The Foreign Service Journal, March 2009
M A R C H 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 31 F O C U S O N G O I N G I T A L O N E A N E VACUATION S URVIVAL G UIDE echnically it’s called an “or- dered departure,” but anyone who has been through one invariably refers to it as an evacuation. Whatever term you use, it describes the situation when, because con- ditions at a U.S. overseas mission are deteriorating due to security concerns or a natural disaster, all non-essen- tial personnel and family members are ordered to leave post. Our family has a long history with such hasty depar- tures. In Tel Aviv, my husband and I, a tandem couple at the time, watched friends and colleagues’ family members bid tearful farewells when a planned U.S. mis- sile strike on Iraq prompted an ordered departure one week before Christmas 1998. Then in October 2001, while we were still in the States, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan precipitated the ordered departure of Jakarta, just days before we were due to arrive at post. My 18-month-old son and I bade my husband farewell as he got on a plane for Indonesia, not knowing when we would see him again. Fortunately, that episode only lasted a couple of months. But a year later, while I was back in the States for the birth of our second child, Embassy Jakarta was again evacuated in the wake of the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, and I never returned. My husband packed up all our belongings when his own tour was cur- tailed for health reasons in May 2003, and that’s when he finally rejoined us after 10 long, uncertain months of separation. I spent our evacuation living alone in a house with a very active 2-year-old and a newborn with undiagnosed food intolerances, who screamed in pain approximately 23 hours out of every 24. I also had a broken back — the reason my husband’s tour was eventually curtailed — which made even simple tasks, like brushing my teeth, extremely painful. But even without those additional difficulties, coping with evacuations is never easy. After all, you are re- quired on short notice to uproot your entire family, aban- don established friends and routines for weeks or months, and plunge blindly into the unknown. Where will I go? Where will I stay? How long will we be gone? Will I ever come back? Will I ever see my friends again? C HANCES ARE THAT MOST FS FAMILIES WILL UNDERGO AN ORDERED DEPARTURE . H ERE ARE SOME TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT . B Y K ELLY A RMSTRONG T Kelly Armstrong, a Foreign Service officer from 1993 to 2001, served in Frankfurt and Tel Aviv, and has since lived in Jakarta, Frankfurt and Zagreb. A freelance writer, she resides in San Jose with her husband, Gary Schierman, an information management specialist at Embassy San Jose, and their three children. You can check out her latest ad- ventures as “The Embassy Wife” at http://kellyarmstrong. pnn.com .
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