Evacuation, part 5. March 18-19, 2020
Throughout the morning, the time of departure changed often, starting at 11:00, for a 4:00 flight. My roommate was an assistant warden, so she needed to go down to the conference room, where she would get 37 people onto a bus list. I followed with my luggage and joined bus 5. The elevators quit, so we all pitched in to help people carry bags to the room. Then, we had still not left by 12. We were told 2, then 3, then 4. We had mostly given up our keys, so everyone just found a spot to hang out. I started working to catch up this blog. We actually began loading the first bus around 4:15, then following in 15-minute increments. Being on the last bus, I got out of the hotel around 5:30. Before leaving, I made a few “goodbye” calls to Moroccan friends and counterparts. It was very sad. We were issued gloves and masks to wear in the airport. There were varying levels of compliance. I kept the gloves on, but the rubber straps on the mask were giving me hives, and I took it off.
The details on our flight had been constantly changing. We knew it was a charter flight, just for us, but still, for some reason, in flux. This morning we thought we would be in the air by 4. On arrival to the airport, we thought 9:45, but it was actually after 1:00 am. There were troubles with the check in system, requiring everything to be done manually, and very slowly. During this time, we moved in small groups, according to bus, to the check-in. Being at the end, right behind me were some other Americans, maybe 15, that were able to get on our flight, though not associated with Peace Corps. They had been touring, but must have been well connected, as there were supposedly 1000s who were unable to get flights. A few PCVs had family in country as well and those were on our plane. Even after we were on the plane, they could not load the luggage for a couple of hours, as there were no pallets? This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we were going to be sitting several hours in the Dulles airport, until at least 8:00 am anyway. The plane was more comfortable. None of us knew what our connecting flights would be, only that we would be sent to our home of record, and that they would begin making those reservations once we were in the air.
Finally, we were in the air and on our way. They fed us, despite the hour, and then we all tried to sleep. I was fortunate to have my Sefrou friend, the husband, as my neighbor. He was unlucky. His wife, as a warden, got to be in business class, but he was displaced by some of these “other” Americans and PCV family members. I was never going to make that cut.
What happened on arrival was a complete surprise. I had expected all airports to be filled with people, trying to get flights. We were told that one reason we needed to keep a low profile, was that 1000s of people, Americans and others, were unable to get flights. But, the airports were virtually empty. They did not even submit us to normal customs process, just looked at us and our passports, not our luggage. There were no customs declarations. Then, regarding our health, all we needed to do was complete a form, where we were asked if we were sick, or if we had traveled to one or more of the listed countries. No. No. They did not even point a thermometer at us. Morocco was just not a concern. I had put my sleeping bag in my carry-on, certain I would be waiting, somewhere, for hours-days-weeks. Absolutely no delays or drama actually occurred.
Instead, my email regarding my flights was on my phone. I needed changes, they were done quickly. By the time I made it from baggage to the United check-in, I had new tickets. No one seemed to be having problems. I had just the right amount of time to make it through border check, baggage pick-up and re-check, and even grab a Starbucks before going to the gate. There were less than 60 people on our flight to San Francisco, where I now sit.
In talking with the young couple who live in my house, they will be moved out when I return. I had encouraged them to stay, but they are now working from home and felt we all needed more space. I had hoped to go immediately to Texas, to surprise my sister for her birthday, be decided it would be better to follow the recommendation to self-quarantine for 14 days. I am not sick, nor have I been near anyone sick, but I have passed through many public areas.
They tell me our county was added last night to the list telling people to “shelter in place”. Most businesses are closed. The stores have no food. It sounds like Armageddon. My Aunt, who is only a couple of years older than I, said that even before that, if you are over 65 you were supposed to stay home, and people would give you the skank eye if you were out in public. Schools are closed. Coming home to isolation just adds to the disappointment. Not sure how I am getting home from the airport, as the bus service has discontinued. More soon.
I know that my little story is just one of millions. I hope you will take advantage of your own isolation to give a call and catch up.