- Srabani Roy
Itchy feet....remembering how to travel again.
For the last two nights, the bottoms of my feet have been itching. In Bengali folklore, if your feet itch, you will travel far. It must really be true for whenever I'm about to embark on a journey, my arches itch. I’m getting ready to travel home to the U.S. this summer. Planning has been in fits and starts. For someone who travels regularly, who is used to hopping on a plane at short notice, and who’s been flying since I was four-years old, I am nervous. This is the first time I’ll be traveling since the Coronavirus pandemic started. July, 2019 was the last time I was in the U.S. Two whole years ago. I've traveled once after that in February, 2020. And then the world stopped.
Getting the tickets, arranging for PCR tests, booking a hotel for the overnight transit in San Francisco, has all felt more daunting than exciting right now. Can I book the PCR test in time to be within the 72hours prior to flying requirement that Singapore Airlines has? How will I get from the airport to the hotel? It feels like I have to relearn even the basics. I fly out tomorrow morning so need to get the test done the results on Monday at the latest. Luckily, the Intercare Clinic at the Olympia Medical Hub does same day testing and their test results and 'fit to fly' certificate is accepted by Singapore Airlines. (Do check with your airlines as I've heard some only will accept tests from NIPH or Pasteur Institute, even though Intercare/Olympia is authorized by Ministry of Health). It’s such added stress to have to plan for all this, that I wonder if I will ever get back to the ease I used to feel of international travel? Will I even want to travel as before?
The past two years have been a series of emotional, mental, and physical ups and downs. After returning to Phnom Penh from my last trip to the U.S. in early August 2019, I did an amazing quick, long-weekend getaway (remember those?), to Sri Lanka to celebrate my dear friend Nicoline’s 50th birthday. The weekend after I returned, I fell down the stairs outside of the Thai Haut supermarket carrying a case of soda water, and I broke and dislocated my ankle. I was laid up for 4-5 months. End of travel. In December, 2019 I was able to visit my mother in Calcutta with my crutches and then I did a work trip to Indonesia and Singapore. Little did I, or any of us know, that February, 2020 would be really the last time any of us would travel freely.
In March 2020, India went into a full lockdown and I realized that I would not be able to see my mother as I’d planned to that April during the Khmer New Year holidays, let alone go to see her in case of an emergency. I panicked. India was not even letting OCI card holders like me to enter. There was nothing I could do if something were to happen to her. In the past, if my mother had an emergency, I could get to her within 5 hours. It is a big reason I want to stay in Asia. But with the lockdown, India banned all international and domestic flights for months. I felt helpless and like so many others I worried and couldn’t stomach the thought that I wouldn’t be able to see her anytime soon.
At the same time, the situation in the U.S. was also dire. The U.S. State Department issued notices that Americans living in Cambodia should try to get back home or prepare to stay out of the U.S. for an extended period of time. A rush of phone calls to my American friends here in Phnom Penh. What are you thinking? Are you going back or will you wait this out. We knew the situation in Cambodia and most of Southeast Asia at the time was much better than anywhere else in the world, but if it turned worse, the healthcare system wouldn’t cope. My friends Mike and Caroline, whom I’d only started to get to know well, formed a “Triangle of Trust” WhatsApp group to help each other through the uncertainty and fear at the time. Some decided to leave but the majority of us decided to stay.
It was comforting. But I still wondered if I would ever see my mother in India again and my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew in Albuquerque, New Mexico, again. The possibility was real. And unthinkable.
Now, as I prepare to see my family in the U.S. I am so grateful that we have all been vaccinated and that I can contemplate the thought of traveling again. I am still unsure when I’ll be able to see my mother again, but for now I am counting the hours until I get on the plane and lift off….
….and prepare and brace myself for flight changes and cancellations, wondering how many metal detectors I’ll set off as I still have the metal infrastructure in my ankle, and flying in the times of corona armed with hand sanitizer and mask, in this new normal. Oh, I tested....negative...I'm "fit to fly"! What a relief!
Stay tuned for the journey....