So it only seems fitting that I resume posting as I try to head out of the country once more, once again taking my time to meander through the mysterious and, more-often-than-not, unpredictable hurdles which unfold before me from minute to minute as part of the travel-during-a-pandemic experience. Masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer are only the beginning. When I arrived at the hotel, I discovered that there were no bellmen, no luggage carts, no airport shuttles, and no food at the hotel. My great achievement today was to determine that the two little local deli/groceries near the hotel where I am staying in New York as I await the opportunity to get a negative PCR COVID test within the 72-hour-arrival-in-Dushanbe requirement expected in Tajikistan were NOT like their equivalents in Dushanbe. In Dushanbe, I can get freshly made local bread, fresh veggies and fruit, all staples such as milk, eggs, rice, beans, in addition to all the basics you would find in a large supermarket in the US, just on a tinier scale with, of course, fewer choices. From the outside, the two international equivalents don’t look all that different. But on the inside… the American version reeks of frying oil and the only grocery items are junk food. To be sure, I can get a hot sandwich, but since I don’t really want a hot, greasy sandwich, this is not persuasive. I miss my little grocer across the street from my apartment in Dushanbe. Interestingly, it is not Florida that I miss today. No, I long to be home in Dushanbe, with the dogs and the cats, in my decrepit apartment with the terrible toilet, peeling paint, and cracked wooden floors. My mind is a funny thing, its demographic allegiances change from minute-to-minute according to my circumstances.
One of the most peculiar aspects of traveling to Dushanbe is that, with 2 days of travel, a two-day time change, and a 24-30 hour time frame for getting test results, it is logistically impossible to make the 72-hour-pre-arrival time frame for a COVID test, leaving aside the fact that the test has to be negative. As I learned so cruelly just over a week ago, in these times, you can arrive at the check-in counter, luggage in hand, paperwork ready (you thought), only to be turned away for reasons of which you were not previously informed. In my case last week, there were two problems. The sheet of country-by-country instructions to which the representatives from Turkish Airlines referred to determine if someone could board had NO mention of non-citizen entry. It said simply “Tajik citizens may enter”. I pointed out that I had a visa and that the information sheet did NOT say that non-citizens could NOT enter, but the man was unimpressed. He seemed determined to stop me.
The deal-breaker was the PCR test. My negative quick test was not enough. If it’s enough for the President and the President-elect, why is it not enough for me?
In addition to my dubious status as a non-citizen, I did not have a negative PCR test. I explained that, since there was the 72-hour requirement, I had allowed extra time in Istanbul to get the test, so the results would be one day closer. He informed me that, since my ticket began in NY, I had to have the test done prior to leaving in NY. Furthermore, although the test was not required to go to Istanbul, because my layover was less than 24 hours, it was considered “in transit” and I would only be allowed to go to Istanbul, get a COVID test, and then go onto Dushanbe, if I had more than a 24 hour break. I had my usual Alice-falling-down-the-rabbit-hole sense of déjà vu that I get when I am somehow trapped in a web of conflicting requirements, the sum total of which leave me unable to move in any direction, except backwards.
Another complication was that I could not simply get the test, and take the flight the next day. Why? Well because the flights into Dushanbe were only once a week, and I was lucky that they were even that. I had had to wait seven months for even the weekly flight to be reinstated so I could go back for the animals who were patiently waiting for me to come get them so they could come find their forever homes in the U.S. So, at a minimum, I was faced with at least another week in the U.S. Not long enough to drive back to FL and then return to NY, but a pricey prospect if I were to hole up in a hotel in NY for a week.
In addition, I learned, much to my dismay when I tried to rebook my ticket that, because the change was not required due to a schedule change on the part of the airline, I would be charged the difference between my ticket and any new one I purchased. No change fee, to be sure, but my first attempt to reschedule resulted in a $1400 fare change which I was not willing to accept. So I hauled out my computer, found a cheaper alternative, and requested that. But, of course, even that was not that simple, since I couldn’t book it if I couldn’t get the dogs on the return flight, as well as the one cat I wanted to bring. By the time all was said and done, I had another flight in two weeks, for only the dogs, and I would have to stay in Dushanbe for two weeks. Fee difference $678. Gone was the cheap fare of which I had been previously so proud of myself for finding. Since I still have an apartment in Dushanbe, and was not planning on doing anything else in Florida in December except get the dogs acclimated to being pets again, an extra week in Dushanbe isn’t really a hardship. In addition, I was already questioning the wisdom of traveling by car from NY to FL with two dogs AND a cat. With the new plan, I would get the dogs first, and then go back for all three cats in January, or maybe later, depending upon how this first trip goes (two cats of mine, one belonging to friend).
So after a somewhat harrowing and extremely unfulfilling airport experience, I headed back to the hotel, to climb into my car, and headed back to Florida, with nothing to show for my efforts but a list of unnecessary gas, hotel, and parking charges on my credit card, and highly developed driving skills. The hotel kindly refunded my parking, rescheduled my return stay for two weeks hence, and I was back home in less than a week from the time I left. I can now make the drive from Florida to NY in around 24 hours, napping at rest areas or convenience stores along the route.
Today, I am here to try again. I went over to Terminal 1 for the COVID test only to find out that their timeline had changed and, if I waited until tomorrow to do the test, I might actually make the 72-hour expected time frame before arriving in Dushanbe, as long as the people in Dushanbe are willing to count the hours according to actual time and not calendar date. For someone who likes to get things done early, this decision was painful. Every bone in my body wanted to do it early to be safe in case something went wrong whereas the time limit for the test demanded that I wait until the last minute. Maybe I could get it done twice? The $179 price tag gave me pause, since I had already spent $200 for a quick test the week before which was totally useless. I had swallowed my lifelong commitment to getting things done early and opted for the apparent preferred approach of waiting.
And so I wait… wondering whether I will actually get out of here this time, whether the test will be done in time, whether the results will be negative, whether the letter from the Tajkistan Embassy in DC together with my visa, will all be enough for this non-Tajik to board a plane to Tajikistan. This is not the first time during this misadventure that I wish I drank alcohol. 🙂