Quarantiny – Chapter 3 – One Day Before Day 1

Quarantiny – Chapter 3 – One Day Before Day 1

Thursday 16 April 2020

“A prerequisite of adaptability,
you have to be happy with what you have”

It is not that I was looking forward to this COVID-19 special flight to Australia this time, organised by the Australian High Commission in Dhaka, but the end destination, Canberra is so attractive and loving that could not afford to miss it!!

Dropped off at the airport around 3:30pm, 5 hours prior to my flight at 8:45pm on 16 April 2020. I was very much ready with all my ‘war gear’ on, masks, hand gloves, mosquito repellent and courage to commence this journey to the ‘centre of my heart’. It was instructed by the High Commission to go to gate 6. But it seems, for Australians it is gate five and the queue was exceptionally long while the cue for gate 6 was noticeably short. I took a chance, which I do all the time!

Went to gate six, the security guard told me this is the gate for Canadians. Am I going to Canada? I said yes, just to enter the terminal building. First, he checked my temperature with his new ‘toy thermometer’ then I was instructed to soak my shoe soles into a bucket provided with a water-soaked sponge and big enough for a person to stand on that. Don’t know why! But I had to stand on the bucket for few seconds and then I was allowed to enter followed by the initial security check. There was a huge presence of people from Canadian High Commission. They even had a large information counter decorated with Canadian flags. I was not happy, as my thirsty pair of eyes were looking for an Australian flag. An Australian farewell/welcome!

I was going straight through to counter E for check in as instructed. Just before the counter, I was interrupted by two officials with a vest to identify themselves as Australian Government Officials. When they knew I was going to Australia, they told it is not E, it is row D now. That is fine, I stood behind a semi-long queue. No one was maintaining the ‘social distancing’ rules at this stage! I was surprised to see so many people came before me. The queue was progressing at a terribly slow speed though.

Suddenly, a person came near the queue and asked about people travelling in Business Class should come with him. I raised my hand and he took me near the counter and requested me to wait for them to call me. While I was waiting, the official checked my temperature again with his new ‘toy thermometer’. I passed!

There was only one Business class counter and it was occupied to serve a family with a protocol officer helping them. Look like some ‘big shots’ children! It took a while for them as they had access luggage. After that, the counter served an older man. Yes, he was older than me for sure. Interestingly he only had a carry on!

Yeyyy, it was my turn now. I was asked, do I want window seat or aisle. I told window. How many bags? Two. I got two boarding passes, one for Dhaka to Colombo and another one from Colombo to Melbourne. I was told that we may have to change the aircraft in Colombo, that is why two boarding passes. The check in officer also apologies for not having the lounge services today as it is a special flight. I was ready for that anyway. That was fine with me.

On my way to the immigration now. One of the two Australian officials called me and asked do I need some water bottle as it could be a long wait. I checked my watch, yes it still another 4 hours, I must burn! I thanked him and took a bottle of water. I was stopped at the entry point of the immigration door by an officer who requested me to wait as they were gathering 8-10 people together to provide the service. Oh well, I was happy to wait as it was known the airport will provide limited services.

Finally, went to the immigration officer, did not need to remove my mask, no question asked, sincerely for the first-time immigration was done in no time. I was extremely impressed. Came out of the immigration, found a three chairs empty row. I put my backpack on the middle chair and sat on one just to ensure social distancing if anyone sits there.

Started to call everyone to say goodbye. Sagar Vai (my elder rother) called to know the updates. Called Amma. Interestingly, behind me there was a family sitting, who were flying to Canada and they came in a group of around 10 people. They were talking over the phone also saying goodbye to their relatives. They just came straight from Mowluvi Bazar, Sylhet. I was genuinely attracted to their strong Sylheti accent. Reminded me of ‘angry’ Nigar!

The whole airport looked like a Zombie land. Everybody inside were wearing masks, hand gloves and some people wearing the protective clothing. No one was laughing or smiling. Kids were not even jumping around. Everyone seems to be under a panic situation. Everyone seems like, just waiting to board on the flight. And as if, they will be happier, healthier, safer once they are inside the flight. All shops were closed. Only one small snack corner was open. Looked like an informal arrangement with airport staffs but doing reasonable business. Selling tea, chips, chanachur, samosa etc.

By now it was 7:00pm. Changed my first pair of gloves. I proceeded towards gate 6 for boarding as instructed. A lot of people already got in. For the first time a young man in front of me in the queue maintained the social distancing and requested everyone to do so. I was impressed and thanked him. Normal security, checking the boarding pass etc etc. I took some photos as it is certainly an historic journey for me to tell a story to my grandchildren that I did intercontinental travel during the vicious COVID-19 war!!

While entering the plane, I thought I was getting into a spaceship. The air hostages were dressed like from a Hollywood horror movie! White overall suit with masks and head covers like ‘helmets, you can just see the pair of eyes through the pair of glasses. And all of them were like that. Did not know whether they were smiling or cursing us for boarding the aircraft! It was an interesting but scary feeling. Got into the plane. Front seat. No entertainment system as they are not allowed to provide headphones due to COVID-19 international flight interim restrictions. No Wi-Fi on the plane. It seems like a different zone. A spaceship reminded me of Star Trek!

I just remembered, last August Nigar (my wife) and I flew to Colombo for recreation! Full of joy and excitement. Same destination but totally different feelings tonight! I cleaned my seat, handles, tray etc etc with sanitizers that I brought with me as instructed by our friend from Sydney Dr Reza Ali (Raju).

In few minutes time the front door was locked, we are ‘trapped’ inside, it is only one way now, up to Melbourne, Australia. The aeroplane pushed back to get ready for the runway.

It was crossing slowly all other aircrafts hibernating at the airport due to the travel restrictions. Our plane seems to be the king of the runway! Ignoring all the Dreamliners of Biman Bangladesh, planes of US Bangla and Regent Airways. Majestically, the only plane that was moving at this point of time was this special flight of Sri Lankan Airline UL601 carrying all Australians back to their home. The only other competitor was the Qatar Airways flight going to Canada via Doha was still connected with the gang way!

Our aeroplane teased all other planes, surrendered to the negative impacts of COVID-19 and picked up its speed on the runway. It seems like, it is running faster than usual speed. As if, the plane is also trying to escape from this unknown zombie land. It is trying to take its passengers to a safer, healthier and happier place as soon as possible.

This was my only option to commence my journey to the centre of my heart – Canberra. I said goodbye to the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh, my family and friends in Bangladesh! Realise few drop of tears around the corner of my eyes. Plane took off. What a strange feeling!!!

The alien looking air hostage came and shared the available menu. Chicken or vegetarian? Chicken of course. Took off the mask for the first time to eat. Good food. Changed my second pair of gloves. Washed my gloves hands with sanitizers.

It was a three and half-hour flight. Slept until the pilot announced the landing. He also mentioned that we do not have to change aircraft. They will just refuel, clean and change the crews to continue our journey with the same aircraft. I was incredibly happy as we were instructed to stay inside. The plane landed in Colombo. One hour wait!

Few more ‘Aliens’ came on board to clean! After cleaning, I went to check out the toilet. Came back to my seat and changed my third pair of gloves. Washed gloves hands with sanitizer again. Plane took off. Same menu on offer by the new ‘alien’ air hostage. Chicken of course again. I thought to record all these before I forget! Hence, the two days before the day one of reaching in Melbourne. Another nine and half hour’s flight. Just wanted to enjoy dreams on an aeroplane bed!

Good night.

To be continued………

“People love to be alone, where
they know themselves, and where they dream”

Farhadur Reza Probal

Farhadur Reza Probal

Architect Farhadur Reza FIAB MPIA

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