Traveling has never been harder

Usually an hours car ride and next 3 hours in air takes me home but this time it took a nightmare.

At that time, the year 2019 was about to end and all over social media this year was being projected as one of the worst because the world had just come out of Iran-US escalatory tension and Australia was burned to the ground in one of the worst forest fires of all time. No one had any idea about the disaster we were about to face. At least I had never thought that something like this could ever happen, that would change our lives so dramatically.

I don’t exactly remember when, maybe in Jan or Feb 2020, I first heard that some new disease has emerged in China and it is something humans have never encountered before. At this point of time, this news had neither alarmed me nor anyone whom I knew. Just another news, like a car accident and no one cared.

As days, weeks, and months passed by, this disease got bigger and bigger and soon it had widely spread in China and cases had emerged in many parts of the world.

I should have mentioned it before but better now than never, I am a foreign student, studying medicine in Bangladesh. By the time March approached, Bangladesh had about 45 positive cases and my home country India had reached 100. Around this time, the WHO had announced that Covid-19 was a pandemic and there was panic everywhere. Exam dates for the session were yet to be decided while countries like Italy and USA who were worst affected all over the world had started to go into lockdown. Meanwhile it was apprehended that India, my home country, will also go into lockdown too considering the rise in cases and this made every student worried about getting stuck and not being able to go back home.

Students started leaving like flies. Honestly at that time going back home felt like a gamble to me.

Going back meant abandoning the academic session in its midst without appearing in the final exams after studying the entire year.

Inside I thought if I leave and exams are conducted on time, this decision of mine would be a blunder whereas if I choose to stay and both the countries go into lockdown due to rising cases (as it was trending all over), it would be a suicide.

This dilemma was added by another setback, my visa had expired like many others but unlike others I was one of the last group of students who had not renewed it yet.

This was Sunday 21st of March (2020) I, along with other students, was at the visa office for visa renewal. To try to make you feel what I felt at that moment it is vital to mention that some of the most unpredictable places on earth where people can feel hopeless about anything is the Department of Immigration and Passport situated in Agargaon, Dhaka. Here nobody on earth can guarantee you that after submitting your passport and waiting for 5 to 6 hours you will get your visa renewed.

Again, I mention it’s Sunday 21st of March because dates here are important.

Back then if someone would have told us that after one day, on 23rd of March everything would be shutdown, all borders closed, all airlines grounded, this news probably would have wrecked all our hopes and broken our spirit of going home.

But back then we had only one thing on our minds that everyone had left and we too had to leave by any means. Finally, at 6 p.m. we get our visa renewed.

This respite and mild delightful moment was also short lived. A week before this all international flights had been cancelled which also had accelerated the movement of students even though they had to travel by road and cross the India-Bangladesh border by themselves. The domestic flights in India were still functional though which was a respite. The most frequently used border by students from Dhaka is the Agartala border for the obvious reasons of being the shortest route.

As soon as we had visa in our hands without wasting any time we headed back to college with all the enthusiasm in the world. Everything seemed right, everyone was excited to go home. All of us thought that the difficult part was over and as soon as we reach our college, we will be on our way to home.

Alas!! this feeling of happiness was cut short again.This time, news hit us harder than a lightning bolt.

Agartala border was to be closed from midnight,

the same night we planned to leave. It felt like all the invisible forces in the world had started to conspire against us. At some point I started to believe maybe this is God’s will, he wants us to stay.After all this effort if we are not able to go, maybe this is better for us. But inside we couldn’t give up and the fear of being left alone in college, God knows for how long also haunted us.

We decided to take a different route, another border, a bit longer, a bit unsafe but that didn’t matter at the time. By this time, we just wanted to go home no matter what. It was 10 p.m. and we were already late. Two cabs were on their way for the 14 of us and there was very little time for all the packing.

This might be the worst packing I have ever done. Only two steps were involved. First, I took the most important books and placed them in the centre of my bag and secondly, jam packed all the clothes I could find.That was it, packing done.

Eventually we boarded the cab, travelled all night and reached the border early in the morning. The border, otherwise a very busy place, was empty. We crossed the border smoothly, boarded a flight to Delhi and reached home.

This was the 22nd of March 2020.

On 23rd of March India imposed complete lockdown for the next 3 months and is still under partial lockdown.

Really a narrow escape.

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Medic. Muslim. Interested in: politics, philosophy, and life experiences.

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Sami Ullah

Sami Ullah

Medic. Muslim. Interested in: politics, philosophy, and life experiences.

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