Howard Community College student Sarah Blake was in Egypt when that nation's turbulent demonstrations began, and she and her friends found themselves being pushed and shoved in Cairo's streets.
"It was really scary. That's when the tear gas started coming out more and the water cannon trucks were going through. The police cars would come through, and crowds of people would just scramble," said Blake, who returned from the violence-torn nation last week after a one-month stay.
Blake is among several area residents who have come home from the country with harrowing stories that mirror the images depicted on news broadcasts. Protesters began staging demonstrations, marches and acts of civil disobedience Jan. 25, citing corruption and turmoil within the government and demanding that longtime president Hosni Mubarak resign.
An HCC Rouse honors student, Blake, 19, is set to graduate this spring with an associate's degree in international studies. She has been to 11 countries and was visiting Cairo on a personal trip, studying Arabic. She stayed with friends, including some Egyptians, in a youth hostel.
Blake's parents urged her to leave the country when the unrest began, but she wanted to stay. For a few days, she could not make contact with her parents because much electronic communication in the country had been shut down. With the unrest escalating, Blake decided to leave; she got a confirmed seat on an Alitalia flight to Rome on Jan. 31.
"I stayed at a friend's house that night, and he and his friends arranged for me to get to the airport," said Blake. "It took so much longer than we expected, and there were tanks blocking the road. The airport itself, people were just en masse outside of it. We went inside, and it was just chaos.
"But my friend really helped me out. He took my big suitcase and he cleared away the people so I could get to the Alitalia counter," she said. "After that, customs wasn't bad, it could have been a lot worse. I got my passport stamped, and then I ran to the gate."
When she made it to her plane, Blake texted her parents a message: "MADE IT, TALK TO YOU IN ROME."
From Rome, Blake flew into Philadelphia on Tuesday night, and then returned to Columbia. Asked that night how it felt to be back in the U.S., she said, "I am honestly really exhausted right now. I'm not really back yet. I'll be back tomorrow after I had some sleep."
Blake said she did not take part in the demonstrations but was outside during much of them. "I didn't go out at night," she said. "For the first half of the day, I walked around the people then. We did get sucked in a few times, but [mostly] we stayed outside of the crowds."
Despite the unrest, Blake said that she looks forward to returning to Egypt once peace is restored.
"I really, really loved Egypt," she said. "I've made so many friends there, I have to go back."