Americans in Yemen: Owning Up

So, a friend of mine posted this article a couple of days ago on Facebook.  I read the article with much interest.  But I found myself quite troubled.  My friend’s point of view was that it was despicable that the US government isn’t hastening to bring these folks home.  Normally I might agree.  However, there are two primary things that stop me from jumping on this particular band wagon.  Before I get to them, perhaps I should set the stage a bit.  Back in 2006, El 3atal, the Beans, and I packed up or sold all of our worldly possessions and moved to Jordan.  That’s right, everything either was shipped to us or sold on to someone else.  We didn’t know how long we would be in the middle east, but we were settling in for a long stay.  Then, about 3 years ago, we moved to the Arabian Gulf.  So, we’ve been in the region quite some time now.  We’ve lived in two very different countries during that time.  We watched with trepidation as the events of the Arab Spring unfolded.  While listening to the trickle of other foreigners heading out of Egypt at the time, we were told of the six flights per day that Jordan was able to bring out.  That number reflects both the large number of Jordanians in Egypt and the infrastructure that was available due to a regional air carrier that could simply repurpose flights.

As an American, I grew up thinking that anywhere in the world, an American just has to get to the embassy and they would be safe.  The scene in the movie The Saint where Elizabeth Shue’s character is running for the gates of the US embassy in Moscow while being chased by Russian hoodlums encapsulates what I think every American thinks.  And yet, living abroad the reality is very different.  There are categories and levels of Americans.  In Jordan, I was less likely to be invited to the embassy’s Fourth of July celebration than well-placed Jordanians.  For all that I’m American, we weren’t affiliated with the embassy, so we weren’t the important Americans.  As one of the non-privy Americans, when the situation becomes tense, I always watch the friends I have who ARE the important Americans.  You know the families.  You begin to see that when the embassy evacuates families, it’s time to get out.  Once they’ve begun to evacuate all but non-essential personnel, you’ve waited a bit long.  And if, God forbid, you wait until they evacuate the essential staff, you’re either foolish or you have a death wish.  I’ve had reason, in the last 3 years, to reassure friends in other countries that should the situation suddenly turn they only need to board a plane here and we’ll have a room ready for them.  Note, I didn’t say they need only wait for evacuation.

Because, for those who may not be aware, evacuation should be your very last resort.  This is true for a number of reasons.  First, as mentioned above, if you’re being evacuated, you weren’t paying close enough attention to the signs around you.  Second, it’s a costly business.  Contrary to the expectations of most Americans, the embassy evacuates you to a nearby country.  You then must find (and fund) a flight home.  Oh, and after you’ve been removed to the nearby safe country, you will receive a bill for the privilege.  That’s right, it’s not a free service.  Although we pay taxes on income and receive no benefits, we still pay for evacuation.  So, the business of getting out can be very costly.  And, if you’ve waited long enough for evacuation, then you’ve placed yourself in significant danger.  As the US pulls out of a location, your protections as an American become fewer and their ability to help you are negatively impacted.  So, waiting for evacuation is a foolhardy move.

In reading the article, I was struck by two separate things.  First, one example they use of someone “stuck” is a wife whose husband is Syria with no visa or other legal standing in the US.  She has had the opportunity to leave, but has chosen to remain with her husband. I get it. I might even make the same choice.  But I don’t think I’d rush off to join a lawsuit against the US.  Should the US mount an evacuation, the husband still wouldn’t be allowed on the boat/plane.  He has no legal standing.  And while you might wish the US could expedite some sort of status for him, with the embassy closed in Yemen, it’s beyond unlikely.  The second was the complaint that it could cost up to $700 to get out.  I’m wondering if the issue is that they need cash up front or if it’s purely the cost.  If it’s just the cost, see above, the US government would be sending you a bill (I expect that would be far higher) if they evacuated you.  So, somehow I’m hard-pressed to understand how this is a viable complaint.

All in all, those of us raised in the US are taught to take ownership of our lives.  We make decisions.  If they are good ones, excellent.  If they are poor ones, it’s a shame.  Either way, we controlled our choices and live with the consequences of the decisions once made.  So, if you decided to ignore the evacuation of the embassy families and embassy personnel, to some extent you are living with the consequences of your actions.  While airplane tickets are costly, isn’t it worth cobbling together the necessary money to get out of Dodge BEFORE the shelling starts?  I know there will be other sides to this and would love to understand better the mindset, but somehow I think suing the US government is simply proving the worst of our overly litigious nature…

Happy Denial!

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