, that is like my daughter,” said Jocelyn.
A few hours later, Amelia was in London where she will stay with a friend and wait to see what happens in Cairo. Her family can relax.
One of the biggest challenges to making all the arrangements has been the time difference of 10 hours between Canada and Egypt. Jocelyn was working during the day and trying to make arrangements here, then on the phone at night with Amelia.
“I have to say, my workplace, VIHA (Vancouver Island Health Authority), has been very accommodating. They saw I was struggling and made arrangements to give me the week off,” said Jocelyn.
Now the worst is over, she urges anyone travelling out of the country to register with the Canadian embassy.
“It is good to register and it can be done online,” said Jocelyn.