Tag Archives: Covid19

A Poem a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Image by Mariangela Castro (Mary) from Pixabay

I told some friends recently that I think I will no longer tell people what my plans are for the next day or week or the next month. This is because after I tell them one day, I need to retell them the next day because of the constant change of landscape these days.

Instead, I will tell them after it happens. Like last week when I actually did get the chance to make a quick trip to Saohin.

Ever since the beginning of April, life has been a pretty consistent roller coaster. If that combination of words can be put together. I just found out yesterday that I won’t start work for another three weeks. This is because of the current Covid situation in Thailand. Schools in Thailand won’t start until June 1st but until yesterday I was told that I would be working from home and perhaps doing some online teaching. Then yesterday I found out it would not be so.

So. Here I am in Mae Sariang with three weeks of “vacation” in front of me. I will be filling those weeks with some informal teaching, some teaching prep for the upcoming semester, maybe a trip to Chiang Mai or two for visa purposes and to move some items still there. Otherwise, I will be weeding out the orchard behind my new house and trying to figure out how to crack up the coconuts that fall from the tree. Church isn’t really happening currently because of the half-lockdown the town is in. Most of the fun evening markets are closed, and even national parks are closed. Many of the mountain villages (other than Saohin) have closed off their gates to outsiders.

La la la la la…..

So I am trying to find the best way to use my time wisely. Maybe I should do a week of fasting and praying. That would save money, at least, for sure. Maybe I could try building furniture from the bamboo beside the house. Or study Karen.

One thing that I have been rolling around in my mind lately is my recent lack of immersion in good, deep literature. I attribute this to several factors, one my focus on language study, two when in college and on my internship I lacked the energy and time to read deeply, and three, bad habits. One of my goals for this summer is to stretch my brain in relation to good, English literature.

So, with this in mind, I have decided for the next week to post a poem a day. This might be a poem that I have previously written and/or published, it might be a poem I have freshly written, or it might be a poem written by someone else that I enjoy, along with a bit of an explanation of what the poem means to me. I do not pretend to be a great poet, or a great poet analyst. I like poetry that makes me think, but does not make my brain do cartwheels to figure out what the author is driving at. But I do enjoy sharing poetry that is meaningful to me, as well as hearing poetry from others.

I plan to do this for a week, but if I see that its going well, I might stretch it out to two weeks. I also have been a bit traumatized (ok, that’s too strong a word but for lack of a better one) by the constant changes of plans, and so I feel a bit scared to commit to a poem a day FOR SURE. So, I will say, barring a sudden trip to Chiang Mai or Saohin, a storm and a subsequent blackout, the sudden rising of the creek (very literally if I do go to Saohin) or a wave of dengue fever or any other insurmountable obstacle, I will post a poem a day.

And I would love to hear thoughts on the poetry from my readers.

Here goes.

Of Quarantining and Cats

Since I made the final move to town of Mae Sariang after finishing my internship in Saohin in the middle of April, I’ve spent the majority of my time in my house. This was mostly because of a third wave of Covid that spread over Thailand since the beginning of April. I spent a week in quarantine in after coming to Mae Sariang from Chiang Mai. This was the 4th time I’ve quarantined in my life (although two of those quarantines were less than 2 weeks long).

My house and I get along well, but there are times when you need something else besides a house and a Tukay to talk to. Even after getting out of quarantine, it’s been hard to feel like a part of life in Mae Sariang since the town is in a half-lockdown. I missed a friend’s wedding because of quarantine.  I keep in contact with the few friends I knew before I moved here, but it’s hard to make new friends with the level of social activity going on.  I was also feeling disappointed after giving up my trip to Saohin that I had been hoping to take on May 1. I felt like with the Covid situation the way it was and me not being back from Chiang Mai a full 14 days, as well as having been in contact with a Covid-infected person (although it was over 14 days by then) I simply didn’t feel comfortable with making the trip. While Saohin has not closed down, many mountain villages have shut off contact with the outside world.

When I had been up in Saohin on my internship, Kru Paeng had asked me if I wanted to take one of the cats when I left. Kru Paeng was moving to another school after the semester ended and she wasn’t going to be able to take the cats with her. At the time, I couldn’t commit to taking care of a cat since I was going to be traveling back and forth from Chiang Mai for part of March and part of April.

Last week I started thinking. I was now settled into my house, or getting there. I was tired of being by myself all the time. I was tired of talking just to the Tukay. I wanted something furry and warm and alive.

Why not see if I can get the cat down now, I wondered. I messaged Captain Joe since his police unit was coming down at the end of the month.

“If I get the children to catch the cat, can you bring it down or arrange for someone to bring it down?” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied. I messaged one of the children, but she obviously wasn’t able to connect to wifi since she never replied. I also messaged one of the teachers that had traveled up during break to take care of some things. And then I waited, wondering.

In the evening, Captain Joe messaged me saying they hadn’t found it yet, but the next morning he said he saw that Kru Taum had caught the cat. Kru Toon sent me a picture of the little gray cat. “Is this the one?” he asked. He stuck it in a bag and brought it to Captain Joe. Captain Joe put it in a box and wrote my number and name on it and gave it to Captain Chatri and P Boy to bring down to Mae Sariang.

I got a call in the evening that they had arrived and went to the police station to pick up my cat. As I expected, she was pretty upset. She had clawed a hole in the side of the box, so when P Boy put it on my bike, he put the hole on the top side so she couldn’t come out. I drove home, itching to turn around and see if a gray cat head was sticking out of the hole behind me, but I resisted the urge.

Kru Paeng had told me to keep her inside the house for a few days until she got used to her surroundings. “Take good care of her,” she said. Kru Paeng loves her cats a lot, and I knew I would feel very bad if something happened to her.  Before opening the box, I closed up all the windows, or at least partially since only two of them have screens on them.

The cat came out disturbed. And she stayed disturbed for most of the evening, to my chagrin. There were a few moments when I would hold her and she would be quiet, but for most of the night she prowled the house, mourning and meowing, while I tossed and turned in my bed, chasing elusive sleep.

I woke around 6:30 to a silent house. Good, she’s finally quiet, I thought, but I decided to get up and check anyway. A lumpy feeling of worry started in my throat as I started to check the house, and it had plummeted down to the bottom of my stomach by the time I was finished.

There was no cat in the house.

I investigated and found hairs between two of the glass panes by the porch window. I didn’t feel much pride in my investigative skills, however. I walked outside and called. No cat. I walked to the neighbors. House after house, I stopped and asked if they had seen her. House after house, they said no.

I came back home and cried. I used to cry over cats when I was 5 and still cried over them when I was 15. I guess I still cry over cats at 30.

I felt terrible. I thought of all the work that Captain Joe and the teachers and Captain Chatri and P Boy had gone to to bring the cat down. I thought of Kru Paeng and how much she loved her cats. I thought of how much I had been looking forward to having some furry, warm company.

I decided not to listen too much to the words of the people I talked with about the cat. Some were very blunt. “Oh, you’ll never see her again.” Some were more encouraging, yet I felt like they were only trying to make me feel good. “She’ll probably come back tonight. She’s just checking things out.”

I prayed. Oh yes, I prayed. But on a level of 1 to 10, my faith scored in at a 2 at the most. The disappointment was just too big. Being low on sleep didn’t help matters either. I never operate well on low sleep.

That afternoon, after running some errands and meeting up with some friends, I felt better. I decided to read some books on my kindle and relax a bit, but for the life of me, I could not find my kindle. One of the worst parts about living by yourself is that when you lose something, you automatically know that you were the only one who could have mislaid it. There is no subtle blaming of anyone else. Even worse, when you mislay your phone, there is no way to ask someone to call it so you can find it. And I lose things. A lot.

As I sat there, thinking I had searched every possible place it might be, I prayed. God, can you please just help me find this? Right after the prayer, the thought flashed through my mind. God doesn’t even care about bringing your cat back. Why should he care about your kindle?

Then I looked up and saw my kindle on the bookshelf in a slightly obscure spot where I had laid it while cleaning that morning.

It was an encouragement. Maybe God did care.

That evening I was sitting in my living room. I was getting more used to the idea of a catless future, because I didn’t really want to think about getting another animal after the first one ran away.

Suddenly I heard a slight noise at the door, a faint meow.

I got up and looked out.

And there she was, the little gray runaway cat.

I picked her up and sat down and did the next natural thing.

I thanked God. And I cried.

Jakajan Hunts and Burmese Refugees

Tonight I write.

The heat of the day has fled with the coming of the darkness. The sky is clear tonight, with a bright moon coming up in the east. I know it is east even though my head tells me it is north.
The last few evenings have been busy, with little time to spare for things like writing. Kru Paeng asked me if I could make cookies for the children for their lunch. Enough so each can have two, she said. That is 160 cookies. By the time I finished four nights of baking, I had the recipe down in my head and cooking over a fire much more efficiently than the first time I did it. No more burnt cookies. Or barely. A brand-new thicker pan donated to the school from visitors on Sunday helped a lot. Still it took a long time to make them, and it didn’t help matters when Captain Joe came over and hinted broadly that he would like some. They were served at lunch this morning and were a hit.

So, now that the cookies are past, I write.

The days are still lengthening, and the heat gets stronger with each passing day. The smoke has lessened which lets the sun’s rays come through. In the afternoon, the teacher’s office which is made of wood gets breathlessly hot. There is not enough electricity generated by the solar panels to run a fan, I guess, so there is not even the comfort of a fan. At night I sleep with the windows wide open, careless to the fact that a loose buffalo might stick its head in the window some night, as it did to a previous teacher. The cats take advantage of the open window and jump in and out during all hours of the night.

Last week I experienced the danger of the mountain slopes for myself. I was planning to visit one of my third grader’s home since she had been begging me to come for a long time. On the way, I stopped to pick up Dauk Gulab, another third grader, and was driving up a hill to the home of another student, Wah Meh, to take her along as well. When I first looked at the slope, it looked doable, but it was longer than I had reckoned. I was driving in 2nd gear on my bike and the engine started dragging. I knew from previous experience that I didn’t want it to stop on me, especially with a rider, so I shifted down into first gear. This was a mistake and I realized it even as I did it. Since I was revving the bike to keep it going in second gear, it now shot up in the front, and we flipped over backwards (or so it seemed. I don’t really think we went over totally backwards but that was the feeling I got.) This was the first time I had ever really dumped my bike on the slopes, even though I had had several very close calls before. What bothered me most was my rider. We were both unhurt and she was cheerily brave about it all, but I felt a lump of guilt and fear gathering in my stomach all evening long. It helped to find out later from Wah Meh that her mom had dumped her bike there as well, and Kru Taum told me that he had run out of steam on the same slope before. There was something funny with my bike now, though, when I shifted. The next day I looked it over and discovered that the bar where you rest your feet had shifted. This was coming in contact with the foot shift when shifting down. Kru Taum led the way to Kai Muk’s house where Kai Muk’s dad brought out a heavy tool and whacked it into place.

The cicadas are here. They come in full blast and their noise in the morning when I wake up around 6 is deafening. They are known to be a delicacy and come at a high price in markets on the plains. One school day I tried fruitlessly to help the 4th graders catch them using nets and plastic bottles on sticks. I didn’t catch even one. The other students crowded around talked all at once, as they usually do, “You want to catch jakajan (cicadas)? Then all you need to do is make a paste out of sticky rice flour and paste it on a piece of wood and then the cicadas will come and stick on them.” This sounded more confusing then ever, but I decided to try it out. Pa De Bue and Itim and Yaut came to help me make the paste. We mixed some sticky rice flour with water and boiled and stirred it until it was a thick, sticky paste. Then carrying the still hot pot between Itim and Pa De Bue, off we went. We started off with their being only about 4 of us, but as we walked down the road to the bridge, we kept on collecting more and more schoolboys, until there were probably about 10 of us altogether. I felt like we should be waving a flag and blowing on a bugle, such was the excitement in the air. First, we marched down to a dry creekbed and spread some paste on pieces of wood and some trees. Sure enough, soon there were some jakajans stuck to the paste. “It’s not enough,” they all proclaimed, so we trekked over a buffalo pasture to another stream where the jakajans had congregated en masse. Again, we pasted the white substance onto sticks and walked along the creek bed, thrusting the sticks into areas where the jakajans sat. Pretty soon, our sticks were buzzing loudly. We had taken along two plastic bottles with some water in them and before we knew it, the bottles were full of very sticky, very disturbed cicadas.
Even though we could have caught hundreds more, we called it quits and headed back to the house. There several of the boys and I washed them and plucked the wings off the creatures. Then we mixed them with some seasonings and Yaut fried up the first batch. They seriously were really good.

The situation across the border in Myanmar gets continually worse ever since the coup in February when the army took over the previous government. Last week, Captain Joe brought over a report in English that the Myanmar consulate had written and sent to the northern parts of Thailand. He couldn’t make sense of it, so I summarized it. Basically, it was a defense of what the Myanmar army was doing in Myanmar against the protesters and those in opposition with the new government. Some people say they can hear the guns sometimes from across the border in Kayah State. The Burmese army has again shut off most of the internet service so those from Saohin who use Burmese sim cards for their internet are now without any service. (We are close enough to the border and far enough away from Thai phone service that many of the villagers, as well as the army camp at the border crossing buy Burmese sim cards for their phone service). This cutoff has resulted in the army officers needing to use the internet provided by the school and the police station. Last week we heard news that 5 important citizens from Kayah State were asking to cross the border into Thailand since they were in danger. In previous years the crossing was simply done but with Covid19 it is a much more serious endeavor. The army allowed them to cross over and right now, the refugees are quarantining in someone’s field. A day or so later, another request was made to allow 30 more citizens cross over. I haven’t heard yet if they would let them or not. I find it very interesting to be at this spot at this point in time. I have followed some of the conflicts in Burma for years and am very interested in the conflicts between the army and many of the minority groups.
I would love to add pictures, but its quite impossible right now with the slow internet.
This coming Saturday is the graduation ceremony. I will be heading down to Mae Sariang on Monday, Lord willing.

Hiraeth* (to my Baanies)

The nights are growing cooler now

You would be wearing socks as you come downstairs in the morning

Hair tousled, to fix your coffee at the kitchen sink

Knocking shoulders in the narrow space between the sink and the ant cupboard

That doesn’t keep out ants any better than it used to;

With only the muffled grunts of coffeeless “good mornings”

Before the clatter of another day.

****************************************************************

I’ve washed the blankets in the living room now.

You would be wrapping them around your shoulders as you sit

Beneath the lamplight in the living room, under the stringed lights,

Where it says “Everyday holds a miracle.”

And if the hot cocoa in our mugs would not keep us warm

The laughter ringing about the house would

I know it would.

*************************************************************

The motorbike rides are colder now.

You would be putting on layers before you leave, bundling up

In scarves and gloves and hoodies, layered beyond recognition

And breezing through the crisp night air with whiffs of woodsmoke

Arising from sleeping homes blanketed in fog

Under the streetlights like sentinels guarding and watching

On your way home.

************************************************************

The nights are growing cooler now….

***********************************************************

*”Hiraeth: a homesickness for a place which you can’t return to or never was. (noun/origin: Welsh/Heer-eyeth) This is a Welsh concept of longing for home — but more than just missing something, it implies the meaning of having a bittersweet memory of missing a time, era or person.” Credit: iamialeen.com

We Wear the Mask (a parody)

Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote a poem called “We Wear the Mask” long before Covid restrictions forced us to wear masks. Here is a parody on his poem. Here is a link to the original.

We wear the mask we so despise,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human health;

But in secret strip with mastered stealth

Only when they watch, we wear the mask.

****************************************

Why should the world be over-wise,

That it itches so as we smother sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.

*************************************

We smile, but show only squinty eyes

We talk in tones of garbled cries

We sing, but how our glasses steam

How hot our face; how long the dream—

But let the world think otherwise,

       We wear the mask!

*photo credit: Pixabay

9 New Words About Quarantine and Travel You Never Knew Existed (maybe because they didn’t)

A year ago, I blogged about new words I had coined about life in Southeast Asia. At that time, we had never heard of coronavirus. The idea of quarantine and wearing masks was foreign to us. We were blissfully ignorant.

Now we have all been highly educated. Not only that, but with my recent travel to Thailand, I acquired a whole new set of vocabulary, including words such as ASQ, CoE, Fit to Fly, BioFire, and more.

In addition to this, here are 9 new words pertaining to travel during the Covid19 outbreak! While this is coming from the perspective of a traveler who traveled to Thailand, it may be relevant for those traveling elsewhere. Travel anywhere has become synonymous with quarantine. Thus, the words to be revealed are all related to travel and quarantine.

Plussle—the rustle of the plastic of the Personal Protection Equipment that the quarantine hotel staff wears when interacting with hotel detainees. Can also be used as “plussle-plussle.” Sample sentence: I always knew when one of the hotel staff was coming with my food because I could hear the plussle-plussle of their plastic coverings as they walked.

Certivaniphobia– A common disorder experienced in travelers, especially those who are traveling abroad for the first time, or in unnatural conditions, such as during a pandemic.  This is the fear that while the traveler was not looking, the traveler’s passport or other important papers may have jumped out of the said traveler’s backpack in an unprecedented move. A common symptom of this phobia is frequent checking and rechecking of the traveler’s backpack, often checking up to 10 times within a minute. No cure is known for this disorder.

Glunge– the smudges left on the windows of a quarantine room, left by either the hands or the forehead of the inmate of the room while gazing outside.

Pasaphilia—The delight experienced by a traveler upon hearing a foreign language being spoken after being stranded in one’s home country for an extended period of time.

Solivance – The feeling of being in one’s own world, in a vacuum or a capsule in which time is static while the world continues to revolve outside. This is a kind of “wood between worlds” that C.S Lewis describes in the book, The Magician’s Nephew. This is often experienced by travelers in quarantine, especially if they are able to see outside during their incarceration.

The Squaneeze – a sneeze that is muffled to the lowest degree possible. This kind of sneeze is usually observed in areas of high security and Covid19 health monitoring of travelers. Some people who emit squaneezes try to disguise them in the form of a guffaw or the sudden clearing of the throat.

Chimeracination – Entire imagined scenes of things that could possibly go wrong from the beginning of travel to the end. These are usually experienced at 2:00 AM in the week before traveling in tense conditions due to a Covid19 pandemic.

Stickeression – this is a rare disorder occurring mostly in quarantined travelers. Signs of this disorder usually occur in the window of time between the 5th and 14th day of quarantine. Symptoms are usually seen most in Line users (Line is a popular messaging app used by many in Southeast Asia). Described in basic terms, it is an over-usage of stickers sent in the app in an attempt to release extreme feelings of restlessness.

Selfationism – the realization that you are the only one to blame for anything that occurs while being isolated in quarantine. Meaning, if there is no toilet paper on the toilet paper dispenser, it means that YOU and not someone else have not replaced it. Or if you have mislaid your favorite pen, it means that YOU were the one who mislaid it.

What You’ll Need to Get to Thailand During the COVID19 Pandemic

There are thousands of people still waiting to be able to reenter Thailand after the country closed its borders last March. I am one of those who managed to reenter on a student visa.

Since coming back was far from easy, I told myself over and over as I sorted through documents, sent off emails, and made hundreds of phone calls that I would do all in my power to help those coming behind me. I was grateful for all the help I received from those ahead of me and wanted to do the same for those coming behind. Keep in mind that circumstances change. What I experienced may not be what you will experience. Also, I applied for my return with the Chicago Royal Thai consulate . Each embassy operates slightly different, so what worked for me may not work for you. This post is geared towards Americans. However, if what I have to share is helpful, then my mission is accomplished.

The post will mostly be of links to documents and helpful websites. Following that, I’ll throw in a few tips that were helpful for me. If you want to read a more detailed experience of what it actually was like, check out my post here.

While this may be old information for some of you, here are the requirements for anyone entering Thailand as of August 11, 2020.

  1. A Certificate of Entry (CoE) from your embassy or consulate granting permission for you to return
  2. A Declaration form filled out and signed 
  3. Fit to Fly health certificate, issued within 72 hours before departure 
  4. Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected (COVID test must be by RT-PCR method), issued within 72 hours before departure
  5. Copy of an insurance policy which covers COVID and no less than 100,000 USD 
  6. Copy of your confirmed booking at an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotel in Thailand
  7. T.8 form (while I took a T.8 form along, I was also given one on the plane)

Here is a page for FAQ’s for people wishing to return from the states. This is from the embassy in Washington DC. Read this first.

These are the visa types that are currently allowed to enter Thailand. It has been announced that four other types will be allowed, but it takes a while for the announcements to become reality.

Some of the consulates in the states (not all) allow you to fill out the application form for the CoE online. This is available on the Washington DC Royal Thai Embassy’s site here. It will automatically be diverted to the consulate that is in charge of your individual state.

For people in the US, technically you must book or reserve a repatriation flight before you can apply for the CoE. (This can be avoided at times. Talk to your embassy if you run into problems with this, like not being able to see next month’s flights). This can be done at three different booking agencies. The agency I used and would recommend is Hanatour of Philadelphia. They are professional, helpful and efficient. They allow you to reserve the flight without paying for it and give you a letter to submit to your consulate when you apply for your CoE. Below is a picture from the Thai embassy with other booking agencies. They may be just as professional and helpful as well.

Book your ASQ as soon as possible. While each week more ASQs are added to the list, they rapidly fill up and some are booked ahead for months in advance. In order to book an ASQ you need to have a flight. This can be a problem if you do not yet have a repatriation flight or are wary of getting one before you know for sure that you have permission to enter the country. What I did was reserve a flight without paying for it and then use that to book my ASQ. Be sure to check with the ASQ what their policy is on changing dates and times, or even canceling the entire thing. In the end, I only switched my dates to one day earlier than what I had originally planned. Here is a site that keeps on adding the hotels as they become certified by the government.

For what its worth this is what my COVID19 test results looked like and my Fit to Fly. I also was given the details of the test here to take along since the actual results did not specify that it was done by RT-PCR method. I was still petrified that they wouldn’t take it since even then it only said PCR, not RT/PCR so I copied something off the BioFire website that stated it was an RT/PCR test. My Fit to Fly I designed using the logo of the clinic that issued it and a template shared by others else who had traveled over. Most clinics in the states do not have their own Fit to Fly certificates. There are also other types of templates that have passed, but I chose this since it seemed slightly more professional. Be sure to add a phone number and address of the clinic on the header as well. Here is a template I used from a friend to design my own.

The T8 form can be gotten here. My declaration form was a part of my online application but it is also available here.

Once you are pretty sure your visa type will be accepted its a good idea to start working on insurance as soon as possible. I used AA Insurance Brokers in Thailand and got their cheapest insurance which was about $220 for one year. They were very good to work with. I would advise to start working on it soon since with the influx of people needing insurance, it can take a while for your application to be processed.

A few tips…

Try to contact your embassy about what all you need and if they have any advice for you. This is easier said than done since some consulates/embassies are notorious for not answering. Also, they are extremely busy during this time.

Start looking around for places to get your Covid19 test NOW! These can be extremely hard to find if you are not symptomatic and you need the results at a certain time. There has been some confusion on whether or not the test itself needs to be done within 72 hours or if just the results need to be issued. Others have confirmed that it is the results that need to be issued. (Or this has been the experience of some in the USA. Check with your embassy if possible. However, they did not answer my email with this question.) I was able, to my surprise, to get a Rapid BioFire test done which gave me the results in less than 2 hours. One encouraging bit of news that I heard was that some airlines will begin to require a lot of people to get a Covid test done before any kind of travel, so in the future Covid tests for travel may be much easier to get.

One thing you might want to consider is getting your own personal doctor. I did not have a doctor and in my area it is extremely difficult to get in to see a doctor if it is not an emergency or you do not have a personal care physician. Line one up now for your Fit to Fly certificate. Also, you may need a doctor’s order to get your Covid test done. These are just some considerations.

Any more questions? Feel free to ask.

All the Way Home

March 23, 2020 found me at the Suvarnabhumi Airport trying to process the realization that I was leaving my home in Thailand for 4 1/2 months and going to my home in America. I knew this was the right thing to do at the time. What I didn’t know at that time was how hard it was going to be to get back. I naively thought that surely by the time August came around, travel would be back to normal. When June arrived and international travelers were still not able to return to Thailand, I started worrying. I’m sad to say it, but I did. A lot. Below is a summary of my journey back and some of the hurdles that needed to be cleared before I was allowed back. For those unfamiliar with any of the process of returning to Thailand, those who wish to return need to accomplish a checklist of things, mainly get a special insurance that covers Covid 19, reserve a special certified hotel for quarantine, get on a chartered repatriation flight, get full permission from the Embassy (CoE), submit a Fit to Fly Certificate and results of a Covid 19 test upon check in at the airport (Especially for readers who are planning their return to Thailand: stay tuned for another post that gives links to helpful websites and examples of documents needed). 

June 9—I call the Thai Chicago Consulate for the first time and am able to talk with someone. No Americans currently allowed back in, he says. But next month there’s sure to be good news. I hang up feeling strangely elated that I get to talk Thai to someone.

June 17, 2020: Journal Entry “Father, my prayer this morning again is let me get back into Thailand in August, on my ticket date. Perhaps I should have searched your will more when I bought that ticket. I don’t know. Father I pray that you would open the doors to let me back in. Your will be done.”

June 18: Journal Entry “Still no definite news on getting back to Thailand. I’m glad my departure date isn’t until August because hopefully by then the bottleneck of people reentering will have eased a bit. Father, I pray let me get back in time. Without spending thousands of dollars. Zachariah 8.”

June 21, 2020: Journal Entry “About 3 months ago already that I decided to come home. In some ways it’s gone so slowly, in other ways so fast. Jesus, getting back into Thailand looks harder and harder. Help me, Father, to wait for news. I think I should write a letter to the embassy but I don’t know what the best timing is. Lord, these things are in the future, yet you already know. At least Aug 9 gives me something to work for, even though I know it might change. ‘No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.’” Isaiah 54:17

June 23: I email Payap, my university, about my dilemma, asking for advice. Not much advice comes.

June 26: Journal Entry: “Coming into Thailand looks slightly more hopeful, except for the possibility of the extension of the emergency decree. But I have seen students listed as possibilities to come back in.” I finish my letter to the embassy in Thai and send it to a Thai friend to edit.

June 29: I receive word that students were to be let into the country.

June 30: I receive the letter back from the friend. Send it to the Washington DC embassy. Main problem—what kind of documents do I need to apply for a Certificate of Entry (CoE, a special document required to enter Thailand during the Covid pandemic) as a student?

July 2: I call the Thai Consulate in Chicago. At first, I am told again, No Americans are allowed to reenter. But I have a student visa, I say. Oh! Well, then, go to the DC Thai Embassy website and go to the application for a CoE. Once I am able to check the website, there is no spot open yet for students to apply. The only visas types still able to apply are non-immigrant O and B, even if technically students are allowed.

July 6: I begin the arduous process of calling around to find a Covid19 testing center and a place to get my Fit to Fly issued. Within the course of the week I make close to 30 phone calls trying to find a place to get tested without symptoms and receive the results within 72 hours.

July 7: I receive an email reply from the Thai embassy saying that while students are now allowed into the country, the embassy is still waiting for the policy from Bangkok on how to proceed. Would I please continue to check the website for updates?

July 8: I contact AAinsure about getting my Covid19 insurance policy covering 100,000 USD.

July 13: I hear that people need to mail in their passport in order to get a COE stamp put into the passport after getting their Covid 19 test and Fit to Fly. How on earth am I to do that and get it back in the 72 hour time?

July 14: Desperate for information, I contact the embassy again, asking if they could give me a list of what students need. I find information later on other Thai Embassy websites. Jumping the gun, I contact my university, asking for the correct papers. The problem seems to be that it is not clear if the specifications on those websites are for students who already had visas or just for those without. Exactly what do I need? Worry and fear continue to circle my heart. It seems like a giant fist is clenched around me. I start contacting hotels about ASQ. I am now aiming to leave July 7 instead of July 9. This makes sense to me since I would have 4 working days before my departure, rather than leaving on a weekend and risking not having Covid testing places open or sending back results. ASQ hotels are getting full, fast. If I want one for those dates, I need to get it, even if I don’t like the price.

July 15: Frustration. I need to know what papers I need from Payap. When I try to contact the embassy, they only reply saying I need to apply for a CoE. I KNOW that. Could you tell me what I need to have in order to apply? The application for CoE is not yet up for students, but I need to prepare my papers. The date I was hoping to apply by was July 17. My insurance is not finished yet. I contact them to see where it is. The company is overloaded with requests and is working on it as fast as possible. I contact my travel agency. Rather than change my Eva air Flight to match the dates I need my Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ), I get my travel agency to reserve a Qatar flight without paying for it. I can now reserve my ASQ for arriving in Thailand August 9, leaving August 7. Now the decision remains—to I try to keep this ticket? Will commercial flights be allowed? Or should I let it go and get a repatriation flight. No repatriation flights are scheduled yet for August. I stay up late, communicating with the ASQ hotels about payment details.

July 16: Relief. I am able to talk with a live man at the Chicago consulate. He refers me to another number, a man who is extremely helpful and friendly. He is surprised that I got his phone number, since it is usually for emergencies.  I ask him what papers I need. He says if I already have a visa, all I need is a letter of confirmation from my university. Nothing else. He says to call him any time I have any questions. I am comforted beyond words. Later that day, I’m struggling again, feeling heaviness, fear, worry. I cry out to God. Five minutes later, my phone rings. Its my boss. It seems I mislaid the keys for a company van and they can’t find them. I rake my brain for any clue where they might be. It seems like one more thing on top of everything I’m wrestling with. God, why this now? Can’t you tell me where they might be?! Something as small as this—if you could just tell me where I left those keys, I feel like I could trust you more with this whole Thailand thing.

July 17: Still struggling with a cold/allergies/cough that started way back in June. Praying for healing. Waiting for insurance papers, papers from my university, and for the application to be available for students. We go camping at the lake overnight and I take the night to relax and try to forget everything.

July 18: I suddenly remember where I probably put the keys. I text my boss and tell him. They are found! It feels like confirmation that God really does care!

July 20: Early in the morning I receive the certificate of enrollment from my university. The application for the CoE is up and ready for me to apply, but I do not have a repatriation flight. Now they are saying, buy a repat flight, and get your ASQ before applying. After you get the CoE, you can then get your Covid test done and fit to fly. Also, the CoE is emailed to you. No stamp in the passport. Things are being streamlined.

July 21: I call the Consulate in Chicago about applying since I have no repatriation flight yet and no August flights are available. He tells me to go ahead and put in any flight itinerary when it asks for a repat flight. This way, he says, I would be in the system. I apply that afternoon. I do not have my insurance letter yet, but there is nothing on the application that asks for it. After submitting, I feel a tremendous relief. Finally, something is done. I do receive an email a few hours later, telling me I needed to submit proof of insurance. I contact the insurance company again to see what is happening.

July 22: I stay up during the night communicating with the broker of the Thai insurance company, replying to questions about my health and arranging payment. I then fall asleep and miss checking my email for one last one in which I could have received the paper I needed.

July 23: Insurance letter stating I am covered for Covid19 received and uploaded. Now waiting for the flights to be released. I contact a friend about arranging for my school tuition to be paid, since I feel like I might need a receipt of payment as proof that I am enrolled for this next semester. I upload a picture of the receipt to my application as well.

July 27: flights for August released! I reserve a flight without paying through Hanatour which coordinates the Korean Air flights.

July 28: Early morning I am able to upload the flight documents to my CoE application

July 29: Waiting all day. My imagination runs away from me and I review all sorts of scenarios in my mind. After 5 that evening, I receive my CoE, and scare my mom half to death with my yells. She thinks something is on fire somewhere. I immediately pay for my Korean flight.

Coe

July 30: One of the hardest days. I contact the place that had told me several weeks ago that they could give me a Covid 19 test. I need to make an appointment. They tell me this time it is not possible to do it there without any symptoms. I crash. After calling several places, Pratt Regional Medical Center tells me that I can do it there with a doctor’s order. But I have no doctor. After calling several clinics to see if they could take me, I am still at a dead end. Finally, I contact a friend who works as a nurse at a clinic. She tells me that they’ll take me there as an outpatient and give me the doctor’s order. Pratt says they can give me the Covid test that has results between 24-72 hours. I end the day exhausted.

July 31: I head to my friend’s clinic. The nurse practitioner there sends the doctor’s order to Pratt. She also gives me a physical for my Fit to Fly certificate. Bring the papers down next week, 72 hours before you fly, and we can finish everything up for you, she says.

August 3: Monday morning I head to Pratt. Before they test me, they ask, are you staying in town for the results? What, I ask? Doesn’t it take 24-72 hours? Oh, they say, the doctor said that you need it 72 hours before you fly, so we’ll give you the Bio-Fire test, which gives the results in about 2 hours. (This is the test usually allowed only for first responders and emergency personnel.) In that case, I say, can I come back on Wednesday? The 72 hour window is not open yet. Sure, they say. I walk out, relieved but a little shaken. This would be helpful since I would not longer have to worry about the results coming in too early or late. But how often will my plans be changed? Once I reach home, I tell my dad I am not sure what to think about, since I don’t think I have anything to worry about right now.

August 4: Another monkey wrench. The Fit to Fly certificate has to be signed by a doctor, not a nurse practitioner. There is a chance that they would let it go, but I am not about to take chances. I call around. My friend at the clinic makes an appointment with their “mother clinic” where there is a doctor. This clinic is about 45 minutes away in McPherson. My appointment is for the next day.

August 5: Covid test taken. Extremely uncomfortable and undignified. We shop at Walmart and a second hand store while waiting for results. I go back to pick up the results. They are negative, but the paper says nothing that it was done with RT PCR testing method (even though it is that method). I ask about it, and soon there are a group of people around me, discussing this. They say they can’t change it. Finally, I call the embassy and miracle of miracles, talk with a live person. He assures me its ok, that as long as I have the results in the 72 hour window I am fine. I shed tears of relief. The head lab tech is very kind and wishes me safe travels. Later in the afternoon, I go to McPherson for my Fit to Fly certificate. All goes smoothly.

August 6: Wrapping things up. Final goodbyes. No more monkey wrenches, even though I am still a little nervous about my Covid Test.

August 7: I leave home at 5 AM in the morning. I am no longer emotional at all, and although I shed tears the evening before about leaving, I am too much on edge to even realize what it means to be leaving home again. My flight out of Wichita to Chicago is on time, an answer to prayer. I get to ride first class, for the first time in my life. This is because my ticket to Chicago was bought using credit from a canceled United flight. I am very grateful for the first class seat since it doesn’t take long for me to get off and get my luggage. I wait in a long line to check in to my Korean flight. This is where my documents will be examined for the first time. I am amazingly calm at the counter. They ask me questions about my visa, and some of the other documents, but only scan the Covid test. Once I get my boarding passes, I grin all the way back to my gate. It actually WORKED! The flight to Seoul is rough with hours of turbulence. My seatmate and I become good friends. Both of us are/were students, and she is a recent new Thai believer nervous about going home to her family.

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August 8: My flight lands in Bangkok. I am one of the last ones off the plane and herded through various checkpoints by people in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). My papers are inspected several times, I am given an ASQ tag, moved from place to place. There is no way I could leave if I wanted to. Soldiers are on guard, as well as immigration police. It is probably close to an hour by the time I get through all the health checkpoints and immigration and out the door where my ASQ driver waits for me. Once we reach the hotel, I am checked out thoroughly again and do some paperwork for the hospital that is in charge of my quarantine. I get to bed around 1:30 AM Sunday morning, tired but grateful. I will be in this hotel quarantine for the next 14 days. (below: waiting at the airport for inspection and the view from my quarantine hotel)

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273

Tiny

The grasshoppers have come now

Gold, green, brown and bronze they fleck the barn walls

Every evening as I wash down.

Tonight, a grasshopper perches precariously beside the drain

One little nudge and he would be gone,

Washed away in a torrent of water.

 

This is my favorite part

When the cows have gone

And I wield the hose in vengeance

Scourging the dirt from the walls and concrete floors;

Giving way to some kind of rage that has built up from regulations

And uncertainties and helplessness at the way

Turmoil sweeps around me and I am tossed

From one phone call to the next,

Email after email,

Document after document.

 

The rush of water sweeps the dirt to the drain,

This is my kingdom.

This is my victory.

 

The grasshopper sits by the drain.

Only a nudge and—

I move the hose away.

 

I too am a grasshopper.

Black and White (and Gray all Over)

It feels odd to be alive at a time like this. The streets continue to get emptier and emptier after an order to shut down universities and schools, large tourist markets, entertainment venues and sporting events in an effort to stop the spread of Covid19.

The city lies cloaked in gray. Smog blankets the mountains, hiding the sun that should come out in blazing heat. The Air Quality Index shows the PM 2.5 to be over 360, at dangerous levels.

Our worlds have been uprooted, our safe schedules in upheaval. The ground beneath us is shaky, the sky above us is shrouded, the road before us is blurred with confusion.

Through it all hovers a brooding heaviness. Fear. Fear, waiting to latch its teeth into us when we read the news, when we discuss the crisis with friends, when we see the city streets emptying.

In a time like this, it feels sometimes like the distinct black and white lines that we like to draw are blurred and shaky, smudged into gray, like the sky above.

Life has felt like this for me in the past week. Selfishness seems to be the norm in cases I meet at my work as a translator. Anger flares over the smallest things. Hope seems to be ebbing low. Some of the kindest people I know are said to be the most corrupt. My own future and the dreams I’ve cherished are vague and unreal and look impossible. My school and internship plans for the next 5 months have been totally changed. Sometimes the things you believe with your mind don’t feel right with your heart.

It’s easy to let these things carry into my life, to begin carrying a heaviness that was not mine to carry. It’s easy to let the unknowns and gray matters and smog of life soak into my soul.

But when I stop and think of it, I can still trace some of the lines and truths. Through the gray, I can still see color. I can still see truth.

It is still right to be kind.

It is still right to be just, even in the face of injustice and corruption.

Being humbly truthful is still the best thing.

Unselfishness still speaks as loudly as selfishness.

Prayer is still the best response to an unknown future.

Practicing generosity is still one of the kindest and unselfish things you can do.

God is still in control.

God still keeps his promises.

God still loves this world.

And donuts still taste really, really good.