It’s time to evacuate

If you’ve watched the news recently you’ve probably caught glimpses of those who have fled. Thousands of people trying to cross a boarder in a scramble for safety. There’s the reunion scenes at airports, husbands hugging wives for longer than usual, families re-united. Ever wondered what it’s like to be evacuated? When we arrived in Jakarta eleven years ago, the riots and subsequent evacuations that followed were still fresh in people’s minds. I asked a friend if I could share her story.

When I looked out of our apartment window, the view had changed dramatically, what was usually a stunning view of glimmering lights over a city skyline, was now burning buildings with the sounds of fire trucks and ambulances. Instead of the usual bustle of taxis, bajaj and cars below, there were now tanks on the street and I could hear gun fire. We’d been told the office would call with details of what was going to happen next, when they rang, my husband wrote down the details of our meeting point. He said initially it was just women and children being evacuated, the men were to stay behind. When will you come? What do I take? Do you think we’ll come back? I was pregnant, this wasn’t in the plan.

Some of the women were crying as they got on the bus, consoling children who were asking why their Fathers weren’t coming with them. They told us the men would come if the situation got worse, we were all thinking the same thing. How could it get any worse? It didn’t feel real. We hardly said a word on our way to the airport, it was almost a stunned silence as we looked through the bus windows, spot fires everywhere, it wasn’t the city we knew. 


When we arrived at the airport there were soldiers standing next to tanks with guns. The Occupational Health and Safety guy was waiting for us, we all knew him, he was the funny guy, the one that made the jokes at the beginning of the defensive driving training, told you to put smoke detectors in your house and made sure you reverse parked. This time it was different, there were no jokes, he was making sure we had passports, medical documents. He told us the company had secured a plane to Singapore, stick together, follow me.


It was chaotic inside the airport, we were shoulder to shoulder, people were desperate to get out of the country, they were asking how much and then offering to pay more. The rules were being broken, people were pushing, I kept my hands over my pregnant belly and just prayed we were going to get on that plane.


Can you imagine?

In every location we’ve lived in, there has been some sort of hiccup that has made us consider packing up and heading home. When there isn’t the backup of family or lifelong friends nearby, you start to ask yourself where you’d go if you had to get away quickly.

When it comes to evacuations you don’t always have to be based in a country that begins with the phrase “war torn” or ends with “stan” to find yourself in trouble. Ask those who felt safe in New Orleans just before being hit by Hurricane Katrina, who then found themselves in a city that looked more chaotic than the Gaza Strip on a good day.

Remember the quarantined Canadians and those who were based in Asia when the world was talking about SARS or Avian Flu. Perhaps you were in Mexico around the time of H1N1? Whatever the case, when it happens it usually happens quickly.

For a friend of mine, it happened this week in Libya. Her world changed dramatically in 24 hours. Her Facebook page went from a reassuring almost don’t be silly “we’re all fine, nothing happening here” to “the children and I got the last flight out before the airport shut down, we’re in Malta, but my husband is still there”. For three days we heard snippets of what was happening “he can hear machine guns firing throughout the night” and then finally, thankfully, “he’s on the Tarmac, he may have to go to Gatwick, but he’s safe”.

Sadly, when you ask an expat to describe the feeling of evacuating there’s a common sentiment that runs with every story. They’ll talk about the exhilaration of getting home, but also the guilt, the constant thoughts of those they left behind.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18254275544017629129 bigwords is…

    I hope those in Libya you know are safe. Must be in your thoughts a lot at the moment x

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14128276807375948082 Fi

    I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it must be – especially taking yourself & kids and leaving your husband behind.

    Makes me so grateful to live in sleepy little Adelaide.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Absolutely Fi, although I do have an Irish friend who was in Libya in the 80s when Reagan was on a bombing frenzy, she lived to tell the tale. She then ended up being evacuated from Brisbane during the floods as they were in an apartment on the waterfront. Who ever thought you’d be evacuated from Brisbane??

    I’m very grateful for sleepy little Adelaide (we have a place in Port Willunga) love it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10327661563449068137 Felicity

    Capt. V and I were just discussing the amazing events in the Middle East this morning but were more focussed on the notion of people power and despots vs the real lives of the people involved.

    Thank you for this timely reminder of what people must be experiencing and feeling, the fear ,uncertainty and worry must be immense and I hope that there is a positive outcome for all.

    xx Felicity

  • http://www.twitter.com/alexricia Alex

    As Felicity said, thanks for sharing a story that makes something happening across the globe so much more ‘real’. It’s a long way from my life in Sydney.

    I still remember a frantic drive during the ’94 bushfires where my mother, white-knuckled and sweating, transported her 3 kids and own mother through the haze and spot fires speeding to keep up with the evacuation vehicle guiding us out of there. Who would think you wouldn’t be safe in Warriewood, of all places?!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07422068499429667636 Posie Patchwork

    You paint a very realistic picture with this post on being a guest in these countries which have been unstable for so many years but expats have a country to escape to. I can imagine going without my husband though, it’s realistic. It’s a big reason we haven’t done an overseas posting as it wouldn’t be to a ‘nice’ place, not in my husband’s line of work, safer to keep our 4 children here in Australia – dodging bushfires, floods & cyclones instead. Love Posie

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05813953421175387706 Sydney Shop Girl

    Hi Kirsty,

    Thank you for sharing these very personal insights of what it’s really like in countries where political upheaval and social unrest occur with frightening regularity.

    Australia really is a very, very lucky country.

    SSG xxx

    Sydney Shop Girl blog

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14794655013673748992 River

    Oooh! You had me worried! I though there was trouble and you had to pack and run!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02743336097657087832 Jane

    Thanks so much for this insight, Kirsty. It’s so hard to comprehend in snug little Hobart. Stay safe. J x

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08797948652615263591 By Word of Mouth Musings

    Found you on Babble (and voted for you, not real competitive am I lol)
    This is a great post. My husband and I were both born in England, and I grew up in South Africa, and left shortly after the ‘election’. My family had been burgled, our cars had been stolen, but we had been safe. My girlfriend was raped, my parents friends were held captive in their homes and my best friend’s grandma was shot for her car. Now we live in sunny Florida, my only concern on most days is being hit by an 80 yr old driving a saloon car.
    We are lucky.
    You brought people’s realities into this post, its more than politics, its more than a country at war or in crisis, its people’s lives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09646026064261601469 Happy Homemaker UK

    Now that I’m an expat, I always think if the expats living in the countries most recently in the news. So scary for all. Living in England, there are daily news reports of those expats flying in each day. It is definitely more in the forefront here than it ever was in the US.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01695425892749695527 meandmythinkingcap

    U r one brave woman..the sight would hve scared me and by this time I would had pneumonia

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15605860202771982572 Penny

    How scary…I can’t imagine.
    I feel so very blessed to live in NZ!

  • http://www.adventuresinexpatland.com/ linda@adventuresinexpatland.com

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own little cocoons, forgetting the daily misery of others, isn’t it? The uncertainty of some expats’ precarious situations, the violence and unrest, one’s life being turned upside down – I keep them in my thoughts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08797948652615263591 By Word of Mouth Musings

    Found you on Babble (and voted for you, not real competitive am I lol)
    This is a great post. My husband and I were both born in England, and I grew up in South Africa, and left shortly after the ‘election’. My family had been burgled, our cars had been stolen, but we had been safe. My girlfriend was raped, my parents friends were held captive in their homes and my best friend’s grandma was shot for her car. Now we live in sunny Florida, my only concern on most days is being hit by an 80 yr old driving a saloon car.
    We are lucky.
    You brought people’s realities into this post, its more than politics, its more than a country at war or in crisis, its people’s lives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14128276807375948082 Fi

    I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it must be – especially taking yourself & kids and leaving your husband behind.

    Makes me so grateful to live in sleepy little Adelaide.