22nd December 2011 London, UK
Family, friends and photo albums!
Former Deputy Head of Mission and Consul General, British Embassy Tripoli
Last Christmas Eve, my mother came to visit us in Tripoli, via Tunisia, bearing the strange story of a man there who had set himself alight in protest at police intimidation and his own poverty. Little did we imagine how that sad event would lead to the momentous changes across North Africa. Or to the resulting chaos and disruption to our lives.
10 months later, I can remember my actions through the 6 days of evacuation less vividly than the feelings – most of them spiked with adrenaline: exhilaration, anger, confusion and frustration. But I know the answer to a range of questions:
- What do you pack when you only have 10 minutes to save your home? Answer: Kids’ teddies, Chelsea FA Cup Final Flag and photo albums.
- What do you do when attacked by a thug wielding a stick? Answer: Crouch down and hold up your diplomatic ID card like a pathetic plastic shield. It works.
- What is the most important thing to have with you at all times in an evacuation? Answer: Your passport. Top tip – do not bin it 30 minutes before you close up the Embassy for good assuming it is rubbish. (Yes, that’s what I did!)
And, most importantly, I know much more what matters in life: family, friends and photo albums!
Since February, we have acquired a new house, a new school for the kids, a new puppy and even new jobs. These will start to feel like home as we unpack our heavy baggage this week. Being able to decorate our new home with our old Christmas decorations will be a treat and an important milestone. Getting our stuff back is also a reminder of those colleagues who lost their possessions and will not be able to unpack this Christmas, and of all the work of colleagues back in Tripoli keeping our stuff safe and then packing it up in tough conditions. Merry Christmas to them in particular.