Archive for April, 2020

Back to the airport – take five

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

We got word on Wednesday that we’d have another evacuation flight on Sunday. This was a blessed amount of time to prepare, and we needed every minute. We were able to email confirmations on Wednesday, run a phone bank on Thursday to confirm passengers, and firm up the manifest on Friday. It even took working all day Saturday to solidify our passenger list of 250 as many Americans in Liberia turned down our offer of a seat, opting to either wait it out or or wait until the “next flight.” Unfortunately, we are not a travel agent, and a “next flight” is uncertain.

John and I left for the airport Sunday morning at 6:00 AM. Processing passengers went as well as could be expected (although hot as heck), and we had a finalized manifest of 250 ready by noon or so. We took a lot of precautions to guard ourselves, and tried to create as much distance as possible between us and passengers.   The flight took off an hour or so behind schedule, but compared to earlier flights, it was amazingly fast. John and I were back home before sundown – a success in our minds.

We were surprised by a “kudos cable” to Embassy Monrovia from the Secretary of State, lauding us for our efforts to repatriate Americans from overseas. He cited the consular team’s innovative use of a preregistration process for the flights, allowing a smoother airport process. Better than official recognition were the many emails we’ve received from passengers after arriving safely back in the U.S., thanking us for getting them home.


Taking stock

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

On the balcony

This week was the calmest I’ve had since arriving in Monrovia. I’m working more normal hours, home before dark, etc.  We’re boycotting work this weekend (save answering a few phone calls and emails) to give ourselves a chance to relax and unwind a bit. We’ve been in a constant state of stress for the last few weeks.

Sunsets are starting to get pretty as rainy season approaches.

John and I played “Wingspan” yesterday, a board game that is thoughtful and educational about birds; the cards are beautifully drawn, each card has interesting facts about the birds, etc.

I’ve slept 10+ hours both Friday and Saturday nights! I guess I had some catching up to do. Last night, I had a great video chat with Pam and Ann – fun to see and catch up with them.

At work, we spent the week (including last Sunday) assessing the remaining demand for flights and getting our ducks in a row should there be one. A genius regional consular officer and someone in Banjul came up with a way for folks to simply complete an online form that spits out the paperwork we need on our side – up until now, we had to process crowds of people through the embassy to get that step done ahead of time. It has simplified our work a lot, and allows everyone to obey the stay-at-home order put into place in Liberia.

Since three team members evacuated back to the States, we’ve had a few conference calls. Luckily they can get into our systems remotely and do a lot electronically.

The embassy is pretty much a ghost town. As many people as possible are working from home; others are simply on administrative leave. Hopefully these measures can help stop the spread of the virus. There are around 70 cases here with under 10 deaths so far, but we are holding our breath to see if Africa becomes the next hot spot.

After four evacuation flights, I’ve been on the two-lane road to the airport a lot recently. It’s at least an hour to get there, more depending on traffic. I find it depressing. Here are a few shots along the way. The sign for Disco Hill Safe Burial indicates the road to the safe burial site, where thousands of Ebola victims were buried according to appropriate safety protocols (a USAID project). In addition, there are untold numbers of bodies cremated with their ashes stored in barrels there. The community of Disco Hill got its name because it had a disco back in the day that was quite popular.

Disco Hill Safe Burial turnoff

On the road to the airport

Club 90 and Baby Face Entertainment Centers

A common sight here – selling small quantities of gas.

A rare nature view on the road to the airport




Rounds three and four

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

Last Sunday, the consular crew came to work to process 150+ U.S. citizens who wanted to execute promissory notes in advance of an evacuation flight. We continued the process through Monday. People are stressed; while many are kind, others choose the moment to yell at my staff about all manner of things, including the fact that it rained while they were in line. Some emails we get are worse. They say a crisis brings out who a person really is. I try to remember the kind ones and forget the rest. 


We used Tuesday to get our manifests in order and make confirmation phone calls. In the middle of it all, we received word the flight had moved two hours earlier, so we had to scramble to notify everyone to come earlier than planned. We were able to enjoy a tiny bit of the evening when we got home, and had our neighbor Ian up for a glass of wine, along with Chance, his lovely blonde Lab, a former drug-sniffing dog.


Wednesday we headed to the airport before sunrise, where we boarded 250+ private U.S. citizens along with 50+ embassy personnel. It was a huge effort, made more difficult by private U.S. citizens who ignored luggage limits and also packed contraband items such as gallons of palm oil and dried fish in their luggage — all of which had to be unpacked before boarding. The flight ended up being late. As usual, John and I waited at the airport until take-off and finally made it home 12+ hours after leaving for the airport. We had food delivered from a nearby restaurant and then crashed.


Thursday was another round of building manifests and making confirmation calls for another flight on Friday, a smaller manifest of “only” 100. We were actually home by dark on Friday, after a pretty smooth check-in/boarding process. 


One thing I may not have made clear is that the only support we have at the airport are people to take the baggage and put it on the plane, and people to help the handicapped passengers. There are no ticket agents or fancy bag tags. My consular crew checks in passengers from our printed copies of Excel spreadsheets. After check-in, they move to John’s luggage check-in tables, where embassy staff checks them off a print-out, and puts a piece of duct tape on the luggage with their assigned number. It’s an evacuation charter flight – no frills, and it’s all on us.


Saturday John and I stayed home for the most part, nursing the wounds of the week and trying to re-charge. Sleep has been fitful and days have been long. 


I was back in the office for seven hours today with my sole remaining officer (the other two American officers and American associate have evacuated although they continue to assist from the U.S.). We plowed through more spreadsheets and emails trying to figure out the remaining demand for evacuation flights – and yes, there are more who want out. Next week will prove interesting as the embassy and the country go on lockdown. 


Round Two

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

We had another evacuation flight this week, much bigger this time. We had a pretty good operation going, getting the paperwork processed on Monday and Tuesday. It wasn’t without problems though, including long delays related to refueling. John and I thought we’d be home by 10PM, but it was 2AM instead. I took Thursday off to recuperate a bit, which was nice.

Our good friend Tammy was sent from DC to Peru to work on the evacuations down there. It’s fun seeing my friends doing the same thing all over the world. This is truly unprecedented.

John did a coffee roasting demo for two friends this morning (Saturday) while I went to work. I’m blogging today because tomorrow  the consular section will be running full tilt trying to get paperwork processed for another flight, should we get one next week.

When we have a few minutes, we’re sneaking in a few episodes of “Ozark” season three!