Week 29, May 17, Kanata
It was quiet week in Kanata.
But not without activity. Daughter Alison did some grocery shopping to lay in supplies for when I arrived home and start my 14 day self-isolation. Thoughtful girl even brought 3 bottles of red wine to keep me occupied during my new confinement. What she didn’t know was that I have been ‘on the wagon’ – forced by the Philippines quarantine for the last six weeks in Philippines. I’m seriously out of practice. Maybe I should start with 7% Prosecco. She scoffed.
My neighbour Jennie, who has been minding my house all winter, came in to turn up the heat, turn on the water supply and the hot water heater; and dispose of all my dead violets and orchids – they obviously did not thrive in 10o temperature nor a north window. Or maybe it was Sofia who decided to hide the bodies.
Sofia, Sparkle Cleaning Services, is my former cleaning lady (displaced when Carmen came to live with me last year! but we remained friends); she agreed to come into my house and prepare it for my arrival – it’s been asleep for seven months and needed top to bottom freshening and beds made, fridge cleaned.
Meanwhile, in Dasma, the desperate packing and preparing to leave was on. The indefatigable Carmen turned to the task of packing my suitcase, packing her own bags and suitcases, and packing up all the collected appliances and stuff we had accumulated to make living in our QQR ‘apartment’ livable. I was largely excluded from this effort and so watched, and read and waited. We had our last supper on Tuesday – another wonderful creation of fish and fried potatoes – a swim in the pool, and a long sleepless night.
Wednesday morning finally came and Carmen was up at 5:50 making me coffee. Toast and peanut butter, an hour of final packing and organizing; tension was high, as we waited for our drivers to arrive. I couldn’t keep the tears back as I surveyed the collapse of our little abode with only memories remaining. By 7:00 the QQR driver arrived to transport me to NAIA. Carmen’s son arrived by motorcycle shortly followed by his friend with the van to remove all of Carmen’s stuff to her little house in locked-down Lapadario.
We clung to each other without a bit of embarrassment as we struggled to say good bye. I promised her once again I would come back and bring her to Canada. We had a life to live, and this was just an interruption. I reminded Carmen of the millions of people separated during WWII – soldiers from their wives and girlfriends, and their kids, for months and even years. We had to be brave and optimistic.
But I didn’t feel it. We have no idea when the world-wide quarantines will be lifted, and international travel restrictions relaxed, and airlines start flying again. I’m hoping by September but that is likely wishful thinking; more realistically it will be December, or as many are saying, not until 2021. I can’t help thinking, bitterly, is all this massive social control really worth it? How many lives are we actually saving? How many other lives are we damaging?
As my driver and I drove through Dasma on our way to Manila Airport it was remarkable to see how light the traffic was, even though 8:00 am. We were stopped three times at checkpoints and asked for our papers: I felt I was living a cold war novel. I noticed, on two occasions, long line-ups winding down the street at pawn-shops. Millions of Filipinos are out of work, and have no social support; they have only their gold to pawn – at 20% of its value – just to buy groceries. The members of the little ‘village’ I am supporting are so grateful for my help; so many of their neighbours are struggling; I am embarrassed that I cannot do much more.
My journey home was going to be longer than usual and I was already tired from my sleepless night and emotional distress of leaving Carmen behind. My flight plan, set by Air Canada in lieu of the aborted plan of March 23, had me leaving NAIA Wednesday morning at 10:45, connecting in Hong Kong at 13: 20 departing 18:15 for Vancouver; I would have a seven hour layover in Vancouver and then the ‘red eye’ to Toronto at 22:50 arriving at Pearson Thursday morning at 6:00 and then departing for Ottawa at 8:10 arriving OIA at 9:15, to be met by Alison for me to drive the Beynon’s second car home. Total travel time would be 34 hours, but gaining 12 hours on the clock.
Manila airport was almost deserted, only a few flights per hour were departing. The usual security screening to enter the building was in place but now enhanced by an anti-viral mist tent to pass through. I carried only one small suitcase and a carry on bag; I had been concerned that I might encounter problems on this trip and I wanted to travel light; my large bag was left behind with Carmen. And it turned out to be a wise decision. When I walked up to the Cathy Pacific agent (Air Canada’s Star Alliance partner) to get my boarding pass and check through to Ottawa I was informed, most apologetically, that foreign nationals were not permitted to transverse through Hong Kong! I was astounded. I said I was just making a connection to Air Canada’s flight to Vancouver. ‘Not possible sir.’ Air Canada had booked this flight for me; this restriction had been in place by Hong Kong Authorities since March 23. How could Air Canada not know this and booked me on a flight I was not allowed to take? The Cathay Pacific lady suggested I check with ANA. She understood there no restrictions for me connecting through Haneda Airport Tokyo. I found later that All Nippon Airline is also a Star Alliance partner and she could have made a ticket transfer for me. Instead I was left to find out for myself what ANA could do for me. It was 8:45 am.
I walked over to the ANA counters and a very helpful ANA Porter advised me that the ticket counter did not open until 11:30. I parked my luggage carriage at the front of the line, found a seat in the almost empty ticketing hall and waited, wondering and worrying if I would get back to Canada. Would I end up living with Carmen in her tiny house in Lapadario after all?
After some little confusion the young male ANA agent supervisor took over my case and said he could book me through to Vancouver but not Ottawa – the flight from Vancouver to Toronto was fully booked. I said I would deal with that when I got to Vancouver – two of those seats were mine and Carmen’s. So I booked my flight to Vancouver, one way, only $2214 USD! for economy only. My agent put me in Preferred Economy for the first leg but only economy in the second leg to Vancouver. Departure from Manila 14:40, a short layover in Haneda and I would arrive in Vancouver with plenty of time to work out my arrangements for Toronto. Okay I’m on. I emailed my Customer Service Agent in Air Canada to inform her of what had happened and I would be in touch with her again once I got settled in Canada. (Of course it has since transpired that Air Canada is laying off 50,000 people. I’m sure I’ll never hear back from Air Canada and I can kiss my $3000 goodbye!)
The flights themselves were uneventful, but not conventional. As I boarded the ANA B787 in Manila it was shocking to see the two Business Class cabins completely empty. I was the only occupant in Premium Economy, the other 20 seats empty. The economy section was just about full. I briefly wondered if this weight configuration would disturb the dynamics of this aircraft – apparently not. It was the same thing in the leg to Vancouver: B787 Business Class empty; the Premium Economy section, empty; the economy cabin, full. I was placed at the emergency exit doors of the economy section. I spoke to the purser about moving up to the Premium Economy section. Oh no sir, not permitted, these seats are very expensive. I told her about my very expensive regular last minute economy fare ticket. No sir, not possible to move. I resigned myself to a long and uncomfortable flight in a small confined space, next to the noisy galley. At least the washrooms were right in front of me. I must say the Premium Economy lunch was exceptional as were the Economy meals, complete with wine. I got off the wagon, figuring I deserved the moral support.
My bags and I arrived in Vancouver. I had no difficulty with the CBSA agent who welcomed me back to Canada; he showed some sympathy for my story of leaving my asawa behind in the Philippines (I reflected for a moment on my earlier imaginations of having to negotiate hard with such an agent if I were trying to bring Carmen into Canada); he reminded me of my duty to self-isolate for 14 days, mentioned the $1million fine if I transgressed, he asked me what my self-isolation plan was once I got home. I made my way to the Air Canada Counter, a walk of what seemed many miles in the sweeping V of the YVR airport. The almost empty airport with no lineups at the agent counters was again mildly disarming. What had become of this world? My Air Canada Altitude agent was surprised to see that I was in Vancouver but hadn’t used my ticket to this point. And where is Ms Espino? She asked me the standard health questions: I was jocular in my answers, me being me, but I was breathless from my walk, and lack of sleep, sweating brow, broken voice, near to tears. She booked me through to Ottawa, Carmen’s ticket is still good for another 22 months. I could have taken an earlier flight to Toronto but since it arrived at midnight I would have to spend the night in Pearson; the alternative was to keep the flight I was on and wait the eight hours in Vancouver. I decided on Vancouver. And for the first time in my life I felt like a student traveller, sleeping on the seats in the airport waiting room, putting in time. The Business lounges were all closed. So were most of the restaurants, even Tim Horton’s and Starbucks closed at 5:00. I got a sandwich and a root beer at Relay shop. It closed at 9:30 having satisfied itself that all the passengers on AC126 at 22:40 were taken care of. I guess.
After another sleepless night on board and no service on either leg on Air Canada, I arrived a zombie at MacDonald-Cartier Airport Ottawa. I retrieved my bag and was very pleased to see Alison pull up to the arrivals curb in her Toyota Matrix, husband Tim and boys following closely behind. I said hi to the boys behind my mask. They were disappointed not to see Carmen.
I drove myself home and let myself into my familiar yet somehow foreign abode.
And what a strange conflicted mind I find myself in these days, alone in the my house of 76 Budapest.
I received a number of ‘safe travels’ and ‘welcome home’ emails. Two other friends offered to bring me a welcome home bottle of wine, a common strategy for surviving my 14 day self-isolation it seems; I got similar responses from them as from Alison when I said I was out of practice and I shouldn’t drink alone.
After three days of Melatonin pills assisted sleep I am finding my feet again. I feel less melancholic, I am not teary, when I talk with Carmen on Skype I encourage her to be brave too and not cry, and I am writing this newsletter. I think there will be many difficult days ahead but I feel myself preparing to face it.
This will be the last edition of The Dasma Diary/Pilipiñas Packet. The next you read of my journey will be in the consolidated Travels With Myself. ; my story is not over yet
Doug Jordan Reporting to you from Kanata, Canada
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