“They Got Caught”: Two Americans’ Attempt to Evacuate Madagascar

"We're trying to get them out. And you know, they got caught. They were late with their flights. We gave them a period of time. They didn't make it." — President Trump

“From the beginning of time nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.”

— President Trump, March 11th

Thursday, March 12th

Wake up at 4am in order to catch 10-minute address by President Trump; learn he will be suspending all travel from Europe to United States for next 30 days.

Friday, March 13th

Watch NGO-employed wife wonder aloud if she can get out of very important weeklong work trip to remote village she is supposed to leave for on Sunday so we can evacuate as soon as possible.

Saturday, March 14th

Learn wife cannot get out of very important weeklong work trip to remote village.

Sunday, March 15th

Say goodbye to wife as she leaves for very important weeklong trip to remote village.

Monday, March 16th

Get forwarded an open letter written by Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen announcing they will be evacuating volunteers from dozens of countries over next few days; check “Expat Madagascar” Facebook group; find nothing but conjecture.

Receive call from wife; learn she has put her foot down and currently en route back to Antananarivo; log onto Momondo; find only available flight, a two-stop trip through Mauritius and Dubai leaving that Friday at 1am; blanch at price tag; click “purchase.”

Tuesday, March 17th

Wash, dry, and fold clothes; pull out suitcases; eat as much perishable food as possible.

Wednesday, March 18th

Fill allotted suitcase with 49.3lbs worth of clothes, medicine, and various electronics; welcome home wife; help fill her alloted suitcase with 49.6lbs worth of clothes, medicines, and various provisions; prepare apartment for possibly months-long abandonment.

Thursday, March 19th

Wake up at 5am; look at phone; see following WhatsApp message from dad: I just heard that Marius (sic) has three cases and not allowing any entry. What do you know?; wake up wife; share message; start Googling.

Discover Mauritius Prime Minister announced 54 minutes prior country’s borders would be closing in five hours.

Call Mauritius Air; call Emirates; call Expedia; email U.S. Embassy in Madagascar; email Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton; receive auto-reply from U.S. Embassy letting me know State Department “has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”

Receive email six hours later from U.S. Embassy Consular Chief Becky Taylor confirming “as of tonight at midnight, there are no longer commercial options for leaving Madagascar” and “at the moment, [she doesn’t] have an option for American citizens wanting to evacuate”; am told she will be placing me and wife “on the list of those who have been inquiring.”

Resign to fate.

Friday, March 20th

Make appearance on ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast with Brad Mielke to talk about current situation in Madagascar.

Happen upon Facebook post from lesser-known local news outlet reporting two AirFrance flights have been scheduled to “allow European nationals to return to their countries.”

Wonder if Americans would be allowed onboard as well; forward post to Consular Chief asking if she knows; receive auto-reply letting me know they’re “monitoring the current situation in Madagascar” and “aware of the hardship border closures are creating for U.S. citizens who need to get to United States.”

Comment on post; attempt to get on phone with AirFrance; send screenshot of post to wife’s organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.; receive reply three hours later telling us NGO’s travel agent will do what they can.

Receive email forty minutes later with itinerary confirmations for two Priority Economy seats on flight leaving at 1am; grab still-packed suitcases; find ride; put on N95 masks; worry something we’ll need sometime in next 3-18 months has been forgotten.

Arrive at Ivato International Airport; go through “developing country”-level preboard screening process; head to lobby; find row of chairs farthest away from group of Germans sharing beers and sneezing into hands.

Saturday, March 21st

Board at 12:30am; find seat; appreciate extra legroom; slowly come to realization that while coach is packed, there is literally no one else in ~40 other seats composing Priority Economy; peer through first class curtain; find only three seats filled.

Decide, for some reason, to watch Green Lantern; fall asleep shortly after clicking play; wake up many hours later; eat meal flight attendant left on tray table; try and fall back asleep, unsuccessfully; watch rest of Green Lantern.

Arrive in Paris at 8am local time; receive email from Consular Chief letting me know she is “trying to get more clarity on [the AirFrance flights]” but has “been on hold for a half hour with [the airline’s] France customer service line.”

Make it through customs; risk human interaction for yogurts and water; begin boarding process; wait in line composed almost entirely of people wearing masks and standing a meter apart from one another.

Board plane; survey cabin; watch Booksmart; realize it’s even better on second viewing; fall asleep; wake up many hours later; eat meal flight attendant left on tray table; try and fall back asleep, unsuccessfully.

Land at JFK at 5:30pm local time; receive form asking about possible COVID-related symptoms and countries visited in past fourteen days.

Fill out form; deplane; have temperature taken; make it through customs, after scarcely any scrutiny; find secluded place to sit near terminal; move when family of four sits four feet away; witness man sneeze multiple times in a row without covering mouth.

Board smallest commercial airplane in fleet; nap; wake up; deplane at Dulles at 10:30pm; make it through customs, after negligible scrutiny.

Pick up car in-laws left at airport; drive to designated quarantine location in Delaware.

Sunday, March 22nd

Arrive at 3am; get in bed; attempt to catch up on news; pass out.

Wake up at 5am because body thinks it’s noon; move to couch to catch up on news; alternate between snacking and napping; head to bed at 6pm.

Monday, March 23rd

Wake up at 5am; move to couch; alternate between working, snacking, and napping.

Tuesday, March 24th

Wake up at 5:15am; move to couch; alternate between working, snacking, and napping.

Wednesday, March 25th

Wake up at 5:15am; move to couch; alternate between working, snacking, and napping.

Receive reply from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office at 8:58pm asking me for “written permission to make inquiries on [my] behalf,” almost a week after original plea for help.

Thursday, March 26th

Wake up; move to couch; begin writing this, because all work and no play makes Bryce a dull boy. All work and no play makes Bryce a dull boy. All work and no play makes Bryce a dull boy.

Receive email letting me know “the State Department continues to explore all options for evacuation. However, there is nothing new to report at this time.”

Friday, March 27th

Receive email letting me know Embassy “continues to explore all options for evacuation in the midst of a rapidly changing situation.” However, “at this time, there is no new information to report.”

Sunday, March 29th

Receive email letting me know State Department “continues to explore other options but there are no guarantees.”

Monday, March 30th

Receive email letting me know “as of now, there are no new updates.”

Tuesday, March 31st

Receive email letting me know “as of now, there are no new updates.”

Wednesday, April 1st

Receive email letting me know “U.S. Mission to Madagascar continues to explore options for evacuations,” but “there are no new updates to report.”

Think about hundreds of fellow expats, NGO workers, and volunteers still stranded in future hot spot.

Thursday, April 2nd

Receive email letting me know “U.S. Mission to Madagascar has confirmed potential availability of seats on an Air France flight.” However, “passengers would be required to have an onward flight from Paris” and “seat availability is not guaranteed.”

Selfishly hope favorite expats, NGO workers, and volunteers make it on flight; know majority will not.

“We’re trying to get them out. And you know, they got caught. They were late with their flights. We gave them a period of time; they didn’t make it.”

— President Trump, March 19th