Jo Nash recounts the second part of her international lockdown story (first part is here)
Following the three flight cancellations by two airlines and being hundreds out of pocket, I turned to the British Embassy in Mexico City for advice using email and social media as their offices were closed to phone calls. I received a number of stock replies directing me to the British government’s travel advisory which I’d already consulted. No other assistance was available.
I decided to complain to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and received a reply to my complaint directing me to fly back as soon as possible using the commercial means available. I complained to the Home Office about the new UK quarantine policy and its effects on those who had booked flights home after following the British Consular guidance to shelter in place until June. My complaint to the Home Office was never answered except with a receipt. Meanwhile, I had joined several social media groups for foreigners stranded abroad and heard other British citizens had received the same treatment.
As the situation in locked down Mexico deteriorated, with some states banning all alcohol sales due to rising alcohol-fuelled abuse and even homicides in the home, I booked another flight via Paris during a brief window of lowered prices. My Air France flight was only 50% higher in price than my previously cancelled flights, as the media reported a likely lifting of UK quarantine rules in July and, optimistically, airlines had reduced their high prices to fill their planes.
After further checking the situation in my adopted home in India with friends on the ground, I learned about the strict lockdown, the extreme suffering that was biting India’s population who were unable to work. Just as in Mexico, most of India’s workforce are day labourers or traders living hand to mouth and many had no income at all and therefore were running out of food. Returning there was not an option as borders remained closed with no reprieve in sight.
So, I began to search for a flat to rent in Scotland and booked a viewing online for a promising option that had been empty since January, and planned my trip to Edinburgh. The Mexican Embassy in Britain gave me welcome advice on how to manage the border immigration service on leaving Mexico due to my illegal immigrant status.
Meanwhile, President Amlo’s concerns about the public health impacts of lockdown then led to a softening of restrictions in my area where there were few cases, and I was able to have socially distanced meetings with my friends again on my patio. This became a lifeline during my last few weeks waiting to leave, as my isolation began to affect my mental health. My sleep was disturbed, I was eating erratically and felt increasing despair about the state of the world. I became angry whenever I read or watched the news but had become almost addicted to doom scrolling on social media. I found concentrating on my editing work difficult.
Then, a few days before I was due to leave, my application for the flat in Scotland was approved pending a viewing, and I was able to focus on the positives. I’d be near old friends, lockdown there was lifting, and a summer on the Fife coast in a flat with ocean views would give me some respite.
My Mexican friends accompanied me to the airport to support me in dealing with immigration. Without them to assist me, I would undoubtedly have paid a fine and possibly missed my flight, but after some heated wrangling and preparing copies of my previous flight cancellations I was stamped through and able to board the plane.
The flight was comfortable and half empty. Masking was required throughout. On arrival in Edinburgh, I had to navigate the passenger locator system and questions about my future travel intentions. The border staff were sympathetic after hearing I had been isolated for over four months in Mexico and I felt elated to be back. I met by my old friend at the airport and we drove to her house and my quarantine address for a welcome party. Some days later, I signed the contract after viewing my new home and began ordering furniture. I was lucky to have life savings for a rainy day to cover the expenses involved. Things were on the up, for me at least.
However, I had no idea that in Scotland deliveries of furniture were to the door only, due to ongoing restrictions. As my flat was on the second floor, some furniture retailers said they could only deliver to the ground floor entrance. There was no lift, only four flights of stairs. I managed to get around this by bribing the delivery staff. They were understanding and eager to help given their own perspectives on lockdowns. All of them, without exception, were couriers on zero-hours contracts, and the lack of deliveries due to the restrictions meant they too were living hand to mouth.
As I met my neighbours I found out many believed they had come down with the virus the previous January and that ongoing restrictions were unnecessary and oppressive. They described their COVID symptoms in detail, and described it as ‘a very bad flu’.
Only one woman seemed concerned, especially about the young woman on the ground floor having parties. At one point she knocked my door asking if we should phone the police to complain about the flouting of restrictions. I explained I had met the woman, that she had a history of mental health problems and probably needed her friends around as it was unnatural and dangerous for young people to be locked up in isolation. By this time, my neighbours were aware I had a doctorate in psychology and was an ex-mental health nurse, so my advice was heeded, and the police avoided. Meanwhile, the universities in Asia that sent me much of my editing work began reopening and my income began to increase a little.
I’d been living in my new home for a few weeks when I had a call from India. A young man called Sunny that I had looked after for some years when he was a boy explained what was going on when I enquired about his tone. He sounded exhausted, sad, and despondent. Aware of his pride and his delicate age of 21, a time of burgeoning manhood, I carefully probed behind his words until he began to tell the truth. He was hungry. His mother was very ill. They’d had no work or income for months. He’d given his last few rupees to some local beggars. Sobs began to punctuate his words as I listened. The consequences of lockdown for his village were devastating and many were starving. I immediately offered to help in any way I could, sent over some money, and our COVID poverty relief foodbank began.