Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fawda Munathema: Hearts and Minds Left Behind. In Libya

US Embassy Tripoli went on ordered departure on February 21. At that time, I surmised that one of the FSO bloggers, Fawda Munathema, a first tour officer posted in Tripoli may be expected to stay behind as he works at the consular section.  The evacuees were stuck at the port in Tripoli for days and finally made it out on February 25. That same day, all American employees were officially withdrawn from Libya. The USG then  announced the suspension of operation at the embassy.The mission's locally employed staff of about 120 remains in Tripoli. 

Approximately three dozen American employees and their family members are now evacuees in in hotel rooms. Each carried one suitcase out of Libya.  Most if not all, will not see their household effects again.  Fawda Munathema came back to his blog yesterday with a heart-wrenching post. His is just one story. There are many more out there with sad stories replayed in their heads.  Republished in full below, just in case. Do visit his blog here and give him a hug.             

American Nomad

There’s no experience like being informed that you have three hours to go home and put your most important possessions into one suitcase. It forcefully crystallizes how replaceable most of your possessions are. Clothing can be bought again. Posters and artwork are superfluous. The knickknacks that you’ve collected over the years from your travels are dead weight in your small bag.

When I had to choose the most important possessions, I selected my passports, my financial documents, my laptop, my contact lenses, some underwear and socks, and two suits. In the rush to get out of Libya, I forgot to even consider bringing my iPod, an extra pair of shoes,  or the hard-to-replace Arabic books that I bought in Cairo. There was no room to bring the violin that I had owned and played since the seventh grade. As it started pouring rain in downtown Washington yesterday, I realized that I had left my umbrella in Libya as well.

After I had finished packing, I spent the next few days sleeping in the embassy and battling a nasty cold. The conference calls and emails and mini-crises and phone calls from panicked Americans started to blend together after a while. Despite all the “job well done” pats on the back from people in the Department, I know that there were times when I was a useless, frazzled, dud of a Foreign Service Officer. Thank God for my co-workers, who picked up my slack without comment.

People are going to want to hear from me the stories that came out of this crisis. But I’m not going to have any exciting stories, because now is not the time for stories. It is not the time for victory laps. I haven’t cried in a long time, but I couldn’t stop crying the day I left Libya, because I knew that there were American citizens who were unable to reach the airport for evacuation.

I cried over the Libyan embassy employees who had to stay behind, too. We have embassy guards who make $800 a month, and yet who continued to show up at their posts and stand watch in the middle of the night, with the sound of gunfire rattling in the streets, to help keep my colleagues and I safe. Our Libyan employees in the consular section showed up to work at personal risk and provided indispensable help in the evacuations – even though they knew that wouldn’t be going anywhere once we Americans were gone.

I cried over what happened the day before at the port, when I had to bear the looks on people’s faces as I told them that we couldn’t board any more people onto the ferry to Malta. I had to tell a family of two American citizen children and their non-American citizen parents that in accordance with U.S. policy, only one parent could go with the kids onto the ship. I had to turn away a six-year-old Japanese girl and her teary-eyed mother because they came too late and we didn’t have time to process them through immigration.

The crisis is not over. The work is not done. I dedicate my work over the coming weeks to those I could not help and to those I left behind.

Read here why he joined the diplomatic service.

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