As you probably know, we are in the middle of an outbreak of a novel strain of the coronavirus. It’s causing panic in many parts of the world, and mandatorily up-rooting everyone at U.S. Mission China who is under the age of 21. Hundreds of children and parents (but just one parent from each family, since the other probably has to stay behind and continue working, with the exception of the Wuhan consulate which evacuated fully), and other people from the Mission, are going back to the US, not knowing if/when they’ll get to go back and hoping that their spouse and friends stay safe.
Almost everyone in the State Department fears that their post will go on departure status. Departures, whether authorized (you can leave) or ordered (you have to leave), can happen for many reasons, including terrorism, political unrest, violence, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks, among others. The fear is just: departures are no fun. The uncertainty, figuring out how/if you can take your pet, the sudden change, the general confusion, the threat on your safety/life, the worry; it fucking sucks.
I feel for the Mission China families. Seeing their pain on social media reminds me of my own and brings back a lot of really miserable memories. Fleeing a country that had become home, leaving behind everything and everyone precious to you, travelling for 24+ hours alone with a 10-month old, and trying to find a new normal isn’t easy.
When we evacuated from Dhaka, I didn’t write very much about it because it was so awful. I’ll never forget nearly bursting into tears when our flight landed at O’Hare and the pilot said, “Welcome to the United States of America.” I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. No one here was going to try to kill me.
Little did I know how hard the ensuing nine months would be. That sounds melodramatic, but it was truly the worst time of my life.
Sure, there were some bright spots. It was nice spending time with family and watching M bond with his grandparents. We saw Nate several times and that was always wonderful. I reconnected with some old friends and shopped at Target a lot. Like, A LOT.
But, for the most part, it was horrible. I felt so alone. I had not only completely overestimated my ability to make friends, but also how receptive people in a small town in middle America would be to an outsider like myself. I tried to make friends, but, for the most-part, nothing stuck.
About five months into our departure, my mom moved to a lovely town on Lake Michigan. Once we started spending most of our time with her, I finally started to feel like myself again (although, still, no friends) and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We facetimed with Nate every day. Whenever he didn’t respond, I immediately started worrying. Nothing bad happened in Dhaka after we left, thankfully, but that’s also enormously frustrating. No one can see the future, but the fact that we would have been safe had we stayed still bugs me.
Hopefully we’ll never have to do another departure again. I’m glad that chapter of our lives is finished. But we always plan for the worst, and hope for the best.