First, a definition. PNG (persona non grata): an unwelcome person. It’s used in the diplomatic sense of you must leave the country within 72 hours and you can never return. For a more complete definition, go here
Last year as my husband left for work, he apologized for not buying me anything for our anniversary. The previous two years we had taken vacations to celebrate, that year it wasn’t possible. He had been working long hours, seven days a week, and when he was home, his mind would race with all of the things he needed to do, making it impossible to sleep. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally exhausted. He apologized again, and my response was “hey, how many people can say they were PNG’d on their third wedding anniversary. That’s a rare gift”. We laughed, and after he left, I closed the door, and the tears started to fall, again. It was almost certain that it would be happening that afternoon. For weeks the government of Belarus had asked the U.S. to provide a list of five Americans to stay in Minsk and unlike the previous time, the U.S. refused to comply. We knew our time was up. April 30, 2008 would be the day. Not only the day of my third wedding anniversary, but the day I would be told that I had to leave the place, and people, I loved so much, I was to become an unwelcome person.
I pulled myself together, got ready, and walked to the embassy. By now I was spending a lot of time there. I was continuing to take Russian several times a week, plus it was nice to meet my husband and various friends for lunch. Being at home was too depressing. Our house was empty and had been for weeks. When I was at home, I often found myself walking from room to room, staring at the emptiness and just crying.
In addition to the big meeting scheduled later in the day, having a Russian lesson, and meeting people for lunch, I also had to go to the infertility clinic for my beta. I already knew that the FET hadn’t worked, but my RE wanted me to have the blood draw anyway. Instead of thinking of it as a waste of time, I decided to use it as an opportunity to say goodbye, He was busier than usual that day and appeared to be rushing off to surgery. He saw me and stopped, I shook his hand, said thank you, and explained that I was probably leaving, but that I very much appreciated everything he had done and for agreeing to work with me. By this time, I knew it was okay to start saying goodbye.
Later that day during my Russian lesson, I told my teacher how much I enjoyed taking his class and that if I were allowed to stay in Belarus I would take Russian five days a week. He had tears in his eyes and told me again what a great student I was and that I had a lot of natural ability. I really did enjoy learning Russian and he was a fabulous teacher.
Finally it was time to go to the meeting. As we had done in the past, all of the locally hired employees, all of the Americans, spouses too, gathered in the cafeteria to hear the news. As I was walking in someone approached me and said “He’s on the phone with Washington, 72 hours, that’s all I heard, 72 hours”. We all stood, forming a big circle, and waited. And then it happened, I heard the words that I had feared for the past several weeks. I don’t remember the speech, though it was remarkably well done, but I remember something about this being the highest honor, to be declared persona non grata for supporting the policies of the U.S. government. I didn’t feel very honored. I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach. Fortunately I wasn’t the only person crying. It was unbelievable. Even more insulting was that the Belarusians had provided the U.S. a list of five Americans that would be allowed to remain in the country. Not only was I PNGd, but my friends were allowed to stay behind and enjoy the country that I was supposed to have 2 ½ more years in.
So there it was, we had 72 hours to be out of the country. With tears streaming down my face I said goodbye to my Russian teacher, I said goodbye to the admin. assistant in the health unit, and to all of the other local employees I cared for and respected so much. It just seemed so unreal, so unfair. There was so much to do, so many goodbyes to say, and I had just 72 hours to do it all.
U.S. News article
Washington Post article