"Half rotation of the earth -- full enlightenment of my perspective."
What a difference a day makes. Recently, I was asked what event changed my views during the 1980s. My perspective was forever altered on February 25, 1986.
I was one of 465 American and international students on the floating university called "The Semester at Sea." The concept was initiated by Taiwanese businessman, C.Y. Tung, who envisioned a ship as a mini-world, a university to accommodate students and faculty to form an international scope.
Little did I know that my sheltered, Midwestern beliefs were about to be broadened by a trip around the world.
My father had sent me off with a new Olympus camera. The idea was that I would capture the world through different lenses. Little did I know that my Wonder Bread compass was about to open my mind and challenge my beliefs.
I was excited about visiting Greece, India, Sri Lanka and East Asia. However, the one destination that enchanted me most was Cairo, Egypt.
Perhaps I had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark one too many times.
At the time I was almost 21 years of age. I believed passionately that woman should serve in combat, because I saw the movie Private Benjamin. I also was extremely self-absorbed and consumed with sorority parties, tennis practice and shopping for the latest dress by Laura Ashley. And, oh yes, my go-to-guide was the "Preppy Handbook."
World views were not even a thought. The idea of international security or political unrest, well simply, it just didn't happen to nice girls like me. To say I was naïve is too kind. Quite simply, I was stupid!
On February 24th my shipmates and I departed Istanbul, Turkey. I had confidently navigated the city by speaking German with my five blonde friends. I think we thought we were an '80s version of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. We were charming, witty and everyone we met sure seemed to love us!
The next day, we traveled the Suez Canal. While we enjoyed sunbathing on the deck, aircraft flew overhead and swooped close. We believed they were American Air Force pilots. In some deranged way, I think we believed we were providing a public service. The truth: We had no idea who was flying over. We couldn't be bothered with such intellectual thoughts -- we had tan lines that needed attention.
The following day, I was walking to my first class. Suddenly, I was thrown into a wall as the ship took a sharp turn. Then, I heard the words I will never forget: "We have been informed that there is political unrest in Cairo and we will be heading to Avir, Israel."
"Israel?" I shouted. "Are you crazy?" I yelled.
I thought, Well wait until I tell my father!
"What about my pyramids?" I screamed like a spoiled brat.
It was the first time in my life that I felt very small and alone. There was no Internet, no social media and no means to call home affordably.
We would learn within hours that an estimated 2,000 Egyptian forces had mutinied. More than 17,000 Egyptian conscripts of the Central Security Forces (CSF), Egyptian para-military force, staged violent protests in and around Cairo. The riot came as a reaction to the rumor that their three-year service would be prolonged by one additional year.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the CSF only received $4.60 a month plus room and board. The idea of their service being prolonged, in addition to other tensions with the regular armed forces, was said to be the source of the upraising.
I was to stay at the Holiday Inn in Cairo with my friends. This building and two other hotels had been blown up in several areas and heavily damaged. The riot lasted for three days and 107 people were reportedly killed.
Days later, all I could think about was, That could have been me!
The vision of C.Y. Tung, to give students an international scope, had been achieved.
To this day, I try to read and learn about international issues. As the unrest of Egypt continues, I read and watch with great interest. Mostly, I pray for peace.