Friday, February 18, 2011


You’ve probably heard, Paul McCartney’s song, BAND ON THE RUN, at some point in your life. There is a certain sense of urgency to get out of where ever they are to freedom. To escape.

Much like my guest today, Jenyfer Matthews.

You’ll remember the last time she visited (The Reluctant Trailblazer), she was living in Cairo, Egypt the past five years and living abroad for the past ten years. Anyone who has watched the news of late knows of the unrest and change of regimes happening in Egypt. Jenyfer shares some thoughts and observations on her Blog. Scary times to live in a foreign county and especially as an American.

Evacuation is never fun. It’s fraught with a sense of urgency and danger, worry over those in your family and pets, hard choices of those things to take and those to leave, a list of things to remember, and all this with a deadline over your head.

Jenyfer shares what it was like to have to condense the life of a family into four suitcases and run.

There’s a common game: what would you grab if your house was on fire and you only had five minutes to get out? I had a little more time, but recently had such an experience in real life when my family was evacuated from Cairo, Egypt with very little notice.

A friend called me from the US State Department and told me to go to the airport as soon as I could - and that we should be prepared for only one checked bag each, no carry-ons. We had lived abroad for a decade, five of which were in Cairo. I had to decide in a hurry what was important enough to fit into four suitcases.

I backed up my laptop on to an external hard-drive to preserve precious photos of our children and our travels and also my manuscripts. I packed nearly all of my jewelry, making sure that I got the special items from my late MIL, mother, and grandmothers on both sides. I packed the negatives from the baby pictures as well as the journals I’ve been keeping for each child from the time they were toddlers. All that in addition to a selection of warm clothes for each family member – wherever we were to end up, it was likely to be cold.

Most things we have accumulated I dismissed without thought – clothes can be replaced as can dishes and knick-knacks. I would miss the tea set and the Buddha statues I had purchased on trips to Cambodia as well as paintings and tapestries collected over the years, but they were not a priority – neither were our beautiful carpets. The only items that caused me more than a few pangs at leaving were the many quilts that I’ve made over the last decade. Anyone who crafts understands that you put your heart as well as time into each item. I can only hope that my house doesn’t literally burn down and that they can be recovered in time.

I packed every scrap of currency we had, spare change from several trips, as well as an accordion file full of vital documents, including birth certificates and vaccination records. I also made a few mistakes in my haste – such as packing both of my son’s toothbrushes but none for my daughter and my e-reader but no charger. (I boarded a plane for the first time in a decade with no reading material at all, not that I could concentrate to read) I did not bring a rubber band for my hair and ended up pulling it back with a couple of Silly Bandz donated by my daughter. Some choices were purely sentimental. I left behind a beautiful red patent leather purse my husband bought me as a gift on a trip to Italy but brought along a pair of leather sandals that I wore when I left the United States for the United Arab Emirates in 1999 and that came on many travels with me, including my first visit to Egypt as a tourist. I won’t wear them anytime in the coming months, but it seemed wrong to leave them behind now. I took a black evening bag and a set of cut glass salt and pepper shakers that belonged to my grandmother but left behind a heavy wool cape given to me by a dear friend which would have been infinitely more useful but would have taken up too much space.

How do you condense the life of a family into four suitcases?

I feel like the heroine of one of my own novels at the moment – unexpectedly losing nearly everything and having to rebuilt their life when they least expect it. I hope that for the majority of you such a scenario remains a party game, but is interesting to notice how quickly the “stuff” you have accumulated over time becomes meaningless when you have to prioritize and choose.

  • What would you save if you only had 24 hours and one suitcase per family member?


Summer Donahue is not Ben Martin’s type of woman. Ben is conservative, thoughtful and the model of self-control. Summer is whimsical, spontaneous and just a bit flaky. So why, when she breezed into his office like a tropical storm, was he so instantly and inexplicably attracted to her?

Summer consulted Ben to have her business’s taxes done. But when it comes to light that Summer’s ex-husband and ex-accountant Malcolm has embezzled most of her liquid assets and put her on the brink of bankruptcy, Ben throws aside all of his iron-clad rules about getting personally involved with his clients. Summer and Ben go to Mexico to find her ex and save her business. But in the process Ben loses more to Summer than his personal credo — he loses his heart as well. Excerpt

“Fans of Jennifer Crusie will love Jenyfer Matthews’ fresh, fun voice. ONE CRAZY SUMMER is contemporary romance at its best.” Gemma Halliday

Jenyfer Matthews writes books for fun. She is an American currently living in Cairo, Egypt. Aside from writing, she's married, a mom of two under ten, a decent (if reluctant) cook, an encyclopedia of random scientific / medical facts, a wine lover (but not a snob!), and a Capricorn. She loves to travel, spend time with good friends, and laugh at life's surprises. View of life - definitely half full.

You can visit her blog, Writing News & Disconnected Thoughts and her Website. You can find her available books and the excerpts,  here.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Jen, welcome back to Over Coffee.

Love the excerpt of you book. Yay, I can get it on Kindle Whispernet.

What a stressful few weeks you've had. I'm glad all of you are safe. Is there any indication of you being able to return?

Mason Canyon said...

WOW, Jenyfer I can even image trying to pack in that short amount of time and being able to only take a few items. I hope you are able to return to your home and find it all waiting for you just as you left it.

Sia, wonderful post.

Thoughts in Progress

Other Lisa said...

Yikes, Jenyfer! So will you be going back to Egypt, or is it too soon to tell? Very exciting times there, to be sure!

Helen Ginger said...

Sounds to me as if you did a great job of priority packing on such short notice. I hope you write about your experience (either as fiction or nonfiction) in the near future.

Jill Lynn said...

Sounds like you chose wisely in such a frantic time. Stay safe and keep writing. Our imaginations are never left behind.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Hello everyone!

Yes, it has been a stressful couple of weeks. I suppose it could have been worse though - I might not have been able to leave! Or, I might not have had such a comfortable place to roost - my sister and her family have been very accommodating and hospitable.

The neighbors who stayed in our building report that all is "well" so the things we left behind should still be sitting there, exactly where I left them lying around (ugh)

My husband has to go back on Monday, to resume his job. The children and I are staying behind for the time being...

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Helen - I have already written some posts on my own blog about this experience. It helped me to process it all as I was in the midst of it and also keep track before my poor stressed out brain forgot it all! They are collected here:

Mona Risk said...

Jenyfer, don't regret the material things you left behind. You managed to leave with your family and a few precious things. I am sure you will go back one day if only for closure. I have been in your shoes many years ago. I understand your feelings and will always keep a special love for Egypt.

Mona Risk said...

Oh and I enjoyed a lot the video songs on your blog. So like Egyptians to write jokes about everything.

readwriteandedit said...

Jenyfer, I don't even want to imagine choosing what to take. I'm glad you have neighbors looking out for your things.

VA said...

I'm probably going to be an outlier here and say, this task would be fairly easy. You got the three things I'd grab: legal documents, the mondo hard drive (even the computer is disposable and so is the hard drive since there is a duplicate), and MOST importantly--loved ones and myself.

Every thing else can be replaced. I find not hoarding to be less stressful than collecting. Having been thorough hurricanes and lost stuff, or moved and had to leave things behind it becomes easier.

The best part is the freedom to make new memories with new things, rather than reliving the past. Carpe Diem!

Jenyfer, I'm thrilled that you all got out safely. Best wishes as you all write your future.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Hey Sia and Jenyfer,

This was an emotional post to read...sad how life can change in seconds...and amazing what we find important to us in that moment of choice.

I pray you're allowed to go back and if you do I hope all is well with you're home and personal memories (items)...Sometime freedom comes at a very high price...if you do return there, please be careful.

Thanks for the post today
Hugs to both of you

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Jenyfer .. I've been following along .. it must have been a big shock - but the hope that it's left is for the good, we hope. So pleased it wasn't that difficult to leave - and hope your husband will be ok on his return.

Good luck and thanks Sia for hosting Jenyfer - oh yes the book sounds a wonderful read .. to get a Kindle next! Have good weekends .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

The Blog pages aren't letting me comment. But, wow, good stuff! :)

Diana Duncan

~Sia McKye~ said...

Jen, I'd be hard put with the critters. But I wouldn't be overseas with this many. When we were overseas we had one dog and one cat which could travel in the same carrier--my babies tend to be friendly like that. You are trained to be ready to leave at a moments notice.

I've been evacuated before. Documents, a few books, a few pictures and clothes on my back and a way for the animals I had to be free to flee to safety.

Same here now, if There was a fire. First priority is my husband and son, having windows/doors open for my cats to escape--if they're in the house, grab the hard drive back up and other than that, nothing is worth losing my life to save. Most of the important pictures have been duplicated and sent to family.

~Sia McKye~ said...


When will you know if it's safe for you and the kids to return to Cairo? Have they said?

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Mona - so glad you enjoyed the videos. There are many others too, but I don't speak enough Arabic to appreciate them without subtitles!

VA - you are not an outlier - I wouldn't describe myself as a hoarder by any stretch.
There were many many things that didn't rate at all with me. I am however sentimental and there were things it was hard to think of leaving behind, particularly thinking of potential looters. They would surely not recognize or appreciate the work I put into my quilts.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

readwriteandedit - we are lucky that no real disturbance has (yet) come to our neighborhood and that some of our neighbors were willing to keep an eye on the building.

Hawk - the hardest part of this was the speed with which it all developed. A hurricane you can usually see coming, LOL. I do always keep our important documents ready to grab though so that helped.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Hilary - you could read the books on your computer in PDF if you wanted but they will also all be available in paperback as soon as I can find some quiet time to sit down and format them!

Diana - thanks!

Sia - there were many people I know who did not leave because of their pets - the Embassy flights do not allow pets. As for when it will be safe to return, "safe" is relative I guess. Many of my friends never left and felt safe enough. It wasn't a risk I was willing to take with young children. And with the way things are currently going in the region, I think there is a long period of transition ahead...

Houston A.W. Knight said...

It did seem to come out of nowhere didn't it? You didn't get wind of things stirring from local friends there?

I'm with you and your friends about children and animals... I could never leave me dog...he's like my baby...the embassy should realize that and allow all members of the family to go and be safe. But then I could never leave me dog behind in a hurricane either...that's why I got an RV...for me dog goes or I's that simple.

I'll keep you and all still there in me thoughts...and I'll hope you all stay safe.


Jenyfer Matthews said...

I heard of planned protests and asked some Embassy friends if they had more information- their only response was "keep away from protests". Apparently this was all very well planned underground - which it would have needed to be to work so well. Not plugged in to the right channels apparently!

Houston A.W. Knight said...

LOL...keep away from Protests...LOL o.k., that was great advice!

You seem like a very smart woman to me. I don't think they had to tell you that...I think you would have done that anyway...

I agree with that you've said it... it had to have been very secret for it to work so well. Maybe there were no signs of's frightful these days to live overseas...just not safe.

So, how are you surviving? Your lives are in you wait or begin again?


Jenyfer Matthews said...

Wait or begin again - That is the big question and I do not have the answer yet...