Getting home to Ireland: ‘It was like we were in a dystopian sci-fi movie’

One couple recount their journey from India to Ireland and the quarantine that followed

Prerna Shah, who lives in Stillorgan with her husband: ‘If you were to ask me, even a decade from today, what made coming home to Ireland so beautiful after an anxiety ridden journey – I would say, the warmth and kindness of our neighbours and the chattiness of our driver.’

Prerna Shah, who lives in Stillorgan with her husband: ‘If you were to ask me, even a decade from today, what made coming home to Ireland so beautiful after an anxiety ridden journey – I would say, the warmth and kindness of our neighbours and the chattiness of our driver.’

 

Last week, we stepped out of our apartment in Stillorgan for the first time in two weeks.

It would also be five months since we had seen anything of Dublin – the beautiful shimmering sea, the People’s Park awash with flowers, the row of the tall, towering trees that lined the road across our apartment.

We had returned home to Ireland after 4½ months in India, and because we had undertaken international travel, were, under home quarantine.

We had gone to India at the end of January, and then, in March, suddenly, at a day’s notice, the country went into a complete lockdown. We couldn’t venture out of our homes except to buy groceries and medicines and all domestic and international flights were suspended.

My husband continued to work from home and, though he had to keep odd hours considering the time difference between India and Ireland, he wasn’t complaining. We stayed put at my mother-in-law’s place in India and we would only venture out to help my 80-plus legally-blind mother with her groceries.

However, as one month rolled into another and there was no sign of India opening up its borders for international flights, a quiet panic began to set in.

30-hour trip

My husband is on a Stamp 3 visa and our IRP (Irish residence permit) cards were up for renewal in August. What if India did not open up its borders and, with the continuous rise in coronavirus cases, what if other countries barred those travelling from India entering their territories? We wrote to the Irish Embassy in Delhi, India.

Then in the first week of June, we found out about a special repatriation flight operated by KLM airlines. With the help of a letter provided to us by the Irish Embassy, we booked our tickets.

We then undertook a 30-hour trip to reach Dublin. We first travelled by car to make the 414km journey from Vadodara to Mumbai and later, boarded a flight at 2.40am that took us first to Amsterdam and then to Dublin.

It was a journey like no other.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai: ‘the airport was almost dark and brooding.’ Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai: ‘the airport was almost dark and brooding.’ Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP

It felt like we were characters in a dystopian sci-fi movie. The Mumbai airport was almost deserted; all cafes, shops and eateries were closed, except for one that sold water. People huddled together with their families in the empty airport, eating their home-packed cold dinners in the middle of upturned chairs and closed, eerie-looking cafes. The airport was almost dark and brooding. Everyone wore masks, some wore a face shield, gloves, and a PPE suit.

I couldn’t but help think of the television series the Walking Dead. In the flight, several rows of seats were empty. We sanitised our seats and armrests and spent a restless night. Whatever little sleep I caught was interspersed with strange dreams of people in masks walking through a fire-ravaged landscape.

When we reached Dublin, I felt both a sense of despair and relief.

But my anxiety was quickly disappearing – our taxi driver was chatty, he talked nonstop about the past few months of good weather, about Trump, about Covid, just about everything under the sun, really. It lifted my spirits. I was never more grateful for the friendliness of Irish taxi drivers than I was on that day.

When we reached home, there was a hand-made sign on our apartment door. It said welcome home.

An hour later, a neighbour called to say that they had placed a bag outside our apartment door. In the bag was a carton of milk, bread, eggs, tomatoes, onions and a card and parcel wrapped in gift paper. Their daughter had made the welcome home sign for us.

Home quarantine

Soon, another neighbour called and placed outside our apartment, a hot, home-made lunch. They had included in the parcel – rice, rajma (kidney beans curry), a raita (a preparation made from yoghurt) and salad.

Our dinner was a tiffin of home-made chicken biryani – again, the courtesy of a neighbour.

Over the next few days, our neighbours pitched in and helped us in various ways – when we ran out of milk or groceries between our online deliveries, they willingly got these for us. I needed an over-the-counter medicine one day and my neighbour bought it for me.

Because of them, we were able to follow our home quarantine without breaking a single rule.

If you were to ask me, even a decade from today, what made coming home to Ireland so beautiful after an anxiety ridden journey – I would say, the warmth and kindness of our neighbours and the chattiness of our driver.

It’s a cliché, but it is true – it is the little things that count the most.

To reflect the many ways life has changed in Ireland by the coronavirus outbreak, The Irish Times is inviting readers to share their Covid Stories. You can submit yours here

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