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  • Writer's pictureAnjana Rajbhandary

Flying home in a pandemic

Tackling tests, paperwork and conflicting emotions while flying across the world to Nepal

2020 began well for me. I had started a new job, got an apartment in Lincoln Park, Chicago and joined a yoga studio. I made plans to come to Nepal in the spring, and I was ready to start a new chapter in life.

Then Covid-19 took over the world. My yoga studio shut down. My plans to come home was shelved, and I spent many hours staring at the walls of my apartment, while working from home. Every state and city in the United States came up with its own set of restrictions regarding Covid-19. Chicago went back and forth between closing and re-opening businesses, depending on the number of people who tested positive. Many establishments had to shut down permanently and millions lost their jobs.

Most countries around the world were under lockdown. Nepal had also suspended most international flights from March 2020. Fast forward to September when flights resumed in Nepal, but with the new protocols in place, I would first need to do my research on the new rules and precautions. When I bought my tickets, only Nepali citizens, ex-pats, and mountaineers were being allowed to fly in. No one else. Everyone had to submit a negative PCR test result, done within the last 72 hours before boarding. I also had to complete the Covid-19 Crisis Management Center (CMCC) form, in which I had to explain who I was visiting and where I was planning on staying during my visit. The form would have to show a 14-day reservation at the hotel if one did not present a negative PCR test. One would not be allowed to meet their family without a negative PCR test. I bought travel insurance for unforeseen emergencies. In life, you never know. I was aware that some people would think me irresponsible for travelling during this time, and that my action would be met with anger and resentment. I was prepared for it mentally because I really wanted to see my family. I took every safety measure, because I did not want to risk infecting anyone, including myself. Due to the increase in people testing positive in the US in October, results for tests were taking 24 hours to 7 days. I decided to get tested at three different places to make sure that I would have at least one result before my flight. This meant that I got my test results a day before my flight, on the day of my flight, and the last one a week after my arrival in Kathmandu. I tested negative in all three.

The Chicago O’Hare International Airport was quieter than I remembered. It took me just 15 minutes to get past security, so I had three hours of wait. Sipping a favourite beverage at the airport lounge, I toyed with countless thoughts that crossed my mind. The next 36 hours of my life was going to be a long stretch.

I was ready with multiple little bottles of hand sanitisers and moisturisers as security provisions for three flights and two layovers. The flight from Chicago to Frankfurt was practically empty. Frankfurt airport was busier than O’Hare, and travellers appeared confused. There were lines at almost every information counter. Also, they did not allow any eating or drinking, but it wasn’t like people were going to listen. Fly, eat, failed attempt to sleep, and repeat.

On my 29-hour long flight (excluding the layovers), I was asked to keep my mask on always, except during brief meal times. I was nervous and excited. Thanks to wifi at airports and onboard, I was able to keep myself distracted with social media and podcasts. I also discovered that since the start of the pandemic, my usage of social media had gone up by over two hours a day.

The flight to Istanbul was empty, too, even though Istanbul airport was busy. It was as if the pandemic had never hit. There were so many people there and all the duty-free shops were filled with people buying Turkish delights and souvenirs. I got myself an evil eye pendant. The flight to Kathmandu, in contrast, was packed. It looked like the diaspora was all headed home.

Once we landed, the staff from Bir Hospital checked our PCR test reports. At immigration, they collected the CMCC form and revised it with me. They stamped my passport and threw it at me, and I knew I was back in Nepal.


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