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Chicago’s ‘Grannies on Safari’ caught up in turmoil in Egypt

The two hosts of the Chicago-based public television series “Grannies on Safari” wound up in the middle of the Egyptian unrest this past week.

Pat A. Johnson and her globe-trotting partner, Regina S. Fraser, arrived in Egypt Wednesday and witnessed the protests while in Cairo, both said in phone interviews Saturday from Luxor in southern Egypt.

A spokeswoman for the TV hosts said Sunday that they are on a boat on the Nile at Luxor waiting for word on when they will be evacuated.

“We could see from our balconies the force of the crowds congregating a few blocks from where the Nile is,’’ said Johnson, who used to work for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs before launching the show, which is aired in countries around the world. “We could see fires. ... You could hear the people chanting. They would chant in Arabic. I heard the word ‘Mubarak.’ ’’

“We saw thousands of people on bridges, just packed people all over the place,” said Fraser, 68, a member of the Chicago Sister Cities International Program. “That made us think this is kind of scary. ... Who wants to be around gunfire and also tear gases? It’s pretty scary.’’

At one point, their bus driver had to let them off two blocks from the hotel because the bus couldn’t get through all the protestors.

“We had to circumnavigate around the hotel because the crowds were massing up,” she said. They made it to the hotel just before it locked its doors.

The cameraman for their show, Julio Martinez, a veteran of WMAQ-Channel 5, left the hotel to film and was briefly detained by authorities, Johnson said. He saw the body of someone who’d been shot, apparently in the protests.

As they left Cairo, “we saw blocks and blocks of tanks lined up along the corridor to the airport,” Johnson said.

The group is scheduled to leave Egypt Friday, but they are hoping to leave sooner, Fraser said.

Contributing: Associated Press

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