Saturday, September 16, 2017


by Jean Roberta

I sometimes wonder what I would pack if I had an hour to gather up my belongings before being rescued from a crisis situation.

In the early 1970s, my aunt and uncle and their three children were living in the Niger Delta area when a new country named Biafra seceded from Nigeria, and a civil war broke out. (My uncle was an American engineer working for Burlington Mills, and he was showing local employees how to use big industrial looms.)

The U.S. government sent planes to rescue American citizens stranded in Biafra. Among a few other items, my aunt gathered up her silverware, made of actual silver. When the family arrived home in South Carolina, they had no furniture for at least a week. They used orange crates as chairs and a table for dining on, but they used sterling silver knives, forks and spoons at every meal.

My aunt and her two brothers (one was my father) were the children of a jeweller and watchmaker. Items made of precious metal were not disposable for them.

A few years later, I experienced my own Nigerian crisis when the Nigerian man I had met in England and sponsored into Canada as my fiancé became unbearable to live with. When my closest friend offered to rescue me and my three-month-old baby while my husband was out of the house, I threw some stuff in a black plastic garbage bag, and away we went in friend's car to the local women's shelter.

Compared to the baby herself, everything else I owned looked non-essential, and it was all replaceable. Clothes and shoes? Well, yes, I had to have something to wear for the next few days, but none of them last a lifetime anyway. Grooming products? They’re easy to carry, and besides, they’re available at the drug store. Books? Hard to transport in bulk. Knicknacks? Meh. Plants? They don’t always survive in temporary, makeshift living arrangements. Luckily, we had no pets. If we had, I wouldn’t have left them with a raging alcoholic.

So many people around the world have had to cope with natural disasters over the last few weeks. My heart goes out to them, and I wish it were easier for hordes of refugees to come to the Canadian prairies. The worst thing we’ve faced lately is an unusually dry summer that has affected the wheat crop. (Watch for higher-priced bread in the next few months.)

I’m sure there’s nothing like an out-of-control fire or flood or winds that uproot trees and tear the roofs off houses to remind people of what is really valuable. Parents grab their kids first. Some pet-owners round up the furry children before leaving the premises.

It’s actually freeing to realize that inanimate belongings are not really essential to human life. Even books, as reluctant as I am to say this. I can literally live without books, and so can other avid readers.

I don’t need it is my mantra when I pack for a trip. Like Lisabet, though, I find it hard to travel light. (What if it’s very hot where I’m going? What if it’s very cold or very wet? What if there’s no sun-block or toothpaste or antiseptic cream there? What if there’s nothing to read except what I bring with me on a six-hour trip?)
I just need to put myself in crisis-survival mode the next time I plan to see the sights in some faraway place.


  1. Your comments about refugees also crossed my mind as I considered this topic. So many millions of people--literally--have been forced from their homes, just in the past six months, by disaster, war or persecution. I am particularly heartsick about the Rohinga. They are detested and rejected by everyone on the planet, it seems.

  2. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the refugee situation is going to get much, much worse as parts of the world become literally unlivable due to climate change. Look out, Canada!

  3. Momma and I count our blessings every day. We haven't had particularly carefree lives, but we haven't been dispossessed either, like so many are today.


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