Kenyan youths studying at universities in Cairo began arriving back in Nairobi on Saturday morning after being evacuated by the Kenyan government from the troubled Egyptian capital.
Although appearing calm and unfazed by the five-hour flight from Cairo, lengthened by a stopover in Khartoum, Sudan, they were clearly happy to be back on familiar ground and to see their families and friends.
Abdi Muhumed, a 22-year-old who is the elected chairman of the Kenya Students Association in Cairo, told the Sunday Nation there were 25 Kenyans on the Kenya Airways flight from Cairo.
The association has 96 members, he said, and the majority of them had been left at Cairo Airport where they had to wait for the next Kenya Airways flight that was scheduled to depart at 11.35 p.m. on Saturday night.
“The flight was all of us from the East African countries, and there were only 25 slots for Kenya. It was very hard emotionally for us to leave them, but we had to,” he said.
He said they were in the company of staff from the Kenyan embassy and were among hundreds of foreigners who have camped at the airport, some without tickets.
The students left Egypt towards the end of “Departure Day” on Friday, the eleventh day of protests aimed at removing Hosni Mubarak from power and the presidential palace he has occupied for the last 31 years.
Mr Muhumed, a second-year law student at Cairo University, told the Sunday Nation the group had made their way to Cairo airport at 9 a.m. Friday to avoid running into trouble as protesters were to start gathering at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo at noon.
The 14-hour wait was probably the longest of their lives, he said, but was well worth it when they finally arrived in Nairobi.
They had been in contact with the Kenyan embassy in Cairo and had been monitoring the situation, which they said had deteriorated over the 10 days as the protests increased.
Ibrahim Mohammed, a 26-year-old studying for a degree in education at Al Azhar University in Cairo, said he could not leave his hostel, and matters worsened with the closure of banks.
He said the Kenyans had been in constant contact with each other and the embassy and kept each other abreast of the situation until they decided to leave.
They suffered most when the government shut down communications channels. “We could not call each other on the mobile phone, there was no Internet, but luckily we could walk around. There is no problem outside Tahrir, but not much was working,” he said.
Awaited for arrival
Mohammed Sabto, 50, was impatient as he awaited the arrival of his 18-year-old daughter in the JKIA International Arrivals area.
He stood apart from the safari company drivers holding up cards bearing names and cast a keen eye through the glass panel, scanning the area for his daughter’s small frame.
“She called me last night and said she would be arriving this morning. That was the last time we talked, and now I have to wait,” he said.
Although the flight had arrived on time at 6.20 a.m., he waited for nearly an hour before Feisa, his daughter, emerged, pushing her luggage. “Alhamdulillah (Praise to God),” he whispered when he spotted her.
Feisa was too shy and too overwhelmed to be interviewed and only said, “I am very happy to see my family but very tired. I need to go home and rest now.”
Adan Hassan, 26, a third-year student of Arabic literature at Al Azhar University, said the streets in Cairo were devoid of traffic, and they only saw army troops as they went to the airport.
Police disappeared from Cairo streets a week after the protests, and the army took control, pledging that no force would be used against the protesters.
Egypt is among Africa’s most developed countries, and the Kenyan students said life there has been comfortable and cheap.
The roads are particularly impressive, the capital on the River Nile is well planned and does not run out of water and electricity.
“I have been there since December 2008 on a scholarship from the Egyptian government. Life has been good,” Mr Muhumed said.
Kalmo Birik, 25, said classes at Cairo University, where he is a second-year ear bachelor of commerce student, were suddenly cut short 11 days ago when the protests began.
Some students were sitting examinations, he said, and although he used to go to the university almost on a daily basis, there was no sign that matters would improve.
“There was no food, no shops are open, banks are closed…Even if someone was to send me money, there was nowhere I could withdraw it,” he said.
Abdimahadi Mohamed, 23, who studies law at Al Azhar University, said he was evicted from his rented house and took refuge with his Kenyan colleagues.
He was penniless when he landed in Kenya and would have to borrow the fare needed to get to Mombasa where his relatives live.
The protests have also disrupted life for Mohammed Abdinasir Farah, 27, a master’s student at Cairo University studying Arabic literature.
He said he had been in Cairo for just five months and was in the process of getting his papers in order — obtaining an identity card from the university, securing a permanent visa and settling in.
He had been holed up in the apartment he shares with other students in Medina in Nasr City, more than 20 kilometres from downtown Cairo, as the protests continued.
Although happy to be away from the turmoil, Mr Farah is saddened by the fact that his studies have been cut short.
All are, however, optimistic the situation will improve, and they will eventually go back to Egypt and complete their studies.
Some, like the chairman of the students’ association, will have to get their expired one-year visas renewed in Nairobi as they wonder how to pay for their return air fare.
“If the situation is okay, and it goes back to normal I’ll go back Insha’ Allah (God willing),” said Mr Farah.