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Dave Ungrady

Dave Ungrady

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A Stranded Refugee

Posted: 02/ 2/11 06:58 PM ET

Fate often disrupts the best-laid travel plans. Natural occurrences such as snowstorms and volcanic eruptions, mechanical breakdowns and even human error have forced flights to be delayed, trains to be rescheduled and cruises to be anchored.

As Mate Tokić and thousands of others have recently discovered, political crises can also curtail a travel itinerary.

Tokić, a history professor at the American University in Cairo, knows all too well about the inconveniences of disrupted travel. Last spring, a trip to New York City from Cairo was extended by 2 weeks after flights from the city to London were stopped because a massive cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland floated across northern Europe. Last week, TravelChannel.com posted Tokić's story about how he used social media to plot a recovery procedure during a winter storm that halted travel in London in December 2010.

This week, Tokić is once again stranded, this time due to the growing political unrest that plagues Egypt. As he documents in an essay on TravelChannel.com, Tokić had hoped to fly out of the Washington, DC, area on Jan. 26 for a Jan. 28 arrival in Cairo to begin working the new semester at the American University. First it was yet more snow that delayed his trip out of DC. He writes:

My original flight was cancelled following a storm that left just over 7 inches of snow in a few hours at Dulles International Airport. The flight was scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. last Wednesday. After 5 hours of trying to reach Dulles by subway and airport shuttle, I got as far as a public bus bay to wait for a bus that got stuck in the snow and never arrived. My fruitless struggle to reach the airport was in vain; at 1.30 a.m. on Thursday, the flight was cancelled.

As he tried to rebook a flight to Cairo, Tokić was also intensely monitoring the political unrest in Cairo, which was growing from grassroots public protests to massive, countrywide demonstrations. Tokić faced his next traveling foe soon after arriving at London's Heathrow Airport. More from Tokić:

I first noticed the monumental demonstrations on Friday as I entered the mostly empty departure halls of Heathrow's Terminal 5 around 4 p.m. UK time. Two large groups of tightly huddled people occupied the space. On one side were drunk Spaniards, enjoying their last moments of holiday in the UK. On the other side stood virtually all of the passengers, numbering about 200, from British Airways flight 155 scheduled for Cairo. They closely watched BBC reports out of Cairo on the large television screen next to the gate. Most appeared to be Western tourists or Egyptian nationals returning home. For nearly 2 hours, a nervous silence engulfed the gate area.

Five Days later, Tokić still has not arrived in Cairo. He has found refuge with family in Germany. His teaching gig is on hold; the school has delayed its start of spring semester classes. Tokić hopes doing some academic research this week will take his mind temporarily away from the turmoil that has engulfed his temporary homeland. If travel restrictions continue, he may even attend the Berlin film festival next week. But he cannot fully escape Cairo's crisis. Tokić:

My thoughts are focused, if not actually fixated, on Cairo. After more than 30 years of dictatorship in the country, the people of Egypt have said halas, enough. The thousands that are filling the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities are there to create a brighter future for their country. If this means I have to live out of my suitcase another week or 2 or 10, the inconvenience pales in comparison to what's happening in Egypt, where many have given their lives to bring an end to an autocratic regime.

Tokić expresses regret about not being a firsthand witness to Egypt's political revolution. But he is careful not to complain about his plight. His latest travel detour has been relegated to a mere belch of an inconvenience when he contemplates what his friends and others are enduring as they fight to overthrow a government that has suppressed their freedoms for three decades. And we imagine that most other similarly inconvenienced travelers have also placed their misfortunes into proper perspective.

After all, what's a canceled flight or three compared to the overthrow of a country?

 

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