Well, there has been a lot going on in our world, just not on our blog! We kept thinking “when things settle down and we know what is happening we will update.” Turns out, if we waited for that we would never post again, so I am just going to post what is happening right now and we can update as time marches on.
Way back in March, we were in Yangon dealing with the ongoing tensions due to the coup on February 1st. As foreigners, we never felt unsafe and largely our life was affected in trivial ways (cash was increasingly difficult to come by, mobile data was shut off, the internet was usually off from about midnight to 9am) but really (unlike for our Myanmar colleagues) things were only inconvenient for us. It was kind of like being back in 1995-hail a cab with your hand instead of an app and make sure you organize with your friends ahead of time where and when to meet as you couldn’t text! Obviously this was not true for our Myanmar friends and actually it is hard to convey how much grief people were feeling. It seemed (and still seems) rude and inappropriate to post on social media about anything when the people around you are watching their world be altered so completely.
In late March the US Embassy declared an Ordered Departure, which meant that all but essential staff needed to leave. We are not Embassy employees, but it became clear that we would not be going back to school physically for the rest of the school year, so the school decided to charter a flight for foreign staff to go to Kuala Lumpur right at the start of our April break and then everyone could get a flight from there to their home of record. Because the airport in Yangon has been closed since March of 2020, organizing this flight took on a life if its own. School organized everything for us, from Covid tests to luggage pick ups to transport to the airport. Cue what I like to call “Camp ISY.”
First we turned one of the Kindergarten classrooms into the Covid testing centers. Some nice people from a local clinic came and tested everyone on the Friday before departure. Now, none of us had even had a Covid test before as there was no reason for it. We had all heard about the “brain swabs” of the early days of testing, but has also heard that now doctors were clear that you didn’t actually have to rummage around behind your eyeball to see if the germs were there, halfway up the nostril was good enough. Well, no one called Myanmar to let these nice doctors know of this update. They actually held the back of your head to keep you for backing up to try to escape. Everyone left crying, but luckily everyone was also negative.
Step 2 of Camp ISY was that to speed up departure, we were all going to have our luggage collected the night before. Your bags had to be labelled and then they would be tagged with some ribbon to indicate your bus for the next morning.
Early, early the next morning, school buses rode around collecting everyone and their hand luggage to bring them to school. Despite the fact that we were going under less than ideal circumstances (and for some colleagues these were their last moments in Yangon after years of living there) it was kind of jolly.
As I mentioned before, the airport in Yangon had been closed for a year at this point. The only flights in and out are charter or humanitarian flights, so we were the only people there to check in for our flight. Because it’s not really “open” apparently the airport did not think it was necessary to turn on the AC, so what we had on our hands was a line of very sweaty foreigners, waiting to be checked in manually because of course we were there too early for the internet to have been turned on for the day!
Gav and I were the last people to check in so that we could make sure that everyone got through smoothly. About 10 minutes before we got up to the desk I felt a small breeze-I think someone took pity on the sweaty foreigners and finally turned on the AC but it was too little too late. The departure lounge was nice and cool so that was a relief. The flight to KL was uneventful and once there we all had quite a bit of time before our flights “home.” We spent that time saying our last goodbyes to some colleagues who were not returning, drinking some beer that was WAY more expensive than our normal happy hour beers in Yangon!
From KL Gav and I decided to split up for the first bit of time. Gav went to London to see his family and I went to Colorado to see my family, which had grown by one whole person since the last time I was able to see them!
We still had 9 more weeks of school to finish from afar, so those weeks were a blur of nighttime teaching (8pm-2am for me, 3am to 9am for Gav!) and me getting to spend good time with my family, more to come on those adventures.
I flew to London in late May to reunite with Gav and finish the school year. At this time, we were told to prepare to return to Yangon (via KL, we would do a reverse of what happened in April at that time with the school chartering a flight back into Yangon for us) around August 7th. As the summer progressed, news from Myanmar became more somber-this time the problem was not the political situation but Covid. The medical situation was not acceptable, with no medical care available really and no oxygen supplies or ventilators to be had in the country. In late July the decision was made that the first semester of school would be online and teachers would not return until early January.
This was a very big blow to us, as although we had appreciated being given time to be with our families after 2 years of not seeing them, we had to leave Nell in Yangon. We had been counting down the days until we would be reunited in August and now that was not going to happen. We are very lucky that our lovely cleaner had moved into our house in April with her family, and they love Nell. Maybe a little too much, this is what we were sent on Nell’s birthday!
The other big problem was the working hours. It seemed very daunting to stare down an entire semester where we would be working from 2am-8am. Doing that is very rough on the body, we felt jet-lagged the entire time we worked those hours. Even going to bed at 6pm we were exhausted all the time. So, along with a few other colleagues we decided to temporarily move to…Thailand!
And that is where I am writing from today. We arrived one week ago on the Phuket Sandbox program. Essentially, if you are fully vaccinated you can come to Phuket and stay in special hotel accommodation for 14 nights. You have to take several Covid tests during that time and also check in with the front desk every day to have your temperature taken. But, as long as you stay Covid free you are free to move about however you want during the day. Next Sunday we will move into more permanent accommodation, but for now we are doing OK* and thrilled to be working sane hours again-Phuket is 30 minutes ahead of Yangon.
*Working near the beach is not bad!
So, aside from missing Nell terribly and still being in massive limbo about when we can actually return to Yangon, we are doing pretty well. It is nice to be reunited with some colleagues, if very surreal to be with all of them outside of our normal haunts in Yangon. We don’t know what’s coming next, but we are making the best of it and enjoying exploring our new, temporary home.