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Locked Out of Laos

By Betsy Grabb Suits
Locked Out of Laos

How did I spend my 44th Wedding Anniversary? Alone at a Thai restaurant across the river from Laos where I work at an international school.

Six weeks ago, I caught one of the last flights out of Laos where all schools closed due to the Coronavirus 19. Lao airport was full of tourists fleeing the country. The country has remained locked down for the past three months.

When Laos closed its borders, they tracked and traced people with the virus and it worked. So far, there have been no deaths from the Covid19 in Laos.

Everything was closed down in Thailand when I arrived except for grocery stores, take out food, and 7/11 stores. Masks were required, and swimming pools and beaches were closed with a penalty of $3000 and a jail sentence of 60 days. The sale of alcohol was banned for a month. Police arrested some tourists drinking wine at a pool party and threw them in jail. I purchased “under the counter” wine at our local convenience store and carried it back in a black bag nervously to our condo.

In order to return to Laos, I went to the local Thai Hospital and obtained the required “Fit to Fly” letter to fly north to cross the border. My husband read that Thailand would be stopping their international flights and tried to convince me to return to the U.S. with him. As School Head, I felt it was my duty to return to school, so I flew north to the “Friendship Bridge” and waited for three days for the official paperwork from Laos to arrive. I walked 10,000 steps daily around the sleepy, border town. There was hardly anything open and the three days dragged on in the humidity and rain.

My final night was a rainstorm and the electricity went out. I didn’t bring my laptop on this trip which was a big mistake. So I read my Kindle in the hot and humid dark room and worried about the border crossing. My daughter texted me suggesting that I return to the U.S. immediately. By morning, my husband had found a plane ticket on one of the last flights out of Thailand to Michigan.

I packed up my small bag and dashed to the airport within hours to fly back home. The Thai airport was a dimly lit ghost town with empty stores bolted shut. Only a few Take Out windows were open for food. The flight attendants wore clear plastic raincoats, face shields, and disposable gloves. Only one meal was served at the end of my international flight. Luckily, I brought snacks with me.

My mom had been in the hospital during this pandemic and was home under Hospice Care. I didn’t think I would make it back in time to see her again. It took me three flights and 32 hours to see my mom again on Mother’s Day. I never got to hug my mom goodbye. We socially distanced in her garage on plastic chairs with my siblings on Facetime. I blew her air kisses and gave her virtual hugs. These surreal family meetings brought tears to my eyes. She lived five more days and it made the whole trip worth it.

Has my Lao school reopened yet? The answer is no and the borders are still closed. So the school year ended early amidst uncertainty. Now I am sitting at a family lake cottage in Michigan watching the neighbors ride by in crowded boats with no masks on. There were 67 new Covid19 deaths in Michigan yesterday, No one even tracked us when we arrived at the U.S. airport. We passed our self-quarantine with a clean bill of health, thank goodness.

A week later, my mom was buried next to my dad in a graveside ceremony that only ten people were allowed to attend by law. We all wore masks with only muffled words of consolation. No hugs were allowed. Her grandchildren watched it live on Facetime around the world. Now my mom has been laid to rest and I am back home in Michigan with an uncertain future. What matters most is family and friends who support us through these uncertain times in history.

Betsy Suits is the School Head of Diamond International School in Vientiane, Laos. She has been an international educator for the past 23 years on four continents. Two of her children now work in international schools in China and Germany.

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07/02/2020 - Dotty
I hope you get to return to your job soon, if that is what you want to do! My daughter teaches International! Very rewarding!
06/20/2020 - Tomworld9
Good to hear your safe and sound Betsy! It sounded like a harrowing trip. Condolences to you and Charles. Will try to look you up next time I’m in Vientien. We’ve been lucky year in HCMC too!



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