(Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
You know things are about to get interesting when during the last leg of your flight, you see images of your destination city in full, violent anarchy while watching a breaking news summary on the cabin screen.
I asked my media trip comrades if they happen to notice that Cairo appears to be a city on fire, but they didn't seem to share my concern. Journalists' bravado was beginning to wear thin.
Maybe our prayers were not enough.
Egypt had planned three days of national mourning shortly after the 74 deaths at the conclusion of a football (soccer) match in Port Said last Wednesday. We were arriving on Feb. 4 and it appears the grieving process for some included clashing with military police.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said Egypt was passing through "the most dangerous and most important phase in Egypt's history."
Later, I look out the window as the plane continues to descend and saw Cairo at sunset. Against the backdrop of the Nile River, the desert and the city – I see three pyramids together amid the orange haze.
I am struck by a sense of calm. I know that I am supposed to be here for such a time as this.
Inside the Cairo airport terminal, the limo and travel company drivers give long stares as we walk by. I connect with the driver that's about to take us to our hotel. I know he's our driver because as he shakes my hand, he smiles warmly. Next to him, another driver, or at least I think he is a driver, looks at me as if he is ready to pounce on me for landing on his turf.
After picking up our luggage, our media group of three journalists from different news companies, our team leader from the sponsoring international Christian persecution ministry, and his wife, meet with the ministry's man-on-the-ground for Egypt.
He welcomes us to Cairo with a big heartfelt smile, but there is sad news he tells us. Because of Egypt's volatile situation with a new, Islamic-majority government and a youth revolution movement that continues to fan the flames of the revolt a year after the uprising, many Christians are leaving Egypt, scared and disillusioned about their country's future.
Our host tells us that he has just heard from his longtime neighbor friend that he is taking his family to the United States.
"This is not good," he says. "This is not a good sign and this is what we must face now."
Safely in our van, I see the desert sand and many palm trees as the sun fades away and briefly think of spring breaks in Palm Springs from my past, and quickly sober to the fact that our trip has little to do with carefree fun. Yet, as I look out – first, on the surrounding patches of sand, and then, the bustling metropolis mixed with old and new – I notice that people are still going about their lives on an early Saturday night in Cairo.
We hit the outbound airport traffic as darkness settles in. It feels like a typical Saturday night in any downtown city in the USA, only the honking from the slow-moving cars is incessant.
The more we drive, the more mosques we see – and churches. Within close proximity to each mosque is a Coptic Orthodox church – many of both religions' structures are magnificently beautiful.
In this country, it seems like every experience is new for me, including checking into our hotel by first walking through a metal detector. There are more long stares – this time from a man inside the lobby. I look back and he is telling the doorman by the detector something. I try and banish all the conspiracy theories in my mind as quickly as possible, but I'm not doing a good job of it.
At 10:30 p.m. local Cairo time, we meet with a Coptic Orthodox priest (name cannot be disclosed for security reason) who is on fire for Jesus. He talks about Egypt's revolution, hope, and revival.
Egypt is in for even harder times, he says. However, hope is not found in the political leaders, but in the movement of God he explains.
Our meeting ends and we arrive back at the hotel past midnight. Tahrir Square is just a few blocks away.
From my room, I see the bright city lights and reflections off the Nile. The traffic on the busy street below continues… car horns blare into the early Sunday morning hours.
During my first night in Cairo, I hear a crowd roar from the distance … and what sounds like volleys of gun shots.
This story is part of a 3-part series based on the reporter's recent week-long trip to Cairo, Egypt.