Updated: May 14, 2021
It’s lowkey exciting to share this blog because I am now closer to home. I have finally escaped London and am now back in the Pacific region! As I write this, I am currently in a Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) facility in Auckland, New Zealand. I will be staying here for the mandatory 14 days, then catching the next available repatriation flight to Tonga.
In retrospect, I feel that the last 18 months I spent in London has been the most arduous time so far in my 27 years of life. I hope to live a long life looking to the future, and my time in London will still probably make the top 10 most challenging times in my life when I reflect back on my life then die 😂 That got dark real quick.
For my Pasifika Chevening cohort, our Chevening experience has been heavily shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic. Collectively, our journeys have been unique, challenging, and frustrating at times. I doubt any other cohort will have to face the problems that we did, and I hope no one else ever has to go through all the troubles that we went through.
I have been trying to escape London since June/July 2020. I mentioned in my mental health blog (if you read it lol), that when all the travel hubs to the Pacific closed around March 2020, the option left for us was to wait it out. And what a long wait it has been.
I would be lying if I say the overall process in trying to come home has been easy, or that certain people in positions of authority were always helpful and cooperative. There were many days, nights, weeks and months of frustrations and anger in liaising with people and organisations to arrange a way home. From July/August 2020 period as our UK study duration was coming to an end, my colleague and friend (fellow Tongan Chevener, Joyce) and I emailed and had contacted just about every Tom, Dick and Harry in relevant High Commission offices and government officials etc in the UK, NZ, Fiji, and Tonga to ask about a way home, only to be disappointed every single time.
We were merely asked to be patient because it was an unprecedented time with the global pandemic. Which is understandable, to an extent, I suppose. However, we were given nothing to work with. No way forward. No timeline. No action plan. No correspondence. No transparency. Nothing. We were left stranded in the dark and asked to just be patient. I believe unprecedented problems should be resolved with unprecedented/innovative solutions, and unfortunately, I felt maintaining bureaucracy were more prioritized than our well-beings and pleas to go home. In particular, the lack of support and correspondence from the Tonga High Commission Office in London made me feel so much like a lowly peasant and exasperation is an understatement.
Despite the disappointments, I have also been amazed and thankful for the kindness and generosity of people, in particular, my partner’s uncle as well as a primary school classmate and her family, who were a big help while I was in London. A few government officials in Tonga also went well out of their way while we were still in London to check up on us and help us sort our way home, which I am really appreciative of.
If there was a key lesson I learnt from the experience of being stranded in London is that sometimes, being polite doesn't help you. Sometimes, waiting patiently doesn't help you. Sometimes, people in positions of authority won't help you. We really had to fight and push and argue for a long, long time to get out of the UK and come back home, and just being in NZ now feels like a miracle. I could go on for a while but it's low key making my blood pressure run high thinking about it, so I'll quit here for now 😅 😂. I get easily annoyed just thinking back about certain events, but that's not good for you or me. Next time, when I've calmed down, I'll write more about the expenses and timeline of the things we had to do to get out of London and get to NZ. Hopefully, that would be more helpful to others who may still be stuck somewhere overseas and yearning to return home. Wee bit sorry but hang on until next time.