Honey, I’m home! Covid-19 update

Introduction

I just wanted to update you guys on my situation with the Covid-19 outbreak.

At this time, the context is that I moved from Cairns to Gold Coast in January. My course was starting in February and I wanted to give myself time to settle and find a job. Unlike finding a private room in a sharehouse, getting a job was harder than expected. But after 5 weeks I got a casual job in a warehouse helping a single mom with her bath and beauty products business. And later on, I found a second job at the Superstadium as a food & beverage attendant.

Overall I was doing great and but then trouble in paradise! The last 2 weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions. Because of that, it made me reconsider living that far away from my home country and the only relative I have and major support. Here’s what happened in detail. 

Timeline

Life in denial of Covid-19

March 9: After getting my induction and a food and safety course with Spotless for the CBUS super stadium. I was so thrilled and excited about this opportunity as I had never worked in a stadium before. Also, working for such a big company would open a lot of doors in the industry for me. I had 2 jobs, a home, I was opening my online business. At that point I felt like no one in Australia was taking the virus seriously, I wasn’t at all either. I felt safe, unbothered. It’s just a flu coming on.  

March 12: Following closely on the Covid-19 situation overseas. Highly affected countries are applying lockdowns and social distancing. I was starting to worry about my mom, my best friend back home that is pregnant, my uncles that are over 80. But not here in Australia. Probably a few cases but I had faith in the healthcare system and Australia’s capacity to handle the situation.

While I was talking with my employer about some rules Europe put into place due to the situation. By canceling all events gathering more than 500 people, I was hoping that we wouldn’t have the same here. Despite those measures overseas, everyone seemed to be confident in saying that in 2-3 weeks, tops 2 months it would be over! And that Australia would never be on lockdown or close their borders. Everyone else was just overreacting.

Bad news

March 15: I received an email informing me that unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the CBUS stadium would not be operating until further notice. Therefore I would not be able to start work next weekend. bear in mind that, with only one shift a week, it would have paid off my rent. I’m worried, I start searching for other jobs, the options are limited due to visa restrictions. But I have faith, I’ve been there before, there’s always a solution. No big deal. 

March 16: I hear rumors that Europe has close their borders! Now I’m starting to think, what will happen if we close everything here as well? What if I cannot afford to stay here? Because I’m a foreigner I don’t get financial help from the government, which is understandable. And because I’m overseas I don’t get help from my country, also understandable. Slowly, the idea of going home has planted it’s seed in my head but it’s too soon to make a decision. 

March 18: I’m really concerned about how I’m going to manage to get another job. People are slowly getting their hours cut off or are losing their jobs. At that point, Europe has made it clear that their borders are only open to European citizens and if they want to come home they need to do it fast.

That makes me anxious, I decided to send a message to my employer to see how work is going to be like. No work for this week… cool, how am I supposed to pay rent, food, transportation! I inform her that I’m looking into maybe, maybe not going home. She tells me that she needs reliability and therefore cannot keep me. So within 4 days, I had lost both jobs. My heart stopped for a second, I felt sick. What now?!

Let’s go home

March 19: I start looking at flights to go home but I’m not sure yet. Should I wait? I call my mom for advice. She knows this is my dream, I’ve wanted this my whole life. Also, she is financing my studies so that’s not a simple decision to make. I know she is concerned but she doesn’t want to push me in making a decision. So she gives me the choice between staying and providing me with a bit of money to help or go home. We have a big house, there will always be space for me.

That night I decided to leave. It’s not worth my stress. I’m alone in a city where I have no resources, no friends, no job. It’s time to go home! 

March 20: According to the french embassy. When going back to Europe, we need to be careful with which airline we choose as some of them aren’t authorized to enter Europe. The fastest options are Etihad and Emirates but the flights are between $2000 and $8000!!!

On Facebook, there’s a group for Belgians in Australia. Some have also decided to go back. Others are staying hoping it will not last long and are gathering up with each other. A few are stuck here because of the prices of the flights and the fact that there’s no guarantee they will operate.

I spend the whole day tossing and turning around my room. I don’t have enough funds to book a flight for the weekend… After hours searching and a lot of hesitation, I decided to book a flight with Thai Airways for Tuesday. A terrible journey of about 46h in transit. But I have my tickets, let’s relax. I send a message to my mom, it’s all good I’ll be home on Thursday. 

I’m not there yet

March 21: I can see on our Facebook group that some people are getting their flights canceled. Thai Airways doesn’t seem to be canceling their flights but I am searching for more information just in case.

Due to previous travels, I’m on a backpacker group in Thailand and while searching for testimonials on flights with Thai Airways. I see a post showing a screenshot from an announcement from the Thai government. It is stating that all foreign passengers entering Thailand as of March 24th midnight, will be asked to present 2 documents. A medical certificate stating that you’re able to travel and haven’t been infected by Covid-19. And a proof of insurance covering you for at least 100.000USD in Thailand for Covid-19.

I was livid and I started crying. I thought I was safe and was already picturing myself at home. Holding my mom as tight as I possibly could, with the smell of her Chanel 5 that I can’t stand at all. Is it going to happen?

Although, the statement wasn’t referring to passengers transiting. So I started actively researching for more information. At the end of the day, one of the girls in the group posted a msg saying that our embassy was negotiating the terms of that decision for us to go home. Now the only thing I could do is wait. Wait and see…

March 22: I wake up and for a sec I’m at peace but as soon as I look at my phone, the anxiety is back, what am I gonna do? After doing an active search of insurances, I managed to find one that I can contract short term and that will cover me for Covid-19 in Thailand! I finally decided to explain the situation to my mom that was still thinking that I was going home soon. I go to bed and like every night for the past week I cry until I finally fall asleep. 

The escalation

March 23: I wake up with an email from Thai airways confirming that for ALL passengers, even those in transit. We need to show evidence of a negative blood test for covid-19 and if we can’t provide the documents requested, we need to find another flight.

Screenshot of the email received from Thai Airways
Screenshot of the email received from Thai Airways

My breathing got so heavy, I couldn’t see straight and clear as the tears from my eyes were dripping, flowing! I was panicking, couldn’t think properly. The only thing in my head was, I want to go home! Get me out of here! I was seeking financial help from friends, but knowing damn well, never in hell they could help me. As much as they care about me $3000 for a flight that’s a lot of money. That at this point people need as the future is uncertain for anyone.

I was exhausted, I send a msg to my mom “It’s confirmed, it’s a definite, no boarding if I can’t get tested for covid-19. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle this anymore!”. Directly after that, I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon after sending that message out of exhaustion.

My mom called me as soon as she woke up. She was trying to calm me down and reassure me by coming up with a POA. We started thinking of ways to get me money for me to pay rent and have food until I could potentially get repatriated.

I had a superannuation/pension in Belgium that my mom suggested to me to claim for emergency reasons. She managed to get me the email address of someone high in the hierarchy to make the claim. 

Hope

March 24: I feel better, I’m not alone, there are solutions, I am surrounded by positivity and solidarity. A petition has been created to help Belgian citizens stuck abroad to be repatriated home ASAP. Everyone is posting updates on their situation on our Facebook group and the embassy is constantly updating their website and Facebook page on this chaotic situation.

Now the biggest issue for me to be able to sustain myself is my tuition fees. If I go home I can easily ask for a deferral of my studies for 6 up to 12 months. The only thing is that I would have to pay for another visa when coming back. At this time, the problem is I’m stuck here and legally I have to attend school and of course pay tuition to keep my visa. Therefore, I emailed my immigration agent to figure something out.

I went to school to explain the situation and see what their directives were. For now, school is still open, teachers are forced to attend. They’ve told us that if we are concerned about coming in we don’t have to, we will be noted absent but it won’t affect us. So for those who don’t know, the law for students has recently changed. Schools need to keep records of attendance and give the government the attendance rate of each student. We have to attend 85% of classes per 10 weeks. To sum up, If we go below 80% of attendance, we risk losing our visa.

Teachers hope that they will close schools soon and have courses online as it’s non-essential for us to be there at this point. So I have to wait and see what can be done but that was the last day I attended school. It’s too risky.

Final decision

March 25: Considering the emergency, they’ve agreed to pay off my superannuation, it’s not much but enough for me to pay rent and food for a few weeks! I feel so relieved. 

During the day I was thinking, when all of this is over I should probably go back to cairns and stay there until I’ve completed my diploma and advanced diploma. At least there I have all my friends that I’ve known for the past year, even 2 years. 

In the evening, I received a call from one of my best friends Fiona, we spent 2h on the phone catching up. She was by herself in her 3-bed apartment and that if she couldn’t find other tenants she would have to leave. The rent was actually cheaper than what I pay now if it’s full. I had seen the apartment once and it was beautiful! So spacious and modern, pretty much an apartment that I’d pin on my Pinterest. She told me to think about it. It would be better if I was locked up with friends than by myself here in Gold Coast.

Going on with our conversation, as she was talking to me. Scrolling through my Facebook and I see on the Facebook group “Belgians in Australia ”, that the Thai government has approved losing up the requirements towards covid-19 for passengers in transit… I had mixed feelings at that point, angry, sad, disappointed but happy at the same time for all the others who were hoping to get home with them. (My flight was the day before this announcement).

Conclusion on covid-19 situation

After that call, I decided to call my mom and let her know what’s going on. I’m VERY fortunate to have a mother that is supporting me like she is. Especially financially, even if she doesn’t approve my choices. My mom still thinks that I have absolutely no idea what I want and it’s pissing her off. The thing is, with the mother that I have she is hardly supportive. Unless I prove her wrong or that I am able to do something 100% safely (she doesn’t like taking risks). So it became really hard for me to share future projects with her because she would always criticize, like, always.

But here she had a valid point, I need to know if I want to go home or not and find a solution when I get there. It’s gonna be hard for her to keep on sustaining herself and me, her 26-year-old daughter with no income. In addition to that concerning my studies, if I go home, I can defer them, that’s great. But I would have to pay for the visa again. She has sacrificed a lot for me to be where I’m at and I’ve put a lot of energy and commitment in this past 2 years. Going back home means that it could take me years to come back with enough savings to avoid me being in a situation like this again (never know when the next pandemic is gonna hit!). 

So I think it’s wise to just go back to cairns, finish my studies and see from there. Like I said I’m questioning living in Australia permanently but I definitely know what I wanna do no matter where I am in the world. One day at a time.  

Gratitude

Writing this down, I realize how fortunate I am and am thankful for everything I have. Love, compassion, and support.

I’m now going to play my part in this pandemic and stay home. I was already staying home a lot lately anyway but now I’m more at peace with the situation. I’m gonna focus on my business, my mindset, my body and less on covid-19.

What kept me away from having a proper breakdown is mediation, positive affirmation, writing down every day what I was grateful for, listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

The power of our mind is limitless, this quarantine can really be a blessing in disguise. I said it can be because some are by far less fortunate. We need to always keep that in mind and be grateful for what we have at this moment. Because even just walking around freely, touching each other, being close to each other, etc. we took it for granted, and here we are. 

Take advantage of the covid-19 situation as much as you possibly can, there will be a way out of this, it’s not coming anytime soon but when it will, we’re gonna have one hell of a party! 

May you all be safe! 

Love, Grace.

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