We made it back to Yangon! On January 7th, Gav and I (and the rest of the people who had been living in Thailand) flew to Kuala Lumpur to meet the rest of the returning faculty for a charter flight back to Yangon. The logistics of this were a bit complicated as Malaysia has quite a complicated process (not unlike the Sandbox program that we entered Thailand on) to enter and stay, which obviously we were not doing. However, since the flight we had OUT of KL was a charter flight rather than a regularly scheduled commercial flight, it was not viewable to ground staff who would be checking us in at our point of origin.
We also would not be able to clear customs in KL to collect baggage, so we were instructed to try to convince the staff at check in to check our bags all the way to Yangon, on the fictional flight that they possibly could not see on their system! This was a little bit anxiety-producing for people, but there was a back-up system of taking photos of all out luggage and bag tags and emailing them to a travel coordinator who would pass that along to airport staff in KL to track down any missing bags. Luckily for us flying out of Bangkok, we all arrived as a group and Gav managed to sweet-talk the lady at check in there to tag our bags all the way. He also managed to talk her out of the need to see some kind of formal letter from the government that we did not have on us, so well done Gav! After 4 months of Thai living, we were finally all on our way back home.
Everyone spent the night in the airport hotel and slowly all the teachers from around the world joined and soon it was time to get on our flight back to Yangon. There were so many moments when we thought that this might not ever happen, Gav and I did not allow ourselves to truly believe it until the wheels actually were off the ground in Kuala Lumpur. It felt to us a bit like the ending scene in Argo, where everyone is holding their breath until the announcement comes over the loudspeaker that they have cleared Iranian air space-we finally let ourselves celebrate that we were on our way home!
We landed at a totally empty and still closed airport in Yangon and were quickly shuffled through formalities and onto a bus to take us to our quarantine hotel, where we would have to spend a week and get 2 more covid tests. Unbelievably, given the massive outbreak of Omicron just prior to our travels, every returning teacher and child tested negative prior to departure. Even me, which was a massive worry for me as you can still test positive on a PCR up to 90 days after having a case. There maybe was a SMALL meltdown the day of departure when Gav got his negative result and I did not get an email until 2 minutes later so I was convinced I was positive for those 2 minutes and maybe there was some crying and sweating. MAYBE. Anyway, we all made it and got herded off to a nice hotel in town.
You may be thinking-nice hotel? That does not look like a fancy reception area! Oh that’s correct, it was quite clear that perhaps this hotel did not want to advertise that it also was a quarantine hotel, so it made us use the cargo entrance and then take the service elevators up to our floor to sneak into our rooms. Also 40 people who have been on the move for 9 months means they needed a whole extra truck to transport our luggage. Unbelievably, all but 2 suitcases our of everyone’s made it with us on our flight, and those 2 missing bags were located and delivered the next day.
Now it was just a matter of surviving the 7 nights quarantine. Because we had to work during the week, everyone was asked if they wanted to stay with their partners or if they wanted separate rooms. This was a big bonus as previously all adults had to isolate alone, so Gav and I took advantage of the fact that neither of us had to be on zoom meetings all day like normal teachers and shared a room. We lucked out and got more of a mini-suite with a little living room and best of all, a small patio/balcony!
We even had a hotplate AND we had packed a frying pan that we picked up along the way, which was very fortuitous as our food arrived cold every single time. Gav spent many a lunch time reheating his french fries on that thing. Our room was well stocked for the week, including this ridiculous amount of bottled water.
It was a good thing that we had to work that week to help the time pass more quickly. It was kind of torturous to be so close to being home, but not able to quite get there yet. Mostly it was not too bad, although the food left a lot to be desired and also possibly gave me food poisoning on the second to last night. I was not the only one who got hit, several other people also were down for the count at different times during the week.
Finally, finally Saturday morning rolled around again and we could go HOME! Well, most of us. One unfortunate teacher tested positive for Covid on the test we had to take the day before departure. She had tested negative (obviously) when leaving for Kuala Lumpur and also on the day after we arrived in Yangon. She must have picked it up somewhere in transit which was hugely unlucky. Like Thailand, Myanmar requires you to go to a facility if you test positive. Unlike Thailand, there is no option to request a hotel instead, so off she had to do to a covid ward in a hospital (by ambulance!) for another week. Poor lady. She had a pretty good sense of humor about it though, and now she is out and free!
Remember how I said it seemed like the hotel was not quite advertising that there were people in quarantine staying there? As we all tromped down to check out and get on the school buses to go home, we found ourselves right in the middle of a very fancy Myanmar wedding reception. I don’t think those people were warned that a bunch of foreigners who hadn’t done laundry in like 10 days were going to be in the background of all their wedding photos. Sorry!
Finally, finally we were about to be reunited with Nell and we almost couldn’t stand the bus ride home. We were the first people to get dropped and we actually just told the bus driver to come back with our luggage as it was buried underneath everyone else’s. Our lovely housekeeper Maryal was waiting for us and as we got out of the bus we could hear Nell barking. We had rather teary reunion and suddenly all was right with the world.
Quite quickly we got back in the swing of life in Yangon. That first weekend at home was a little surreal, as we walked around we saw many familiar faces and people seemed to be happy to see us as well. It seemed at the time that there were very few foreigners around, but that seems to have picked up and we are seeing more and more all the time. We have reunited with so many of our regular dog friends (who did not need much reminding that we come bearing treats) and have visited a few of our favorite restaurants and bars. There is still a curfew and most places aren’t open much past 7, so going out to dinner always feels a bit like an Early Bird Special, but we are so happy to be back. Starting next week we will have students back on campus as well which is great-it has been 2 years! Having students back has created a few “exciting opportunities” for me, which I will reveal in the next installment.
Sometimes we cannot believe that we were away for more than 9 months. That seems crazy, and it’s certainly something that I never want to have happen again, but we are home now and waiting to see what the next few months brings us.
We have Nell, beer and bacon and cheese samosas, not too shabby.