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I’m unpacking boxes.

Here’s the frequent buyer card from my favorite coffee shop on Road 9. Here’s a phone number for a parent at my son’s school, scribbled on a piece of giftwrap from the birthday party we attended the afternoon before the evacuation.

Every box is an Egyptian artifact, an archeological clue to a life left behind in a rush. Here are needles and thread in a box filled with toys from my boys’ playroom where I sat down to fix the shirt he wanted to wear to the birthday party. Here’s the note on what I wanted to write in a friend’s going away message. Here’s a box filled with random make-up and perfume – all still open and messy – from getting ready for the party we were at when the call came to leave.

It’s not the archeology of Egypt – tombs and paintings, the book of the dead, all carefully prepared. It is the archeology of Pompeii. Caught in the act of living.

Here are the kids’ school bags, labeled with their names in elegant Arabic script. These bags, and their school shoes, were picked up by our nanny after we left. I asked for their portfolios – those have not shown. There is no proof of the year my children spent in the most amazing Montessori school, playing with friends from the UK, Australia, the Netherlands, and Egypt. Speaking words from three languages – all jumbled together.

Here’s my desk – my calendar filled with play date plans, the menu for a coffee morning, ideas for a ladies wine night, suggestions for the next book club book. Business cards with a phone number long forgotten. Resumes and job applications, acceptance letters for a job never started.

The chronology of that last day in Cairo is simple:

  • 5 AM The boys are in the playroom, and I get the cheerios.
  • 9 AM. Brunch at the American club – awful food, great friends, and bacon.
  • 11 AM Boys in the pool, adults talk about the protests, and home leave for summer.
  • Noon. We walk home, the kids nap. I walk to road 9 to get pictures printed. I take it to my friend S’ house to get included in friend A’s farewell book. S, one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, was harassed again. We’re angry, but shrug our shoulders. It happens too often.
  • 2 PM. We get an email about a possible voluntary evacuation. If there was a voluntary evacuation, would we go? We must respond by 4PM.
  • 3 PM. We head to a birthday party for embassy friends’ daughter. The kids are at home: they know the place; they know each other. Hushed conversation for the adults: What about the dog? Are you going?
  • 8 PM We head to A’s farewell party. My husband is off in a corner of the garden on his blackberry. I’m with my tribe – these women I have come to love like family. I drink too much white wine and dance like a lunatic, watching him from the corner of my eye the whole time.
  • Midnight. The call comes – we’ll be picked up in two hours to evacuate for 10 days. Do you want to stay in Frankfurt or go to the States?. I start saying cryptic goodbyes. Should we leave, people ask. We are instructed not to get anyone panicked. How do you answer when you don’t know?
  • 1:45 AM I’m packed (one bag only) and wake the boys. We are going to grandma’s house, I whisper to them as I get them dressed.
  • 2 AM We are picked up in convoy.
  • 5 AM We are at the airport. I say goodbye to my husband.

The last picture of have of my son in Cairo is this:

It is dusk, and the picture is blurry. My guy is dressed as a pirate – white linen shirt, ragged shorts, a red sash around his waist. His hat is missing. He is dancing with or hugging his little friend Runi. We should leave to get ready for the next party, but we don’t. My son is happy here, and we don’t know what’s next.