CAIRO, Feb. 3, 2011 -- As so many people tried to get out of Egypt this week, we traveled to Cairo Tuesday on a nearly empty flight.
In the back of the plane, there was a young man from Texas who'd told his university professors that he just had to get home.
"I have some family there, and I want to check on grandma," Sherief Gaber said.
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When our plane landed, Gaber asked us for a ride from the airport, explaining that he had tried to get word to his grandmother and wasn't even sure if she knew he was coming.
On the highway into town, we passed lone cars braving the streets well past curfew time. There were flashing lights, and then the stops -- checkpoints enforced by a citizen's army that had taken hold here.
Neighbors have armed themselves with guns and bats, stopping cars to check IDs and passports.
"I think everyone got afraid of the looting, and so they took to the streets themselves," Gaber said.
"You've never seen anything like this?" I asked him.
"Never, anywhere," he said.
In Climate of Fear, Citizens Set Up Checkpoints
We were stopped more than a dozen times before we finally reached Gaber's grandmother's home. We followed Gaber as he made his way through a familiar iron gate and pressed the buzzer.
"Nonna? It's Sherief," he said.
As we made our way up the stairs, frightened neighbors began shouting from their balconies: Who are you, and who are you here to see?
When we reached Gaber's grandmother's door, she saw her grandson and greeted him with a giant hug. She welcomed the crew from America into her house, too.
Just a short time later, our visit was interrupted by a man who barged in carrying a gun. It was a neighbor, checking up on the grandmother.
Gaber Involved in Clash in Cairo's Tahrir Square
"Has this been a difficult time for Egypt?" I asked the grandmother.
"Very, very," she said. "I can't open or anything. You can't open the door. You act like you're not here. You pretend like you're not home."
Her grandson's visit brought a smile, but he told her he wanted to meet up with friends who had marched in protest that day and were still together that night. Before leaving, Gaber gave his grandma a kiss goodbye.
Today, we heard from Gaber again. He'd e-mailed a photo of himself, his face battered and bloody, but still bearing an unmistakable smile. He told us that he had gone with his friends to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of clashes between anti-Mubarak protesters and crowds who support the embattled president, Tuesday night, .
Gaber told us that he was on the fringe of the square when he was attacked, struck in the face with a stone by a pro-Mubarak demonstrator.
The young man who'd come to Egypt to check on his grandmother was now being cared for by his family. He said he wouldn't go back out again tonight.