Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Year

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.


  1. Oh Deborah! that was well done. You put into words the feelings of many I'm sure. I know you KNOW how I feel because it's the same. I, no we, have had so a difficult adjustment here. It's better but the struggles of the first six months were horrible. Here' to all of us having a much better 2011. Jen Camp

    1. Thanks, Jen! I was thinking of you, too, when I wrote it. And thank you for validating for me that I'm not crazy, that it really did affect us that much!

  2. Couldn't have said it better! I think you pretty much speak for all of us! Most people I still talk to still struggle, while they are moving forward, "settling" in, "The Evacuation" had a lifetime affect on us, changed us. As Jen said..the first 6 months for me were terrible too, part of that is what is considered "normal" in "repatriation" or so I read..but it sure didn't feel "normal" to me, I thought I was losing my mind..and then there was Breanna..wow the impact on her was so painful to see..she was truly traumatized but what she saw and heard during the last few days in Egypt, then the sudden departure, then the realization she wouldn't see her lifetime friends..she's finally back to "normal"...I feel back to "normal"...it's too bad we all didn't have an Evacuation Blog going so we could vent our feelings so we would have all known we weren't crazy..we were all going through the same emotions..we could have supported each other then..at least we know now huh? We're not crazy..just evacuees trying to learn to live all over again! Hang in the Deborah, it will get better!! Lori Rogers

  3. So Deborah and Jen if you read this..just wondering if you go through ups and downs in this never ending repatraition process?? Once I think I have conquered it, something else come bursting forward..maybe it's because of where we moved...I don't know..just wondering how you all are doing with it....do you kind of have to 'fake" day to day or have you really settled in and this is "home",..do you find yourself looking back..."wishing you there..." I sure do...I just want to know that maybe I am not the only one still struggling..

    1. Oh, Lori, I understand! I don't struggle like I used to, like I still did when I wrote this back in January, but there are still moments when it all feels fresh and raw. This isn't really home for me, but I've come to understand that it's just different here--what we had in Egypt before the evacuation was something special that won't be replicated at every post like I had thought it would. I miss Egypt a lot, but I also keep up with the news from there, and it's finally reached the point where I'd think twice before I went back ... I'd probably still go back, but I'd think twice rather than just hopping on the next available flight!

      There were times, after we'd been here for a few months and I was still really struggling, when Jeff would ask if I needed to curtail our assignment and go home, or if I needed to see a counselor here. He never pushed it, but I think he really wanted me to seek help. I think if I'd kept struggling much longer, I would have. I probably should have during the evacuation, or that summer in the States, or right after we arrived here when I felt so lost and overwhelmed, but I didn't want to admit it. And then things started getting noticeably better, and now I usually feel pretty normal again. But if you're still struggling, I'd consider it.

      And it probably is more difficult considering where you live now. I remember when I used to live there, the unspoken assumption that permeated that culture was "If you're not happy, it's because God isn't blessing you, and if God isn't blessing you, it's because you're doing something wrong. If you let it be known that you aren't happy, you're letting it be known that you're IN SIN." It was very similar to Job and his friends, although not so overt. That culture would NOT have been helpful, and quite possibly would have prolonged my difficulties.

      I'm praying for you, Lori! It can get better. Please consider seeking out help, especially if there's someone in the area who has experience with repatriation difficulties or even with post traumatic stress issues.


Due to an excess of spam comments lately, I've enabled comment moderation and made it so that you can't comment anonymously--most of the spam comes from Anonymous. However, I love to hear what you think, and I hope you have an account you can use to log in and comment here. Even if we disagree, please leave me a comment. Just keep it family-friendly, please.