Life Updates – Mexico, Chennai and 5 years of this blog (2020)

A picture of Chichen Itza in Mexico
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I know it has been a while since I wrote about what is going on in my life and I thought I will update all my readers on what I am doing right now. It has been a rollercoaster these past few months and I know all of us have been overwhelmed and wishing the situation would improve soon.

January – Starting the year on a high note

2020 started on a high note. We were expats in Mexico and I was having lots of fun exploring Mexico city and Mexico. We spent Christmas, New Year’s eve and New Year in Mexico City since we already had made travel plans for the 2nd week of January.

It was the first time I was away from family during the holidays and I had a really hard time dealing with it. It didn’t matter how much I travelled. I had always spent December with family and friends over the years.

I was getting all nostalgic thinking about how we had celebrated my Grandma’s 90th the year before with the entire family or how we spent my mom’s 60th in Malaysia the year before that. Tharun was working all the time which meant that it was difficult adjusting to life with family so far away.

I flew to Cancun to attend a friend’s wedding around the 6th of January. My parents initially wanted to come for this wedding but they decided against this since Mexico was so far away from India.

We have been family friends since we were babies from our Tanzania days and it didn’t make sense not to attend the wedding when we were so close by. The bride (Shilpa) was my sister’s classmate while the bride’s brother (Sithun) was our classmate back in Dar-Es-Salaam. Even though they had emigrated to Canada long back, we had kept in touch and we used to meet them whenever they were in India.

It was a small intimate Kerala Christian wedding in Cancun and it was super fun. It definitely helped getting over the blues I was feeling about family back home and Cancun was such a gorgeous location. I spend the next 10 days roaming the Yucatan peninsula. Tharun joined me over the weekend while I spent roaming most of it alone.

February – Exploring more of Mexico

By the time I got back from Cancun, I was super broke. I was also working with a team back home in a different timezone. Which meant that I was working on my business a lot and my travel blogging took a back seat. I was still earning quite a bit of passive income from it and I started looking for places to visit in South America in February.

In the end, I decided to stick to Mexico since there were so many places to visit in Mexico and I was spoilt with choices. I travelled quite a lot in February and I ended up seeing and eating a lot of food around Mexico city and Mexico.

I also started to cook a lot more for myself when I was in Mexico. Let me tell you a bit about my cooking skills. As an expat who grew up in Tanzania and later in India, I was always spoilt for choices when it came to food. I never really like cooking and even when I got married, one of the first people I hired was a cook. But when I was in Mexico, I got tired of eating food all the time from outside and that was when I started cooking easy dishes.

I figured out that it wasn’t because I didn’t like cooking. I did love try making new dishes but I always got bored if it took me a long time to make the dish. So I  started small and started making stuff that could be made in less than 30-40 mins. Tharun refused to be my guinea pig and he continued to eat food from outside. His loss actually. I also realised I am not a bad cook. But I am an extremely slow cook.

Mexico Travel Tips - Puebla Mexico

Find some recommendations for guidebooks for Mexico:

March – The month where the entire world turned upside down

I ended up flying back to India by the end of February via Dubai to spend time with my nephew and sister. Corona was still a distant possibility back then. But we still did self-isolation for 2 weeks at my parent’s place. They were in Dubai for vacation then.

There were two reasons we came back to India. Our visas were expiring and the plan was to come back and renew the visa as well as change the visa to a more permanent type. We were planning to stay in Mexico for at least an year.

The other reason was that Tharun was having shoulder pain in his right arm and he was unable to move his hand at all. It had gotten worse in Mexico and our primary goal of coming back was to get treatment for his shoulder. None of the doctors in Mexico could figure out what was wrong with his arm.

Once our self isolation was over, we ended up taking a road trip to Kerala for his Kalari treatment for his shoulder.

While we were in Guruvayoor and he was undergoing treatment, Kerala decided to go on lockdown. Kerala was one of the first states in India to go into lockdown. Slowly everything started getting shut and even our hotel where we were staying shut down. We were one of the few people staying there and there was no housekeeping or food services.

Even though his treatment was not over, we had no option other than to leave. Our initial plan was to head to Chennai to visit my in-laws for a few days and so we decided to head to Chennai.

A couple of days after we reached Chennai, India went into complete lockdown. And just like that, the world around us changed in an instant.

A house in Kerala with wooden tiles
Tharun’s Kalari Treatment center

April – Chennai, Summer and our sudden trip to the ICU

There was nothing we could do about the situation and hence we decided to continue in Chennai till we knew better.

My in-laws are super cool and super nice people (not saying this just for the sake of saying it). Their primary goal was to feed us as much as possible.

But Chennai was a completely different issue. I have never really liked Chennai before solely due to the heat. The summer months were excruciating and for a person who gets migraines due to the humidity, it was not a pleasant experience. I couldn’t step out of the AC room for more than 10 minutes else my migraines to start again.

We continued going from hospital to hospital to figure out what was wrong with Tharun’s shoulder. By the time we figured what was wrong with his shoulder, most hospitals were only taking emergency patients and we had no other option other than to wait.

Life was going as is and then 21st of April came. I wrote this on Instagram and I am just copy-pasting the same.

“Last Tuesday around 4 pm, my mom in law started feeling a little uneasy. She was having her afternoon nap and she was having difficulty getting up from the bed. We were not sure what was wrong since she was not able to convey what was wrong with her and she was only semi conscious by then.

Her bp and sugar levels were way too high to be normal. She threw up once too. So Tharun immediately went to the nearest hospital and called an ambulance to the house. My brother in law went with her in the ambulance while me and Tharun followed in the car. 

The first thing they did when we got to the hospital was check her temperature. And she had a temperature and it oscillated between 100-103 in a matter of a few minutes. Immediately the nurses and doctors at the hospital said they couldn’t do anything for us and wouldn’t go anywhere near her.

They said that the protocol these days for anyone with a temperature was to be sent to a Corona facility and only once they gave a clearance, other hospitals could help.

The nearest one for us (still 30kms from our place) was the Rajiv Gandhi General hospital (GH) in Chennai. She had lost consciousness by then and so the ambulance guys took her there while we led the way in the car. Since the roads were empty, I think we reached around in 20-25 mins.

They took her to Emergency first where we had to explain to them about her symptoms. Her fever had come down by then but she was still not conscious. Even though she didn’t have travel history, both of us did which might have raised a few flags as well. It didn’t matter to them that we had already been in the country for more than 45 days and in Chennai for a month.

They kept sending us from ward to ward till they finally sent us to another building for getting the Corona tests ( blood collection and nasal swabs) done. It took a while for the tests to be done since the hospital is working on minimum staff and most of them were too scared to even come anywhere close. She was not conscious and there was no way we could carry her around on our own. The ambulance guys had already left by then.

It was after 10 pm when they finally took her to the Covid Block. We were horrified since the chances of her catching it was not possible. She has been at home for the entire duration of the lockdown and even if she did catch it, it would be from one of us because all of us had been out grocery shopping or in our case to the hospital for Tharun’s shoulderl. But none of us were having any symptoms.

The Covid Block is a new building at the back of the hospital and was completely isolated from the rest of the premises. Since it was already past 10 pm by then, we went along with her and the orderly inside and no one even stopped us.

Since there were three of us, I was sent downstairs. And that is when I got screamed at by the dean of the hospital in front of the block . She was like ‘Who let you inside and don’t you understand that this is a quarantine area and you are not supposed to be here?’ I didn’t say anything to her at that time because she was right but I didn’t want to put blame on her employees. 

The entire building was the Covid Block. My mom in law was put in the fourth floor which was where all the suspect cases were while the remaining floors had the Covid 19 positive cases.

Around 12 Am, we took her to get her CT scan done. Once that was done, one of us was asked to stay back. My brother in law stayed while both of us waited downstairs. We waited till 3:30 Am before heading back home to shower and rest for an hour. 

By the time we got back, the senior doctors were outside the building and not letting anyone in. They even sent everyone who were already in outside. Initially we were told that the test results would come in the morning. But by then, they had stopped using the rapid testing kits from China since they were defective. So they told us we had to wait for 24 hours for the tests to come.

There were some abnormalities in her CT scan and hence they suspected Covid. She was still drifting in and out of consciousness. But none of us could go inside in the morning. We spent the entire day mostly inside the car and I even fell asleep for a couple of hours. 

They told us it would take 48 hours for the results to come. Since we couldn’t do anything by staying there, we decided to head back home. That is when we got a call from the hospital telling us that one of us have to be there at least downstairs. So me and Tharun headed back to the hospital. When we got there, the staff on duty asked one of us to be with her while the other one waited downstairs.

By then we understood what was happening. The staff were extremely overworked and hence they didn’t have the resources to cater to everyone in the floor that was filled with suspect cases. So they were allowing an attendant in such cases when the senior officials were not around.

But they were kicking us out the minute any of the senior doctors were around. Even though we were allowed in the room, we were not even given a chair to sit. I ended up sleeping on the floor ( more like killing mosquitoes) that night in the hospital room.

We headed home in the morning and my brother in law stayed at the hospital. By then, my mom in law was slowly regaining consciousness and she seemed to be doing better. We went back to sleep and was back in the hospital by evening. But they did not let us stay that night.

The results did come that night but we were told we had to wait till morning. The reports were with some other department and these guys didn’t have access to it. That was another thing. They had almost zero digitisation and everything was being still hand written. There were a lot of goof ups and clinical errors happening because of this.

On Friday morning, we were told that her tests had come back negative. They were still concerned about her lungs and uncontrolled Diabetes and hence they kept her overnight in the ICU trauma ward. 

My mom in law didn’t want to stay in the hospital by then. It was also getting extremely difficult coming and going to the hospital during the day hours. The cops asked us to take a pass but for applying for a pass, we needed a letter from the hospital. But if you are admitted in the Corona ward, they don’t give you any such letters. 

We got her discharged on Saturday since Tamil Nadu was going on a complete lockdown for the next 4 days. The plan is to get more tests done to figure out the exact issue with her lungs and heart once that is over.

So posting some photos and videos from our experience. Did I tell you that the mortuary is right behind this building and every night they take the dead bodies wrapped in plastic? I saw more dead bodies in those 3 days than I did my entire life.

As someone who comes from an extremely privileged background, this experience was a lesson in humility. As people who have been spoilt with private hospitals and private Ac rooms, it kind of taught us that when it comes to Corona and this mess, we are all the same. In spite of the limited resources at the hospital, they were giving meals to all the patients and they did not even charge even a single rupee for her. There are so many unsung warriors who are fighting for us while we enjoy sitting in the confines of our homes.

Stay home and stay safe. “

It was a scary experience. However my mom in law has been doing much better since then.

May – Vande Bharat and Repatriation Flights

So you remember how I told about how my parents had gone to Dubai for vacation? And then they got stuck there because the Indian government cancelled all incoming flights the day before their flight. This meant that a lot of people including my parents were left stranded outside India.

Initially we thought it was best that they stay back in Dubai. They were with family and they had help and didn’t have to manage everything on their own.

Our other business of teaching had completely moved online and all of us were managing everything from the comforts of our home. Dad could teach from anywhere and the grandson was more than happy that they were around with him.

But we had a new challenge. The nephew was due for a pacemaker replacement in July. Which meant that we needed to get him to Bangalore as soon as possible.

The Indian government announced the Vande Bharat flights that were started to bring stranded Indians back home. Pregnant women, medical emergency cases, people who lost their jobs, senior citizens, people on visit visas etc.

You had to register in the respective country website and if your name came up in the Indian embassy/ consulate list, you could book the flights. However there were no flights from Dubai to Bangalore during the first schedule of repatriation flights announced. Which was kind of strange.

Since everyone were quite confused on what to do, we had to do a lot of back and forth coordination. The list was prepared with giving importance to the most emergent cases.

Thankfully, all of them were able to get on the 1st flight from Dubai to Bangalore on May 23rd. Let us just say that we had lots of help and this is what I wrote about our Vande Bharat Mission experience on Facebook.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it” – Paulo Coelho. We don’t think it is possible to express our gratitude in words. The love and affection that came in from around the world was too overwhelming and we feel blessed to be in the company of such loving friends, family and unknown heroes. And suddenly everyone did everything in their power to make sure that a little boy could get to Bangalore from Dubai to get his pacemaker replaced.

There are definitely too many people to thank and out of respect to their privacy and preference, we will refrain from calling out names loud. Despite the odds, the team behind the Vande Bharat Mission are doing their best to bring 1000s of Indians stuck outside India, back home.

It is no mean feat for the Ministry of External Affairs under the able guidance of Shri Subramanyam Jaishankar and Shri V Muraleedharan as India undertakes the biggest repatriation efforts in the world in recent times.

The Indian consulate Dubai under the extraordinary leadership of Consul General Shri Vipul is working tirelessly. Our flight back home wouldn’t have been possible without their continued efforts. We know they are overwhelmed with the number of requests they are getting on a daily basis and we wish them all the best to continue their gallant efforts.

A number of senior leaders, eminent NRIs and associations / groups in Dubai and India helped us immensely to get us home.

The Government of Karnataka welcomed us back home with both arms whilst the team at Air India Express are doing God’s work. A special mention to the captain and crew on our flight IX 0384 who went out of their way to help every passenger.

We would love to thank the many officials at Government of Kerala for their support in helping us reach the right contacts.

Additionally, a big thank you to staff members at both the airports who guaranteed that we had a seamless experience and ensured we reach our destination safely. Special thanks to the staff at our hotel for giving us a seamless check-in process and some really great food after a 15 hour journey (home to destination).

There are many of our fellow Indians who are/were in a similar situation and we appreciate the help of many of them who helped us along the way with information and other details.

A huge thanks to everyone in our friends list who took time out to contact people who they thought could help us and also for helping us share our request across social media. We had hundreds of messages flooding our inboxes and we had so many anxious people reaching out to us.

We know this is not enough. But Mahi would love to thank all his guardian angels around the world in his own sweet little way.

Thanking you.

Mahi’s family”

I have also made a video about our experiences here.

His surgery is scheduled for this month and we need all the prayers we can get.

June – The month of being a little lost and the ray of sunshine at the end of the tunnel

It was a huge relief that they were finally in Bangalore. Also, we were able to get treatment for Tharun’s shoulder and we were finally able to reduce the severe pain he had been suffering from during the past few months.

But however as a person who has been traveling non-stop for the past so many years, it was really upsetting to know that I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere for a while. But staying home is important for us to control the virus even though the situation in India is quite grim at the moment.

Also, my motivation for writing had completely gone by then. As a content creator who had put in so much work to bring her blog to this level, it was sad to see that no one was reading anymore. My income from the blog has been negligible since then.

And they say an idle mind can be the devil’s workshop. I ended up working on my business but refused to do anything about my travel blog.

The uncertainty of our situation also worried us. We knew by then that we wouldn’t be able to go back to Mexico soon. Tharun was on medical leave till mid of June and we are still uncertain of where his next project is going to be.

We had come to Chennai with a handful of clothes to last us maybe for 10 days. The rest of our clothes, my camera and other personal stuff was back at my parents place in Bangalore. While the rest of our stuff is still in storage.

But then I decided to focus on the positives. We both still had an income. Even though our business was affected deeply because of the pandemic, we have been trying to keep the situation as much as in control as possible. I also have a couple of freelancing gigs that I do on a regular basis.

We had a roof over our heads and it was definitely good that we were there when my mom in law had a health scare. The kid was finally back in India and he was under the observation of one of the best doctors in the world.

We also had these two for company and their antics kept us entertained throughout the day. Both are strays who have been living in our house for the past few months.

I also started concentrating on Youtube in June and I did manage to churn a few before I went dormant. There was a reason I went dormant but I will resume soon now.

The reason I went dormant was because I learnt that my old theme was deprecated.

July – The month where I restarted blogging again

So what does it mean that my theme was deprecated. It means that my old theme (look of the website) was no longer supported. Which meant that I had to move soon to a new theme and that is exactly what I did most of July.

I migrated to Astra theme and used Elementor Pro as my website builder. I am constantly changing things around but last Tuesday (28th July 2020), I finally moved over from the staging site to the live site. So how do you like the new look of the website?

Elementor pro modifying wordpress theme

I also ended up adding lots of new data and new pages like my Destination page, my ‘About Us‘ page, my ‘Work with us‘ page and also added lots of new country guides.

I have been on a writing craze ever since then and I am finally glad to get the groove back.

I also reached Bangalore on Wednesday from Chennai. I came now since Mahi is having surgery this month and I wanted to be here during his surgery.

August – Bangalore and 5 years of Travel, Books and Food

I am currently quarantining solo at my sister’s place while they have shifted to mom’s place. We didn’t want all of us to be quarantined at the same time in case we had an emergency. Tharun came as a business traveller and his plan is to go back to Chennai this week (he is at a hotel) till we finally figure out where we are headed to for the next phase in our life.

I cook a lot these days and I have had mishaps too. But I am enjoying this phase. I rarely cooked when I was in Chennai since I have always been apprehensive of feeding other people. My only job was cutting vegetables when I was in Chennai. 

The main reason I wanted to finish the redesign of this website this month was because this blog completes 5 years of existence on August 19th. So I wanted to say a big thank you to all of you for being around for so many years and hope you will continue to support me in the coming years.

Stay home till all of us can safely travel again.  Hopefully we will get some good news about the vaccine soon. After all hope is all what we have.

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2 thoughts on “Life Updates – Mexico, Chennai and 5 years of this blog (2020)”

  1. Glad to know you are safe and feeling better about everything creative now. Mexico looks absolutely stunning! Aside the covid problems you had to face, the experience must have been quite a learning curve! Take care Soumya!

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