One American's Escape From Libya

Friday, more than 300 Americans and other foreign nationals arrived in Malta from Tripoli, after a 9-hour journey aboard a high-speed ferry that was stuck for two days due to high seas and winds. Host Scott Simon speaks with Judith Drotar, one of the thousands of foreign expatriates who have fled Libya. She is the director of the U.S. School in Tripoli, and journeyed aboard the ferry from Libya to Malta.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Thats the view of people leaving over land. Hundreds more are leaving by air and sea. Judith Judith Drotar is the director of the American School in Tripoli. She was among more than 300 Americans and other foreign nationals who left the Libyan capital by ferry, but only after difficulty and delay. High seas and strong winds kept the U.S. chartered ferry in Tripoli for two days. Yesterday, they finally reached the Mediterranean island of Malta, thats where we called Judith Drotar this morning.

What was it like to get to the ferry? What was the whole experience of evacuation like for you?

Ms. JUDITH DROTAR (Director, American School of Tripoli): Well, I think that the experience went beyond getting to the ferry. Keep in mind that we had no Libyan staff with 22 teachers, two dependents and myself with guards. We had no phone usage and so trying to figure out even how to get people buses to get to the ferry was a monumental and very creative problem-solving task that we managed to do. But prior to that we had access to Internet and so we were trying to book flights. We did manage to get four teachers and two dependents out on Tuesday, but then all the flights started being canceled and so that's when we started panicking. And the U.S. Embassy was very aware of the fact that we had that many teachers and made sure that they created a plan to get us all out and happened to be the ferry and we're grateful.

SIMON: But you had to stay in port for two days on the ferry, right?

Ms. DROTAR: We did because the weather was so bad. And actually, they took a small window of opportunity, because right now I'm in Malta and it's storming here.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DROTAR: So they took a small window but it wasnt, you know, a desirable small window, so that it was the ride of our lives. It was extraordinarily bumpy and I would say that probably close to 50 percent of the people on the ferry were very sick through the whole nine hours.

It was the culmination for us at the American School, who'd been pretty much up all night, since Sunday, you know, an exhausting combination of an exodus from a place that we didn't want to exit and we're glad to be here. We were glad to get in the shower; we were very glad to have dinner and now we're looking for flights home.

SIMON: Tell us what you left behind what you saw and heard.

Ms. DROTAR: The American School is in the suburbs, and it wasn't until the last few days when we started hearing gunfire and I moved all the teachers to the American School. We have guards there. We had a generator. We had a satellite so we could access Internet.

SIMON: So you didnt see any protests or...

Ms. DROTAR: We saw some protest. And whenever we would be driving along, of course, then we would turn away. But we have some very dear Libyan staff members who on the last three days were not able to even come into the school to help us get out of there because they were living in places like Tajura. Snipers were on their roofs, people were laying in the street dead and it was really quite horrific.

You know, we hurriedly packed one bag, ran to the school and held out for two days there, got on the ferry, two days on the ferry and then a nine hour, very bumpy ride to Malta. We left behind all of our belongings. We left behind our beautiful little school that we were developing. And most of all, we left behind some very dear Libyan friends that were very worried about.

SIMON: Ms. Drotar, what are you doing now? What's your status? Are you waiting to see what happens?

Ms. DROTAR: Yes. We made the decision to close the school for two weeks. Of course, we know now that thats probably very ambitious. But we have to think of our students. So we're trying to gear up and go back home and all of us start providing courses through a little online so that the students that want can complete the school year. And in the meantime, we will, you know, listen to the pulse of what's going on with companies and certainly with the embassy. We all to a person want to return. We love our school and we love the country and everybody's really sad. So let's just hope things work out in a positive way.

SIMON: Judith Drotar, director of the American School in Tripoli speaking with us today from Malta.

Thanks very much.

Ms. DROTAR: Youre welcome.

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