Surprise, we’re back in Ohio! How did we end up here?
I’m trying to remember when coronavirus really became a daily concern for me. I think it was mid-February when we started reading news reports about a bad outbreak in northern Italy and Milan. I was on the elevator at work and remarked that I hoped this wouldn’t impact our trip to Italy in late March (we planned to fly in to Milan and then drive down to Lucca to meet my parents for vacation). A colleague turned to me and said “You probably aren’t going to Italy.”
I was sure he was overreacting. The rest of February passed with visits from Tbilisi friends and regular routines, but towards the end of the month the news out of Italy was grim. We were constantly checking the news, talking about the potential of canceling the trip, and feeling really sad about it. The first week of March, after the CDC raised the Italy travel warning to a Level 3, we canceled. It wasn’t that simple, because we had tickets for my parents, our tickets, car rentals, and our AirBnB reservation in Lucca. After what seemed like endless phone calls, tears, and time spent on hold, we were able to cancel and receive refunds for everything. We are thankful for that.
The ripple effects of this outbreak are beyond my comprehension. Every day I find a new thing I think is the “most” sad, in addition to the lives lost. High school seniors missing their last semester and graduation. Weddings canceled. Nursing home residents without visitors. People losing their jobs, unable to pay their bills. It’s all awful and really sad. And I know how incredibly lucky we are, but I’m still pretty sad about the ways it has impacted us.
I spent nearly every day in March worried about coronavirus, personally and professionally. It became a daily topic at work, and then it completely took over my workday. At home we worried about our own health and the medical care available in Egypt. On March 15, the State Department said that anyone at an overseas post who thought their health might be adversely impacted by staying at post could go on Authorized Departure. Authorized Departure is a type of evacuation where you have the option to stay or go. The next day the Egyptian government announced they would close their airport for 2 weeks starting March 19. JR and I barely had time to even consider whether we would want to take the AD. He was leaning towards it, and I was against it. I didn’t want to uproot everyone, I didn’t feel like I could make that decision and pack so quickly, and I didn’t want to leave my job. We talked it over and agreed to reevaluate and not make a rushed decision.
We spent the next several days discussing and going back and forth endlessly. There were many tears. We considered the quality of the health care, the ability to hunker down and practice social distancing, the challenge of keeping the kids away from other kids in our apartment complex, whether or not we could telework (luckily we are both able to), and many other considerations. I struggled with the idea of abandoning my responsibilities. My job description is literally to support the Embassy community, and it feels like when things got tough I left.
Ultimately, I agreed with JR that it would be best for us to make plans to leave when the airport reopened. We informed our supervisors and friends, and started packing. We had flights for April 1. We told the kids, which was in some ways easier and harder than I expected. They really just rolled right along with it, even as I explained we weren’t certain when we could leave because the airport was closed, we were leaving because of coronavirus, and we didn’t know how long we’d be gone. We told our nanny, and that was incredibly difficult.
As April 1 approached, we worried endlessly that the airport would not reopen. I also doubted our decision. Many of our good friends chose to stay. I wondered if we’d done the wrong thing, we were overreacting, were we putting ourselves at a greater risk by traveling and going to the US.
On March 25, the Prime Minister announced the airports would remain closed until April 15. That’s when I started to feel a little panicked. We knew we wanted to leave, but we were unsure when we could. The situation in America was only getting worse, but we still wanted to be in Ohio. There were rumors at work that we might have an opportunity for a special flight for Embassy employees and American citizens who were trying to leave Egypt, but no one knew when the flights would happen or how much notice we would have.
Our bags were strewn around the apartment in various stages of preparation. When we grocery shopped we didn’t know how much to buy. I felt overwhelmed daily. Of course, we were also trying to telework and do e-learning with Abby, while William and Jake were home. Our nanny was there but the kids knew we were there and would scream like banshees at our bedroom door for attention to complain about the most recent atrocity one had inflicted on the other. There is no office in our apartment, no desk, no space for working from home. We sat on our bed and worked side by side, and when JR had conference calls I worked from the floor of my closet.
If you have well-behaved children, if you are managing to telework and homeschool your children, if you start each day with a color-coded schedule and stick to it, cheers to you friends. Let me assure you that was NOT happening in our home. Also to those of you just trying to survive right now, cheers to you as well.
Last weekend we learned there would be flights available on April 1 and 3. We requested the 1st, quickly finished our packing, and finalized our plans to leave. After one VERY long travel day, which I’ll write about soon, we arrived safely in Ohio. The day we arrived Governor DeWine announced that all incoming people to the state of Ohio must self-isolate for 14 days. We had already planned to do just that at the farm house we are renting but it was one more sobering announcement.
Things here are much different than I anticipated, but we are incredibly grateful to be home.