a sabbatical rest, day 137
lockdown, day 16
According to the Nepal Tourism Board, there are 2000 foreigners in Kathmandu trying to get out of the country, and another 5000 still stuck outside the valley who were trekking in the mountains. Their need to leave is amplified by the coming monsoon season, which starts in a couple of weeks. So, there are flights and rumors of flights. The Nepali government has suspended international flights, except for two a week between here and New Delhi, but last week the Kathmandu Post reported a couple of “special flights” had been arranged to the US.
For a couple of days, we were hopeful, clearly a case of unrealistic expectations. There was chatter on the expats Facebook page and even in the newspapers about repatriation flights. We had filled out an online form provided by the US Embassy, and we got an email from them saying a couple of flights had been arranged. Because we indicated we were in a vulnerable group (they had asked our age), they wanted to give us a heads-up.
We needed to contact a particular travel agency here in Kathmandu and complete their online form at a link provided. We did, with the expectation we might have a chance of being on the first flight, which leaves tomorrow. So, we started packing, just in case, and tried to figure out where to get a PCR test during a complete lockdown. And we checked our email frequently. Nada. Or in Nepali, chainna.
To be fair, the Embassy had been careful to say the flights were not being arranged by them, or by the US government. Today they posted a notice on their website which indicated people from other countries had been allowed on the flight. The plane is going to Qatar where you can make connections to just about anywhere in the world. Again, the flights were not arranged by the US. They said this several times. No repatriation flights are currently being planned.
They also urged the government of Nepal to resume International flights. They said this several times, too. Their whole statement was an exercise in redundancy, perhaps meant more for the Nepali government than for me. I think this because, when the US ambassador announced US aid for the pandemic here, he mentioned the need for the Nepali government to help US citizens leave the country.
Perhaps it was just as well. If international flights do resume on June 1, at the end of the current lockdown order, I can save a bunch of money. We have tickets for the 15th. The price for two tickets on the “special flights” is about three times what I paid for round-trip tickets to get here. And although we could have been ready for the flight if we had been notified, it felt unnecessarily rushed and stressful. Especially, as we sit here on the balcony this morning talking about things we’d still like to do before we leave, both with my colleagues at the university and with our friends in Bhaktapur.
The situation here is desperate. The health system is collapsing, and the government seems ill-equipped to do much, as hospitals are overflowing. Friends and family members are standing in line at factories for 4 hours to get a refill of a small oxygen cylinder; then they carry it themselves to the hospital, all while cars and motorcycles are banned from the roads. The New York Times reports there are over 100,000 active Covid-19 cases in Nepal, with hospital capacity of 5000. Experts say the number of cases here is grossly underreported and not likely to peak anytime soon.
So, while we wait, we are trying to fund a food bank for people who are unable to work. $30-$40 USD will provide a family of three food for a month: 25 kg of rice, 2 kg of lentils, 1 kg of salt, 1 kg of sugar, a liter of cooking oil, a package of soy, a bar of soap, and a bit of tea. You can donate here, with FFF in the memo line (Food for Friends). Some of the money will also be used for medical expenses and rent relief.
Beyond that, we’re also hoping to set up online sessions with our Nepali language teacher and my university colleagues. Meanwhile, we’re spending a lot of time on our balcony, physically but not emotionally distant from the surrounding chaos, alert to rumors of flights but not anxious.
I expect the staff at the US Embassy is overwhelmed, and I appreciate the work they are doing. But, as I told some friends back home, our hope is in the Lord.
He is welcome to use the Embassy, of course.