A COVID-19 evacuation story in photos.
BY MONICA ROJAS
Getting from the Foreign Service Institute to Angola was a year in the making. Here we are at Dulles International Airport, ready to embark on our three-year assignment in Luanda. We were prepared, we were excited, and we were together.
Our family wasted no time getting out and exploring our host country. Our first outing was a sunset cruise along the Kwanza River.
As reports of COVID-19 grew, Alex’s school transitioned to online learning. Because our plan was to ride out the pandemic in Luanda, we set up a home classroom and embraced our new normal. Shortly after this photo was taken, Angola closed its borders to commercial flights.
Following an Emergency Action Committee meeting, Pablo called me to discuss the idea of me and Alex heading back to the States. Though Angola’s borders were closed to commercial flights, Chevron offered their assistance to our embassy, providing seats aboard their chartered flight. We were given two days to pack; but, thankfully, delays bought us a few extra days together. The night before our voyage, we spent the evening building a LEGO sports car.
Americans lined the entrance to Luanda’s international airport. Our consular affairs section was there to process departing American citizens, and our management team was there to ensure we were well taken care of.
The caption I used when sharing this image on social media was: “In our line of work, being essential sometimes means having to say good-bye to your best friend.” And while many will argue that it’s not really good-bye, that’s difficult for a 7-year-old to process.
The vibe moving from the tarmac onto the plane was polite yet hurried. Regardless of how I was feeling, I did my best to outwardly project a sense of adventure. Alex wasn’t feeling it, however. I had just crossed into the world of single parenthood, and it was up to me to set the tone.
As the plane climbed away from Luanda, Alex stared out the window, trying to spot our house.
As we made our way to customs, I was in awe of how barren this usually teeming airport was. The children in our group loved having a wide-open area to race and stretch their legs. We spent the evening in Texas before continuing to our safe haven in Ohio.
After checking into the Marriott in Warren, Ohio, Alex and I set out to stock our cupboards. Empty store shelves that once held toilet paper presented a surprising photo op. We spent the remainder of the day unpacking and putting away all our provisions. The next morning, we received a call from the front desk informing us that our Marriott location would be closing. We had to repack—and find a new place to stay.
Stressing over dwindling lodging options, I looked at Alex, who had been so patient and understanding the entire trip. I decided suddenly to put our lodging issues aside and make the day about him, starting with an activity he had been begging me to try: Pancake Art! Later that day, we found a beautiful historic home to rent.
Prior to departing Angola, I had begun working as an office management assistant in our embassy’s pol-econ section. I continue to telework in that position, and Alex is finishing up the first grade online. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to strike the right balance, but what I do know is that working side by side helps us both stay connected.
When we need a break from school and work, we draw a wooden stick from our Stuff-to-Do jar, and do whatever activity is written on it. On this day we drew “5-minute Dance Party,” so we turned on some silly music and broke out giggle-inducing dance moves.
Our CLO (community liaison office coordinator) organized a virtual Take Your Child to Work Day that took place over Microsoft Teams. It was a huge morale boost for the children to see their friends, as well as to ask Ambassador Nina Maria Fite some great questions. Alex took the opportunity to give the ambassador a virtual high five.
My focus throughout this absence from post has been my love for this little guy. His happiness and well-being are what keep my spirits up and give me energy. I suspect that once we return to Luanda, we’ll miss all the unhurried quality time we’ve had together. For now, we’ll continue to take it one day at a time, looking for opportunities to build on the memorable experiences we’ve made so far.