MACTAN, Cebu (MindaNews / 17 July) — I haven’t stayed ìn a hotel room for ten straight days, was my first thought when I realized I was going to have to undergo mandatory quarantine.
I was trying to get home to my hometown in Surigao to visit my family which I haven’t done for more than a year and a half since the pandemic started, most especially my parents who are already in their 80s and getting sick more frequently.
I was already fully-vaccinated in Bern – Pfizer pa — and I had undergone three COVID-19 detection tests in the last two days in my mad scramble to get home to the Philippines. But all these had not mattered – Switzerland was still not in the so-called “green list” of countries which benefited from a shorter quarantine period – and I still had to start a ten-day mandatory quarantine when I arrived in Cebu.
Getting a flight home was already difficult in these times. There were still few direct flights from Zurich or Geneva to Manila or Cebu. I had missed a flight a day ago because I didn’t know until check-in that I needed to have a “certificate of entry” in Bangkok, in a crazy multiple-flight route which would have taken me from Zurich to Dubai, then to Bangkok and on to Manila. The rules were always changing and difficult to follow, and the document requirements were too many for a stress-free travel.
This time on my second attempt I had bought a more direct ticket from Zurich to Hongkong and on to Cebu which was nearer to Mindanao where I live. But even then, I had to complete the night before my flight a pass for Passenger Travel to Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) with a bar code and travel reference number; a Health Pass for the registration at the airport of departure before arriving in the Philippines, with a QR code and transaction number; and a booking confirmation for my hotel in Cebu.
We had an uneventful flight and stayover in Hongkong. My flight to Cebu was supposed to depart at 15:05. Later I saw in the digital board that our departure was delayed to 16:25. No reason was given for the delay, but soon I found out why. Hordes of men soon began rushing into the plane, many of them panting and sweaty. One of them was cursing the health secretary as he found his seat. “P*%2! Duqueng ‘yan, uuwi sana kami sa pamilya para magparelax, mai-stress pa kami nito!,” he kept muttering.
I learned that they were Filipino OFWs coming from Qatar, rough men many with long hair toughened by harsh work conditions in the Middle East. Their flight from Doha had just arrived and they had rushed to their connection to Cebu, only to find more requirements waiting before they could board the flight. They had to download online the Traze tracing app, register with the Red Cross to get a QR code for the swab in Cebu, and then register again with the Mactan airport as incoming travellers. “Nagkagulo na sa labas!”, laughed my seatmate as he settled into his seat. The plane finally left nearly full around 17:30.
I felt immense relief when the plane touched down in Cebu. The worst could yet come, I told myself, but I was already in my homeland and could fend well for myself.
As the plane taxied slowly down the runway, somebody was playing a song on his mobile phone. The tune seemed familiar and I recognized it as the refrain of “Soldier of Fortune” by Deep Purple. “Many times I’ve been a traveller..I looked for something new.. I guess I’ll always be a soldier of fortune…” And the sentiment was exactly right — we OFWs are something like soldiers of fortune who are always buffeted by the winds of change and circumstance.
But there was still a next hurdle. After finishing yet another COVID-19 test—my third so far — I was ready for quarantine hotel accreditation by local tourism staff. But my heart skipped a beat when the Department of Tourism officer there said the hotel I had booked was not in their list of quarantine hotels in Cebu! It was difficult online to go through the long official list of the DOT, so I had booked my hotel after consulting a few blogs recommending good quarantine hotels in Mactan area which were near the airport. “But wait,” the lady tourism officer said. “I will check and confirm this first with colleagues and with the hotel itself.” Later she came back with a smile. “Ok diay sir, your hotel was put in the quarantine hotel list just today. That is why it was not in our list here.” I could have jumped up and down right there and then. Another miracle had just happened to me!
And the rest is history as they say. I am now on my third day of quarantine just waiting for my release and quarantine certificate to take the flight to Surigao. A 32-point house rule for quarantine facilities issued by the Bureau of Quarantine is our bible here. We are forbidden to venture out of our rooms, to converse with others , to order food from outside, and even to have “media interview and posting in social media.”
My Mama was amused when I told her that here I am like an ambaw, a mouse. I wait for the knock on my door when my meal is delivered and placed on a chair outside. Then I wait for a few moments before sneaking out to get the food. Then after eating, I sneak out again to place my used plate or Styrofoam food container on the chair. Behaving like a mouse, is life under hotel quarantine.
I just hope that my remaining days in the hotel will pass by uneventfully, unlike the misadventures and the small blessings that I received on my long trip home.
(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)