A few days ago, I had another experience to add to my fear list. I shut and locked my front door, put Alice and Daniel in the stroller, walked to the school, and picked up Jill. We walked back to the house, and I asked Jill if she needed to go to the bathroom. She said she didn't, so she got in the car. I buckled Alice in her seat, and then Jill said, "Actually, Mom, I do need to go potty." I unlocked the front door, and she ran inside. I woke up Daniel and buckled him into the car. As I was folding up the stroller and putting it in the back of the car, my neighbor came by, and we talked about Jill's first week of school. Jill ran out of the house and got in the car. I said good bye to my neighbor, and off we drove to the library. (Do you see what detail is missing?)
I returned the library books, and we drove back home. Jill and Daniel got out of the car quickly, and as I turned after getting Alice out, I expected to see my older two waiting on the doorstep to be let in. However the door was wide open, and they were inside.
My kids do not have a key, so the only logical conclusion is that Jill left the door wide open after coming out, and I never locked it.
I got my kids out of the house and tried to figure out what to do. I didn't want to be paranoid, but I also didn't want to be dumb. My house was unlocked with the door wide open for at least twenty minutes—anyone could be inside.
So I left my kids at my neighbor's house, put my sister on speaker phone (so she could call the police if she heard screaming), and then went into my house. I looked through all the rooms and closets quickly and quietly, and nothing had been stolen and there was no one lying at wait to hurt me.
So total false alarm, but during those two and a half minutes of uncertainty, it was completely terrifying. It was quite a feeling. When my husband came home from work a few hours later, and I didn't hear him opening the door, I jumped out of my skin when he said hello. I was still on an edge.
I live in a fairly safe area. It was during the middle of the day, in broad daylight. I live in a townhouse amidst many other townhouses. My neighbors totally would have noticed someone robbing me. And it is unlikely that a predator would have just happened to walk down my street and noticed my open door. So while it was smart to be cautious, I really didn't need to feel as fearful as I did.
However, I am moving to a relatively unsafe place. Granted, my neighborhood will be well guarded and safe, but in general the city is not one of the safest in the world. It is actually considered a "high threat post." Obviously, it's not Kabul or Baghdad, but it's also not Copenhagen or Seoul, or hometown, America.
Since it is a high threat post, I was required to attend a week-long training at a Diplomatic Security facility. My mother-in-law flew in and took care of the kids during the day. (It was really hard to be away from them, but that is a topic for a different post.) It was the same course that Jeff took back in the spring when he was preparing for his Chad assignment that didn't happen.
The course was intense. An instructor mentioned during the week that emergencies tend to make people "more themselves." As in, leaders emerging, nice people are even more nice, jerks are even bigger jerks, etc. Essentially that you find out who you are in an emergency. Well, at one point during the week, we were in a scenario of a refugee camp. It was set up really well, with actors and props. And if intense situations show you who you are, then who I am is a crybaby. I just wanted to sit down and cry. That was my gut instinct. The pretend sorrow was almost unbearable to see, and I am actually tearing up writing this right now, because sure those were actors in the United States, but refugee camps are real. People separated from their families are real. Hunger is real. Corruption is real. Violence is real. Everything portrayed in that camp happens. Parents watch their babies die from preventable causes. Every. Day.
I also learned that I can be strong, because I didn't just sit down and cry like I wanted. I went inside the camp and tried to accomplish my fake objectives in the scenario, and I stuffed bandages into gross fake wounds like a pro.
During another scenario, I found myself alone in a fake guard tower in a fake embassy that was being stormed by pretend angry protestors. Bullets were being fired (obviously not real ones, but they sounded the same) and bombs were going off (these were real, but obviously not super powerful, and they were being deployed in safe locations, but I could still hear the noise and feel the pressure waves). So, again, while it was all fake, it was super intense for me.
At one point, a soldier came in to check and see if I was okay. I was crouched against the wall, peeking through a crack in the door, and crying. This obviously concerned him, but I assured him I wasn't physically hurt, I was just emotionally overwhelmed with the knowledge that this fake acting was the reality for some people. Bombs. Guns. Angry mobs. Hatred. Those are the last living memories of some people. Those are the every day experiences of some people. Here I am pretending, so I can be prepared for the worst case scenario, but in places all over the world, people aren't pretending. And people are dying. And people are hating. It was too much to bear without the physical release of tears.
The soldier didn't know what to make of that, so he said "oh okay" and left the tower. Poor guy.
I can't imagine what fortitude it takes to be a person who rushes in when everyone else is trying to get out. But I am in awe of them and grateful for them. I try to say thank you whenever I see a service person or a veteran, because I really am thankful.
One last experience from the training. We covered a lot of emergency medical training. I won't go into detail on the actual training, because my friend Jamie Zvirzdin took a similar medical class and covered it quite well on her blog, so you can click this link and read her description if you're curious. (The only thing I would add to her description is that since it is a high threat post, I have been issued a sort of fanny pack full of medical equipment, so for the airway part, I would use the nose tube. Everyone at my post should have their own, so in an emergency at the consulate, there will be a lot of supplies to use if people are carrying theirs like they're supposed to. I can't remember the name of the fanny pack, but it is the same one that is used in the military.) The emergency medical training took a day and a half, and then we had opportunities to practice it during the rest of the time there. The instructor would yell something like "bomb—your right arm blew off," and then we would all rush to apply the tourniquets as quickly and expertly as possible.
The medical training was possibly my favorite part, because I was actually good at it. Obviously nothing is equivalent to a real situation, but the mannequins were very high quality (with pumping lungs and fake blood and gruesome injuries and everything), and I definitely feel more prepared than I would without the training. As long as I don't go into shock or something, I should be very capable in an emergency.
During the training, there were videos and photos. And, at the risk of overusing the word, the visuals were intense. They were real. They were not fake like the scenarios. That impalement. That amputation. That wound. That evisceration. Those all really happened.
Seeing visuals like that really separates a room. Some of my classmates couldn't look at them. I could look at them, but they made me tear up (again the crybaby), because it is just so sad to think of the pain. Some of my classmates laughed and made jokes. These aren't evil people; I think that was just how they reacted to the stress. And honestly, if you have seen a lot of movies where injuries and death are fake, perhaps you are desensitized to seeing it for real. I just thought the different reactions were interesting. The visuals were horrifying.
Oh, I lied; I am going to share another experience from the training. A few times, we were in fake shooting situations, where we were surprised with fake guns and very real bullet noises, and we were supposed to practice running away and hiding behind objects and diving to the ground and getting back up, etc. Well, in those situations, I was always, always the very first person across to the "safe" place. I don't know if that means I am really good at finding shelter and running fast and diving on the ground, or if that means I would get shot, because I didn't pause long enough in the different stages, but it definitely means that I do not like the sound of gunfire.
Along with that, I have now used weapons. I was surprised by two things: 1. their weight/kick back and 2. my accuracy. Perhaps it was beginner's luck, but I hit the target every time. I don't think I have ever touched a gun before that week.
All in all, the classes taught me that my best offense will be a good defense. To be situationally aware. To not go where the Regional Security Officer has told me not to go. To not put myself in dangerous situations. To pay attention to the behavior of those around me. They taught that to everyone, but after seeing the scenarios and taking the self defense portion and all of the other trainings, it unintentionally drove home to me what a great victim I am. I am short, weak, and female. I always have small children with me. I cannot carry all three of my kids, and they are very bad at being quiet, and they are not fast. Perhaps this is unwise to admit on the internet, but it surely is no news to anyone that has seen a picture of me and my family.
So I will need to stop being oblivious to the world. Because, to be honest, I usually am. I am usually completely focused on my kids and not noticing very much else. I always joke that I would be a terrible eye witness. That needs to change.
My task is to figure out how to be cautious without being paranoid. Wish me luck.
(And if this post has freaked you out, please calm down. It really isn't as dangerous where we are going as what this class described. I was in a class with people going to the Congo and Afghanistan and Iraq and other volatile places. It was a one-size fits all class, not specifically geared to my post.)
The topic of fear leads me to bravery, which leads me to the fact that my oldest child began kindergarten this week. She is so brave. And she loves it. And I love hearing her gush about it after school. It has also been fun to see Daniel and Alice grow closer in Jill's absence. (Now, I just need to convince Daniel that Alice is not as strong as Jill and he needs to be more gentle with her . . .)
Oh, one last thing! The driving portion of the training was really fun, when I could forget why we were driving those ways. I think that a course like that would be useful for all possessors of a driver's license. Sure, someone may not detonate a bomb near you or pull a gun out on you, but a kid might jump in front of you, or someone might threaten you, and the different practices of braking and serving and driving backwards could be useful. The skid practice was really fun. I got a hang of it eventually, but I feel like I set a record for 360s (which is what we were trying to avoid). I ended up in the grass a few times. Ha.
P.S. My life is so weird. As I am about to post this, I am dithering over publishing it or just leaving it a draft. I've gotten the emotions out just from writing it. And I keep wondering, did I give too much information? Will this help crazy people hurt my country? But I really tried to keep it pretty generic, so I don't think I'll damage my training program with what I shared.