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Updated: Mar 6, 2022

The world was scheduled to be partially opened for the Christmas holiday season, for that I was beaming with anticipation and excitement. Sadly, my bubble of excitement exploded prematurely due to a fourth major COVID-19 outbreak. My greatest concerns and fears about travelling during these extremely risky times were once again realized. Like others, I am overwhelmed by the millions of deaths resulting from COVID-19-related illnesses over the last two years. Notwithstanding, on December 17, 2021, nearly a year and a half after, I decided to exit my self-imposed cocoon to engage with what I love most in life, travelling to have fun.

My travel itinerary for the Christmas holiday season included travelling to Canada and the United States of America (USA) to meet up with family and friends in Toronto, New Jersey (NJ), and New York City (NYC). I dubbed my coming out as an escapade of Family, Food and Fun’.

It was clear by the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases announced in NYC, that my travel itinerary would be compromised.

After 20 days of travel across the three countries, I became one of the most tested human beings on the planet as I was tested 5 times during my travel period. The opening of the world was obvious from I boarded the plane in Jamaica to my destinations in Toronto and NJ. Each country implemented stringent COVID-19 protocols, especially for crossing their borders, and the majority of travelers I saw were upbeat and respectful of these protocols. However, by the time I arrived in NJ, it was clear that there was now another major COVID-19 spike, fueled by the new omicron variant’. When I visited Medrite Laboratory at around 5 am to conduct the PCR test, to head back to Canada, I knew we were back in a dangerous period. Within an hour the laboratory building was encircled by a long line of approximately 200 persons waiting to be tested. This surge was not only my perception but was confirmed by the Laboratory Technician, who stated that they were now testing more than 500 persons per day, which was a 100% increase over the previous week.

COVID-19 Testing – Medrite Laboratory

My Christmas Escapade

I was so excited to break free from my self-imposed lockdown, for further protection a few days before I travelled to Canada I took the ‘COVID-19 booster. The Canadian protocols required that I conduct the COVID-19 PCR test and uploaded my vaccination cards and test results to ArriveCan. At the Norman Manley Airport, I was so surprised by the buzz of people, no one seemed intimidated by this new norm of the COVID-19 virus being in our lives. I was very satisfied that everyone travelling respected the COVID-19 protocols. On the plane it was clear that our seating arrangements were deliberately assigned, with families seated together and where possible only two persons were allowed to sit in each row, separated by one seat. The flight was uneventful and very comfortable; my only disappointments were the biscuits, water and juice that were provided by Air Canada as our meal for the trip. Whatever happened to the good old ‘ackee and saltfish meal’ we use to get on Air Jamaica!! Fortunately, I ate Island Grill for lunch that included quarter jerk chicken, festival, ripe plantain and chicken soup as I waited for the flight.

At Pearson International Airport in Toronto, the passengers with connecting flights were allowed to leave the plane first. Thereafter, we were allowed off the plane in groups of 50; I was seated at the front of the plane, so I was one of those that disembarked first. The gentleman seated next to me, asked to be excused, wished me all the best for the holidays, removed his bags, and then left the plane. Thereafter I removed my carry-on bag from the overhead bin and realized that my duty-free package which contained 2 bottles of White Rum, 1 bottle of Baileys Irish Cream and 6 Magnums was missing. As I walked out of the plane I keenly looked ahead at the packages that were being carried by other passengers. Outside of the plane, I spotted a female passenger which I approached calmly and asked if she had accidentally removed my package, but on closer observation, it was clear that her package was smaller. I was so upset about the loss of my 2 bottles of White Rum, but then I quickly concluded that the gentleman who sat next to me received his first Christmas gift. My sister-in-law and I would not get the opportunity to ‘dun’ our usual bottle of Baileys together as we chatted about ‘den and now’. After using a kiosk to register, I met with an Immigration Officer who tagged my Passport with a red sticker and directed me to proceed to be tested for COVID-19.

Travelling White Rum is a Must

The COVID-19 test was easy and similar to what I was previously exposed to. The process took less than 15 minutes, after which I exited into the passenger pickup hall. I quickly hopped onto the wifi and engaged with my daughter, Donalee, who was scheduled to pick me up. When Donalee called I was sitting in a corner by an escalator waiting. I was expecting to be told to walk outside to meet her, instead she said “where is my Daddy, I cannot see you”. I quickly stood up and looked frantically around to see if she was coming through the entrance or standing in front of the passenger exit point. Then I saw her in the distance walking towards me up a long corridor, we ran towards each other. I was overcome with emotions, we hugged for about 5 minutes with tears flowing like a river. We then released each other and she touched my face and said “my Daddy you are healthy, you look so good, I love you Daddy”, it was then the dam broke and the tears flowed even more. She hugged me tighter, more than anyone has ever done and said “I am a big girl, I should not be crying and acting this way, but I missed my Daddy”. During this lovefest, my bags were left unprotected, but fortunately for me, they were undisturbed when I returned for them.

Outside of the airport, the cold was ‘bussing mi shut’ as we frantically searched for the car. After we found the car I quickly greeted the rest of the family and we exited the airport to highway 401 and then towards Scarborough. It is always great coming home to ‘mi yard’ and seeing familiar places as I drove home. Such as highway 410 which takes us to my mother-in-law’s residence, highway 400 which takes us to my brother’s house and Allen Road which takes us to my daughter’s house. I loudly acclaimed, there is “Yorkdale Mall”, and everyone shouted out that they were not going back there again, because the last time they were there they were “ducking” from bullets. When we exited highway 401 to Kingston Road I knew we were close to home. I was ready for a hot cup of chocolate tea with the fried fish, fish soup, jerk chicken, rice and peas and vegetables prepared in “yaad style” that was on the menu. The massive dining table at which we sat provided for my first opportunity to engage with my family in this way in nearly 2 years. In my family, food is used as one of the most important medium of giving love. As we ate, I brought everyone up to date on the major happenings in Jamaica - the lockdowns, crime and violence and family business were at the top of the agenda.

The next three days were mostly dedicated to bonding with my family. On the first day, we visited family and friends. Thereafter, we headed to Melville Mall where we mostly window shopped as I walked behind my daughters. Later that night my brother picked me up to attend my first real party in 2 years. He was very concerned, he revealed that this was the first time he was going to an entertainment event since the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic. On our arrival at the District Lounge, I highlighted to Pops that the parking lot was sparsely occupied which indicated that the inside should’ve been the same. When we entered the club, my conclusions were confirmed, the club only had employees. We took a seat at the bar and our waiter quickly engaged with us and took our drink orders, which were simply red bull and absolute vodka. After receiving the drinks in a small plastic cup, it took Pops less than 2 minutes to empty his cup. We looked at each other with a big exclamation on our faces and then in unison signaled the waiter. We proceeded to order bottle service, wings and crayfish. As time went by a DJ started playing music and the ambiance changed as they dimmed the lights and other patrons entered the club. By 2:30 am when it was time to leave it was a full-fledged party, it was the most dancing that I have done since Trinidad Carnival 2020. This type of coming out was sweet enoh, mi luv it bad!!

Sharing a Drink in District Lounge

The next day my eldest daughter joined the clan on our drive to view our new house in Brentford. Two years before, the family had decided that they wanted to move to the suburbs away from Toronto. With COVID-19, many persons had taken the decision to head out of the cities to more remote, safe and affordable locations. I was excited and proud, that my two eldest daughters agreed to lead the procurement process. We were told that the house would be delivered in February 2022, our visit would be my first time to see the neighborhood and the new house. The drive started with us heading to a Starbucks, we all agreed that with so much snow outside we needed to also “suck on snow inside”. The drive took about an hour and a half, it was filled with lots of chatting and laughter. I was so proud to listen to the interest and excitement in my daughters’ voices as they spoke about life and the purchase of the house. Brentford has an impressive layout with robust-looking infrastructure and it has all the familiar commercial brands we like. Upon our arrival at the development site, we were very disappointed, as we only saw the house spot, the foundation of the building was not yet started. We opted instead to walk through houses that were already constructed, we were very satisfied with what we saw.

The next day was a most demanding day, as we conducted our COVID-19 tests, visited the Doctor for my general checkup and then flew off to New Jersey. The Doctors’ visit lasted longer than we anticipated, resulting in us being late for our scheduled flight. We arrived late at the airport, but fortunately, the flight was also delayed. As we sailed to the Billy Bishop Airport we got the opportunity to view the CN Tower and Toronto City from a different vantage point. The flight to NJ was further delayed and we were held on the tarmac for 20 minutes awaiting clearance from Newark Airport. For a moment I wondered if the border was ordered close again. At Newark Airport the immigration process was seamless, travelling as a family is always an advantage. Outside we waited at a bus stop for our pickup, it was cold but surely not as cold as Toronto. We were so glad to leave when our pickup arrived that we drove off leaving one suitcase inside the bus stop; a good Samaritan alerted us as we drove off. As we drove out of the airport the local radio station highlighted that New York City was once again the epicenter for COVID-19, we knew then and there that the rest of our vacation would be compromised.

The next two weeks did not proceed as planned. We were scheduled to attend my nephew’s birthday dinner party and family breakfast on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in Mount Vernon and then return to Englewood for Christmas dinner. Furthermore, I was to meet my brothers at the usual Jamaican bars in the Bronx to enjoy drinks, music and Jamaican food. We also planned to visit the Empire State Building, the site of fallen Twin Towers, Rockefeller Plazas and Times Square. All of those activities were cancelled. My only real outing, was meeting with my friend, and fellow soca chaser, for drinks and dinner. We enjoyed the night as we chatted about our soca tabanca, business and investments. We also visited my nephew’s new home to have dinner and drinks, and to meet the latest addition to the family, his son. It was a fun-filled night as we played board games, watched television and drank a variety of strong drinks. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent at home in NJ, we all dressed up and had a delicious dinner provided by our master chef, Andrew, who gave us 5-star treatment. We ate some of my favourite Jamaican foods crush potatoes, chicken foot soup, ackee and saltfish, curry goat, roast pork, jerk chicken and fried fish. On January 1st, 2022 I celebrated my birthday with my daughters outside in the freezing cold, it was simple, beautiful and sentimental.

My Test Results

Back in June 2020, I was confirmed positive with coronavirus, it was followed by the most traumatic 14 days of my life. I arrived in Canada on March 19, 2020, for vacation, thereafter I was locked in for over 3 months as Canada and many other countries closed their borders. I like many others, was in total shock as we watched millions of people succumb to illnesses associated with the COVID-19 virus. I was very fortunate to be placed on one of the first charter flights organized by the Jamaican Councilor from Canada to Jamaica on June 10, 2020. At the Norman Manley Airport, we were taken through a sophisticated ‘mass casualty-like operation’, where we were screened and tested under military supervision. I was impressed while being terrified by the setup and the care that was offered. Before I went to immigration, I downloaded the Jamcovid19 App, registered, interviewed, tested and then was provided a thermometer and a data sheet for self-monitoring. The COVID-19 test was horrible, as the Doctor pushed deep into my nose until it hit my sinus cavity. I was placed under 14 days home quarantine for monitoring. To my surprise, I did not receive a single call for the first 2 days from the health department as promised.

On the 3rd morning of my quarantine, a doctor from the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department called. He was surprised that a public health nurse had not called or visited me. He asked if I was experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms to which I responded “no”. In a quiet calm voice, he told me that I tested positive for the coronavirus. I felt numb immediately, I felt like I was handed a death sentence. I could not breathe and instantly started having a panic attack. I came back to reality when I heard him asking if I was there. He quickly reassured me that it is good that I am not showing any symptoms. He explained that an asymptomatic person will test positive but does not experience COVID-19 symptoms. He told me I may be transferred to an isolation center, however, I told him I lived alone and was already isolated. For the next 11 days, I drank a concoction of garlic, ginger, turmeric and white rum, as I tried to prevent possible symptoms. In the end, I had no COVID-19 symptoms and on the 14th day, I was called to the Health Department to be issued with my release order from quarantine.

On December 27, 2021, we conducted our PCR tests to re-enter Canada, two of us tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Sometime thereafter, all 7 persons in the house were also confirmed positive. After a few days, a total of 11 family members in NY and NJ were also confirmed positive. Despite the positive test results, I felt calm and optimistic that we all would be safe, since we were all symptom-free. When we arrived in NJ from Canada I experienced mild flu-like symptoms which I attributed to the change in temperature between Jamaica and Canada. As most Jamaicans would, I took Panadol multi-symptom and Tylenol for the sore throat and drank lots of white rum mixed with lime and honey to fight any other pending symptoms. I decided that with the time lost, I would end my vacation and instead travel straight to Jamaica from NJ. I took the Rapid COVID-19 test, the result came back negative, I was happy and ready for the sweet sunshine and heat of ‘mi yaad’.

I left NJ for JFK airport at 10:25 am, the flight was extremely delayed. When the flight arrived (after 7:30 pm), we were taken to a basement area, and then transported to the tarmac to board a Caribbean Airlines aircraft. As I stood closely with other passengers denying me of my “personal space” and holding the rails in the bus so as not to fall over, I felt like we were taking a minibus from Half Way Tree to Downtown Kingston. To top it off, imagine at the end of a most terrible day, my nephew was a no show to pick me up. This forced me to hire a strange taxi at 1 am in the morning during curfew in Kingston. The next 30 minutes would be the most heart-wrenching experience! At one point the taximan positioned at the stoplight at Rockfort to turn towards Mountain View Avenue, I positioned to grab the steering wheel from his hand. “Yow Farda, weh yu a go, keep on di straight, mi direct whe yu drive from yah suh!” I shouted with a harsh voice, he immediately concurred. Thankfully I arrived home safely, I gave him the ‘biggest tip’ of my life, and thanked him profusely for taking me home safely….. phew!

Our New Norm

The many variants of COVID-19, will prevent us from returning to normalcy any time soon. We all hope that after herd immunity is achieved worldwide, the COVID-19 virus will become like the common cold. Until then, I am convinced that we should:

  1. take both the vaccines and booster, we will be significantly protected from adverse illnesses and even death.

  2. take the vaccines, it will not prevent us from contracting and transmitting the coronavirus to others.

  3. Follow the COVID-19 protocols, it will minimize community transmission of the coronavirus.

  4. implement a good health and wellness program (like the GRED), it will strengthen our bodies and reduce the effects of COVID-19.

  5. adhere to suggestions a-d, we will be able to leave our self-imposed cocoons to explore our community and the world.

COVID-19 is aggressively mutating, let us not panic but instead protect ourselves and those around us. Never forget to live your lives per minute, as everything can change in a single minute.

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