Life as an evacuee is a balancing act.
I have a life here. But it isn't my real life, the one from which I was torn away so abruptly. I don't even know if I'll be allowed to return to that life. State Department regulations state that evacuees who are scheduled to leave post within a certain time frame (90 days, 6 months, I'm not sure of the specifics; reports vary) won't be allowed to return to post. If it's a 6-month rule, I'm already within the limits, and the powers-that-be won't send me back. If it's a 90-day rule, I'm only a few weeks away from the limits. There is some question of whether that rule will be waived in this case. There also is some question of whether the rule allows us to return if we pay for our own airline tickets, rather than being reimbursed by the Department. But more importantly, there is some question as to whether the evacuation order will be lifted before we're scheduled to leave anyway, making the rule a moot point.
But back to the balancing act. Alexa and I are in limbo. We are experiencing what our lives would have been if we hadn't moved away from my hometown, or at least something resembling it. I'm being a stay-at-home mom, but the home where I'm staying is my mother's house, not my own. I'm attending a small, close-knit church where everyone knows and cares about each other--and they've been very supportive of me and Alexa--but I don't know anyone. I'm driving in my SUV (Jeep Grand Cherokee--very nice!) to my nephews' basketball games and birthday parties, but the SUV is a rental and when I get to those basketball games and birthday parties, I don't know anyone other than my own relatives. I've been living away from this area, coming back only to visit, long enough that I don't have any friends here anymore, so my time is spent with my mother and her friends, or with my siblings or sister-in-law. The highlight of my days is talking--or better yet, skyping--with Jeff.
The bottom line is that I don't belong here right now. If I'd made different decisions in the past, I could have belonged here. Depending on the choices I make going forward, I could belong here in the future. But right now, at this moment, I don't belong here. I belong in Egypt, with my husband, living the life that we've created together.
But if I'm not allowed to go back to Egypt, I'll be here until September, other than a few short trips to DC for processing or to other states to visit other relatives. (Our plan has been to spend most of the summer here on home leave between posts.) That'll be seven months total. Over half a year. Long enough that I should try to belong here. Long enough to make it worthwhile to rent a furnished apartment, find a playdate group, join a Bible study. Settle in a little and act like I live here.
But if I am allowed to go back, it will be sudden. If I go back under Department orders, with them covering the expenses, I'll have three days from the time the announcement is made until I have to be on a plane. That's three calendar days, not even three business days. If I'm in a furnished apartment, my understanding is that they'll pay the fees associated with breaking a lease, but have you tried to make those arrangements suddenly over a weekend? I haven't, and I don't want to. If the order were lifted today, I could call the travel agent, pack our bags, and be on a plane first thing tomorrow morning. If I settle in here more, that would be much more difficult.
It's the uncertainty. Some who were evacuated, especially those with school-aged children, made the decision from the start that they wouldn't return to Egypt, or they wouldn't return until the end of the school year. Their families, their children, need that stability. I need stability too, but much less than those families. So I haven't made that decision, and I won't make that decision, because what I need more than stability is to get back to my life in Egypt, to wrap it up the way it should be wrapped up before I leave for good.
There's so much still to do in Egypt. I haven't even started sorting and purging for our move to our next post. I haven't bought any of those beautiful alabaster lamps with the copper accents. I haven't even taken a tour of Coptic Cairo! And I haven't said good-bye. To my friends, to my church, to the guards who worked so diligently to protect us. To Road 9, the Khan, the drivers who won't stop so I can cross the street unless I step out in front of them. The taxis whose horns create a cacophony of beeps, honks, and out-of-place melodies. The women on the metro who wouldn't offer me a seat when I was pregnant and wearing short sleeves, but who insisted that I sit when I was holding a baby and wearing culturally appropriate clothing. To all the sights, sounds, and smells of a huge city in a developing country. I need to say good-bye, to all these things, in my own way.
I so hope to go back. I so need to go back. But in the meantime, I'll go on with my balancing act. Fitting in enough to stay occupied, to provide the stability that Alexa needs, to use this time to allow relationships to develop between Alexa and her extended family. But not enough to create problems if I do get that call, that email, that notification that we have three days to board that plane. I'll continue to tell myself that we're going back.
Because I just can't bring myself to accept that my life in Egypt is over.