If you’ve never sat for an hour in the hot sun wearing a medical face mask, oversized shades and a black cap, you may think I’m exaggerating, but it feels like sticking your head inside the door of a sauna while your body stays outside in the 30 degree heat. There’s a point at which all the wiping and dabbing with tissues is a waste of time, so you let the sweat flow where it may. Lying on the ground beside me was a guy claiming to be diabetic, who had made a lot of noise about “going at his home” in the short distance between the plane and our temporary queuing position.
To be honest, I started off thinking he was full of shit and trying a ting with the authorities. It’s a habit for some Saint Lucians to publicly share at top volume whatever beef is on their mind, and there was a lot of eye-rolling going on behind my sunnies and quiet swearing under the mask. After an hour, the man was looking drained while his young teenage son sat silently watching, and my mindset changed to a what-if scenario. What if he was hypo-ing right there beside me while I inwardly accused him of being a big fake? What if his kid had to witness all the unpleasant, scary effects that accompany a dramatic drop in blood sugar?
We’d been watching the circus going on around us for what felt like forever. Departing passengers were emerging in spurts from inside the tinted glass doors, blinking in the mid-afternoon sun and looking lost. Some were headed to a couple of planes that sat on the steaming tarmac, some to the buses that had been laid on for transportation to quarantine. There seemed to be dozens of airport staff, catering contractors and Ports Police milling around with no real sense of purpose which didn’t instill any sense of confidence that the “processing” would be simple or speedy.
As soon as our own Port Medical nurse reappeared and – ignoring the puddle of melting humans in the tiny Virgin group – headed towards the arrivals door, I hauled myself off the hot concrete and nabbed her before she disappeared.
“Hi again, we’re really suffering over there and one of the guys is diabetic. What happens next?” I pleaded. From her reaction, it was clear she’d temporarily forgotten us, but I couldn’t hold it against her. So far I’d seen two nurses dedicated to taking temperatures and escorting groups to buses. Everyone else in uniform seemed to be dousing themselves in hand sanitiser and having a laugh.
“Oh, you can all go inside in the cool,” she said in a tone that implied we should have guessed that ourselves.
I briefed my new travel buddies and dragged my baggage to the cavernous area where we would normally have been lined up snaking towards customs and immigration. The beautiful baby and his ladies were already inside, praise Jah, and he was still behaving impeccably. I hadn’t noticed them leave the line. Another couple of nurses were stationed at a booth, while about forty passengers remained out of two hundred that had come off a flight from the USA. They were repatriated cruise ship crew who had already spent a month in quarantine on board an MSC liner, and some of them were really ticked off.
“I eh go in no hotel,” yelled one short fella repeatedly in a testosterone-fuelled tirade. “You taking my human rights away!” He harangued the nurses while an entire cadre of uniformed officers with stupid little batons stuck under their armpits watched in silence, even smirking about the dude whose anger was encouraging others to vent at the same decibel level. A lady from my flight had been classy and circumspect for the past twelve hours under Virgin’s care, but now she kicked off in a Lucian/London accent about how we were being “treated like animals.” Once started, she never shut her trap until we were in Castries.
Of course I understood their frustration. I just couldn’t see what would be gained by expending all that negative energy at the nurses who were doing the hardest, most dangerous job. They’d never experienced anything like this before. They were obviously trying to carry out government enforced regulations that had not necessarily been well thought out. There was no social distancing in place, so people were milling about and mixing with others, new plane loads were entering the area and most travellers had no masks, no gloves, just a rancorous attitude and a ton of loud self pity.
“Behave yourself! It’s not all about you,” I hissed at them from behind the mask, knowing nobody would figure me out. What Lucian would suspect it was the nice white lady muttering “Mésyé gason!” every few minutes? Slumping down on the cool tiled floor, I was already fighting off the urge to join them hurling abuse in every direction, especially at the pint-sized pot-bellied puffed-up Ports Police that were doing eff all to intervene, shut down the yelling and give suffering medical staff a break from the ignorant histrionics.
By now I was withering with dehydration and one of the nurses pointed to a water fountain nearby. Considering a couple of hundred people were milling around after long haul flights, I felt a bottle of water for the onward journey would have been a sensible provision, but alas, nobody had thought of that. Around two hours after stepping back on Saint Lucian soil, we were rounded up and escorted to one of the island’s saddest, mankiest buses and it was obvious there would be no social distancing all the way to Bel Jou Hotel in Castries, which had moments earlier opened up as the next quarantine centre for the island.
We sat on the bus for another half an hour while passengers from two more flights were jammed into the free seats – UK, USA, Jah knows where they were coming from. I huddled up to my bag on the next seat and hoped I wouldn’t be asked to share. That moment was surreal in all sorts of ways. It was another indication that the authorities were not, as Stephen Covey recommends, “beginning with the end in mind”. No doubt the ground staff were trying their best to execute the directives, but science said that several of us might catch Covid-19 in the next hour and a half, as we hurtled up the highway in matching face masks and senses of panic.
More to come…