In our post on March 20, When in doubt, have a pint of Guinness, we drew attention to the Britons who resolutely stayed in post-earthquake Japan rather than fleeing with the majority of their expat countrymen back to the UK. Despite the danger of the nuclear situation, one man interviewed by the Telegraph said
“I actually feel a bit of a duty not to leave.”
Friends in need
Although this person’s mother couldn’t see his point, I understand this mentality. The events of September 11, 2001, so close to our home in Virginia, made me defensive of my adopted country, and outraged at such an audacious attack. To leave at this stage was unthinkable. That would mean we were just fair weather friends of the USA.
Instead, we taped a small American flag to our mailbox, as the rest of our neighbors did to theirs. It couldn’t help the 3,000 who died that day, but it showed our sympathy and solidarity, which didn’t go unnoticed: a neighbor made a point of telling me how touched she was that I, a foreigner, had done this.
Yet I suppose expats here did leave to go back home after 9/11, because it’s human nature to think the grass is greener – or safer – on the other side.
More trolls, not greener grass
It’s not greener or safer, of course. I know this from years of frequent news reports of IRA bombings. The Spanish know this from decades of Basque separatist attacks. 2009 saw 10,999 terrorist attacks worldwide, and while 60 percent of these occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, that still leaves over 4,000 to be shared by the rest of the globe.
As chance had it, I arrived at Heathrow the day before the 2005 bombings of London’s transport system, and had planned to take the tube into the city the following morning to do some sightseeing with my children. Had we not been tired from jetlag and therefore overslept on July 7th, we could easily have been on one of the trains that were destroyed.
Was I as upset by 7/7 as I had been by 9/11? Undoubtedly. Yet there was something else, too – a feeling of deja vu, of “here we go again” or – dare I say it? – resignation.
Whether you run or stay, there is a difference between enduring atrocities in your own country and suffering them on another’s turf.
Not all disasters are manmade
It doesn’t have to be a terrorist atrocity, as our friends drinking Guinness in Tokyo can testify. Perhaps you were an expat in Christchurch, New Zealand during the last two earthquakes; perhaps you were posted to New Orleans just before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Only two days ago, Joplin, Missouri was devastated by a deadly tornado.
The world is a dangerous place. There are no certainties, especially when it comes to safety. To quote The Clash again:
“If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double.”
So, tell us: What’s an expat to do when disaster strikes?
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