Six days ago, on 25 January, Egyptians remembered the day when the people started to take charge of their country. It was Police Day, a national holiday in Egypt, and protesters took to Tahrir Square to protest the emergency law, the corruption and abuse of the police, and the lack of freedom in their country. The protest was big, but because it was a holiday and it was localized downtown, it didn’t affect us much down in Maadi. It was a Tuesday. The protests continued over the next two days, and the embassy even closed early so that employees could leave before the evening influx of protesters. Then it was Friday, and things really started to happen. It was massive. Friends who lived in Zamalek could hear the chanting from their apartment. Our emergency radio crackled to life for the first time with a real message from the Marines (for the first time other than routine radio checks to verify that they were working). We were told to stay home; don’t leave for any reason, unless an employee was needed at work, and then only go in the daily secured caravan. This situation lasted over the weekend.
And then we were evacuated. One year ago today. This isn’t the anniversary that Egypt remembers, but it’s the one that I remember. One year ago today, Alexa and I were ripped away from my husband, from her father, from our home. We were told by some that we had a choice (it was an authorized, not a mandated, evacuation). We were told by others that we didn’t (my husband and his coworkers, who were required to stay, were “highly encouraged” to get their wives and children on those planes). In the end, it didn’t matter. All the wives and children from my husband’s office evacuated, along with most of the other dependents and non-essential personnel, but anyone who chose not to evacuate only had one extra day there: the evacuation became mandatory on 1 February, while I was still in transit.
Then came three long months of separation. I never worried about Jeff; he had the Marines protecting him. I did worry about Alexa and her reaction to the long, sudden separation. She had nightmares. She refused to be more than a foot away from me. She couldn’t fall asleep without physical contact. I was sad and felt all alone, despite my extended family’s presence and support. I missed my husband, and I missed Egypt. But I handled it. It was Alexa I worried about.
And then it was over, and we went back. I said my good-byes, reconciled myself to leaving on something approaching my own terms rather than the relatively traumatic terms of the evacuation. It was over, and we moved on. Didn’t we?
Alexa is still very shy, although she’s so much better than she was. I was a shy child, too; maybe her extreme shyness comes naturally. And maybe it doesn’t—maybe it’s a lasting effect of the evacuation, her temporary loss of her father that probably felt pretty permanent to her, and the stress that her mother couldn’t help but pass on to her. But she’s so much better now, definitely within the normal range of toddler behavior. So has she forgotten? Is she all better now? I hope so; I pray so.
Then there’s me. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to Cambodia. Is it just because there’s no commissary, no Maadi Community Church, no Maadi Women’s Guild? Or is there a part of me that’s afraid to settle in too deeply here, that remembers how suddenly I can be pulled out? I’m not the only one having a hard time adjusting to life at a new post, and some who are having difficulty have lived in many countries before without adjustment problems. My own experiences are within the normal range, too; nothing pathological here. But if it hadn’t been for the evacuation one year ago today, would I have had an easier time here? Would I be happier here than I currently am? I’ll never know.
I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. I considered not even acknowledging what today is, but that didn’t feel right. Most days I think I’m over it, but then I realize that, in my head, I still always capitalize it. Today isn’t the anniversary of an evacuation. Today is the anniversary of The Evacuation. This day, one year ago, had too great of an impact on me, on Alexa, on some of my friends, on my husband and the others who were left behind, for me not to acknowledge it.
So, for what it’s worth, this is my acknowledgement. It’s today. The one year anniversary of The Evacuation. Do with it what you will. I’m still not sure what I’m doing with it.