Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Case of Emergency....

Today my husband & son flew to England for stage 2 of Operation Return Home. My husband has some meetings about his future, & our son has an open day at one of the schools we have applied to.

Tomorrow in Albania there is another protest, 1 week after the last one. As a result; largely because of the violence & deaths at the last one, the American embassy is closing all day & advised schools to do the same. So my children's school will be closed, the high school, where I teach, will be closed. As one of my American students commented,

"My friends in America have 'snow days', we have 'protest days' which close the schools."

Another organisation which supports missionaries here in Albania sent out the following guidelines today. Guidelines I think you'll agree are worthy of the American embassy. Perfectly practical, but a little excessive.

  1. Stay away from large crowds. While things may start peacefully, they can easily and quickly get out of control.
  2. Ensure that you have important documents where they can be easily accessed.
  3. Try to keep cell phones and computer batteries charged in case the electricity goes out for a long time.
  4. It might be wise to keep your vehicle filled with fuel – if there is a need to get out of the area (or country) quickly, you do not want to run out of fuel!
  5. Let your teammates know where you are! Stay in touch with one another so that you can be easily reached in case of an emergency.
  6. Be prepared to stay in your homes for a few days at least – that means ensuring that you have adequate food and other supplies to sustain you.
Right better go & buy some tins of tuna to put in the cupboard tomorrow...

Needless to say we have heard nothing from the British embassy despite being on their 'list'. I remember during the swine flu scare, we did get an email from the British embassy which basically said , (in the nicest possible way) "You're on your own chaps, we can't do anything to help, should there be a pandemic!"

so my husband wrote his own version of what he thought the British embassy might write should they bother to give us advice about the political situation:

Hello Chaps,
As many of you are aware, the Albanian Socialist party is revolting. Or, to
be more precise, demonstrating, in central Tirana on Friday 28th January.
Protestors are expected to start gathering from 1200 onwards. The
Demonstration is expected to start around 1400.
The Demonstration will create further traffic congestion in the centre of
Tirana and we strongly advise all members of the local British Community to
pack their G&Ts and ankle away from Tirana for a long weekend on a golf
course somewhere. After all, in Albania, incidents of violence cannot be
ruled out, and we wouldn't want to be a part of that, would we?

Mum's the word.

Consular Section
British Embassy, Tirana
I know it's a stereotype, but the pastor of our church on Sunday was advising all Americans to register with the embassy, not just to be on an email list but so that you have 'the full backing & resources of the embassy wherever you travel'. Then the guy says.
"I use it whenever I travel, even if I'm going to Canada!"
The exclamation mark is mine, not his. It wasn't a line in self deprecating humour.

I'm sorry but when you see the American embassy here, you do begin to think they're paranoid. I took my daughter to the American compound for a birthday party. We were late. well, not until we got there & had to go through security checks worthy of Heathrow.

We had to pull over & have our car examined with one of those extra lareg dental mirrors which looks under the car for bombs. Then we had to 'pop the hood' so the security guy could check our engine, only here Albania added a spot of pure Albanianism into the mix. My car bonnet wdn't 'pop' (it's very temperamental) I tried. The security guy (Albanian) didn't even try for me, he just shrugged, smiled & said "no problem" & waved me on. Unchecked, bombs n all. I then had to drive through the bollard chikanes, but even after being checked, I wasn't allowed to drive into the compound, so we parked outside the compound & then went into the office to walk through the metal detector & put all our belongings (including our suspicious looking birthday present) through the x ray machine, and then sign in with the security guard on duty, say whom we were visiting & for how long. And then the dad had to come & meet us & escort us in. I then left &, believe it or not, had to go through the checks all over again exactly 2 1/2 hrs later when I came to pick her up. I guess it's not really surprising the spouses don't leave the compound much. And why would you when it's so nice & safe &, well, American in there?

Once inside my daughter thought she'd 'died & gone to heaven' as the cliche goes. Lots of suburban white houses, complete with pillars & double garages, sweeping vistas of grass everywhere, housewives chatting in the street, a huge children's play area, a soccer pitch & a swimming pool. Even a shop! Like Eurocamp in France. All for 18 embassy staff families. To say my daughter was awe struck would be no exaggeration. 'It's like another country' she said.

Well yes exactly, America, in fact.

My daughter still talks about 'all that fresh grass' She couldn't believe, here in the land of city apartments or village muddy vegetable patches, & her own gardenless flat, that her best friend had all this grass to run around on!

I mean, I could understand if there was a terrorist threat or Americans weren't liked, but to Albanians America is nirvana. Everyone here loves America & wants to go & live there. Maybe there's a 'standard issue' American embassy compound design...

Anyway hopefully, it will be peaceful tomorow & things will have calmed down by Saturday so we can nip out, with full tank of petrol, charged mobiles & tins of tuna & make it to the airport to join my husband & son in the UK.


Iota said...

And why exactly did you have to go through the security procedures on the way OUT?

Don't worry about me, by the way. I certainly won't go to Canada now I've been warned.

nappy valley girl said...

Gosh you are living through exciting times - are you really going back?

One thing I have been told about America is that if there is a list of written rules/advice, if it's not on the list, everyone will do it - even if it seems completely stupid. That's why they feel the need to spell out the obvious all the time.....

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

This was a really fascinating post for me (as an American)! But I was also interested in the suggestions for how to deal with protests. It inspired me to write a post about civil emergencies--quite a stretch from your post but you know how one thing leads to another in your mind and before you know it you're off on a tangent?! Anyway, good post.

Anonymous said...

Love the British Embassy advice. You wouldn't want to get stucl without a G&T now... heaven forbid!