In 2011, Astrid Gomez - brand manager of Lush Panama - flew to Cairo, Egypt for a weekend visit to see some family friends. When she arrived, there were riots in the city centre and she couldn’t use her phone or the internet; she was on the last flight to arrive in the city before a shutdown.
“After a while of asking for telephone or internet connection, a journalist I met at the airport explained what was going on. Basically, the government requested that internet services providers shut down the internet and telephone lines to prevent people getting in contact and sharing information about what was going on,” said Astrid.
“I wasn’t able to contact the people who were supposed to be picking me up or my family to let them know I was okay, and all they knew about me for days was the news they saw on TV about what was happening in the country.”
As she left the airport, Astrid could see buildings on fire and tanks on the streets. She took a taxi out of town to stay away from the riots: “I stayed with a family in Giza near the Pyramids who invited me to stay with them. I knew nothing about them, but it felt safer than being alone in the middle of an unknown country in a revolution. The whole environment was very tense and there were people stopping cars with guns and at night you could hear the disturbance on the street. I was very scared of what was going to happen to me and the people in the country, but I also felt very bad about not being able to contact my family and tell them I was somehow safe. I knew they must have been very worried and trying to find me.”
A few days later, Astrid returned to the airport to try and get a return flight: “I had to take the return flight to Hurghada: I was never able to get a bus to go there because of how dangerous it was.”
“The minute I landed I rushed to get internet and immediately a stream of messages came through from people. We take for granted how easy it is to contact friends and family. Not being able to when I most needed to was a good reminder to call more often.
“When you travel, the internet is something you count on to be able to contact people, to let people know you are safe, and get information about the place you are in. I was in limbo without knowing where to go or being able contact the people I was meeting and uncertain about what was happening to the people that I was visiting or what was going to happen to me.”
You can join the fight against internet shutdowns by supporting charity Access Now and the Keep It On campaign. Ask world leaders to #KeepItOn by signing the petition by Wednesday 7th December 2016, or take a bath with Error 404 bath bomb (all the profits from sales support Access Now and grassroots digital activists).