How to Pack for an Emergency Evacuation

What has 2013 taught me? What do I lessons do I want to take into 2014?

Hold things lightly.

I blogged a few weeks ago about living a simpler life, not knowing that my need to let go of earthly possessions would be challenged even more.

On Thursday 19th December at 11:55am, I was told by TF HQ in London that I should get on the British Embassy evacuation plane and out of South Sudan asap. Although the situation in Juba was (relatively) calm, it was incredibly fragile and things could kick off again at any moment. Best for me to get out while I could. So, at 11:57am I rang the foreign office to find out when the plane was leaving.

The man on the other end of the phone asked me, ‘How far are you from the airport?’

‘Not far,’ I responded, ‘Why?’

‘Because if you want to get on that plane, you need to be at the airport in 3 minutes’.

Crap. I slammed down my phone and ran to my room. What’s important? What do I need? What should I take incase I’m stuck in Uganda for a little while (the evacuation plane was to take us to Entebbe, from there we’re on our own)? My life in a bag, prioritised in a matter on minutes.

Then.

It’s a long story involving a plane crash on Juba runway and the British evacuation plane being cancelled (and then un-cancelled, but I wasn’t told that part) but I didn’t fly that Thursday.

The following day, Friday morning, at 3:45am I was woken by the foreign office ringing to tell me another evacuation plane was to be coming that day and I should be at the airport by 10am…with absolutely no luggage. I could possibly bring a small handbag, but don’t count on it. The previous day there had be mayhem when the un-cancelled plane had actually arrived and the RAF pilot announced no luggage whatsoever. People weren’t warned and bags including laptops and other important essentials were left on the runway. So today, be prepared, the foreign office lady warned me.

I looked at my things in my small room in Juba. I looked at them and tried to think, it’s only ‘stuff’. What’s important? I decided to risk it and packed a small handbag containing a couple of t-shirts, a few extra pairs of knickers, toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, hairbrush, pocket bible, tablet, malaria pills, phone and charger, purse and important documents. The essentials? The rest of my things I packed back into my rucksack and left locked away in Juba.

I got to the airport at 10am. We sat and waited and waited and waited. At 4pm we were told the plane was nearly arriving but that we were not allowed to carry anything at all – no small bags, nothing. ‘Our priority is people over possessions. People over stuff,’ the British ambassador very clearly told us.

We could carry only what we could fit in our pockets. I put my hands in my jean pockets and wished I had cargo pants. I thought I’d sacrificed enough. Now was the real test: what really are the essentials in life? So often, especially over Christmas, we talk about needing things. Really needing that new pair of heels. Really needing that ipad. Even small things, like needing to get stuffing for the turkey. Things that will make our life complete. I know I’m so guilty of it. But the definition of need became a lot clearer at 4pm on Friday 20th December.

At that moment, I realised all that needed right there and then was my passport, bank card, a few dollars, my phone and my phone charger. The rest was excess. And looking back on it, how liberating to be free from anything that ties us to this world. How wonderful not to be dependent on physical things. People over possessions. Isn’t that how we should always be?And that’s a message I want to learn from all of this, and that’s a resolution I want to take into this new year. Christmas is a time when there can be so much excess, so much extravagance but this festive season, I’ve been learning to hold things lightly. To enjoy possessions, to not feel guilty about having, but not to depend on them. There’s a fine line between the two. And I think it’s a lesson that needs to be learned daily. I thought I’d learned the lesson when I blogged a few weeks ago. But I’m still figuring out what I depend on. What I need.

2014: hold things lightly.

south-sudan-attack-on-UNWhat the inside of the evacuation plane was like (photo from bbc)

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12 thoughts on “How to Pack for an Emergency Evacuation

  1. Pippa I am constantly amazed at your thoughtfully prepared blogs that bring me right to your side in these unexpected adventures you are having. I praise God for His hand on you and for the way He has enabled you to learn hard realities with a smile on your face, you are finding His wealth and sharing it with the world! We certainly do have an Awesome God who is able to do far more than we even dream of!! Sending love to you and praying for you and the team and those left behind in S. Sudan!!! Christie xxxxxx

  2. You make us all really think with your blogs. Was at a funeral yesterday and one of the things said about Graham was that he was happy, content with his lot. He wasn’t constantly striving for more, which kind of fits in with your ‘holding things lightly’. This has become ‘counter cultural’ in the west where everything is about more. Something for us all to remember.

    I guess you will be in Nairobi for longer than expected, or do you think you may be able to come home for a bit? Thinking of you and all the team and keeping an eye on the news about the peace talks in Ethiopia,
    praying for an end to the violence, that those in control can set an example and try to talk to settle things for those they are governing.

    Take care and God bless, Sue xx

    • In Nairobi until further notice. An assessment team was due to go to Juba today to begin reopening of programmes but they’ll come to Nairobi now instead due to gunfire in Juba last night. In the meantime I’m enjoying(???!!) Chizi’s company and looking forward to having the Obiti’s back tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers

  3. Very inspiring experience Pips! I have come to know you to be full of fortitude and altruism too. I am so glad you made it out of such murky situation, thank God! And warmest greetings from Down Under 😉

  4. Wow pippa this is amazing! You really challenged me!! Absolutely incredible how you have survived this and have such a positive out look! Truly amazing!

    • Thanks Tina. Life’s an adventure, just gotta roll with it! And if good lessons can be learnt along the way, even better. Thanks for prayers etc

  5. Hi Pippa,

    Met your parents today and was amazed to hear about where you are and what you are doing. Even more amazed when I read about some of your adventures. I was your first teacher at Worplesdon School and remember you with much affection. I am often surprised and delighted when I hear about my ex pupils and their achievements but I think you have topped them all! I am particularly interested in your sponsor a child scheme and would like more information. We are off to Scotland on Sunday to the ‘wilds’ of Argyll and will be out of internet access most of the time for the next 4/5 weeks but will be in touch again when we return. You are a brave and amazing girl and an example to us all.

    With very best wishes, Maureen Chalmers

    • Hello Mrs Chalmers!

      Thank you so much for your kind words, its really lovely to hear from you. I’m impressed with your memory! Mum sent me an email saying she’d spoken to you. Its great to be in touch – I remember my year one days very fondly.

      Thank you for your interest in sponsoring a child. Perhaps you can send me your email address and I can give you some more information. My email is : philippa_wilkinson@yahoo.co.uk.

      Hope you have a lovely time up and Scotland and the sun shines for you.

      Pippa

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