- Countries Visited: 21
- Travel Wishlist: USA, Canada, Vietnam, Scandinavian countries, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Croatia, Mexico, New Zealand and Caribbean islands.
- Locked down in: Colombo, Sri Lanka
“Remembering curfew in Sri Lanka was a hard lock down. We were not allowed to go to the supermarket even or leave our front gate if you are caught there are severe punishments such as prison, assets been taken from you such as cars.“
2020 New decade, New Year and I had finally made the decision to move back to my home country the Paradise island of Sri Lanka. I had the thought for a few years now but never musted up the courage to take the leap.
2019 I had started to make the plans to move back leaving Melbourne Australia where I have been for the last 17 years. I looked into a job, places to reside and general requirements of moving back. I visited Sri Lanka both in 2019 December and again 2020 mid January to finalise specifics and with a final date confirmed for the big move being decided as the 23rd of March. During my mid January 2020 trip there was the talk about the corona virus on my flight back, which was early February. Airports had already started body temperature scans and forms needed to be filled. We were still joking about corona beer and the virus not knowing what was in store ahead.
March came around and the date to move was fast approaching since February to March the talk about the virus was getting serious. Melbourne offices had already started to work from home social distancing guidelines were in place. Meanwhile Sri Lanka had only reported the one case and that individual had already recovered too. Closer to mid March few more cases were starting to be reported schools were closed people who could work from home were asked to work. As well the virus by this stage had been declared a pandemic and most flights coming into Sri Lanka from UK and Europe passengers had to go into mandatory government quarantine centers for the 14 days.
My flight on the 23rd of March was also canceled and moved to the 24th as I was flying via Malaysia and the numbers were bad and they were in lock down. 17th March came around my flight now was on hold as Malaysia was in full lock down and only limited flights were coming in as well as Australia had travel restrictions for citizens. Luckily I have dual citizenship so that was one headache less. I called the travel agent and was organizing a refund. While going to book a direct flight to Sri Lanka to fly out over that weekend which was 21/22 March. 17th evening came around it was my last day of employment at my current job in Melbourne as I was finishing up for the day. Obviously due to the situation it was not a normal last day most people were working from home and the usual farewell beers were canceled. My team however the few of us left went out for lunch. On my way back home after work there were rumors the Sri Lanka airport was closing on the 18th of March at midnight. I was in a frenzy confused on what to do with so many people advising. Some saying go, some saying don’t go this is not the time to make big decisions. My immediate family live in Melbourne too and they too had advised me this is not a time to be alone or away when the global situation is uncertain and boarders are closing. All this while I had a very limited time frame to make a decision practically in just a few hours. Around 7pm on the 17th of March I decided I will now fly out on the 18th of march on the direct flight. Which meant I can get into Sri Lanka before the boarders closed. We planned to go out for a last family dinner that night as I was flying out the next day at 5 pm.
I had just bought the ticket and on the way to dinner when the news alert popped up on my phone that the Sri Lanka airport will now be closed from that night midnight and only flights that had already taken off will be allowed in on the 18th. I got calls from my extended family back in Sri Lanka confirming the news as well as from the travel agent and I canceled the ticket. I was devastated and came to terms that it was not meant to be. We still continued our dinner outing and I was trying to be positive and deciding what I will do now in Melbourne, as I had resigned from my job with the hope to move and start fresh. It was just after 11.30pm now on the 17th and again the news alert popped up on my phone that the Sri Lanka airport is now closing at midnight on the 18th. I took this as a sign of a second chance quickly called the travel agent trying to reinstate my ticket the agent said the flight is filling up and the cost has also gone up as this is the last flight out of Melbourne now into Sri Lanka. I was very lucky I was able to reinstate my ticket. I had to rush home and pack as well as let my family and friends know I am now leaving in a few hours and not in a week as originally planned. I had planned to meet them all before I go. But this sudden change meant I left the country without being able to say bye to most of them in person it was just via a call.
I was so excited and hopeful about this year and my move back home. But now suddenly I am sitting in the airport on the last flight out not knowing my future. Will I have to go into a government quarantine center for 14 days? Remembering Sri Lanka is a 3rd world country we do not have the privileges and facilities such as Australia, so the quarantine center were army base camps. Where it would be communal bathrooms and bunk beds in dorm rooms. All this uncertainty meant the usual excitement one should feel under normal circumstances for a move like this was non-existent.
My original plan was to fly in live with my aunt for the first week while I furnish and organize the apartment I was going to live in. However this sudden change in plan and danger of the virus meant that I could not put them at risk. Should I not be put into a quarantine center on arrival? I had planned to go into the apartment, which had only one-day bed as furniture. Thanks to the time difference and to my cousins they had gone and stocked up basic essentials and some food items to get me through the first couple of days.
The plane journey was not your normal journey. Everyone was worried for what will be when we arrive, as it was very uncertain of the quarantine process. As well, the general in-flight experience was also very different with the air hostess covered in protective clothing and face shields. The meals were packed differently. No magazines or duty-free shopping in flight. Once I arrived in Sri Lanka the tarmac and airport were swarming with army. There were also ambulances and doctors. It was not the site I had just seen 2 months ago when I had come in January it was a very different welcome this time. We had to fill out many forms as well as go through 2 temperature checks and full sanitizing process, as we were practically spread from head to toe with sanitizer. All ground staff were in hazmat suits. Our details were checked by the army as we got off the plane. We were then taken into a waiting area and told we had escaped quarantine center but we would need to self quarantine for 14 days and we would be checked up on by health officials and the police.
I breathed a sign of relief and took my transport to my apartment. I slept on the day bed that night. With the hope of organizing some basic furniture for the 14 days while I wait out my quarantine period. Due to my jet lag I had slept in more than usual it was nearly 12 in the afternoon now. I had several missed calls and messages stating the country is going into an island wide curfew from 6pm that day. I was now panicking I was in an empty apartment thinking what am I going to do. Luckily Sri Lanka is a small country and its about who you know, through my Dads connections he got a shop actually to open and got me a cooker fridge microwave and TV. Amidst all this I hear a bang on my door it is the police and public health inspector visiting me checking up on me and putting a sign out side my door like I was a criminal of some sort. It was a notice saying Be aware this is a quarantined household. This meant all eyes were on me and I could not even sneak out of the house for the next 14 days till I got the all clear.
In the meantime my cousins had gone to get me more supplies such as food. The curfew was only for a few days and then lifted again for a couple of hours on the 22nd of March where people stood in lines for hours it was a sweat drenched mission queuing in the blazing sunshine. I still could not get out as I was in self-quarantine. My cousins once again got me my supplies and dropped it by the door and we all thought it will be a 2-week curfew and we will then be let out. We held hope every Sunday after that waiting for the announcement that the curfew will now be lifted but that day was never coming. During my 14 days of quarantine I was checked up on regularly by the police and public health inspector as my 14 days were coming to an end. The Government announced the self quarantine period was to be extended to 21days. I was even more frustrated now the curfew was never ending. I was sleeping on a day bed, I had to boil water in a little saucepan and cool it before drinking it, Hand washing my cloths in the bathroom a little at a time as I had no screen or anything to dry it on even. I ended up using a Curtain rod to dry my cloths. I had no wifi just my phone which was a prepaid connection which I had to keep topping up. I soon came into realisation this was going to be long term, so It was important to get into a routine. Remembering curfew in Sri Lanka was a hard lock down. We were not allowed to go to the supermarket even or leave our front gate if you are caught there are severe punishments such as prison, assets been taken from you such as cars. Post office, bank anything you could think of was closed the whole country was at a stand still. The forces were out on the streets checking. It was an eye opener. No luxury foods no chocolate, cigarettes or alcohol. Not even basic food was available for the first few weeks, people were surviving on what they had bought on that last day before lock down.
After a couple of weeks only we got food deliveries of basic things we could buy online and street vendors were allowed to come into neighbourhoods to sell bread and vegetables. Mind you we could not even go to the atm at the start, most things in Sri Lanka are cash based too.
So being organised and having a routine was very important, especially when you are all alone. I used to wake up make sure I read something to keep my mind active then boil my water for the day so it would cool in time to be able to drink it as we can not drink tap water here and there was no way to get filters or bottled water. Then cook and then it was on to watching Netflix or a movie, I used to sit on the floor and eat my meals or on the day bed I slept on. I used to do an online home workout with cousins and friends to make sure I kept active. There were many people on social media entertaining whether it be singing, comedy skits or what not so there were daily shows you could join and watch live. Then of course the zoom calls and meet ups started virtual drinks and dinners, Catching up with people I had not done in a long time, because suddenly the whole country had time on their hands. You were getting to know your neighbours. Sri Lankan people are very hospitable so It would be neighbours cooking each other food and swapping goodies. This kept me sane and not loose my mind. As many people who were alone at the time were struggling thanks to me keeping busy and having a good support network I was spared.
Having so much free time on my hands was something very new to me. As I have been working from the age of 15 and the longest time I have not been at work was for 3 weeks at a time so having to do 2 months was killing me. I even said to myself I will never complain about work again. As when I moved back here it was for a job in a hotel but for obvious reason that could not go ahead with the pandemic at hand so I was jobless.
After a month of the hard lock down things were becoming available to buy so I managed to furnish the whole apartment with online shopping, getting my wifi connection, extension cords, batteries, even the most basic things now was available to buy online. We even had mobile Atm coming to our neighbourhoods. Where Sri Lanka was backward in some ways they were very advanced suddenly. Now we could buy chocolates, ice cream, even the luxuries. The country was getting somewhat used to the new normal, but still clinging onto that Sunday announcement every week that we will be set free.
It is also important to remember the majority of the country is poor, so while yes some of us could by online and enjoy the new norm there were a majority who were just eating what they had grown in the garden or only having one meal a day if that. Not being able to even get basic medical supplies.
The hard lock down lasted for around 2 months. Then finally we were allowed out of the house on particular days as per our national identity card number. Then 2 weeks later was when we could get out, but there was a night time curfew. This went on till around mid June when finally everything came back to somewhat normal, but to this date wearing a facemask is mandatory.
Currently as I sit and write this we are on our second wave after enjoying 2 and a half months of no community spread and living normally. We are back in curfew indefinitely. As our cases are around 5000 with 20 deaths now, where as initially it was in the 2000 and when we first went into hard lock down it was less than 200 and around 11 deaths. So it is scary to see how these numbers have gone up.
This lock down has changed me in many ways. It has opened my eyes living alone and living with the bare minimum after being used to a life in a western country, where we get things at our beck and call. This truly showed me in life experience is what matters. The pandemic has shown me what is the point in having a fancy car, branded cloths and such things because during that 2 months none of that mattered as we could not use the car we had or wear the clothes and go out even. What mattered is being happy and having people to call and check up on you and the neighbours being there to help you. It has really changed my whole outlook on life in general. At the time when I made the decision to move some called it stupid, some courageous nevertheless I will never regret this experience.
In regards to thinking about coming back to Australia I would be lying if I said during that hard lock down if it did not cross my mind. But as I got into a routine and eventually was looking for alternative jobs which surprisingly during the lock down I was hired for a entry level customer service job for a telecommunication company. It is another bizarre situation to be hired during a hard lock down. It was also a very different experience with the interview being online and all the training online too. Until eventually a month later where I actually got to meet people face to face. So the thought was just a passing moment. However with where the country is at the moment with the second wave and me back in curfew it is something I will have to consider. Since what I had originally planned with my job and travelling around the country and settling down might have to be revisited after the world heals from this.
Currently, the Sri Lanka economy has been hit very hard as we rely a lot on tourism and we are still reeling only one year on since the devastating Easter bombings. However we Sri Lankans are resilient people, we lived through a civil war till 2009, was crippled by the tsunami. So our people are somewhat resilient and I have hope we can get through this too. To the fellow travellers out there if you never had Sri Lanka on your wish list I urge you visit once we can all travel again.