September 22, 2020– “Welcome to Belize,” announced the pilot over the speaker. I descended the stairs from United flight 2422, carrying my violin, my purse, and my 40-pound carry-on. The humidity of the late August morning hit me instantly. Having spent the past 6 months in California, I embraced the moist feeling once again. All 100 passengers from the repatriation flight formed two socially distanced lines outside the Philip Goldson International Airport. In front of my sister and I stood a little girl and her grandmother.
The little girl appeared to be about four or five years old, and she wore a white sweater, purple pants, and a tiny white mask. After standing outside in line for over an hour, she started squirming and tapping her grandmother on the leg. The grandmother looked around frantically: there were no bathrooms—not even outhouses.
The grandmother hailed an officer, and he guided them inside the airport to find a restroom, much to my relief. I was convinced the child would have watered the cement right there on the spot. I looked up towards the front of the line. Beyond us was a second line inside the main building. I couldn’t wait to get there! Surely, it would feel cooler in there than it felt out here.
At the end of the first line, I could see a man in nursing gear, leaning over as he wrote something on a plain wooden desk. All the passengers’ quarantine information was stacked up in a crumpled tower—no computers or other sorting materials in sight. “Goodness,” I thought,”One breeze and all that will be for nothing…”. We finally reached the end of the first line, and after having our temperatures taken and our quarantine information recorded, we were ordered into the second line in the room. Immediately after entering the room, I wanted to leave.
The windows were closed, there was no AC, and there were no fans. I felt no air. It wasn’t long before I began to feel sick from the stifling heat, and I wanted nothing more than to leave this place, take my mask off, and gulp in air. “They treat us like cattle,” joked the man standing in front of me. “Welcome to Belize, ladies!” he sneered, giving my sister and I a grin.
The man had a little black and brown chihuahua in a travel bag. It wasn’t long before the little dog started to bark and whine non-stop. After we lined up again outside, an official took away my passport and sprayed it with something (it might have been sanitizer).
“When do we get our passports back?” my sister asked. “Hello? Keep moving!” bellowed one of the officials in retort—no explanations provided. I felt knots in my stomach. How long was this going to take? What was going on? We were placed in a large room with all 98 of the other passengers.
And we waited. One lady with an N95 on her face started calling out names of persons who could go get their passports back. Names uttered from behind her mask were difficult to hear. For the next forty-five minutes, slowly but surely, people started to get their passports returned.
Faintly, I heard the word “Henderson.” I wasn’t sure, but I edged toward the front of the room. “Henderson!” repeated the official forcefully. “Yes! That’s us,” I answered, coming forward—scared of being overlooked. But the journey wasn’t over yet.
After forty-five more minutes of waiting, we were all packed into buses to go to the hotel designated for our quarantine. Someone turned the engine of the bus on, while we sat in there for another half an hour waiting.
At this point, I was drenched in sweat, upset, and exhausted. Finally, after 5 hours of waiting in lines, we were off to quarantine.
(Ed. NOTE: I think we can do better than this.)