Homesick and stranded in foreign lands

From left: Dos and Wamuyu Kariuki in Managua, Nicaragua, Caroline M A Otieno and her daughter at a park in Brussels and Edna Nyameto who has been stuck in Arlington, Texas since the US closed its borders in March. PHOTOS | POOL

What you need to know:

  • Caroline Otieno was tested for Covid-19 but the results came back negative.
  • .Caroline and her daughter have been staying at a hotel.
  • Wamuyu and Dos Kariuki have been stuck in Nicaragua for about 100 days now.

When coronavirus first reached pandemic levels, nations across the world deemed it fit to close their borders to minimise the spread of the deadly virus.

Unfortunately when this happened back in March, it meant that those who were planning to return home from visiting relatives, work, business or for adventure holidays found themselves stranded in other nations.

Even worse, some did not have enough resources to sustain them in the foreign lands.

Caroline M A Otieno and her daughter at a park in Brussels. PHOTO | POOL

Caroline M A Otieno and her 13-year-old daughter

The dual citizens of Kenya and the Netherlands have been stuck in Brussels, Belgium for the last four months. Caroline’s intention had been to get to back to the Dutch country when the lockdown was imposed as they were visiting friends in Brussels.

The lockdown started on March 14. Earlier on March 4, she had been hospitalised after what began as a sore throat developed into a flu. She was feeling lethargic, had heart palpitations, could hardly eat or drink, and “had a cough that made my throat feel like it was coated with sand paper each time I swallowed”.

Caroline was tested for Covid-19 but the results came back negative.

“I wasn't so scared at the time because I know my body. I know when I'm really sick. I was vomiting and feeling feverish, and the doctors and nurses ran so many tests — they were more panicky than I was,” says Caroline, a freelance writer who also writes for her blog

She was discharged from St. Pierre Hospital on March 11. When the lockdown started, all non-essential businesses were closed. Only eateries, shops selling food and supermarkets were allowed to operate. The whole city was shut. Caroline and her daughter have been staying at a hotel.

“My family back in Kenya has really sustained me. I also have a good friend in Belgium, who has come through for me, and two more in Singapore and in the Netherlands. I have done some freelance writing for a friend doing a film in Germany, and he has paid me for that. Of course I feel uncomfortable having limited funds. I am not working at the moment, and my consistent income basically comes from family in Kenya. So when things are held up there — business is bad — I'm affected. I also don't expect friends to help out continuously,” says Caroline.

The Belgian government began easing the lockdown in May 11, with shops that especially deal in gardening and do-it-yourself products allowed to open. On May 18, children began going to school. Her daughter goes to school twice a week. In June, restaurants and most stores were opened up, and the city is more or less back to normal, she observes.

“W earing a face mask is compulsory. Disinfectant liquid is put in front of shops and supermarkets for one to sanitiSe their hands before they touch items. The government continues to monitor the situation, giving the number of infections and mortalities per province or town. People are still encouraged to keep social distance and minimise non-essential travel,” she notes.

As she waits for the borders to open so she can go back to her life in the Netherlands, Caroline holds to one belief, “I don't fear anything, and I don't know how to be anxious. I have faith in God, and always believe He is good at His job, so I cannot be anxious.”

Dos and Wamuyu Kariuki having a meal at the hostel they are staying at in Managua, Nicaragua. PHOTO | POOL

Wamuyu and Dos Kariuki

The couple that is attempting to bike around the globe was supposed to be celebrating the second anniversary of their quest on July 2 while somewhere in the heart of the United States. Instead, they are stuck in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua in Central America.

The two had navigated the south lower part of the African content — from Kenya to South Africa — before flying to South America and riding their way up from Argentina before the pandemic stopped them.

“We entered Nicaragua on March 14 and our plan was to spend one week there getting visas for Honduras and Guatemala. The Covid-19 lockdowns had had been imposed in Europe, but had not affected the South and Central America. There were unconfirmed rumours that borders were to close by the end of March and so we were certain we would make it to Mexico, where we wanted to be in case of a lockdown,” says Wamuyu.

A Mexican visa would have allowed them a six-month staying period and return to home logistics (shipping and airfreight).

 Also, being near the US meant being closer to the nearest Kenyan embassy, and living costs would have been cheaper. The couple has been stuck in Nicaragua for about 100 days now.

Things changed pretty fast. Having made it to Managua on March 15 and lodging their visa applications with the Honduran and Guatemalan embassies the following day, they were to take additional documents to both embassies on March 17. However, both informed them that the borders had been closed.

“The Guatemalan embassy returned our application and said they would not be able to accept it. The Hondurans held on to the other application and told us that we could go back once the borders opened. But they have never opened ever since,” says Dos.

Nicaragua had 2,182 confirmed cases and 83 deaths by the time of this interview.

Wamuyu, who had earlier returned to Kenya in December to take part in the Kenyan leg of Women Riders World Relay, had caught a serious flu when she joined her husband in Panama back in January. She was treated and got well.

“That’s the closest we got to a Covid-19 scare, especially because she had flown back via different countries,” says Dos.

“We decided to stay put and social distance. We have been at our hostel all this time. In supermarkets and government offices, we have noted everyone taking precautions. The hostel has rules too on social distancing and sanitising.”

This year, they were to travel to Alaska. But with the pandemic, they have come across unexpected costs that have re-organised their budget.

“We have never lacked food. We have a good host who agreed to give us a good discount on long-stay. The shipping of our bikes and flights back home are going to empty the kitty. We also need to set up a home once we come back. That’s when we will definitely reach our critical levels,” observes Dos.

The bikes were shipped yesterday after the shipping company negotiated for a whole week to get them documentation. This is because the bikes were a special case — they were neither imports nor brought in on expatriate terms. They were put in a 20-foot container.

It has not been possible for them to tour the country because social gatherings are not allowed and thus most of the tourist attraction sites are closed to visitors.

Hostels, which are cheaper, are also cautious about people who are not observing Covid-19 guidelines. The set-up had always been shared rooms, dormitories and a few private rooms. Dormitories are not an option anymore, resulting to high prices or lack space due to the reduction of beds.

After Uhuru lifted the ban on international flights on Tuesday, the couple was ecstatic about the possibility of returning home soon.

“Do you know how happy I am (that from August 1, Kenya will be allowing international flights back)? I have washed my clothes and I’m now just arranging my things in bags. I think I’ll even wear one t-shirt and one pair of shorts for the remainder of our stay here,” joked an elated Wamuyu in a YouTube video that she posted.

“If we are able to catch one of the Kenyan repatriation flights from the US (we have been informed there might be one if the number of people wanting to go home is justifiable), that would probably be cheaper than a commercial flight. We hope the government will have a negotiated cheaper rate than what is available in the market, which is quite high with the new flying regulations,” she adds.

The couple would have loved to continue with the journey but travel regulations have changed, and the costs have gone up with coronavirus-influenced precautionary steps being in place. Some borders may also remain closed for a longer time, with European countries having put restrictions to visitors coming from some nations.

“For these reasons, we decided to come back home and wait out to see how things pan out. It’s also cheaper spending Kenya shilling in Kenya than anywhere else in this side of the world,” adds Dos.

Edna Nyameto who has been stuck in Arlington, Texas since the US closed its borders in March. PHOTO | POOL

Edna Nyameto

Edna and her family were visiting Arlington, Texas for a month. Unfortunately, the US closed its borders in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“I've been here for almost four months, now. The lockdownwas imposed around mid-March, barely a week after my arrival here,” she says.

“Most places were shut down apart from essential businesses, and a curfew that lasted for about weeks. People were not allowed to roam aimlessly apart from going to food stores or unless one was an essential worker.”

Texas is one of the states that are still having a high rate of infections in spite of the mandatory wearing of face masks in public.

Most Texans believe that being forced to wear a mask goes against their constitutional right, and some have even gone on to say it is “ungodly”.

 The Black Lives Matter protests are said to have causes spikes in coronavirus infections.

“I had a coronavirus scare immediately I landed. I had a cold and due to change in climate, it got me in a panic mode. Even though I was very sure there were no positive cases when I left Kenya, in such times you just start fishing for all the symptoms out of yourself,” says Edna.

All was well after four days of dealing with a mild cough, but without a fever. However, she had to call an old Indian couple she was seated next to during her flight just to be sure they were alright.

“Personally, I don’t know anyone who has succumbed to coronavirus, although I know like five people who have been sick and healed,” she says.

For the last four months, Edna has been surviving on her savings besides having supportive family members and friends.

“I hope that a vaccine/cure is found so that we can all go back to our normal lives. My biggest fear is that the virus is probably going to stay around longer, ruining economies further. As long as the curfews still stand, many people will continue suffering and losing jobs.”

Edna has another friend who was caught up in the same situation in Houston.