I need to finally write this down, if for no other reason than to process what happened.

The story begins in the Fall of 2020. Not that you need reminding, but this was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when playgrounds were still closed. While the common sentiment was still “we’re all in this together,” it seemed that cracks were beginning to show.

My family and I were meant to depart on posting in 2020, and like everyone else in our position, we were asked if we wanted to proceed – if not, we would have had to reapply again in the coming year. Faced with an Ottawa winter of COVID-19 restrictions, we opted for a place with a beach and went ahead to Tel Aviv.

Moving is tough, especially with kids and pets. But moving in the early days of the pandemic was nails-across-the-chalkboard-type bad. Replaying it still causes me anxiety, especially as we prepare to move again in 2024.

COVID-19 of course meant everything was delayed – passports, heath clearances, etc. Everything was up in the air because everyone was just winging it – doing the best they could, presumably. 

Summer turned into fall, and we were still unsure when we could go. At that point our kids were registered in three schools: one in Ottawa and two in Tel Aviv (the Lycée and the American school, just in case we lost a spot at the Israeli Lycée, which, in the end, we did). 

In October, we finally got a posting confirmation form. At long last, some good news. From there, things started falling into place. A moving company was assigned to us and passports were getting printed. It looked like we may make it to Israel before the onset of winter. 

This was our third move with the department and so we knew the drill. We did everything we could to get organized and make life as simple as possible for the movers.

When the day came, we felt totally prepared – I was certain we were set up for a quick and efficient move. But like everything else in 2020, nothing came easy.

Our house is on the corner of two one-way streets in the middle of Ottawa’s Centretown. When the movers showed up, they decided to park their hulking 40-foot container the wrong way down the street, blocking traffic and numerous driveways.

Unsurprisingly, our neighbours took exception to this. I wasn’t at home when the movers first arrived, but by the time I came on the scene the driver of the moving truck and a new mom from down the block were shouting in each other’s face. “People,” I thought, “what about social distancing?”

The driver was cussing out my neighbour in words I can’t repeat in these respectable pages. She, in turn, was threatening that her bodybuilder husband would end his life. But the driver did not back down, and let it be known to all who could hear that he was not moving the container for anybody.

You may be thinking, well of course people were short-tempered, it was the height of the pandemic and movers were literally doing the heavy lifting. I understand your inclination towards empathy, especially for those who have to move our oversized and often regrettable furniture purchased on first postings. You know the ones, you probably have a few yourself, the armoires from India, the faux antique cabinetry from China, the drop-dead heavy hardwood dining tables that seat a soccer team. The ones that only fit in your Staff Quarters, less so in your Canadian house. But I can assure you dear reader, such items are not found in my home. I travel light, umm…well, except for my upright piano built when Ottawa was still a part of Upper Canada. Sure, it weighs a literal ton, but come on, it has wheels.

Like most businesses during the pandemic, I imagine moving companies were having trouble staffing positions. The ragtag crew that did our move looked like a biker gang that lost their bikes and I think they had at least one child working for them. While I’m sure they didn’t all have criminal records, at least one of them would by the end of the day. 

Soon enough, the parking authorities showed up and offered an ultimatum – move the truck or get a ticket and be towed. This threat so offended the driver of the moving truck that he just up and quit on the spot – he threw in the towel and walked away into the noon-day sun. None of his fellow movers chased after him or tried to convince him to stay.

Now the movers and I were stuck, literally. With the driver gone, nobody else was qualified to move the massive container. 

After some deliberation, the most senior mover decided he would take one for the team and try to maneuver the metal beast backwards around the tight corner and park it south along Percy Street. Unfortunately for all involved, he was not up to the task. He left the giant shipping container blocking not one, but two streets in front of my house in the heart of downtown Ottawa.

It wasn’t long before traffic began to back up along Percy and frustration was quickly building on a new front. One of the delayed vehicles – a pick-up full of construction workers – took special exception to the hold-up. They started their protest by honking and yelling from the safety of their vehicle, but soon enough the driver of the pick-up was out of his truck and in the faces of the movers.

For one mover, the taunting was too much. This mover – let’s call him Ron – was only half-heartedly trying to marshall the moving truck around the corner when he suddenly decided to charge at the much larger construction worker.

Time slowed down and everything became quiet as Ron dashed across the street and launched himself into the air via a flying drop kick aimed at the construction worker’s head. Ron skipped off the side of the massive man, hit the ground, and then without missing a beat, got up and started taking swings, even landing a couple. He was hoping for a fight, maybe just so he wouldn’t have to deal with the job of moving my stuff. But the construction worker was having none of it – instead of getting baited into a brawl, he called the police. There would be no issue producing witnesses to the assault since there were dozens of people stuck in the traffic jam in front of my house watching it all unfold. 

We were only two hours into day one of our move and so far, the traffic authorities were stalking my front yard, neighbours were starting to turn their anger towards me, and a 40-foot shipping container was blocking two downtown streets clogging traffic for two blocks. Now, the police were on the scene, with sirens blaring, adding to the circus-like atmosphere. Meanwhile, my wife and I were taking turns homeschooling our kids who were studying on their bedroom floor thanks to COVID-19.

I gave a witness statement and the police said I probably wouldn’t need to come back from Israel for court. Cool, thanks. It was only after all of this that the moving company boss finally came to sort out his crew, now down two people from the original four. 

It is strange, I don’t even remember the name of the moving company, probably selective amnesia. I do remember that once they came inside the house the movers all refused to wear masks, I acquiesced, I mean, pick your battles, right? I faintly remember writing a “note to file” for my Foreign Service Directive advisor to report the incident, but I am sure that nothing ever came of my message. It is what it is, as we liked to say at the time. What was I really hoping for anyways, an apology? You are a member of the Foreign Service, suck it up. 

Fast forward five days. Our house sat empty, and it was a stormy Halloween. In an effort to minimize upheaval for our skittish cat Cece Buttercup, we stayed with friends that night and left our luggage and Cece in our otherwise empty house to be fetched on the way to the airport the next morning. We would be on a plane by lunch just as our new tenants were set to move in on November 1. It was all perfectly planned; it was sure to be seamless. 

But of course, it wasn’t. 

The morning of our flight, the taxi stopped at our house for us to pick up the luggage and the cat. There was just one problem, the cat was nowhere to be found. We looked everywhere. We checked every cupboard twice. We had closed the basement door the night before as we knew Cece liked to hide downstairs. Did she disappear into thin air? Did someone break in in the middle of the night and steal our cat? But why did they not take our luggage? It didn’t make sense. I would be damned if I was going to leave Cece Buttercup behind. We saved her from a dumpster in Beijing – she was part of the family!

Once again, we needed a new plan. We decided my wife Allison would stay back with a neighbour to keep looking for Cece while the kids and I went to the airport to check in for our flight. We had so much luggage and we couldn’t wait any longer. Allison would find the cat and meet us at the airport just in time for the flight. 

Of course, the cat didn’t show up, so Allison cancelled her flight. The kids and I boarded the airplane without their mom and their cat. It was an awful way to start the posting.

While we settled into lockdown in our new pandemic home in Israel, Allison curled up in a borrowed sleeping bag in our empty home, waiting for Ms. Buttercup to show up.

Cece unimpressed after five days in the wall

The first night passed, then the second, and still there was no sign of Cece. 

Colleagues came to help in the hunt for Cece, bringing Allison food and sometimes even taking shifts to listen for our pet. 

On day three, Allison heard a faint meow coming from the walls, but as quickly as it came, it disappeared. It wasn’t clear where the meow came from, so we brought in an exterminator to survey the house with a heat detector. Sadly, they found no signs of life in our walls. 

Cats generally don’t survive without water for longer than four days, so on the fourth day Allison made the do-or-die decision. She recruited a contractor friend and their cat-loving buddies who cut holes between the joists of our ceiling, peering into each one with a camera. On hole 17 they finally caught the reflection of her eyes. She was found! 

They cut a larger hole for Cece to escape through, but the poor cat was so scared she stayed hidden between the floors of our house for a whole other day. Finally, on day five, she emerged. It turned out she got into the ceiling by climbing a pipe behind the fridge, one hidden away from view.

We had put the new tenants in a hotel while we sorted all of this out. Thankfully, after all the destruction and anticipation, they were totally understanding. They loved cats, they said (well actually, they said they didn’t want to move into a new place with a dead cat in the walls). 

Allison is the hero of the story, but that should come as no surprise, she is a Management Consular Officer after all. She stayed behind and saved the family pet and after the dust had settled, she also had to help patch, sand and paint the 17 holes in the ceiling. Allison also had to redo all the Canadian Food Inspection Agency papers for Cece. Cece Buttercup is also a hero in her own feline sort of way. I can assure you our cat hates moving more than any being, ever. 

It took one entire week, but our family was finally reunited in Tel Aviv. After our move from hell, we could take a deep breath and enjoy the peace of our new Middle Eastern home – at least until war broke out in May 2021 and then again in October 2023, but those are stories for another dispatch. 

With some distance, this entire event seems funny now. But while it was happening, on top of everything else in the world, it felt like too much. People often ask me why we choose to put ourselves through all of this. I answer truthfully: because I love my job. I really do (disclaimer: I work for the Global Security Reporting Program). I feel blessed to have a job where I can represent my country. Still, the truth is we do sacrifice a lot for this career. Many of the challenges we face can sometimes only be understood by our Foreign Service community, which is why I thought to share this story. I’m sure many of you readers have your own version of this saga – if you’re in the Foreign Service and you don’t, you will eventually, just give it some time.

Partagez cet article / Share this article