July 28, 2020. In less than an hour from Compiègne by train, we arrive in Amiens, an affluent mid-size city north of Paris. Upon arriving at the train station, we wasted no time and immediately walked to Musée de Picardie, which was quite a distance from the terminal. We passed through the pedestrian promenades in the center of the city along the way. At that hour, which was around 4 in the afternoon, the sun was still scorching hot so there were few people walking the streets. Many were under the shades of trees in the parks or in the shaded terraces of cafes.
July 28, 2020. Two of my LL.M. classmates who had remained in Paris over the coronavirus confinement invited me to a day trip to Compiègne and Amiens, just short train rides away north of Paris. It served as our first reunion, months after our abrupt separation as a class last March when most of the class (including myself) hurriedly flew out of Paris to seek refuge in our respective countries of origin.
So I met my Japanese and Russian classmates at the Gare du Nord in the morning and we all took an almost-empty summer weekday train, first, to the town of Compiègne, which only took less than an hour.
July 20-26, 2020. The first half of last week was spent contemplating on and preparing last minute necessities for my impending departure from Manila. I made last minute trips to the mall, saw some friends, and finally got myself to pack the relatively few things I would be taking with me–considering that I would be staying abroad for a year. They all fit in just one suitcase and a duffel bag, actually. I flew out of Manila on July 22 and arrived in Paris the day after, spending a brief layover in Doha, Qatar. I wrote a separate blog entry narrating the experience of the entire transit.
It is by fortunate circumstance that I was allowed to leave the Philippines despite the many restrictions in international travel during these times. I have an existing resident visa for France that allowed me to pass through immigration authorities in Manila just a day before the Philippine government reimposed a ban on ‘non-essential’ foreign travel for Filipinos (not that my departure was non-essential). I was also able to enter France with minimal restrictions. I was surprised immigration at Charles de Gaulle airport did not even ask for any other documentation aside from my passport. I was merely asked if, after all the time I spent in France, I had already learned how to speak French. An odd question at the airport, but oui, I said, un peu, suffisant.
Let’s do this from the beginning. On the night of July 22, 2020, there were only three flights out of Manila airport’s Terminal 3–one for Amsterdam, one of Dubai and one for Doha. I was booked on the flight to Doha that would connect me to a flight to Paris. Given all the restrictions in international travel, I had expected the flight to be sparsely booked. I was wrong. The flight from Manila to Doha was packed to the last economy seat. The flight was full of overseas Filipino workers and seamen proceeding or returning to their work abroad.
The level of pre-departure anxiety I am feeling at the moment surpasses the anxiety I felt when I was first about to leave for Paris for my first year of graduate studies. Surely, the second time shouldn’t come off as uneasy as the first? But, hell, now it does. Maybe because I now know how lonely and difficult it can get, I now know how cold, literally and figuratively, it could be. Most importantly, I am leaving at a time of great uncertainty for everyone with regard to the situation of the pandemic, especially for loved ones who I will be leaving in the Philippines, compounded with the political situation that many friends and colleagues will be facing. Everyone will staying home to weather the storm, why am I leaving?
I had written a draft of this blog entry as it is, but felt it appropriate to just say, before anything else, that I am acutely aware of the tremendous privilege I have and by no means do I mean anything I say as a “flex” to anyone suffering during this pandemic. It’s been an odd thing to navigate, how to express one’s self at a time when anything some people can say or do can be considered as an insensitive display of privilege. Sometimes I just self-censor myself and not say or post anything at all, because the mere fact that many of us are online to discuss this, after all, is a privilege by itself. Where do we draw the line? Maybe I’ll write another blog entry on that some other time.
Anyway, much of the past two weeks, as with the fifteen weeks prior, was spent staying at home with my family, sometimes running errands for and with them, and arranging for my prospective departure for Paris in a few weeks’ time. I’m taking advantage of the time at home and have not gone out despite the relative freedom of the modified community quarantine, not just because it is the responsible and safe thing to do nowadays, but also because once I depart, it might be a while before I am able to return–not only because under normal circumstances it would be costly to fly back, but the pandemic has put in place so many complications as regards flying in and out of certain jurisdictions. I am just fortunate to have an existing resident student visa that I can return to Europe at this time despite its external borders being closed to citizens from most countries including the Philippines.