Locked down and out
We started our blog as storytellers of travel. Exhilarated by big cities and charmed by waterside villages, for a while the world seemed smaller and travel was easy. Considering we are caught in a year gripped by panic, travel stories are taking a very different turn. Many of them unheard and unseen.
Some years ago, I was slighted with Airport Security when they impounded my 120ml bottle of hand lotion. It seemed trivial and pointless, taking me out of a jam-packed line to interrogate me over an unnecessarily generous jar of cream. But being in bottle neck airport lines is exactly what most of us are craving these days. Tantalizing beachside images of long sunny days splashed across our TV screens and insta feeds. It doesn’t help that it’s peak winter in Sydney as we are threatened by another wave of lockdowns. But holiday blues aside, the real business now is getting a one-way ticket, with people yearning to criss-cross the globe to get where most of us have been for the past few months, home.
What would you do if you were the young woman in Dubai, caught in the Covid travel crisis unable to return to Melbourne as planned? Struggling to pay her rent back home, she’d overstayed her holiday and struggled to scrape together her airfare. It had taken almost 2 months. When she reached the Airport with her ticket finally in hand, she’d been bumped off the flight for being the plus one when the passenger log reached 50. Still in Dubai, it’s unknown when she will return. It’s a waiting game for her and many others.
Or the father in Malaysia who decided to take his 3-year-old son across the border to meet his grandparents. When his job called him back urgently, they willingly offered to have their grandson stay with them for a week or two. Then the borders closed. It would seem unlikely to most of us that this little boy is still overseas with his grandparents. With no special permissions being given, it’s hard to explain to a child why he can’t be with his parents.
Running out of money, losing jobs back home while still paying rent and taxes, people are becoming desperate and frustrated. Landlords or hotels/guesthouses can’t operate without charging and some people are being asked to leave. Where will they go? There are people selling their clothes and belongings in exchange for an exorbitantly priced ticket. Many of us might think boarding a plane is just a few clicks away. In reality with the limited flights and passenger numbers, even when a flight opens up, the wait can take weeks.
We’re all in this together
The ground swell of collective thinking and community action in these times is absolutely what we expect and need from governments right now. But it has come at a cost to people, one by one. These are the stories we don’t hear every day. Yet Facebook groups and others are alive with very real struggles that people are facing.
Think what it’s like to be the woman from Brisbane who was overseas when she received news that her mother had been hospitalised. She did manage to return to Australia and is now in quarantine. Hers is a unique situation as her mother lives on a small farm where there are two houses. When her mother was released from hospital, she tried to get an exemption to quarantine in the other house. This way at least they could see each other, if only though the lounge room windows. Her request was denied. It seems hard to understand the logic. Wear masks and play by the rules? Absolutely. Yes, we have each other’s backs and a way of life to protect, but the sometimes-heavy hand of the law seems misplaced in the middle of family.
Travel memoirs of a different kind
Mainstream media (that’s another blog for another time) reels over and over again the same dozen or so stories, mostly local, carefully selected and we are so often sheltered from the bigger picture. Even as we move around freely, people have some unimaginable experiences they will carry with them forever about being locked down and locked out. The personal weight of these stories is heavy. You’d be forgiven for wondering if our reaction isn’t a little farfetched. Especially when the real motive for many people right now is just to get home.