With each regime that teeters, each uprising that forces a U.S. embassy to be evacuated, more American diplomats, aid workers and their families seek shelter at a nondescript Falls Church apartment complex with a nondescript name: Oakwood. The only hint of its connection to international affairs is the United Nations flag flying overhead.
Most families are there to enroll their children in Northern Virginia’s smallest school district, Falls Church, and to wait for the world’s uprisings to subside before returning to their foreign postings or deploying to new ones. The surge of recent arrivals began with an exodus from Ivory Coast in January and was followed last month by a group from Egypt – 33 students and their families from Cairo alone. A wave from Libya began landing over the weekend.
The Cairo group arrived after violence in that city’s normally quiet diplomatic neighborhood had kept families in their homes for nearly a week. “It didn’t seem that bad at first. But then we started hearing gunshots. The tanks started rolling closer,” said Liam O’Dowd, a high school junior.
Families watched as police officers who protected their apartment complex disappeared, and they listened for updates on an embassy radio station until the evacuation order arrived.
“Someone asked me the other day if I speak Egyptian. They ask if we ride to school on camels. I don’t think they really understand us,” said Hadley Rose, 13, who is attending George Mason High School.
“I’m just ready to go home,” said Phoebe Bredin, 17, meaning Cairo. “We lived through the beginning of a revolution, and now we’re here waiting in the suburbs. It’s weird.”
“There are a lot of rumors: We could go back next week, or next month, or it could be much longer than that,” said Arden Rose, 16. “I just wish we knew for sure.”
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