I look up. A volley of cans are hurling in a high arc through the smoke filled air. I immediately calculate their trajectories and realize they’re heading right for me. With zero time, I leap to safety.
The first one lands just a few feet from where I was standing. White gas suffocates the air.
Instantaneously my eyes begin to burn like a thousand piercing needles. Then my nose, mouth and lungs become enflamed.
A second canister rockets past my ear.
“Go, go,” I yell out in panic.
The crowd and I retreat in a one thousand-man stampede. Blinded by the gas, we all hold each other’s shoulders as we sprint to safety.
I jump a brick wall and land in a vacant lot. The gas keeps burning. I spit and cough in vain. It takes ten minutes, but the burning finally subsides and my vision clears.
After this account, a lot of you are probably thinking, “why in the world would I want to go protesting?” Admittedly, protesting isn’t the safest thing to do during your travels. In fact, it probably ranks up there on the best ways to get yourself killed abroad. And it’s definitely something your mom wouldn’t want you to do either.
Nevertheless, there is nothing more remarkable than absorbing the chants of over 100,000 people. There is nothing more exhilarating than running top speed to avoid a volley of tear gas and rubber bullets. And there is nothing as emotionally moving as watching people fight and die for a cause they believe in.
If any of this appeals to you as it did for me, the following guide will teach you how to stay safe, and have one of the most epic experiences of your life. Although this guide is based off of experiences while protesting in Egypt, it is applicable to most protests around the world.
Disclaimer: Read at your own risk. The Runaway Guide is not responsible for any injuries or death that may occur should you go protesting in a foreign country such as Egypt.
Step One: Scout The Scene
If the military is using live rounds, tanks are rolling and there are Bedouins on camel back wiping people, its probably best that you enjoy the action from your roof top hostel. But if it’s just tear gas and rubber bullets, then jump on in. In all seriousness though, you really need to use your best judgment. A good indicator of whether it is safe to venture out is if other westerners or the media are out on the street.
Step Two: Buy Protective Gear
Tear gas burns like a gallon of hot sauce on your face and rubber bullets can make you the next Stevie Wonder minus the musical genius. In order to protect yourself, pick up a diving mast and a snorkel. The mask will protect your eyes from the gas and bullets and you can easily rig the snorkel to create a gas filter. Additionally, be sure to wear layers to lessen the impact of stray bullets.
Step 3: Advance On The Action
Slowly make your way to the main protest street. In Egypt, this is often Muhammad Mahmoud street. If Carls Jr. is open, treat yourself to a Jalapeno Chicken Burger. Once replenished, advance behind the crowed. Always know where you can find cover if need be. Now simply enjoy the madness that is a protest, throw a rock or two if you can muster the courage.
Step 4: Plan Your Escape
Advances and retreats by both the police and civilians characterize a protest. If the protest is on a narrow street, a retreat of protesters can easily turn into a dangerous stampede. Therefore is essential that you have an escape route. Acquaint yourself with a side street or vacant lot for when the time comes. However, if you do find yourself in a stampede, hold the shoulders of the person in front of you, and be sure not to fall. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of a protest.
Step 5: Revel In The Chaos
The walls of society are crumbling. The government is losing control. The air is filled with tear gas and buildings are on fire. It is unlikely that you will ever see such a scene again. Soak up the madness from a safe distance. Remember the cries of people. Try to understand their grievances and feel their frustration.
Step 6 Go Home
If you have survived this long, it’s best to go home to your hostel. You don’t want to push your luck too far. Try and take lesser streets and back allys home if you can and stay on guard. Protests can easily expand and engulf you in moments. When you get home, relax, recover, and reflect.
Protesting is an adventure like no other. If you have the opportunity, you should definitely consider it. However, needless to say, protesting is dangerous. People are arrested, foreigners included. People become blind, wounded, and even die. It is no doubt a risk. So if you do decide to join a protest be sure to heed this guide.
Good Luck and safe protesting,
Huge thanks to Annecy for keeping me fed on adventures like this! If you can help me keep doing what I love to do, check out my FEED ME page for information and rewards on becoming a sponsor.