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.