Homecoming: Traveling to the U.S. During COVID-19

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What’s It Gone Be

The days leading up to my flight to the United States were anxious to say the least. Staying abreast with news from home eventually led to cold feet about my trip. Though, given the state of the United States in front of the virus, one might argue my caution was warranted. Reading headlines such as “The U.S. Awaits its Deadliest Winter in History” definitely didn’t help me chill out. Having binged on U.S. news for months, I had angst about whether it was even safe to travel. 

It had been over a year since I’d seen any of my family members and those circumstances were for my grandfather’s funeral, pre-COVID. Therefore, the thought of being back in North Carolina with my family again – even if masked up the entire time – excited me. Obviously, I had considered the risk of catching the virus, getting sick or worse: potentially passing it to loved ones. My decision to take the flight rather than postpone was based on a reminder I received from my boyfriend after I made a judgemental comment about folks who were not wearing masks. “Lo más que puedes hacer es cuidar a ti mismo.” Therefore, I vowed to do my best to take care of myself based on the precautions I had already been taking during the 8-month lockdown in Colombia. You can imagine how that was or read about how the types of protocols that were in place during the lockdown. While compliance is not at 100%, Colombia has had a decent overall response to COVID-19. 

Mercy Me

Although it wasn’t required, I was able to get a COVID test with my pre-paid SURA health coverage. I had chosen to book with Delta Airlines due to it being the only airline with service to Raleigh, NC that still blocks seats to keep passengers distanced. Ironically, each step towards boarding the plane I made mental notes of how non-compliant people around me were being with social distancing. For example, upon arriving to the Migración counter before security at El Dorado airport, I was baffled at how many people were huddled around in one place. Like me, they were trying to listen to instructions to use the CheckMig website-app for a required pre-registry. Like them, I had not been notified of that requirement prior which left many of us puzzled and sharing a tight space. I eventually realized this and isolated myself from the rest.

During boarding, the same concept applied, as people huddled together in a rush to line up and board. After finding my seat, a panting woman who had struggled carrying her luggage, paused just to remove her mask and pant less than six feet beside me. I gave her a well-deserved side eye for that. As boarding completed, I was thrilled to have an entire section to myself and proud that I had upgraded and purchased a Preferred Seat that morning to sit in a section where no one else was seated. I ate nothing I was offered on my flight because I preferred not to remove my mask. Instead and to no avail, I spent half the flight writing a complaint to Delta for later moving a passenger in the seat in front of me, free of charge. I still want my money back. 

Amados Míos

All pettiness aside, the important thing was that I arrived safely.
My younger brother was there to meet me at the airport and take me to my hotel. Since I would eventually be staying with my mother who has asthma, I had opted to quarantine alone for a few days until I could get a COVID test which ultimately returned a negative result.

Still with my COVID anxieties, I remained on high alert. The recommendation was to wear a mask in the house when around others who do not live in the same household. I was prepared to be judicious with that recommendation until I saw how everyone else behaved in front of those precautions – which were basically nonexistent with my folks once among each other. Here I was being mindful, trying to protect myself and everyone else from COVID while everyone else around me seems relaxed. Now, I wasn’t trying to be COVID police so I eventually adapted to my environment and also relaxed. My mother and I were tested a few days before Christmas, after being notified by my aunt that a coworker she was recently in close contact with was near-death in the hospital with COVID. Thankfully, our tests came back negative and we were able to enjoy the holiday. 

My mother was thrilled to have me home which set the tone for my trip. In fact, all of my loved ones that I came in contact with during this trip had gone out of their way to make things special while I was home. My mother’s best friend loves to cook and was eager to feed me every chance she got. My aunt was planning an exclusive Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner at her home in Winston-Salem, NC, where me and my mom wound up staying for three days together eating, having cocktails, watching home-movies and even building gingerbread houses. There are no words to express the appreciation and joy I felt to be reunited after a year like 2020.

Por Fin, No Hubo Lío

I’ve reduced my pandemic-travel angst down to culture shock based on the difference between my home country and my resident country in their responses to COVID. Let’s face it, the U.S.A has had the worst response to COVID globally. For instance, a trip to the mall in Colombia and a trip to the mall in USA during COVID are distinct. Suddenly the norms of excessive sanitizing stations and temperature checks at entrances, distanced food courts and enforced capacity limits were almost nonexistent.

In hindsight, I was anxious for nothing. Although, that can’t be said without acknowledging how devastating this year and holiday season has been for so many people. I’m blessed that none of my loved ones wound up sick or fighting COVID this year – let alone during this trip. I literally shed tears of joy, relief and gratitude the night before my flight back to Colombia. So much has gone wrong in the past year, that we must all give thanks for life and health, at the very least. While I arrived in the States nerve-stricken due to COVID, I departed with my heart full after all of the love, attention and affection from my peeps. Now, I’m ready to bring in a successful 2021 with my intention to keep kindness, balance, prosperity and gratitude alive. 

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