Atlantans in Egypt | Confusion and eery calm, some flee while some "wait and see"

Tye Tavaras has had a harrowing month.

On Dec. 30, she was robbed at gunpoint with several friends on a sidewalk near Little Five Points on Atlanta's east side. Then, the Hapeville woman endured the historic snowstorm that confined people in their homes for nearly a week.

Now, the 23-year-old graduate student is facing gunfire and home confinement at the same time, as she waits out the political crisis in Cairo.

In a telephone interview with the AJC Monday afternoon, the American University student described military jets streaking low over her apartment building on the outskirts of the city.

She and her roommates must abide by a curfew, which means no grocery shopping outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Police are a rare sight, and with reports of looters in the city, men in her neighborhood have improvised their own security, walking the streets armed with sticks, bats and pipes.

"I'm not feeling particularly unsafe," she told the AJC. "But my boyfriend and my mom are fairly worried that things could get unsafe."

Tavaras described the confusion in a city where the government cut off Internet and cellular service in an attempt to short-circuit the anti-government rallies. When she saw on satellite television that the U.S. government was arranging trips out of the country for Americans, she called the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Instead of information, she got voice recordings telling her to stay put.

She contacted her mother, Debra Tavaras, who called the U.S. State Department from Hapeville. She learned the government was arranging flights to "safe havens" in nearby countries, such as Greece or Turkey. But Americans would have to pay for the flights, and would also have to figure out how to get back to the United States on their own, the elder Tavaras told the AJC.

In a stroke of luck, Tye Tavaras, who is studying international law, had already planned a trip to the Netherlands to conduct research. She planned to fly on Sunday, but her mother got the airline to board her on an earlier flight. Tavaras is scheduled to fly out of Cairo Wednesday. From there, she will fly home.

Debra Tavaras is miffed that the airline wouldn't refund the return trip to Cairo nor discount the $2,700 flight to the states. But she's happy her daughter has an escape plan.

"My concern is that we just get her out," Debra Tavaras said.

Some of Tye Tavaras' friends aren't so fortunate. Her roommates are from the Comoros Islands and cannot afford the flights out, the younger Tavaras said. The same goes for a fellow U.S. student whose parents can't afford the price tag of an emergency flight. That student plans to stay with friends in Israel or Palestine if the situation deteriorates, Tavaras said. "She's going to try to stick it out unless things get really, really bad."

That could happen, but for now things seem fairly normal, at least for those who aren't near the demonstrations.

Two hours north of Cairo, Peter Lacovara is working as usual at an excavation site in Abydos. The archaeologist and Egyptologist for Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum may have to abandon his plans to travel to another site near Luxor, and he may have to come home before his planned return in March, said Bonnie Speed, the director of the Carlos. But for the moment, he's just working.

Speed spoke with Lacovara Monday and said they agreed to monitor the political situation before changing his plans. "We're all kind of in limbo," she told the AJC. "Everybody is just kind of wait and see right now."

Back in Tavaras' neighborhood, there are signs of normalcy amidst the tumult. A man across the street has continued with the apartment renovation that he started before the political uprising.

But amidst the hammer blows and the buzzing saw, Tavaras can hear the sound of sporadic gunfire.

She said she's excited to be in Egypt during this historic moment, when the people are rising up and "standing up for what they deserve." But she is filled with foreboding by the way Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has responded to the calls for him to resign.

"If he doesn't step down," she said, "there's a high chance things are really going to get worse."