We can’t touch it, count it, bottle it, or even see it. But who among us would argue that love isn’t real? It makes sane people do and say crazy things. It prompts selfish people to do noble things. What else on earth has that kind of power? It can hurt like nothing else in the world. And yet, paradoxically, not loving is so much more painful. The most talked about, sung about, and thought about theme in the world, as well as the most misunderstood. Would you like to know more about it and see it in a brand new light? Then you must read my story about my personal journey through the COVID-19 crisis.
It Started On the Other Side of the World
We woke up on the other side of the world today, Park Lane Harbour in Huizhou, China. We are yet to tour, but in the meantime, we are nursing our jet lag in our apartment on the 28th floor. The view is spectacular. Lush, tree-covered mountains on one side, and an azure sky with aquamarine water and little white sailboats dotting the bay on the other. I had dreamt about here, long before I came. One thing is true though, or rather many things are facts: it’s quiet, peaceful, beautiful, serene, breathtaking, and oh my God, the temperature is a merciful 70s degree F!
The people here are nice too: polite and respectful, if not a bit curious. After meeting Floyd, our contact from the school, Lin, our real estate agent, and a new colleague who lives at my apartment building, Jaye Morrison, I think we’re going to be fine here. Those were my initial thoughts when we first arrived in Huizhou. We had lived in the UAE before, where the temperatures soared to 145 F during summer, so this was a huge reprieve from the unrelenting heat. Weather aside, however, the beauty of Park Lane Harbour and the differences in cultures on display, I could see how my entire lifestyle was about to change, and it was so refreshing. Even teaching at a boarding school, which was new to me. I could see how it would be very different and quite charming.
After settling in a bit, we got to tour the school and later, I attended the BASIS International Schools Summer Institute. BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour was hosting it, and it was all very impressive. The principal, other administrators, faculty, staff were warm, inviting and caring. I went through an incredibly fast-paced but memorable half year, with FastBridge/WIDA testing transitioning to MAP (NWEA) Testing. A huge production for the Halloween Festival, surprisingly an enormous event here was spectacular. The Thanksgiving Retreat at a fancy hotel, where all of BASIS International Schools in China came together once again to give thanks, accompanied by our families. This was a weekend to remember, and I was so grateful that school operations had allowed my adult daughter to come along. This all culminated for me in January with the induction of our first NHS (National Honor Society) chapter (of which I was a co-sponsor) and the Chinese New Year’s school-wide celebration, where I danced and performed in the Drumbeat production.
There were many wonderful, touching moments in between. We bonded as a team, as a school, and I made lots of friends among the faculty and staff. However, as I was on CNY break, tragedy struck! We had been vacationing in Thailand when like a whisper that quickly grew into a loud ROAR, COVID-19 made its dreadful entrance! Starting in Wuhan and then seizing mainland China in its steely grip, everyone watched in horror as millions of people were put in lock-down, followed by the quarantine of the entire Hubei province. This escalated until the spread of the deadly virus infiltrated the entire country like an unbridled stead let loose to race and ravish everything in its path.
Though we had planned our vacation to visit several countries in Southeast Asia, it seemed we were running now, from country to country, weary and wishing we were anywhere else and not in Asia. Our journey led us to split up, where my husband flew home to visit his ailing mother in Pakistan, and my daughter had an interview for a job position she had applied for in Hong Kong, but where the interview was to take place in the UK. So, we went our separate ways, but planned to meet back up in Cambodia, a place that thus far, seemed impervious to the virus, and which was still in Asia and not too far from our home in mainland China.
As luck would have it, though, things did not go as planned (as they rarely do). Man makes plans, God laughs! Because all the flight cancellations and bans and quarantines that had started to take place in all countries, getting back together became a huge challenge. Throughout it all, though, I had been in constant contact and communication with the school. We were one of the first BASIS International Schools to set up remote teaching. As a team, the heads of department (HODs) and the Director of Academics (DAP) came up with a strategy to salvage what looked like a long-term estrangement from in-school teaching. Yet, we all just had no clue where this was all going to lead.
In March, we got the call back to China. Come back now, before it all gets worse. We had to all return by March 16th and so we made plans and took a flight from Cambodia to Hong Kong, where my daughter and I would come through the Shenzhen border and cross over to China. We knew we’d have to self-quarantine in our apartment, but that was about all we knew. My husband could not join us because by then, Pakistan as a country, was under a lock-down of sorts, with all airports closed, no airlines entering or leaving. Little did we know this was about to happen everywhere.
The day we returned, at midnight, everything would change. As of March 17th at midnight, everyone, no matter what country you were coming from would be under government quarantine, and so unbeknownst to us, that meant us too. Even though we had already entered the country, our apartment complex refused to allow us to enter. It didn’t matter that we paid rent there, nor that we had been allowed to enter from immigration at the Shenzhen border, we were not being allowed to enter the gate at our apartment complex.
School Support, Love, and Care
The terror and confusion we felt was indescribable. However, Doris, from the BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour HR team, bless her heart, who had been working tirelessly to get us in, sent us a driver, who handmade arrangements for my meds to be picked up that afternoon from my doctor’s office, and who had screamed at an errant taxi driver, who wouldn’t drive us to our pick-up location point, Doris who was in touch with Ken and Lily, our Operations Managers, had to think quickly on her feet. They made a quick decision that night to take us to the teachers’ dorm and put us up for the night in hopes that they’d be able to work something out with our apartment manager the next morning.
Fast-forward 17 days later, this never happened. The apartment manager was unrelenting. She had to go strictly by the book, and said she had to follow government protocols. And so the school operations team, taking an enormous chance, kept us on campus, but had us take the COVID-19 test. I cried when I first heard this would happen. I was not mentally prepared and this was yet another shoe to drop in a long series of shoe-drops at every turn. Every day practically, there was something else to deal or contend with.
By the grace of God, we both tested negative. Good, so we hadn’t caught it in our travels. But there was a serious chance we could have caught it on our return back to China. So, 14 days of quarantine, in the dorm room, and not at home in our apartment after all. Then another test after the completion of those days to check again.
Let me be frank, 14 days is an eternity, when there’s nowhere to go and not much to do. It gives you a lot of time to reflect and think. Yet, the BASIS International Schools community really came through for us. The school’s chef provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner delivered to our rooms, every day on a timely basis. The school at large became a refuge, and the teachers were phenomenal! Organized by English teacher Jenn Gunther, one of my HOD colleagues, she set it up where teachers would cook us a home-cooked meal and deliver it to our door. People would bring us fruits and snacks, candy and soft drinks, and the most elaborate meals imaginable. We got towels and plates, soap and toiletries, puzzles and games, yoga mats and weights. We were floored by everybody’s generosity and kindness. The school did provide, especially with all the wonderful messages we received from everyone.
Even after we got out, the love and care continued to pour in, with many people checking in on us, even those who were overseas and not on campus. My principal, Dr. John House-Myers, along with the Operations Team, arranged for me to go see my doctor by providing me a chauffeur. I was able to go to my doctor’s appointment, which had to originally be cancelled, and made it to the city and back without incident. I thank God for seeing me through this journey and I know for sure that He had been guiding my steps every inch of the way. I feel blessed to know I’m safe and to know I’m in good hands, as it should be. It takes a village, and this is what Park Lane Harbour is. A village, where you’re loved and nurtured and people take care of you.
Grace did lead me back, and it was no small feat.
Darline Coupet is the Senior ELL Coordinator and Head of ELL Department at BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour.
Read more stories from our teachers about the support and care they received from the BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour operations team in this post.