Unmasked: Longing For Home

David Rubin, a Trinidadian citizen shares the struggles he’s experienced while trying to make his way back home in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s the 25th February 2020, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago has come to an end and my vacation officially begins. I transitioned from the festivities of the season into vacation mode with good energy as I was looking forward to having the best-planned vacation that I had ever had, but I was in for a surprise.

Stop Number 1: USA 

On the 4th of March 2020, I departed Trinidad and Tobago to head to the City that never sleeps, New York. I had high hopes of visiting all the great historic and modern-day buildings, the places that make this city great. These include the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, 911 Memorial and Museum, Brooklyn bridge, and Modern World Trade Centre. Unfortunately what was planned (penned) didn’t become a full-blown reality, The “Corona Virus” ( Cardi B Voice ) was upon us.

Despite the virus not being a major threat when I arrived, my aunt would have taken the cautious approach that says “prevention is better than cure” so she wasn’t keen on taking me on any of my previously planned exploits. I had other plans and was persistent in at least going to two places written on my list. She buckled under my continuous requests and escorted me to the Empire State Building and gave me directions to attend a game at the Barclays Centre. (I took the train)

Still, I was not satisfied and decided to connect with old classmates from St. Lucia who could have facilitated my need to be “outside”.

Stop Number 2: Germany

On the 10th of March I was on a 7 hr Plane ride to Frankfurt, Germany. Entering through Germany always seems to be the most cost-effective way of entering the EU and since my sister resides in Germany it was a plus for me. 

I was not totally oblivious to the fact that there contiguous virus spreading ( covid 19 aka Corona ) . I learn continuously about the virus and the recommendations proposed by the WHO and the CDC as a way of reducing the risk of being infected, but I was stubborn as it that was not allowing me to from enjoying my vacation plans. 

Guess What: It Did!

My Scheduled Bungee Jump, hopes of hopping across to England, attending a Champion League Game (Dortmund vs PSG), all got Cancelled. As much it was depressing, it brought the realization to me that things were about to get worse.

 I was with family and was happy despite all my cancel activities, thou deep down screams of “No this can’t be happening” echoed in my thoughts. Germany was on lockdown and people was advised to say indoors. I was carded to stay in Germany for a period of 15 days and things was not looking up for me. I was confined. NOOoooo.

1st Announcement that Changed Everything: 1st Blow

 On the 14th of March 2020 President ( USA ) Donald Trump Announced that all international travel for non-citizens/nationals was cancelled due to the corona virus rapid spread. Learning this information was devasting, since my return flight to the Trinidad was through the USA using Delta Airlines and to connect to Caribbean airlines to find my way back home (TNT). I was screwed! 

After watching the news, reading online articles and being advised by my sister, it was time for me to try and get out of Europe immediately. NOW!! 

Option 1:

Look for direct flights to Trinidad and Tobago. 

Failed. All direct flights to Trinidad were grounded. Information of various airlines displayed later opening dates due to the virus. ( Airlines such as Condor, Virgin Atlantic from England.

Option 2 

Head to Barbados, stay four days, enjoy the sun and beaches before looking to head out to Trinidad and Tobago. Since regional travel was not deemed a problem, Option 2 was feasible. (16th of March 2020).

I purchased a new ticket and was set to leave Germany to Grantly Adams International Airport in Barbados. Happy. lol. The flight was not packed, and social distancing was practiced. I was able to note that most passengers were from the Caribbean as CC was engraved, on top of their passports covers. (people all over the Caribbean )

My goal, upon landing in Barbados was first to get tested before visiting anyone. Being a Dual Citizen of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, my place of birth was Barbados therefore I would be afforded the right to get tested. I also displayed symptoms of a headache. Getting tested also served another purpose in the sense that Trinidad was on high alert since at the time it was the CARICOM country with the highest and fastest-growing number of infections. I had hoped that in showing my results upon entry I could fast track the process and would be allowed the privilege of being quarantined at home, lol. I was in for a rude awakening.

I got tested and my results were out. I was COVID-19 free (negative). So, I began to flex with the remaining days I had left in Barbados. My flight to Trinidad was scheduled on the 25th of March 2020 with Caribbean Airlines.

2nd Announcement: The Blows Keeps Coming

It was Thursday afternoon the 19th of March 2020, Trinidad and Tobago announced that they would be closing their borders on the 22nd midnight to all foreigners, residence, and citizens/nationals. 

Bad News:

My Caribbean Airlines ticket was canceled and I had to find another way out. Attempts were made to ask Caribbean Airlines to redirect my ticket for the 22nd but the airline was already sold out, facilitating the UWI students at the Cave Hill Campus. I then decided to purchase a ticket with another available airline: LIAT. (my nightmare begins)

On the day in question, 22nd of March 2020, I was refused boarding by the airline based on my travel history, although I presented my negative test results from Ministry of Health of Barbados, submissions of Citizen dual stamp in my passport, Trinidad and Tobago ID Card, Driver’s License, NIS card, Citizenship Certificate for Trinidad and Tobago and other details that would concrete my status as a working citizen of Trinidad and Tobago for the past 10 years. I was even examined by a nurse from the Ministry of Health at the airport and was cleared, but it didn’t bring much support.

The flight was scheduled to leave at 6:00 pm on the 22nd of March before the borders were scheduled to be closed at 12:00 am and I was not going to be on it. I didn’t even get past the countertop where you checked in. All over the airport there was a smell of fear and worry in the atmosphere, and their speech reflected it in their reasoning.

Launch Investigation: Became Sherlock Homes

Liat indicated that it was the immigration office that would have denied me entry base on my travel history, and that i presented a potential travel risk despite showing my documentation clearing me.

I contacted the head of office in Trinidad and Tobago (citizens Department) and they could not understand why they would refuse, showing the documentation that was in my possession, and indicated to contact the Ministry of National Security.

I filed a Report with Liat Customer Relations Department to Investigate the refusal. Liat responded with an apology letter indicating that they got the situation wrong and they would refund the cost of my ticket. When pressing them, asking who is going to pay my incur expenditure staying here, their response was that they have a right to refuse travelling of a client on a potential risk clause and it was on the advice of council from Trinidad and Tobago Immigration.

I emailed the Ministry of National Security and they responded sending a link of when the Minister indicated that the borders would be closed. I alerted them that my incident took place before the borders were closed. Their response? Wait till the borders open again.

I sought legal advice and it was concluded that legal action can be taken. At the time being refused wasn’t so bad, I notified my workplace of the event and sent the necessary correspondence and documents to indicate that I would not be returning to work at the end of the allocated time for my vacation because the borders were closed. (They Understood and did what they could within the confines of my contract), because it was a matter out of my control

I was prepared, having saved an emergency fund. (Jesus is coming, a phrase commonly used when global hardship is experienced, resonates with me always, causing me to be ready in the time of future disasters and pandemics, not worrying about financial obstacles for a while). Moving forward at the time was a matter of having enough resources to wait till the border would re-open and homeboy was confident. Still, spending hard-earned money for situations that were not a direct cause of your actions can sting lol. (I have some friends who would claim, David I tell you not to go on that Vacation by your head hard, you gonna learn) and I did. Ha ha.

A week passed when I learnt that there were Trinidadian nationals stuck in Barbados and looking to find their way home. My immediate reaction was to get a hold of the leader and find out how he intended to get home and “jump on that wagon”. Last time I checked Citizens and National had the same rights.

News was circulating all over the internet and via text messages, Opposition party claims the current PM Minister is abandoning their citizens, for leaving their people stranded in neighboring countries including Barbados.

Let me be clear, I do understand why the current government would take the stance ( position ) of closing the borders of Trinidad and Tobago. From my observations, closing the borders in other countries reduced their risk of imported cases. So I support this. With that being said, I also support countries fulfilling their patriotic, nationalistic, and humanistic duty in returning their citizens home in an organised, structured manner.

Taking the necessary precautions for all incoming citizens such as isolation from the general public, quarantine step down facilities for testing in a timely fashion, (regional islands first, based on the number these step down facilities can take ) can aid in reducing the risk of community spread.

Cont’d:  I became ecstatic that the issue was national news and plans were being made to bring back all citizens from Barbados as expressed in Newsday and quoted during a press conference.

Not Everything in the Papers Is Factual:

Thirty-three stranded nationals (Senior Citizens) were taken into quarantine, for a period of 14 days at Sugar Cane Club where they were subjected to testing and a payment of US $120 per day. (Published, Barbados today.bb Day 18th, April 2020). With the opposition party pressuring, the government decided to grant these 33 nationals (only) entry, with a condition that they would have to charter their own flight back into the country. 

My attempts of joining that group to return home were not feasible. It was reported via a Barbadostoday.bb article published on the 18th of April 2020, that the 33 nationals had to charter a flight costing US25,000 dollars ( hefty price, app 760 US per person ), providing The National Minister of Trinidad and Tobago gives authorization for entry, which he granted on 19th of April 2020. 

I was stuck once again. Luckily, I have friends whom I can stay by. As time goes by and the goal pole keeps shifting at every press conference and in every address by the Prime Minister in Trinidad, I became more accepting of the fact that I wasn’t going to leave any time soon and that I would have to carry some financial losses: paying for two places and being in one.

There are many other nationals/citizens stranded on the outskirts. As much as I understand why the borders are closed, being on the outside seeing and hearing other stories of persons running out of money, having to sleep at airports, being mistreated, staying by school friends, has given me a new perspective and my heart goes out to them. I miss home. That’s where my family is. I have no family in Barbados. I just want people to understand the reality that people face on the outskirts of this pandemic. People are going through worse conditions

Humanitarian Inventions to Mask Favours for the Wealthy:

On 16th May 2020, it was reported that a wealthy gentleman (whom I won’t name) was afforded the opportunity to return home from Miami on the condition (suggested by the government) that he stopped in the Bahamas to pick up a cancer patient. The exemption was granted and he was able to return (Loop magazine, 16th May, 2020)

Why was he granted permission? Were others who collectively sent their requests for exemption for entry deemed less important to society? I digress. ( Yea I being Salty, let me Salt ).

My problem is not what happened – exemption was given – but how it happened. A political problem evolves if letting this wealthy man in which no justifiable cause would have shown clear favouritism and depressing wave for those still trying to return home to their loved ones. In the Government understanding this dilemma, the use the power of humanitarian interventions to cover a preferential treatment to the wealthy. The fact that the government is the one who proposed the humanitarian act to the applicant makes it less humanitarian and more of a way of disguising self-interest. For What? That’s the big Question.

Haven’t Given Up Hope:

Attempts are still being made. Hopefully after my lawyer makes a request for exemption, I would be fortunate to return with the UWI students. If all fails, I will wait it through to the end. God is Good.

In Conclusion: I take Resolve in what my Sister told me: “You can tell your children, if you intend to have them, that you survived COVID-19, to teach the importance of preparation. Lol. She not easy na.

I also want to say that there is no reason to be unkind. Reading the comments when the topic of persons being outside wanting to return home comes up can be quite distasteful. Words like “these people infected”, “stupid”, “dummies” are quite uncalled for. Please understand before spewing hate on others. We all make mistakes. Understanding can go a long way. Thank You.

David Rubin
Concerned Citizen.

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