Evacuation, Part 2

I realize that it's been almost 3 weeks since I wrote that last post on the events leading up to my family's evacuation from Pakistan in 1971.  I had good intentions of writing Part 2 the next day, but …..well obviously it didn't get done! 

Better late than never, right?

As you may recall, my mom, sister and I ended up on a Royal Canadian Air Force plane to be evacuated out of the city with most of the remaining women and children from the foreign community in Pakistan.  My dad stayed behind, hopefully to make it on to a British Royal Air Force plane the next day bound for somewhere. 

Even though we thought most of the foreign community had already left, the Boeing 707 was surprisingly full — so full, in fact, that some of the crew actually stood in the back of the plane during take off and landing to make sure that we all had seats.  The mood was very somber.  Pretty much everyone was leaving behind husbands and fathers and the ground crew that helped us board looked on forlornly.  We felt like were abandoning them.  A huge black cloud of smoke had settled over the entire city, blocking out the sun, which added to the sense of forboding.

As we took off, all we knew was that the plane was taking us to Tehran, Iran.  It sounds strange now, but at the time Tehran was the safest city in the region for us to go to. 

When we landed in Tehran, a US Consular official was there with a bus to take the few Americans to the Intercontinental Hotel, in the heart of the city.  We really couldn't afford to stay there, but my mom decided that we'd just go along to the hotel, then try to contact someone from the local International Church to see if they could offer assistance finding cheap housing.  We had heard they were assisting people from our little refugee community that way.

When we arrived, we were delighted to see many of our friends from school and church in Karachi.  We were immediately greeted by a good friend who worked for Corning Glass.  He informed us that he had suspected we'd be arriving, and had booked a room for us.  When my mom told him there was no way we could afford to stay there, he told us not to worry—that we would be guests of Corning Glass. We were too worn out and grateful to argue and gladly went up to our room. The task of finding affordable housing would have to wait until the next day.

Unfortunately, my mom awoke quite sick, which meant she was in no shape to make a move.  Our Corning friends graciously told us to stay until she was better, so while she tried to shake off whatever it was that had gotten to her, my sister and I hung out at the pool with some of the Karachi friends who had not already gone back to the US for Christmas.  Except for the fact that we had no idea where my dad was, this evacuation thing was kind of fun!

As we headed into our 3rd night in Tehran, we still had no word from my dad.  No further evacuation flights had arrived in Tehran since ours. This, of course was long before the advent of the internet, cell phones, instant messaging and the like.  Overseas phone calls were difficult,and most long distance communication was by telegram.  But even if he could make a call or send a telegram, he didn't know where we were either.  And as far we knew, he was on his way to London or New York! 

What we did know, however, was that my mom had recovered and the next day we really needed to find somewhere else to stay. 

About 3 in the morning of that third night, we woke up to the sound of someone trying to open the door.  Obviously startled, we turned on the light just in time to see my dad walk in!! Not only had he gotten to Tehran, but he'd managed to find us in our hotel room.  We were flabbergasted and, of course, extremely relieved and happy.

We wanted to know where in the world he'd been and how he'd found us and he wanted to know what in the world we were doing in a room in a 5-star hotel! 

The day after we left, he had boarded a British RAF transport carrier (rope bucket seats, no insulation) with the last remnants of the foreign community, most of whom were Brits and were headed back home.  They were flown to Bahrain and transferred to another flight that took them to Cyprus.  The plan was to get on another flight to London, but since he knew we'd gone to Tehran he ditched the group and bought a plane ticket headed back east, first to Beirut, then to Tehran.

When he landed in Tehran he somehow learned that most of the remaining Americans from Karachi were at the Intercontinental Hotel.  He knew WE wouldn't be there, but since it was the middle of the night, he decided to go there, spend the night in the lobby, then contact the embassy the next day to see if they knew where we were.

When he entered the lobby at 2AM, he ran into some friends from the US Consulate in Karachi and immediately asked them if they had any idea where we were.

"Sure," they said. "They're up in Room ####." I'm not sure if he was more relieved to have found us or horrified that we were staying in such an expensive hotel.  He checked himself in, got a key, and came up to the room!

The next day our Corning friends left for the US and we were graciously taken in by a US diplomatic family who were members of the local international church. We spent many hours with them at the US embassy in Tehran, a place that would become so famous (infamous) only 8 years later.

Being confident that the war in Pakistan wouldn't last too long, we decided to wait things out in Tehran rather than return to the US.  We were right.  Just 13 days after it started, the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered, thus bringing a halt to hostilities. My dad went immediately to the Pakistani Embassy and miraculously was able to secure return visas for our family. 

When we had made the decision to evacuate, it had been our hope and prayer that we would be able to be home by Christmas.

On December 24, 1971, Christmas Eve Day, we were on the first commercial flight back to Karachi following the war.