As I sat in the Embassy listening to the rocks and chants hitting the wall outside, I couldn’t help but feel as though my maternal instincts had failed me. Why didn’t I know to leave? Why did I stand on the second floor, flippantly observing the gathering crowds, and assume it would just be your standard protest? Shouldn’t I have had some sixth sense, some feeling in my gut that things were going to go from bad to worse?
I knew that the baby was far from danger, picked up by family friends from his daycare miles from the Embassy. The staff had in fact been quite at a loss to understand why I couldn’t pick him up at 2pm. “Protests you say?”
The events of September 14th at the U.S Embassy in Tunis took many people by surprise. Not least of which the Tunisians who were even more taken aback when the order was given to evacuate all non-essential Embassy personnel and all families.
The damage that had been done to the Embassy meant that it was unable to continue to support the basic needs of its full contingent of staff and would limp along with a skeleton crew. Moreover, the American Cooperative School of Tunis was still smoldering and unable to support the educational needs of Embassy kids.
From the time I finally got home, at around 11pm on the night of the 14th, until the evacuation plane lifted off, I held the baby a little closer than necessary. Partly out of guilt that I hadn’t had the good sense to get myself to him when I had had the chance but also because of the whole unreality of the situation.
As I started to exhale at 30,000 feet, I took stock of my flying companions. There were families of all sizes and ages. The family of six: mom, dad, boys 4 and 3 and the 9 month old twins who like us had just moved in. Their belongings had in fact finally been delivered the day of the protest.
The pregnant mom with 2 girls whose husband was away. The young mom and her 6 month old traveling alone without her husband for the first time. The dad and two kids whose mom was one of the few staying behind. The mom and the teenage daughter leaving dad behind. The talk was of cats left in the care of neighbors, nannies they were going to miss, school that they weren’t, whether they packed the right things. It was enough to make me want to take another sharp intake of breath. What was next for all of us?
When we landed in Germany, even the kids who seemed to have had the hardest time parting from moms or dads were enjoying the wide spaces and climbable chairs of the airport waiting area set up to triage the arrivals. As onward travel plans were made, our newly formed group started to disband.
As each family unit, whatever its size and circumstances broke off to go its separate way, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the strength of the families. Even with so much very real, political fallout in their laps, and so little information about what would come next, they carried their kids and hastily packed baggage away in remarkably upbeat spirits and high hopes that perhaps we’d all be back in Tunis again soon.
Since then, I have gotten updates from friends on that plane of life going on in evacuation status. A baby has been born, classes have resumed, plans have been remade. Our family has been rerouted to Morocco, from where I will be blogging for the coming year. I still hope that I will see a lot of those moms and dads again, and tell them in person how much their perseverance and pluck impressed me. I also hope to go back to Tunisia, someday if not in the coming months; a reconciliation is in order.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our contributor, Natalia Rankine-Galloway. She has since left the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and is now writing from the U.S. Embassy in Morrocco.
Photo credits to the author.