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Escape bag at the door

Signals of crisis vary: for some, it’s a knock on a door, an explosion, a window shattering, or a cracked ground; for others, it’s the smell of smoke wafting in the wind, a “water level about to rise.” ” warning message.

Whether it’s a family fleeing conflict or a woman planning a midnight escape from domestic violence, they all have one thing in common—the bags to pack for the moment. Luggage alone won’t ease their fears, but gathering and packing the necessities means they know that if that moment does come, they’re ready to go.

The origins of the “escape pack” are legendary: dangers, disasters and wars will not die out as long as human civilization survives. In ancient times, outlaws stuffed their life’s belongings into cloth bags and tied them to the ends of sticks; during World War II, homeless children took refuge in suitcases. History tells us that when a crisis comes, the vast world of human life can only be squeezed into a small carrying bag.

Environmental disasters may be the most serious threat, claiming more than 7 million homes in 2020. In the floodplains of South Asia, backpacks were wrapped in plastic bags and placed on the highest racks; in wildfire-prone areas, locals kept birth certificates in heat shields, within easy reach of their doors. And for the millions of women who are victims of domestic violence, the contents of an escape bag must be thoughtful and best kept outside the house.

If you could be away from home at any time and you’re not sure when you’ll be back, what would you pack?

In California, once wildfires hit, Haydn would pick up an escape pack and evacuate with his wife and daughter. The family’s escape kit contained passports, baby supplies, survival kits and a sword from his grandfather.

From the moment Haydn became a Boy Scout, he had lived by the motto “Always be ready.” “Of course, my understanding of it has evolved over time,” he said. As a California forest firefighter, Haydn had long seen the horrific power of fires that razed homes to the ground. “I’ve seen so many people scouring the ruins of decay, and you just have to stand in their shoes and you’ll see what a terrible loss,” he said. “I hope I never go through this.”

The climate crisis has led to frequent forest fires on the West Coast of the United States. Last summer, Haydn’s pregnant wife texted him that she had received a text message warning of an emergency evacuation. But Haydn was fighting the fire in another location, and the phone lost signal. So, she picked up the escape bag alone and fled to a friend’s house.

“In my experience, you might have a day or two, or a few minutes, depending on how close the fire is to you,” Haydn said. “My wife and I would rather be cautious, and if you get an alert, That means you should go.”

Later, the fire changed direction, leaving their house intact. “But I know the feeling of being homeless is desperate,” Haydn said. He found that he could not help but think of the worst. In 2018, a fire swept through the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills, killing 85 people and destroying 19,000 buildings. Haydn and his team were the first to arrive on site. He said: “I still can’t forget the terrible scene of purgatory on earth.”

Since the birth of his daughter, Haydn’s sense of crisis has grown stronger, and the items in his escape bag have continued to grow. “We have a diaper bag and it’s always full. It’s one of the must-haves, we take it everywhere,” he said. You have to stay awake at all times.”

In Australia, Walker, who was forced to leave her home because of flooding, packed her escape bag with blankets, pillows, phone chargers and balloons for children’s entertainment, but did not pack her most important documents.

Walker has always known her house could be flooded at any time, but she doesn’t believe it’s going to happen. Lismore is located in New South Wales, Australia. It has a population of 27,000 and is a vibrant town. The city was built on a floodplain, and when it rained, the water level rose rapidly. To relieve flood pressure, most houses have been elevated, and Walker’s is no exception. Her house is propped up on wooden stakes, more than two meters above the street. Water never entered the house, but in 2017 floodwaters reached the front door. Fortunately, Walker knew what to do, and if it got darker, she would seek help from the authorities. As soon as the notice arrived, she and her four children had to evacuate, for which she packed her overnight bags.

In February of this year, the floods hit again. State Emergency Services advised Walker to evacuate, which she did. The family packed their bags, each with blankets, pillows and phone chargers. “If we’re in an evacuation center, at least we can lie on our pillows and smell home,” Walker said. “I think that’s important.” They didn’t show birth certificates, and they didn’t bring three of them with them. pet cat. For cats, walking unnecessarily long distances is only more traumatic, Walker thought.

Hours later, the Walkers learned from the news that the water level had crossed their front door and over the roof. Walker and the children began to sob in a low voice, “Overnight, our family life fell apart.” It took more than a week before they returned home, where everything was ruined.

The reality is unsettling, the moment the crisis really hits, they simply don’t have time to grab an escape kit.

Fortunately, the cat miraculously survived, but all birth certificates and important documents were not spared. The flood also brought pollution, and everything in the home had to be thrown away, from the children’s art to the medals commemorating Walker’s parents’ contributions during World War II. “I saw a pile of rubbish outside the house. It was my personal collection and my beloved,” Walker said. “It broke my heart at that moment.”

Gaza, Younis often checks the contents of his bag and replaces expired medicines. His wife had the jewelry, and Younis had the painting materials and old diaries.

Eunice felt a pang of sadness every time he glimpsed the two small boxes by the front door. “They reminded me that war was at hand.” He often checked the contents, replaced expired medicines, and added new certificates or documents.

Visiting a friend’s house and seeing their suitcases piled up in the corner of the room was a common occurrence for Eunice. “Since 2008, we’ve had four large-scale conflicts,” he said. “Escape packs are a necessity. We can’t pack a sofa or a kitchen, but at least we can save a photo of our parents, a son’s diploma, or our own marriage certificate, so we can Protect your roots and humanity.”

Eunice understands that the reality is unsettling and that these boxes are often useless—the moment a crisis really hits, they simply don’t have time to grab an escape kit. “The situation has changed dramatically,” he said. “It can change dramatically in just one minute.” In 2014, Israeli armed forces blew up the house next door to Younis’s father in the middle of the night, killing his sleeping father on the spot.

Younis is the chief executive of the Almizan Human Rights Center, making him an easy target. For 30 years, he has led campaigns aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine while advocating for reparations for dead citizens.

Death threats and verbal attacks against Younis and his colleagues have increased in recent years. Younis knew in his heart that he and his wife could leave Gaza at any time, but he said they planned to stay in Palestine no matter the cost. “The situation will change and the occupation will end. This is a just cause, worth our time and our lives,” he said.

In Somalia, journalist Mu Ming’s shoulder bag is unremarkable, containing his office supplies: laptop, notebook, encrypted mobile hard drive and mobile phone charger.

Every morning, when Mu Ming locks the door and goes out, he will carry an unassuming little satchel, which contains a laptop, a notebook, a mobile phone charger, an encrypted hard drive and a new toothbrush. For the next 12 hours, the satchel would not leave his sight. Nothing else matters, his work comes first.

Momen, a journalist in the most dangerous country in Somalia, knows that reporting on corruption and human rights abuses will get him in trouble. The civil war decades ago brought down the government and consolidated the power of terrorist groups. Last year, violent clashes between security forces displaced between 60,000 and 100,000 residents of the capital Mogadishu. “Every day is dangerous,” Moomin said, “and you have to be prepared.”

Danger comes from all directions. Last year, dozens of journalists were arrested by the authorities and two were killed by the militant group al-Shabab. “I often feel like I’m waiting to die,” Mu Ming said. Every day he receives violent threats of beheading or a severed tongue, sent anonymously through social media or verbally. Moomin will take these threats seriously and hide in the old way until he thinks it’s safe enough to reappear. Even when he wasn’t hiding, he wouldn’t leave the apartment easily, except to go to work. “I’ll call my assistant and ask him to bring something to eat,” he said. “I’m going to try to reduce my contact with the outside world.”

For Moomin, there is no option to leave Somalia. “This job is my duty.” But things are not so easy. “Somali journalists make too many enemies,” he said. “How can you feel safe when the army is attacking you, the government is hostile to you, and criminals are attacking you?”

In Colombia, environmental activist Luisa lives in a humid region and has to wash all the clothes in her escape kit every few months.

Every few months, Louisa empties the escape bag, washes the three pairs of pants, three shirts and a coat inside, and leaves it to dry in the sun. “I live in a humid area,” she said. “The clothes have to be washed, even if they’re spotless.”

Louisa’s family jokes that her escape kit is too big. In addition to clothes, she also stocked a first aid kit, nail clippers, shampoo, deodorant and hand cream. “They asked: ‘Are you going on a trip?'” she laughed. “I’ve been on the road before and know how important these things are.”

Most of the time, Louisa would flee to shelters built by the locals. From a small community on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest, she is a farmer and environmental activist. The land involves the interests of armed groups, government officials and oil companies, so Luisa and her neighbors are often threatened by these three forces.

To protect the homeland, Luisa helped found an organization that aims to teach the younger generation to inherit ancestral customs while mastering modern farming techniques. “Oil companies tell us that breaking with tradition is the only way to grow,” she said. “That goes against our belief that preserving tradition helps development.”

Before she started fleeing, Amara installed an emergency call button in her home and called the police several times. But these measures did not keep her safe. For seven years, she had been threatened with violence by her ex-husband. “It took a long time for the police to start paying attention to this matter,” she said. “In the past, I didn’t dare to face the problem, I could only pray that everything would get better soon. I tried my best to appease my ex-husband and not let things get worse.”

Police told Amara the best option was to move and not let anyone know where she and her seven-year-old were moving. The charity provided them with new accommodation, which they had to move in within two days.

Amala now laughs softly as she recalls her and her son packing, “For me, the escape bag is my whole life.” She picks out a few cleaning supplies with difficulty. , to make room for them in the trunk. She has obsessive-compulsive disorder and will wipe down all the furniture when she arrives at her new home.

With her son in mind, Amara brought a tablet and headphones. That way, she can hold her son on her lap and turn up the volume on her headphones as she juggles a trove of paperwork and legal documents and describes her ex-husband’s violent behavior to government officials over and over again. “These conversations are distressing to me and must not be overheard by him.” The son wanted to bring his Play-Doh clay collection, but Amala said, “Clothes and Play-Doh, I think anyone would choose the former.”

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