Escaping Paradise

By Marlon Hyde

Contributing Writer

Back in early March, as I went to classes in Morocco, and wandered through the streets of Rabat, watching the impact of Covid-19 on Europe and international travel made me fear. After spending six weeks in Morocco’s capital, Trump’s speech on March 11 announcing the closure of America’s border to most of Europe fueled my anxiety. My original flight scheduled for May 9 with a connection in France, a country with spiking cases, looked unwise.

Three days later, when SIT announced the closure of the program and asked students to leave Morocco, I was suffering from food poisoning. A wave of anxiety combined with my upset stomach ended a night out with friends abruptly.

The next day, Morocco announced it would soon end all air travel. I had to search for a new flight home because on my original ticket the only route offered was through France. The high volume of people flooding airlines’ websites made them slow and useless. 

When I did find flights they were all scheduled for March 27 which was too far away. I needed to fly back to the US before more borders closed and I was stranded in Morocco. After half an hour of waiting on hold I reserved a flight the next day  on Qatar Airways and was advised to go to the airport immediately. I frantically packed my bags, tossing clothes into suitcases. 

I arrived at Casablanca airport and was informed that the flight was overbooked. The clerk said I could purchase on the spot a ticket on the same flight the next day, possibly the last day air travel was permitted. I called to ensure that SIT would reimburse me. Less than an hour after purchasing my new ticket, the Morocccan government announced the closing of borders which included a suspension on international travel.

Marlon Hyde rides on the back of a camel during his time studying abroad in Morocco.

I started feeling stuck in a place I had adored. Covid-19 travel restrictions left me like many other trapped travelers wondering if I would ever get home. I made it back to my room and hoped for the best. 

I woke up Monday morning expecting my flight to be cancelled. It was weird seeing the flight status as “scheduled” instead of “On Time.” 

I called a Careem and set the destination to Casablanca airport. Still packed from my failed escape I rushed out of the house to meet my taxi driver. We loaded up the car and took off for Casablanca. I ran to the check-in desk. “Is the flight still departing?” I asked as I handed the clerk my passport and ticket. He nodded as he pointed me in the direction of security and immigration. Awaked by a newfound sense of hope, I sprinted to security. 

I made it through immigration and ran to the gate like I was on the Amazing Race. At the gate a sea of people patiently waited, many of them in masks. My mask did not have a filter, but I put it on so that I did not touch my face. 

There were pockets of people wearing masks, some wearing gloves and masks, and very few wearing neither. I could see the range of how people view coronavirus. Some were not worried at all and travelled as they normally do. Others like myself had some form of protective gear to reduce the chance of getting infected. 

When the gate opened, I got in line and as I moved forward I felt a bittersweet sense of relief. Although I was happy to go home in the midst of threatening travel restrictions, I could not help but wish I was not going home. I’d looked forward to my study abroad experience since high school and for it to end in such a chaotic way hurt. 

Yet 36 hours later I landed in Georgia. Returning home felt surreal. Seeing my mother made me smile despite how painfully exhausted I was. After entering the garage, I changed clothes, wiped down my bags with Lysol and left them there until my quarantine was over. It hurt not being able to hold my nieces and nephew for two weeks. When I arrive they’re usually jumping all over me excited. This time their excitement was replaced with an uncomfortable and confused glare. 

Plopping down on my bed, nothing felt real. But being home allowed me time to process my last few weeks. Currently I am doing an internship as a part of my study abroad coursework. Although this is nothing like what I expected, I’m thankful to be safe and at home surrounded by family during these dark times.