As many of you will probably know, we were evacuated from our home, Galiwinku, on Elcho Island this week. We are in Darwin, the nearest capital city while our home is currently being attacked by Cyclone Lam. I can’t sleep! So I thought I’d share a little of our experiences with you…
Being in this situation is a surreal experience. Something so very significant for our family, friends and community is happening right now and we can only learn of it from weather websites and Facebook posts, none of which really tell us what we want to know.
On Tuesday, about lunchtime, Jason rang to tell me to pack a bag. We were evacuating to Millingimbi, another MAF base further west than us, with the possibility that we would possibly head further to Darwin in the days following.
PANIC set in.
Packing with a time deadline, while feeling anxious and trying to entertain a four year old resulted in a fair bit of panic. I couldn’t think straight. I would go to a room to pack something, but forget on the way what I was there for. Organised by nature, I do have an emergency packing list… somewhere! In my panicked state, I couldn’t find it. So we soldiered on without it. Make plans for the dog. Tidy up outside. Close windows. Cover the TV. What do I need to pack? What have I forgotten? Where are we staying? What bedding etc. do we need? Is the phone charged? WHAT HAVE I FORGOTTEN?
RELEIF AND PEACE
As we took off from Galiwinku for Millingimbi relief set in. The weather was perfect for flying. No bumps or scary clouds anywhere to be seen. Sam was content to look out the window. I was happy to see new communities and places I hadn’t seen before. There was peace.
But… the questions began to get louder…is this cyclone really going to come? Have we come all this way for nothing? What have I forgotten? The adrenaline kept pumping all that night and into the next morning. We waited for the decision about what we were to do. The cyclone track predictors were making it look more and more likely that we were still in the danger zone, and so we were fairly sure we were Darwin bound. Which is just what happened! At Millingimbi we loaded up three planes with four MAF families and a few other passengers and we were Darwin bound.
UNCERTAINTY set in again. How on earth am I going to keep Sam occupied for two hours on a plane, when you can barely hear each other speak? What if he is sick? Should we really be leaving in the midst of this crisis? Aren’t we here to help people, not run away when times get tough? The doubts, questions and fears crowded in and kept me company for many moments during the flight west.
But… as Sam was happy to look out the window and eat barbeque shapes I began to relax. As I realised the weather was smoother than I’d thought, calm set in. As I looked out the window to see majestic rivers, amazing rock formations, waterfalls and a million shades of green, peace came to keep me company too. It was beautiful flying. Sam began to snooze, which gave us a vomit free flight too.
We landed in Darwin. An odd experience in itself in a little airvan with Virgin and Qantas jets nearby and taxied for hundreds of kilometres (or so it felt) to the parking bay in extreme heat and humidity. It was time to unload the plane, wait for taxis and get to our destination.
PEACE and RELIEF
The air conditioning beckoned us into our apartment. The cold water in the fridge never tasted so good! ABC 2 kept Sam busy while I cooled down and tried to find needed items in the suitcases. A pool called my name, but I had no swimmers to wear. Even so the thought of a swim and dangling my feet in brought relief.
GRATITUDE overwhelmed me. I was grateful for our MAF leaders who made the decision to evacuate us. I am grateful that their care for us would extend to a pool to swim in with our accommodation. I am grateful that I am safe from any danger. I was very grateful that the two hour flight in the small plane was over. I am grateful that I am here with friends who love me and are in similar situations. I am grateful for gifts of money to make this exile a little easier. I am grateful for the prayers and messages from many friends and family around the world. I am grateful for a Mexican restaurant to eat dinner in. I am grateful for Arnhem Land friends to question, wonder, cry, worry and pray with. I am grateful that Sam is coping with it all so well – a bit of new Lego, his MAF friends nearby and a pool is a treat for him. He isn’t asking for details of what is going on and we’re not telling him much voluntarily. We have lots to be grateful for! I am grateful for a husband who goes to the supermarket and brings me home rambutans and strawberries.
But then we woke up this morning, to see that the cyclone was in fact moving closer to our home. And uncertainty hit again. The winds began to increase. We were told that the termite infested tree near our house was starting to crack in the wind. Uncertainty loomed as we heard of the power going off, and as we considered all the food in our freezer and fridge. Stories of houses losing roofs, trees falling over and stronger winds made the situation more real, than the colours on the weather map.
And then I got ANGRY! I should never have put the TV on a different channel, but as we watched the Channel 7 news this morning. I was MAD! As they briefly addressed Cyclone Lam in their news break they showed a cyclone track map from nearly a week ago and brushed it off with a mention that most of the areas impacted by this cyclone were mostly uninhabited. Did you hear me yell at the TV from your place? In our emotional state, and in a situation where it hard to find out any real facts about what is happening, it made me so mad that MY home and MY community that was under threat of devastation barely got a mention. (I know I’m biased in my care for this place… but you could at least bother to get up to date information Channel 7!)
And still the questions, forever in our minds rise to the fore again. Is our house going to survive this? What other items should I have brought with me? What will we find when we go back? Will we even go back? How long will we be here for?
So we go and out and do something “fun” to escape the questions and the fears. We enjoy the chance to shop, to eat take away food and swim in the pool. All things we can’t do at ‘home’ in the same way. We are grateful for cheap swimmers in Kmart, so I can enjoy the pool. We are grateful for calls and text messages from friends. We enjoy our safety. But all the while another emotion is keeping us company. GUILT.
Guilt is something I am fighting not to give in to at the moment, but I am not always winning. I feel guilty as I sit in the air conditioned shopping centre eating McDonalds. Our community is bunkered down in homes and shelters facing terrible conditions and I am eating McDonalds. It is wrong. It feels wrong. So much so that the guilt nibbles away at the joy of those often longed for experiences we are trying to enjoy in this place. I feel guilty knowing that our adopted indigenous family have probably been knocking on our door in recent days for help of various types, and we haven’t been there to help them. I feel guilty that we didn’t get to say goodbye to Stephanie, our new MAF office employee who I have been training for the past week, but left her behind. I feel guilty that we are safe and comfortable while others are not. I feel guilty that we left our dog, Dora, on Elcho with friends in this situation. (There is no way Dora would cope with Darwin though).
But I know the reality of why we are here. I know that MAF made the right decision in evacuating us and I am grateful for it… mostly… But what we know to be true doesn’t always correlate with our emotional response to a situation… and that is the battle of the evacuees right now.
Tonight my brain is active with uncertainty again. The morning light should bring answers to many of the questions. We just need to wait (and hopefully sleep). I feel like all I have done for days is wait! And yet that is the only option we have….