Saturday, July 28, 2012

Midnight Flight from Khartoum

Today is a big day!  A reunion, after twenty-six years, with several families my first husband and I met in KhartoumSudan. Our reunion brings forth acute memories of nervousness, fear, and an amazing feminine determination to see rough times through by banding together.

Larry and I came, as all oil people do, to get rich.  Sometimes you have to endure a little hardship, like power losses,  and food or water shortages.  Khartoum was classified as a hardship post. We felt prepared to handle those hardships,  we would be well rewarded by The Company generous holiday times and salaries.

Our family set up a variety of plans of what to do "if something happened".  Depending on circumstances, the plan might be to meet up out in Ga'al'a, the Eritrean refugee camp a few miles away; another might be to go directly to the Nile and just head North, away from Khartoum. The third and more drastic plan, was at the recommendation of a "spook": if political unrest indicated hostage taking, was to turn ourselves into the Russian Embassy rather than to a western one.  We might become political pawns, but we would have a lot of people aware of our circumstances.  The fourth plan was for tonight's occasion.   I continually drilled the children about being asleep, and if I came to their rooms while they were asleep, woke them and said “It’s time now,” it meant we would be leaving.  They were to quickly and quietly get up, get dressed, get their school back packs and pick their favorite Care Bear.  

On that night in April, 1986 Larry and I were hosting a Canasta game with John Carter and Gary Hagstrom.  The Chevron walkie talkie was babbling away on a nearby table as it always was.  We were on "yellow alert" meaning don't go downtown, stay away from crowds.  Yellow alert was no big deal, red alerts were.  The American School closed, and dependents were advised to stay at indoors at home. 

"Attention Chevron and Contractor employees, please switch to Channel Three"

Oh oh.  There goes Canasta. i bet John or Gary have to report in for some emergency thing. My first thought was disappointment:  here I was all ready to lay my concealed hand down and win the card game catching these three with big fat penalty hands.  

We  laid our hands down as Larry got up and changed the radio channels.  He pushed our cards aside and put the radio on the table.  Our children were sleeping upstairs, in dreamland beneath their Mickey Mouse sheets. 

"An incident in Khartoum has changed status from yellow alert to red.  Dependents please remain in your homes until a Company van comes by to take you to the airport.  An emergency Lufthansa flight is on it's way.  All dependents will be taken to Frankfurt and will make their own connecting flights home.  Please take one suitcase per family.  Employees are to remain in country until further notice."

I tore my eyes away from the radio and looked at Larry, to make sure I understood the communique. His face was ashen.  Gary and John were already out the door and off to their respective homes to advise their house help.

Our emergency suitcase was packed and waiting by the bedroom door.  Twice yearly it was updated with current size clothing and shoes for the children. Steven would turn six in June, and Rebecca would be ten in July. The freezer held an emergency amount of American dollars and our passports in a plastic bag tucked between two blocks of minced beef and wrapped in foil. 

We had no housing in the States to return to, no family, but we did have an old boyfriend of mine who lived with his Dutch wife in Holland.  That was only about 8 hours away from Khartoum, so we determined this would be the best place to sit out in.  Whatever the emergency was, it would probably be over in about three or four days.  We had no way to call and let Pat and Corrie know we were on the way because international lines were extremely difficult when times were good.  I would call them from a hotel in The Hague, less than ten minutes by train from their house.  

And so I went upstairs, moved The Suitcase to the landing then went to the room the children shared to waken them. 

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