Evacuation, part 2. March 15-early 16, 2020
The story leading up to the evacuation was fast-paced and interesting. I will back-track to tell that soon. For the moment, I am in a hotel, in Rabat. We were scheduled to leave here at 12:30, now pushed to 4:30. But, let’s back up.
First, I am so sad to be leaving this way. My service unfinished, no time for community goodbyes, programs in limbo, no ability to rejoice with my fellow volunteers. Then, there is the knowledge I am returning to a different world in the US. A world where we need to isolate ourselves. I must be especially sensitive to isolating myself from others. Not because of Morocco, likely one of the safest places in the world right now, with only 37 cases as of yesterday, none in my remote community. No, it will be traveling through multiple airports that put my contacts at risk. They have issued us gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer, for the trip but who knows.
When the text came at 6:30 Sunday night, that we were being evacuated, we had already been put on “Stand fast” status, meaning all volunteers were to return to their site. All of the new Staj 101 volunteers were actually attending a training seminar, in Marrakesh, with their counterparts. The meeting was shortened, and all sent to their sites. We were told that this status included preparing inventories of all our possessions. So, I spent all day Sunday cleaning and organizing my belongings. We had no idea if we would be allowed to bring possessions if we were evacuated. First, I took down the “wall of love”, the mail from home that I would not leave behind if allowed even one bag. I had already isolated all the items I had borrowed from my host family in one corner, items borrowed from the Youth Center in another. I had cleaned. I had a lot of supplies that I was saving for potential projects, trash really, and tossed those. When the notification came, I was especially surprised by the short timeframe. I thought I would be up all night. The short time frame came about because the Moroccan government made the decision to close all international travel as of Thursday.
I went to the local hanoot, and asked Mohammed to call Haj, the nice guy with a truck who had helped me in the past. Actually, he did not have his number, so told a young man there to holler up to his window. His wife sent him down and he brought the truck right away. I stopped at my host family’s house to tell my host sister to come now. They were in shock, of course. They accompanied their belongings back to their house, including the two tanks of butagas, as I staged the next load. Then, we took the chairs, desks and the soccer program items, to the Youth Center. I picked a few of the drawings and notes from the wall, but should have taken more of my records. My taxi guy was not at the stand, so my host sister called him. He came and we made arrangements for tomorrow. Then, it was home to pack.
We were advised to bring 2 check-on bags of up to 50 pounds each, plus a small carry-on. We still did not know if we would be returning, so I did not want to give away all my possessions just yet. However, I wrote out my instructions for disposition of my belongings, just in case. As we were taking items out the door, my landlady-neighbor came home. I sent my host sister home so I could get to work. Before the notice, I had started cooking my dinner, but had to give back the Butagas tanks. So, my landlady finished the cooking for me. I sat on the floor to eat it, then, back to work. I was actually done just after midnight, with the alarm set for 5:45.
I said “goodbye” to my landlady, before her early departure to work at the souk. No hot water, no shower, but washed the last load of towels and hung them on the roof, so there would be no stinky wet towels. I cleared out the fridge and left the door open, and unplugged all the appliances. I had organized everything along the walls, even laid out my clothes. I had my bags packed. I did not have time to go through papers, so took an extra box, figuring to find a DHL.
I asked my friend Ridouan to come see me off at 8:30, which he did. My host sister was there before him. She and the landlady were both salivating to get their hands on my stuff, but I said “not yet, I hope to return”. I wanted to pick up my friends in Sefrou, so needed to leave by about 9:00. Mohammed arrived, we loaded, quick goodbyes and instructions for in case I did not return.