Hey all you cool cats and kittens (sorry couldn’t resist! Seriously worth a watch, if you don’t get the reference then have a quick google). Since my last blog post it feels like the world has all but stopped functioning and every plan I had for 2020 has been turned on its head! I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. It is a scary time we’re experiencing and not one I think any of us thought we’d be living through. I for one never thought I’d be stranded abroad in the middle of a global pandemic. I hope that wherever you are in the world, you are staying safe and staying inside!
When I arrived in Myanmar at the beginning of March the Covid 19 pandemic was not as widespread as it is now, about a month later. The U.K. had only just reported its first cases and the World Health Organisation had yet to declare it a pandemic. I had been home since the beginning of January, about a month longer than originally planned and had no idea when I would be allowed back into China. I was quickly running out of cash and even though the school had promised to pay us some kind of salary the details on when this would be were all but non-existent and, outside of China, I would have no way to access any money if they did decide to pay me anyway! My small budget of £800 for five weeks at home was not quite covering the two months that I had found myself stretched to. After I mentioned looking for temporary work in the U.K. someone suggested that I return to Myanmar until I could get back to my job in China. Summer School begins in March over here and is the busiest time of the year for most schools, so I could definitely earn some cash while I waited for China to call me back. It sounded like the perfect solution to me!
For the first week I was here everything was the same as had been when I left last year. People were still going out, restaurants and schools were still open and the government was reporting zero cases in the country. It was like an oasis in the chaos the world seemed to be falling into. As the week progressed the U.K. started reporting more and more cases and things seemed to be getting pretty serious, meanwhile China was slowly getting better and things were beginning to return to normal. It seemed to me that I had made the right choice in returning to Asia.
On the 16th of March the government here announced that all preschools were to be closed until the end of April. This quickly escalated to all schools in Yangon closing for the same time period. The World Health Organisation had declared Covid19 to be a pandemic only a few days earlier and I kind of felt the school closures coming but it was still a bit worrying that the whole reason for me returning to Myanmar had suddenly be nullified! Summer School was cancelled… so where did that leave me?
China had started enforcing a two week quarantine for all foreign nationals entering certain cities (my closest city included) and so the school still advised against me returning any time soon and now I had no income in Myanmar either! Things were not going well…
And it did not stop there! Fast forward about a week and I was given even more bad news. My contract in China was being terminated. They didn’t have an opening date and they also didn’t know when I could return to China. They were paying me a holiday salary without knowing if I would be able to return before the end of my contract so it made more sense for them to cancel it. While I understood their reasoning it was still quite a blow to be told that my time in China was over six months early. I have so many fond memories of the school and I have some really good friends in my town. The school originally told me I had a week to clear out my apartment which is on campus and my cats were still in the kennels (who I needed to pay). I felt absolutely helpless, how was I meant to pay my kennel fees and clear out my apartment when I wasn’t even in the country?! Luckily the school agreed to extend the time I had to a month and also helped me out by taking some of my wages to the kennel instead of putting it in my Chinese bank account. A friend was kind enough to pack up everything in my apartment and store it in her own for me to collect whenever all of this calms down and I am beyond grateful to her for that! Now I just need to figure out how to access my money in China when I’m not actually in the country…
With everything that had happened since I arrived in Myanmar and the situation at home becoming increasingly apocalyptic I started to question whether I had made the right decision in returning to Asia. Should I have stayed at home? Could I have predicted any of this? I felt myself spiralling into an overthinking black hole!
It took me about three weeks to get anything remotely productive done. Even then it came and went in small bursts. I am sure I am not alone in feeling guilty about doing almost nothing with all this new found “free time”. Most days I was waking up at 12pm because why not? I didn’t have anything to get up for! Basically my way of dealing with the stress was to hide in my room under my blanket watching Netflix. Which, given the circumstances, I feel wasn’t unreasonable.
Just when I had made my peace with my decision to stay put in Myanmar the British embassy announce that there were seats available on a flight out of Yangon leaving in the early hours of April 3rd. The airport was put on lock down as of March 30th so this was a rare opportunity to get home. Add to that the locals in our building had complained to the landlord about people coughing in our apartment (something that definitely had not happened) and my registration with immigration being incomplete, the last plane out of Yangon felt like a sign; like maybe I should be leaving.
After crisis talks in the kitchen with my flatmate, a phone call home and a quick Skype chat with my boss I decided against it. The idea of sitting on a plane for 12 hours full of people, any of whom could be infectious, to a country with more cases than the one I’m currently in just felt like too big a risk. Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t actually afford the plane ticket!
So, that brings us to today; the 5th of April. I think we can all agree that March was the longest month in living memory! Did I make the right decision by staying here? Only time will tell. For now, despite an unfortunate rise in negative attitudes towards foreigners, I do feel safe here. I have been social distancing and only leave the flat about once a week to go to the supermarket. I’m trying to keep myself busy and healthy, I’ve started getting out of bed at a decent time and I’ve made myself a little area outside of my bedroom to study, write, draw and just keep myself occupied.
Missing a lot of people right now but just trying to think of how amazing it is going to feel when I can finally hug you all again. Stay safe, wash your hands and don’t go outside unless you have to!
If you are interested in any of my previous adventures then click on these!