When we moved to Baku we were advised to always have a wad of cash on hand (in an easily convertible currency) in case we had to leave in a hurry. This was 1996 and incoming BA flights diverted to avoid flying over Grozny, just the other side of the Caucus mountains and Azerbaijan itself had only relatively recently signed a truce with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
We called it our “running way money,” and we kept it under the ice cream in our chest freezer, the only place in the apartment with a lock and key. One thousand dollars of cold hard cash (quite literally) in new bills.
Fortunately we never had to evacuate for security reasons. In fact Baku turned out to be a very safe place to live, but there was a morning when we did have to get out in a hurry.
At 6am one Tuesday morning we woke to a loud pounding on our door. A quick glance through the peep hole revealed my American neighbour, clad in her nightgown. “The building’s on fire, we need to get out. Now!” I could already see tendrils of smoke drifting up the stairwell and the alarm in her eyes told me this was serious. I shook my son awake (he’d sleep through WW3). My husband grabbed the passports and the running away money. I grabbed my jewelry roll in the bedside drawer together with our coats and we headed out the door.
The source of the smoke was an electrical fire in a single storey garage attached to the back of the building. Hardly surprising given the poor state of the wiring (click on the photo to enlarge it and you’ll what I mean). In fact it’s amazing we didn’t have fires every day. You’ll be glad to hear it was extinguished before it did any damage to the main building and soon we were able to return to our apartment and get on with our day.
But this episode highlighted for me the importance of always knowing a) how to exit my home quickly and b) exactly what to grab and take with me. We started keeping everything in one place (passports, money, important documents), together with a bag we could quickly scoop it all into.
While this is good policy for anyone, it’s particularly important for expats. Passports usually contain your residence visas and important documents issued in your home country may be impossible to replace without showing up in person.
Present day technology, including cloud storage and mobile devices has given us many more options for keeping things safe. Documents can be scanned, photos, music, videos and even books can be digital and stored online. My mission in 2012 was to make my life as paperless as possible and I’ll be sharing some of my favourite tools and experiences in upcoming posts.