Hostage: The Covid Caper, Chapter 4, Hilton Hotel

 Janice and Archie (4 years old) at the Hilton Hotel

After Hilton Hotel still waiting at airport

After Hilton Hotel still waiting at airport

Janice* ends up staying in the same hotel, close to Lyndey Milan, but her circumstances are different again, and the difficulties she faces after a traumatic trip across Asia are huge.

With a tiny son who’d had to leave his dad and home in Asia and travel across the globe on an extended milk run, Janice is yearning for some rest and relaxation when she finally makes it home. That is not to be.

Here’s the first part of Janice’s story of her crazy dash around the world, to the Hilton Hotel in Sydney, Australia, in her words:

“My husband is working for a big mining company in Asia. It’s a fairly comfortable, but not easy life. Our son, Archie, is 4 and we both had already had to adjust to my husband working away for 9 days, then home for 5. Peter is drive in drive out, and we’ve only been there since June 2019, so we’re just starting to make friends among the expats. Through my son’s kindy, we’re settling in, when the world changes. Rapidly.  Without warning.

Time to go

Suddenly all expats start leaving the country in mid March. The country is land locked, and at first we think we’ll stay, I really don’t want to separate from my husband, or take my son away from our close family unit. But as the borders shut down and things start to look grim, our family doctor recommends we need to go. He stresses the fact that if we do get sick, the health care system just won’t cope with an influx of patients, and with a small child, Australia is a much, much safer bet.

That however, turns out to be much easier said than done. Normally, to fly home we would fly to Thailand, then Thailand to Perth, which is a 7 hour flight – not too onerous. I never could have dreamt just getting home to Australia would be so damn hard. We keep booking flights, and they keep getting cancelled. Four times we book, and three times everything is cancelled!

On the ground, to actually leave the country, we have to go through gruelling medicals. These long appointments keep being changed, then refused, then when we have our results we’re told they’re out dated. It’s nightmarish.

I finally book some flights to Thailand, then Vietnam, then Japan, then Sydney. Oh my God. Just the thought, with Archie, seems crazy but with nothing else offering and the walls closing in on us, we finally pack and head to the airport. Dealing with queues and chaos at check in with a 4 year old, is so tough. He’s such a good kid, but this is stressing everyone. The atmosphere’s almost electric with tension, everyone is on high alert, and desperate to get a seat, any seat, on a plane out of the country. I can feel it, and Archie can too. He’s on edge, nervous. We finally fly to Thailand at 8.30 at night, then to Hanoi, and we arrive in Hanoi only to find our connecting flight to Japan is cancelled. Again! My heart sinks, as I look at my little boy, who just doesn’t understand and why would he? Even I struggle.

The airline actually lets us stay in the airport hotel, and I have to get up (I can’t sleep anyway) at 4am to get back to the queues and try to get on a damn plane. And I can’t relax. Archie is a live wire, and even though he’s tired, he’s just as likely to wander off when he sees something interesting. I can’t let him out of my clutches.

It’s agony as we queue and wait, and wait, and wait. We finally manage to book and board a flight to Japan at 8.30am. It has a connecting night flight from Japan to Sydney, so arriving at Narita airport, we discover we have to spend the day in the terminal. I can’t sleep, or even rest, as I try to occupy Archie with games, and spontaneous “I Spys”. By the time we board, we’re both exhausted, and Archie sleeps. He misses dinner, and breakfast, and this, unbeknownst to me, is to come back to bite us big time.

Headed for home – almost

Can I sleep on the plane from Tokyo to Sydney? It’s nine and a half hours, so I snatch cat naps intermittently, and I envy the deep sleep of my son as we fly to Australia, to a quarantine that we know little – next to nothing – about. Not where we’ll stay, what we’ll need, and how we we’ll make our way to our home in Perth. Yes, after Sydney comes another dash – or crawl – across our vast land.

When we arrive in Sydney it’s 6.30am, and the set up and support workers are fantastic. I’m pleasantly surprised. While our progress is slow, it seems well organised. But thinking back now, with hindsight, what I discover really is that they don’t communicate – to us or each other!  And I guess that comes from the top.

Each person has their job, and nobody seems to know the big picture. None of the ground staff really know anything but their particular role. And that definitely comes from someone missing at the top.

I have two large suitcases, a laptop, a 4 year old, a handbag, and the police and the army form a sort of guard of honour, but actually making sure that we don’t escape. To give them their due, they’re incredibly polite and helpful – two guys take a suitcase each, load a bus which we finally board, after being checked off and handing in our arrival papers. And we sit there, in the bus, waiting. For hours.

None of us can understand what the hell is going on, and why, oh why, we’re just sitting, and sitting. We still aren’t told anything at all – where we’re going, what we need to do, what will happen. When the bus finally starts up and leaves the airport, we all breath a collective sigh of relief, and watch as a silent city slides past us. We finally pull up at the Hilton Hotel.

I’m relieved, in a way, but am yet to see that my nightmare is just beginning.”

* Names have been changed to protect Janice’s privacy, more to come of Janice’s story later