The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

From Prague to Minnesota in 60 hours


I was coming home from the club on Wednesday, in the state in which one usually comes home from the club, taking my night tram home and appreciating how two months in, Prague still felt and looked like Disneyland. It was nearing 3 a.m.. As I turned off my light, I noticed my phone blowing up with texts asking me about the travel ban and telling me that I needed to go home. Someone from our program posted on Facebook telling us to book flights home, citing Trump’s travel ban on Europe.

My roommate and I started panicking, called our moms, and eventually were calmed down enough to go to bed and deal with this in the morning. Just as we closed our eyes, someone knocked on our door. I cannot tell you how troubling it is to hear the sound of someone knocking on your door at 3 a.m.. At that moment, we knew it was serious. Our program had sent people to every student apartment in the dead of night to tell us we needed to go home.

The next day, my friends disappeared one by one; I counted myself lucky whenever I was able to actually hug them goodbye. Most memorably, my favorite kebab guy chased me down the street when he saw me pass by, asking me if I was going home like the rest of the Americans who regularly saw him. We shook hands and I thanked him. The next day, I woke up to my last morning in Prague: finally and all at once, it was time for me to leave.

Day One (3/13/20)

9 a.m. I stand in front of my apartment building, under the sign advertising erotic massages (if you read between the lines) and watch the taxi I ordered drive up and down my street before finally parking in front of me. I try to fit my massive suitcase in the trunk and the driver yells at me in Czech for mushing his interior. He unzips my panic-packed suitcase and empties half of its contents, mostly underwear and wet laundry, into the boot of his car so that the door can close. I get in the backseat and he takes off in what I’ve learned is the fashion of Czech taxi drivers: pedal fully to the floor, hugging every corner like a long-lost relative.

10 a.m. We arrive at the Prague airport. I slap 400 crowns into the hand of the driver and he throws the contents of his trunk, and my suitcase, onto the ground. He drives away while I belongings back into my bag and blow a kiss goodbye to Prague. I pull up to the check-in desk and speak to a woman wearing her airline uniform over most of a hazmat suit. She tells me she’s only spoken to American study abroad students suddenly returning home, and we crack a few jokes about my “orange President.” Despite our camaraderie, she still asks me to pay $80 for my heavy bag. I should have left my underwear in the taxi.

11 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. I wander through the terminal, trying to find somewhere to spend the last of my Czech money. I eventually buy a latte so large the mug comes with two handles. I assume that approx. 50 percent of the people on my flight are other American students being forced out. About a third of the passengers never show up. I have the row to myself.

1:55 p.m. We land at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and I embark on the tightest layover I have ever faced: 55 minutes to transfer terminals and make my flight to Dublin. I sprint to the shuttle and ignore shameful looks from the French. I feel my American self-righteousness bubbling up in an ugly way. The shuttle driver parks between terminals to scroll through Twitter. I am about to jump off and run to the terminal myself when the bus finally starts moving again. I am the last to board my flight, but I make it.

4 p.m. I have made it to Dublin, but as soon as I land I receive a text that my bags have not — they are stranded in Paris. I go to the airline desk and the agent says, “Your bags aren’t lost, my love, they’re simply running late.” His accent and gentle tone provide my first comfort of the day, and I leave the airport to try to find my friend (Avery Lewis ’21) with whom I am staying for the night.

~ 4:30 p.m. A man masturbates at me while wearing overalls outside the airport.

4:45 p.m. I finally find my friend, and we board the bus to his apartment.

6 p.m. Avery packs his bags (he’s also coming back to the U.S.) and we get dinner at an Irish pub and overhear only the American-accented voices of panicked students trying to go home, like us.

10 p.m. Bags packed, we go to bed. We foolishly say to ourselves, “Tomorrow, we’ll be home.”

Lillie and Avery Lewis ’21, at the Dublin airport. Photo contributed by Lillie Westbrook.

Day 2 (3/14/20)

8 a.m. The alarm wakes us up. We get ready and I rip the leg of the only pants I currently possess.

9 a.m. We roll down to the bus stop and make fun of ourselves for being 5 hours early to the airport.

9:30 a.m. We get to the airport. I go through customs backwards, which is apparently a thing that happens when your bags get delayed. My bags and I are reunited.

10 a.m. I try to get in the line to check in for my 2:30 p.m. flight to Minneapolis and an airline worker stops me — he asks where I’m coming from and where I’ve been recently, and then he says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you go.”

10:01 a.m. I think, “CAN’T go?”

10:02 a.m. “I can’t go?” In my head, I think, “He doesn’t understand. I am AMERICAN. I HAVE to go.”

10:03 a.m. He says, “You can’t go into Minneapolis. You have a choice, you can fly into New York or San Francisco.” I ask if I can call my mom. He says yes.

10:04 a.m. I call my mom. She doesn’t pick up, it is 3 a.m. for her. I weigh my options: On the one hand, I could go to San Francisco, which is far from home. On the other hand, I could go to New York, which is far from home. I ask the very kind man who is barring me from going home if he’s SURE I can’t fly into Minneapolis. He says that yes, he’s sure, and no pressure but please hurry up because seats are filling fast.

10:06 a.m. My mother, bless her, calls me back. I tell her I think I am going to San Francisco and that I will see her when I see her.

10:07 a.m. An intervention! Avery Lewis, bound for Chicago, asks if I can go on the Chicago flight as well. The airline worker says the flight is full, but they can put me on standby. If I don’t get off standby, they’ll fly me to New York, where they assure me I will get stuck for maybe two weeks. At this point I have kind of stopped paying attention because the woman behind the desk takes my passport and starts typing on her keyboard.

10:10 a.m. Somehow, she has guaranteed me a seat on the flight to Chicago. I want to ask how, but I don’t want to try my luck. Avery and I set off for security.

11 a.m. We get through Security Checkpoint #1, for all travelers, and try to find Security Checkpoint #2, for US-bound travelers. We stop for breakfast.

12 p.m. We arrive to Security Checkpoint #2. I say, “Woah.” Avery says, “Shhh.” The line snakes back and forth across the entire room. We investigate a little bit and understand that we are in the first of three overcrowded rooms that we have to get through before we can get to our gate. Our flight is scheduled for 4 p.m.

12:30 p.m. We have not moved. At all.

1 p.m. We’ve taken four, maybe five steps.

1:15 p.m. They open more than one lane, so we start really moving. Everyone in line cheers.

2 p.m. We stand in line in Room #2.

3 p.m. We sit in line in Room #2.

3:30 p.m. Someone comes out and explains to us what is happening: because of Trump’s travel ban, each traveler has to be individually reviewed and approved by the Center for Disease Control to return to the U.S. That’s what happens in Room #3, but that room can only hold around 10 people at once, so that’s why we’re stuck. He assures us that our airlines know about the situation, and that all flights are probably delayed. I feel a little more comfortable.

4 p.m. We stand in line in Room #2.

5 p.m. We stand at the front of the line of Room #2. The customs officer finally calls me forward and ushers me into Room #3.

5:30 p.m. We stand in line in Room #3.

Lillie wearing a mask. Photo contributed by Lillie Westbrook.

5:40 p.m. My case is called. A woman from the CDC asks me if I have been around anyone with a cough recently. I think, “Really?” and say no. She tells me to sit back down.

6 p.m. I am given my passport back and told I am free to go. I look at Avery, still waiting, and promise him that I will see him on the other side. We shake hands and part ways. I exit Room #3 and immediately hear, “This is the last call for flight blahblahblah to Chicago.” That’s my flight!

6:10 p.m. I am sprinting, sprinting to my gate, conveniently located all the way at the end of the terminal. It comes into my eyeline and I scream at the gate agent, “I AM ON THE FLIGHT TO CHICAGO!! DO NOT LEAVE, I AM GOING TO CHICAGO!!” I pant up to her and scan my boarding pass. I tell her that she MUST wait for Avery Lewis. She says nothing.

6:15 p.m. I board the plane, still panting, telling every Aer Lingus worker I see that they have to wait for Avery. They give me pitiful looks and ask me why I am freaking out, the plane will not leave for at least another hour. I wonder why the hell they are announcing final call but say nothing. I sit down.

6:40 p.m. Avery makes it onto the flight.

7:45 p.m. The pilot announces that although we are still missing 45 people, we must take off by 8 p.m. in order to keep the airline staff on their schedule. The airplane feels tense.

8 p.m. We take off. I’m not sure how many people got left behind. I see Dublin, and Europe, shrink as the airplane rises. It feels complicated.

2 a.m. (Central Daylight Time)I land in Chicago. Avery and I part ways for good. I take the shuttle to a hotel and change my clothes for the first time since I left Prague. It is 9 a.m. in Prague, and I am starving and not sleepy but can do nothing, so I shower instead.


Day Three (3/15/20)

7:30 a.m. I wake up, laying on the bed horizontally instead of vertically, dumbfounded to how I got there. I remember everything that’s happened and try to rally for the day.

9 a.m. I have a 1 p.m. flight to Minneapolis but based on my previous two days of travel I do not want to take any chances, so I head back to O’Hare.

10 a.m. In line ahead of me at security, six frat boys who have apparently never flown before attempt to split a bottle of vodka they tried to bring on the plane.

10:30 a.m. I am through security. Usually, I would think that I have made it to the home stretch, but every time I had thought that previously on this journey something has proven me wrong. I stay on my toes and obliterate a burrito bowl.

12 p.m. I make it to my gate and calculate how long I have been traveling: just under 60 hours.

1 p.m. I leave Chicago. The flight is too short to offer snacks.

3 p.m. I land in Minneapolis. My mom tries to hug me without touching me, because I almost definitely have been exposed to the virus. I sit in the front seat of the car, and we head home.

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