Back in 1994 when I went on my first overseas mission to India, the best security was the night watchman who blew his whistle while patrolling around the streets where I was staying. There was also the gardener who moon lighted as a security guard and unlocked the gate when we came home after dark. Many banks I entered had a police officer with a rifle over his shoulder but the weapon was so archaic I never felt threatened.
It was much the same when we lived in Indonesia except for our last month there when the city fell into civil unrest in the aftermath of the ’96 Asian economic crisis. Overnight the streets were being patrolled by the regular army and we got evacuated to a hotel that was harbouring what many locals thought were the cause of their woes: wealthy Chinese. I was not surprised then to wake up and find a ring of soldiers encircling the hotel and I knew we were sitting ducks. These guys wore red berets and made up Indonesia’s Special Forces but there were abot 30 of them against several million unhappy Indonesians with no access to their bank accounts.
Sick of room service, I dodged the armed soldier patrolling my hotel floor and made my way down to the restaurant.
I sat next to the window for 10 seconds before a horrified waiter pulled me by the arm and with a big nervous grin whispered, ‘Not by the window, Madam!’
How can I convey the drama of trying to eat breakfast while staring at a bazooka and a wall of men toting sub machine guns just outside the window, and wondering whether I would get to see my children again.
I barely ate the five days we waited in that hotel until order was re established and all I had on me was my passport and a change of clothes.
Some expats were murdered by taxi drivers – just for their wallets – as they made their way to the airport.
I heard of an expat being held up with a machete and all the thief wanted was her trolley full of groceries.
We got out just two days before our government sent the airforce to evacuate any remaining Australians.
I also thought about my children left in Australia the day of 9/11. That was not the best day to be back in India watching their missiles mirroring Pakistan’s. We would have , left the country if the airports had not been closed and once again we bunkered in our hotel watching CNN and praying for no itchy fingers near red buttons.
You know, I’m just an ordinary housewife; I don’t go looking for trouble but trouble came the day I went for my morning swim during a holiday in Goa. That morning I shared the beach with the Coast Guard, army helicopters and this massive grey reconnaissance plane flying over me. I looked around and thought to myself, ‘Geez, when did Bollywood start making war movies and where’s the set and the camera crew?’ I had been on the beach for three weeks so I knew most of the holiday makers around me but this day there was an unusual amount of men dressed in shorts and long shirts. They looked silly not only because of their long sleeves (when most of the locals just wore shorts ) but they were talking into their sleeves as well. Wallace called me over to the beach hut and once again I could not stomach my breakfast. He told me of the terror attacks in neighbouring Mumbai and how India was again on high alert. It was the height of holiday season in Goa and all the military paraphernalia including the sleeve talking men were sent to protect us and reassure us that Goa was still a safe holiday destination. Hello?
There were reports that Mumbai’s terrorists had come by boat and I got a little paranoid the following evening when I saw a red laser beam coming from the shoreline. Goan restaurants line the beach and many are dimly lit. As the red beam advanced I waited for it to mark my head and for a split second wondered whether I had finally run out of luck. Wallace and our daughter had their backs to the sea and were reading the menu as the beam hit my face and I instinctively slid under the table. Suddenly I heard a young man’s voice asking my daughter whether she wanted to buy a laser toy.
I could have killed him with my bare hands.
Wallace looked under the table and asked whether I was interested in buying a laser torch.
‘It comes with a key ring and by the way, what are you doing under there?’
‘Oh, just looking for my earring darling, won’t be long’.
I stayed under there long enough to say a quick prayer of thanks.
Emirates Airlines graciously changed our tickets, allowing us to fly out from Bangalore instead of Mumbai and we did so, after a sleepless night on a bus fending off a wandering hand and the driver from hell.
That’s all I want to say about that…