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Well this wasn't the plan

As most of you know, I am currently back in the US due to COVID-19. This is the story of my journey home. To be honest, I have been procrastinating on writing this blog post because writing it down makes it real.

March 17th: I woke up to a phone call from Henry, the other YASCer in the Philippines, asking if I had read the email from our boss, Elizabeth. The email explained that it was time to have serious conversations with family and friends about staying in our placements or coming home. I had already seen it and had instantly responded “I’m staying” without thinking it through because things were going so well why would I want to leave! I was loving my time in the Philippines, was starting to have a real understanding of the trainings and was looking forward to the near future when I would be leading trainings! I was getting involved with SKEP (youth group) and getting involved with other programs of the diocese of Northern Luzon.

Henry called wanting to process the changes we were starting to see in the Philippines and figure out if we needed to consider going home at least temporarily. Manila at the time was under quarantine and many municipalities were starting to restrict outsiders from entering. There was almost nonstop talk about Manila and other places going from quarantine to strict lockdown. Diocesan convention had been canceled and other church activities were being halted or altered. It was becoming clear E-CARE would not be able to continue traveling to our communities. The weekend before March 17th, we had conducted an emergency general assembly for a cooperative so that they be able to move forward with their organization before stricter lockdown policies were put in place. Tabuk, where I was living, was already starting to put up checkpoints and each time I went through one, I was being asked more and more questions about why I was in the Philippines. Talking with Henry made me realize how hard it was going to be to continue working and serving in the Philippines with the travel restrictions.

We hung up and I immediately called my parents to discuss the situation. We talked about the possibility of lockdowns and what it would mean for me. I am extremely extroverted and do not do well spending time alone. Initially, my parents agreed I was likely safer from the virus in the Philippines, but quickly we all realized my life may become very isolated in the Philippines and that would be better for me to be home with family during these uncertain times.

The rest of the morning consisted of Henry and me having conversations with Elizabeth, each other, our host bishops and diocesan staff, the US embassy and Attorney Floyd, our ECP contact and director of E-CARE. Henry found out from the embassy that the Philippines was looking to close their borders in 72 hours. This news solidified our decision to go home coupled with the Episcopal church assuring us that we could return to the Philippines if and when the pandemic had passed. Elizabeth called the emergency line for the travel agency the Episcopal Church uses and found us flights home while avoiding areas with travel restrictions and quarantines. By lunch, it was determined it would be best for us to go home and hopefully return to our work in a few months. This was one of the hardest mornings of my life. People can feel grief in different areas of their bodies, I feel it in my stomach. I felt like I was going to throw up and cry all morning.

The journey home will probably go down as my home interesting “in transit” travel stories. My journey started on that same evening. Half of my belongings were still in Santiago so the regional director and one of the project officers in Santiago got the emergency backup key to my room, packed up my things, and drove my luggage to me. I quickly packed everything into my suitcases and armed with official letters from the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Luzon left with my escorts to go to Bontoc. There we met Henry and had an impromptu goodbye cookout. A lot of people, especially the youth, weren’t able to come due to increased police presence and travel restrictions. This just made leaving even harder.

March 18: Wednesday morning, we got up and were ready to leave by 7 am. Our plan was to drive to Sagada where we would go to the hospital for a health check and pick up our driver. There was also an Episcopal hotel that would serve us breakfast. At the checkpoint to Sagada though, they would not let us pass. Our driver got a ride from a priest to the checkpoint and we went back to Bontoc. In Bontoc, we were able to get the municipality’s department of health director to write a letter clearing our health. These letters would hopefully get us through checkpoints. They also talked to the military at the checkpoint in town to radio ahead as far as they could to clear our path. These letters ended up being invaluable in getting us to Manila.


March 19: Everything ended up going smoothly getting to the airport and there wasn’t much additional security. I ended up passing through 16 checkpoints by the time we arrived at the airport. At this time, we still weren’t certain the flight wouldn’t be canceled. Our first flight was to Singapore and things were changing every 30 minutes depending on the country. Our flight did take off on time. It was only half full and so we had space to spread out and sleep. We arrived in Singapore unsure of what to expect, our next flight didn’t leave for 23 hours. However, Singapore had a required 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, so if we left the airport we would be stuck in quarantine in Singapore. Elizabeth had found out there were hotels within the airport. We were only able to get a room for only 6 and a half hours, but it was so nice. We got into the room, and I immediately fell asleep in my bed. We also got nice (HOT!) showers. The hotel let us stay in their lounge since they couldn’t give us a room for the amount of time we needed. We got a free meal and had access to hot tea and coffee! The airport also had movie theaters playing good movies and beautiful gardens. If you have to be stuck in an airport for 23 hours, I would highly recommend the Singapore airport.



March 19: Everything ended up going smoothly getting to the airport and there wasn’t much additional security. I ended up passing through 16 checkpoints by the time we arrived at the airport. At this time, we still weren’t certain the flight wouldn’t be canceled. Our first flight was to Singapore and things were changing every 30 minutes depending on the country. Our flight did take off on time. It was only half full and so we had space to spread out and sleep. We arrived in Singapore unsure of what to expect, our next flight didn’t leave for 23 hours. However, Singapore had a required 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, so if we left the airport we would be stuck in quarantine in Singapore. Elizabeth had found out there were hotels within the airport. We were only able to get a room for only 6 and a half hours, but it was so nice. We got in the room, and I immediately fell asleep in my bed. We also got nice (HOT!) showers. The hotel let us stay in their lounge since they couldn’t give us a room for the amount of time we needed. We got a free meal and had access to hot tea and coffee! The airport also had movie theaters playing good movies and beautiful gardens. If you have to be stuck in an airport for 23 hours, I would highly recommend the Singapore airport.

March 20: Our flight to San Francisco was very full because two United flights had been canceled in the previous two days. The flight was uneventful. We arrived at customs expecting lines and chaos like we had read about. We were greeted with quick-moving lines and no additional screenings. We split ways after getting through customs because I was on a different airline for my last flight. I ended up getting on an earlier flight because my late one had been canceled. This cut my layover from 6 hours down to having about an hour before take-off. I arrived in Atlanta with no issues and my parents drove me home, stopping at Popeyes for beans and rice! I was shocked to see so many people out at restaurants and driving. Compared to the Philippines, things looked like normal in Atlanta. I arrived at my parent’s house Friday around 11 pm mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.



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