Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Leaving a Life

Today we received a call from one of our closest Egyptian friends.  As we spent time catching up, he finally asked, "So what are you guys doing here?"  

I began to laugh. "That, my friend, is a very good question."  

Some of you also may wonder the same thing.  Last time we had connected with you, we were making plans for our return to S where John was the Academic Dean at a school and I was an English teacher.

So….(insert awkward pause)….what happened?  Honestly, we couldn't say much due to security measures we had to implement during our time in S.  We still can't say everything we'd like simply because the world is too connected. (I have purposely left out names of colleagues and additional details for the same reason.)  However, I do feel like you should know some of the events that have happened within the last few months so that you can understand why we are where we are.

If I could insert a disclaimer it would be this: We don't tell this story for any other reason than to elicit your prayers and understanding for what is taking place in S for those who remain in-country and those of us who were forced to leave.  

The following is an edited narrative of events.  If you have any comments or questions, please private message me.  For more fun reading, insert the name "Jack Bauer" every time you see John's name…

In December, I had just wrestled the last Yankee candle into our travel totes when John received a call.  Something was going down in S.  I looked up from the perfectly packed and weighed container waiting for more information.  Government intelligence had begun a series of investigations which had led to the detainment of a colleague and co-workers being questioned regularly.  The questions now which hung in the air were, "Would the team already there be allowed to remain?" and "Could John and I get back in?"  

I surveyed our stack of suitcases and asked, " what?"

John replied, "We trust the Lord and we proceed until He says otherwise."  

"I can still take my candles, right?"

He laughed and said, "Of course.  What woman doesn't need the right scented candle for a government coup?"

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is exactly why I married him.

In January, we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya to meet our team and leadership prior to our entry to K-town.  We were attending an already scheduled prayer retreat and thought that there couldn't be a better way to start our next term.  

We were informed that most of the teachers had been given an exit visa to leave the country for a holiday.  (You have to ask permission to enter AND exit S.)  We also found out that some of our colleagues had not been allowed to leave and were still being questioned.  During our time together, we prayed, discussed, weighed options and prayed some more.

What should we do?  Do we go into a known volatile situation?  Do we take our teachers?  Where does confidence in the Lord and bravado meet?  We prayed again.

We received good news that our detained colleague had been released to leave the country and that additional colleagues had also been given permission to leave.

Everyone who was returning was asked again if they were sure this is what the Lord had for them.  They were resolute.  The school would continue to run.  We would use every opportunity offered to love our dear S-ese friends for as long as possible.  We were going in.

January 9 all of us packed our bags and made our way to the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in preparation for the short 3 hour flight that would return us to the wonderful, chaotic sand-filled land of S.

Truthfully, we didn't know what to expect once we landed in K-town.  Government Intelligence had been unpredictable which added to our anxiety.  We all breathed silent prayers as we waited in various Passport Control lines.  We kept eye contact with each other scanning the room, nodding our heads in assurance.  Frankly, we've seen way too many action movies and our imaginations were running wild.  However, we each presented our passports, were asked a couple of questions and then given the all-important stamp of entry.  Big sigh.

Our luggage (all of it) waited for us on the conveyor belt.  Soon we were loaded with people, bags and confidence that the Lord had just performed a miracle.

One of our dear friends greeted us in the parking lot.  He had vehicles waiting for us to take us to our respective homes.  We were so excited!  We were IN!

The first 3 days we spent unpacking, sorting, hanging pictures and dusting (or rather scooping) our apartment.  We were so happy to renew our relationships with our dear S-ese friends.  Yes, it was going well.

On Day 4 John received word that government security wanted him to report to their office for questioning.  This was not unexpected.  Our colleagues had received a similar "invite" as well.  He arrived and was escorted to someone we now affectionately call, "The General."  The General proceeded to ask John a variety of questions, seize both of our passports, then dismiss him to wait in the "VIP Room" (our designation) with other friends.  This particular day he was held 8 hours.  At the end of the time (around midnight), one of the soldiers drove him home where I was awaiting his return.

Day 5 was spent at the school, John in his office and I in my classroom.  We were making strides...he with the parents and the administration and I had managed to keep 19 active 3-year olds alive during my watch.  However, during school, John was once again called into security.  Much of the same as before, but this time in security lasted 9 hours.  He was returned by The General himself around 1 am.  This time the message was clear, "You must leave S immediately." 

We couldn't believe it.  Throughout this past year we had spoken about the opportunities we were receiving within the education community, the favor of government departments...How could this be?  We began to call those who had influence and the answer was the same, "You cannot fight this.  You must go."  Must go?  That's it?  No recourse?

I called our lawyer and he said, "This is not a legal matter.  They are above the law.  I can do nothing. We do not know why this is happening."  

Each day (Day 6), John and I would pray for a miracle and wake each morning ready to start anew.  This day, he was able to get quite a bit of work done before he was once again called into security.  At this point, you may be asking, "What is the point of so many visits?  Why all the questions?"  We aren't sure.  Maybe it's to wear you down, make you give up or to scare you into complying. 

For the next visit, The General wasn't even on site.  John was forced to surrender his phone.  He simply sat in the VIP Room until he fell asleep.  This visit lasted 16 hours with no questions.  Around 11 pm, a soldier nudged him awake and sent John on his way.  This time there was no ride.  He had to walk.  Before he left the room the soldier looked at him and said, "Come back tomorrow."  John asked, "May I have my phone back?"  The soldier said, "No."  John said, "How will I know when to come?"  The soldier simply shooed him out of the room. (Day 7)

Since John had no phone we took this as an opportunity to have no communication with security.  I turned my phone off and we advised our team members to do the same.  Day 8 and 9 were days filled with meetings, packing and contingencies.  

Day 10 we received a call on my phone from The General. (I eventually HAD to turn my phone on so others could reach me.)  He wanted John to come immediately and for me to come along also.  John and I talked about this and decided that I must go if we were going to ever get both passports back.  We arrived and sat down in the VIP Room.  We looked around and saw some of our dear S-ese friends as well as a Western colleague.  We smiled broadly and John quipped, "I am VERY glad to see you, but sorry to see you here."  They all smiled knowingly, and we fell into a hush as the soldiers were circling.

After about 2 hours, a soldier walked in looked straight at me and said, "Come."  John stood up and said, "I speak for my family.  We go together."  The soldier once again shook his head and said, "No.  Her."  Again, John reiterated that we would not be separated.  Frustrated the soldier began making a call on his phone and walked out.  My heart was pounding, but I knew Jesus was near.

The soldier returned and told John to come with him.  John rose and walked with the soldier to a basement room in another building across the lot.  A few minutes passed when a new soldier walked in and indicated for me to follow him.  I didn't move.  He stood right in front of where I was sitting, snapped his fingers and said, "Stand up!  Now!"  Keeping my eyes down, I stayed seated.  Our Western colleague began to explain (in Arabic) to the soldier that it is shameful for me to be alone in a room with a man who is not my husband (S-ese Culture 101).  Various arguments passed back and forth until the soldier turned on his heel and left without me.

Not long after, two soldiers returned with John and then renewed their request for me to follow them.  I complied.  We were led across the parking lot up two flights of stairs into The General's office.  The General gestured for us to sit.  John sat in a chair directly by The General's desk, and I sat on a small couch.  All of the extraneous personnel remained.  

The General then said to John, "I want to ask your wife questions.  You need to leave the room."

John kindly replied, "I speak for my family.  We are together.  I will not separate from her."

The General said, "You MUST leave the room!"

Again, John in humble response said, "I cannot.  It isn't right for my wife to be alone in the room with a man who is not her husband."

By now The General was quite upset.  He ordered 2 of his soldiers to escort John out of the room.  They grabbed John by the arms and attempted to remove him.  I stood up immediately because I was going wherever John was going.  

John then said, "Do not put your hands on my wife!"

The General then called in 2 women.  One was small, but the other was about 6 feet tall and had girth.  They both grabbed my arms and began moving me back toward the couch.

At this point, John repeated, "Do NOT put your hands on my wife!"

The General issued 2 more soldiers for John and the 4 forcibly removed him from the room.  The two women forced me to sit.  I sat with my hands in my lap, heart pounding, lips praying and wondering what would happen next.

The General sent John to the roof and returned to begin his questioning of me.  2 years ago, we participated in safety training for people like us who live in potentially volatile places.  I'm so glad we went.  I knew that after something had escalated this much that my job was to now slow down the pace of the situation.  He began by asking me, "Why do you cause so much drama?!"  I didn't answer knowing that nothing I said would be satisfactory.  Afterward he began asking standard questions, "When did you come to S?  Have you been here before?  Have you ever taken the children to a bakery?" (That was random question.)  I tried to answer each question slowly and truthfully.

He dismissed the 2 women from the room, but I requested that they stay.  He allowed one to remain.

After about 20 minutes, he sent me back to the VIP room.  Upon my return, John wasn't there.  I could only assume that it was now his turn for more questions.

We can't share everything that happened through the day, but by the end of both of our interviews The General decided that "through the generosity of the S-ese people, we would be released to leave on a plane that night."  I was released before John so I went home and finished our immediate packing.  I looked around our apartment and realized how much I was going to miss this place, these people.

Our team was amazing.  They jumped in, helped me pack, locked and weighed our bags.  The rest of our household would have to be sold or given away at a later date.  By the time John was released (5 hours later), everything was ready to go—our home in 8 bags.

We stayed at our friends' place saying goodbye to people as news traveled around the community.  After we slept a bit, our kind, bleary-eyed friend gathered us and our bags in the wee hours of the morning (Day 11) and took us to the airport.  I admit that even as we waited in line to get our boarding passes, I fully expected guards to come out of the corners to take us back to security...but no such thing happened.  

We simply checked our bags, boarded a plane and left...our life.

To date, over 225 foreigners have been expelled from S with little or no explanation.  We don't have any indication when we will be allowed to return.  Until then, we will continue to improve our Arabic and love like Jesus in this new land full of beautiful people who have opened their homes and hearts to us.

Today's BOGO Blog:  Emileigh's Beauty Salon

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, it really is extraordinary what is going on in Egypt at the moment! I hope you find solace in your next location!