Near the end of our journey through Saudi Arabia, we hear that Saudi Arabia is considering closing their borders. It is early March 2020, and the Covid-19 virus is conquering the world. I have to go back to work, and my travel partner is on her way to Kuwait. Our plan was to come back to Saudi Arabia, but we realise that it is unlikely this will be possible. As an alternative, we decide to meet up in Maldives. I am home Monday, have a work meeting on Tuesday, fly to Bangalore on Wednesday, and after coming home on Saturday, unpack, pack, and am on my way to Dubai. In the meantime, the WHO has declared that the outbreak of Covid-19 is officially a pandemic.
When I arrive, I receive a message: the flight from Bahrain to Maldives has been canceled by Oman Air. I decide to fly to Bahrain, so we can at least be reunited - also because my travel partner will have her birthday the next day. Arriving in Bahrain, I am standing in line with many Indians who have arrived from India. I am longing to see my travel partner again, and I am tired after all the traveling and missed nights, so I am looking forward to a real bed. Halfway the queue, it turns out the health form given by Emirates was outdated, and I have to fill a new one. I routinely give my passport to the immigration officer, who asks me where I arrived from, so I reply: Dubai. He then asks me if I have been to Europe in the previous two weeks, and I tell him that I have arrived from Amsterdam before, but I have mostly been in Saudi Arabia. He disappears with my passport, talks to his supervisor, and comes back to say that I am not allowed to enter Bahrain. I see all the other passengers being admitted in, and wonder why I am denied entry. He explains that it has been decided hours before to close Bahrain to anyone who has been there in the last two weeks, because of the sharp rise of Covid-19 cases.
Instead of seeing my partner, and of crashing in a comfy bed, I am now forced to go to a test area. No Covid-19 test is offered; instead, I need to answer questions, and someone takes my temperature. I am given a mask - the first time to wear one. When all this is finished, and I am registered, an immigration officer comes to take my passport. He walks away with the document in his hand, and I wait for him to come back. However, he never does. I imagine he is busy, go to his desk, and ask for my passport. He tells me I will get it back as soon as I have a ticket to leave the country.
By now, I have discovered that Bahrain International Airport does not have wifi. I walk up to the departure area, explain my situation at the lounge, where the girls kindly offer me to stay in their lounge. I start sending messages, making some calls, check the newest worldwide developments regarding the virus, and talk to my partner. After considering the rapidly changing situations, and countries closing their borders, we decide that going to Maldives would be a big risk, and we might get stuck for an unforeseeable time. My partner decides to buy a ticket to New York through Abu Dhabi, and I buy a ticket to Abu Dhabi as well.
With the ticket, I go back to immigration, and ask for my passport. They refuse to give it to me. I am getting upset now: this is not what they promised. They are getting very rude and unfriendly and keep my document. I wander around the airport, also wondering why, if they consider me a health risk, I am allowed to freely walk around. It takes a long time before my partner can check in, and when she gets to air side, we are finally reunited again.
We go back to immigration for my passport, but they are completely unwilling to give me my passport. I talk to other officers, even call the Ministery of Foreign Affairs back home, who are unable or unwilling to help me. In the end, after we have a real fight with the officers who continue to break their promises, one of them walks with me to the gate, and hands me the passport there.