• Joining the Gym

    At the age of 48, I was forced to join the local gym, since I am overweight, and according to my doctor, I am not just overweight, I am ‘obese’, which I find is an unfair and strong word to describe my pleasantly plump state, and every time this very ruthless word ‘obese’ is said, it stings my mind.

    It’s not my fault if I am overweight, I am menopausal with an underactive thyroid and love to eat well too, hence I have no other choice but to march myself into this huge expanse of engineering which has machines that make you exhaust calories, and melt away your fat, take away all the excess weight and volume that surrounds you making you more mentally acceptable of yourself.

    Machines I have never seen before, engineering masterpieces that I am told are my only hope for weight management, those that can accelerate my sleepy metabolism. Although I am proud to say I am a member of this fancy, very high-tech, health club, it does scare and intimidate me being one of their older members. I not only had to learn to operate these mechanical wonders, but I also have to learn and understand phrases like ‘workout booster’, ‘fuel your workout’, or ‘ accelerate your workout’ which flash on the dashboard of these machines as I trudge on them. It does not take me long to realize these buttons increase the resistance making it harder for me to move my limbs on the machine, I have to struggle and fight, grunt, and battle with the equipment, hence losing more calories.

    Huffing and puffing I breathe hoarsely, working on the machines, putting to test different muscles in my body, after the first few sessions an awareness has set in, that all my limbs are covered with muscle, these are talking muscles, they call out to me while I exercise them, some hurting more than the others. Some are very sore, where the simple act of sitting down and getting up from a chair becomes a challenge. My muscles protest they were not used to such wear and tear. The workout level is seriously considered and prescribed by the instructor, and there was no chance of me changing the level, while he stands beside the machine, making sure I follow his directions.

    I pant and sound as if I have a wheeze as I walk on the treadmill on a zero incline, while my neighbors on either side of me, probably 20-30 years younger, run continuously at speeds of 10km/hr. at inclines as if they have suction pads on their shoes, Spiderman would be envious. I try to distract myself by watching the fat lazy pigeons roosting between the roof and the large sign boards. The music too helps confuse my brains, music I have never heard before and have no idea what style it belongs to, between the very loud rhythmic beats and some electronic instruments that make loud burping, retching, and fabric tearing noises with intervals of ‘hey- hey’ and some screaming, it must require talent to compose such music, one that can actually scramble my brains and totally confuse any listener. On some days I enter the gym to swaying and stomping drum beats with the cool air-conditioned air blowing on my face, it feels as if my treadmill lies among the African tribes from the forests of Kenya or Tanzania.

    I work out long and hard; every effort is put in, so that I may lose some of the volumes around me, I keep swabbing my face so that I can see through the rain of sweat that drips from my hair. The cross trainers are put to test too as they carry my bulk and creek loudly as I exercise my limbs, my knees cry in pain, I persevere nevertheless, for I hope to weigh a little less on my next doctor’s appointment and look a little less critically at my reflection.

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  • and finally

    This morning I woke up my husband at 6 am to ask if the email with the test results had come, it was 18 hours since we did the Covid test.

    No, he answered, I turned and continued to sleep listening to the loud chirping of the birds, thinking all was going to be well, and soon we would be on our way home, but unfortunately that was not to be, with no hint of the trying times to come.

    My husband then called Dr. Sanjaya and Wing Commander Chandrasekar the Lanka Hospital in charge to enquire, who were very conveniently sitting with the Laboratory technician at 7am in the morning working on our reports, my husband has tested negative and I have continued to test positive, this time the level is less than any of the previous reports.

    It is because of me we cannot move out, and because of me, we cannot travel back. This situation was mind-numbing, I have no symptoms of the feared virus except for the feeling of being intensely frightened which I have never felt before. My chest aches and I don’t know how to react, I choose to stay back, and my husband return, which is brushed off.

    The situation is now becoming very hard on both of us; we are not snapping at each other or arguing like we usually do, we are both afraid of what lies ahead. Our fate lies in the hands of unscrupulous Doctors of the Lanka Hospital. Why are specialists like Dr. Sanjaya, who messages the report from his phone to my husband, and Dr. Harsha sitting in a hospital laboratory fixing and messaging Covid test results, are all the laboratory technicians absent?

     How many more days before we are set free? and how many more times do we have to test, for these dishonest people to continuously line every pocket.

    Our Australian neighbors with the tantrum-throwing child let us know of the testing center near the airport, which gives you the PCR test result in 3 hours and is recommended by the airport authorities. I decide to take the test there this morning, and for this, we must only hire the ‘Damas’ Auto which takes us there, waits for us, and brings us back. The driver has to give the drunkard caretaker a kickback on his charge. We don’t waste any time and ask to leave immediately. In less than 3 hours, after the Lankan Hospital positive test report, I now test negative, it is hard to believe after being continuously tormented by greedy vicious Srilankans for the last 14 days. I break down.

    Now, we have to think every step forward, we cannot trust anyone around us, on the pretext of the report not reaching us we again request for the auto, we direct the auto driver to the departure terminal of the airport on the pretext to change money, when we actually go to book our seats to fly home the next day. It is 3 pm in the afternoon, hot and humid under the Srilankan sun, but nothing bothers us. The lady at the ticket counter is not asking for ‘PHI’ or ‘MOH’ clearances, all she asks us is for our passports, and does our ticketing.

    When we return armed with our tickets, and the Indian air suvidha formalities completed we now let the tout know we are leaving and our taxi is on the way to pick us up. He refuses to allow us out, as a last resort checks our oxygen levels and pulse, all the while claiming he needs the bogus permissions, this time nothing stops us, we clear our bill with the intern and leave.

    It is one month since we returned from this distressing experience, we feel victimized and we are both suffering from post-traumatic stress.

  • another night of dread

    This is not a place for us to stay, the choice is all wrong, there is no TV and no Wi-Fi, we are not supposed to know what is happening in the world, and cannot browse the net. Fortunately, we have our data plan from our Indian operator. When we let the owner know of our displeasure he stands quietly and listens, his mind planning and scheming, laughing at our helpless plight, a tout of the bad kind, dressed in a gaudy checked shirt, thick gold bracelets, and a gold watch. It did not take long to know my instincts were right when a red car drove into the compound and the rolling shutter shut. The red car couple went into the room to our right, and in a couple of hours, the red car with its people left. Renting out vacant rooms to couples engaging in infidelity in a Covid care center is deplorable. Obviously, nobody checks these centers or the ‘MOH’ the ‘PHI’ and the Lanka Hospital are all involved.

    Language is a huge problem in this place, they only speak Srilankan, the neighbors on our left are transiting passengers to Australia with a tantrum-throwing 2-year-old, the brash drunkard caretaker keeps saying no for everything and the 22-year-old intern has gone to get me soap and shampoo to have a shower.

    Tea this morning was a brown watery sweet malty drink, I wonder if it is spiked, I do not drink it. Last night I placed the plastic chairs and table strategically against the door and our window facing the corridor in case someone tries to come into this room, and since 7am this morning we have repeatedly called and asked for the lab assistants to come and do our PCR test so that we can travel tomorrow. But the tout of this facility and the involved Lanka Hospital Director have already made their plans for us. It was now their turn to extract a pound of flesh from us, delaying the test and the result was their first tactic.

    The lab technician finally came at 1pm for our test and we are to get our results in the evening, we wait until 9pm there is no message or call, dejected and extremely disillusioned we get ready to turn in for the second night in this dreadful place. The air-condition blows cool air while the palm tree scratches our aluminum roof, the lights outside are disturbing and I can hear airplanes go above me all night, but none stop to pick me up and take me home.

  • More adventure

    The rule book says we need not stay here beyond 10 days, as a foreigner we can take a transfer to another facility or stay in an independent home until we test negative to go back home. There are more rules and short forms to decipher like ‘MOH’ documents of transfer and ‘PHI’ permissions are needed. No ‘MOH’ has bothered to contact us in all these days, while they have all our phone and passport numbers. I have no clue why we are scared of all these procedures which hardly make any sense.

    We let the Nawaloka staff know we do not trust their testing facilities and we want a transfer to the Lanka Hospital run facility, thus we are made to wait till 6pm, the presiding ‘CMO’ Dr. Prasadika of this facility decides our fate, she does not answer our phone calls and ignores our messages, forces us to take their transport, a regular van they call an ambulance because the driver is dressed in a hazard suit and Nawaloka charges us for another day. I throw the anti-anxiety tablets in the bin before I leave; they were handed to me with the other vitamins to take every day, as part of the 7-day stay package we had to pay in advance for.

    We travel for more than an hour in the van to a place closer to the airport in Katunayake, the driver talks continuously on his phone and makes sure he hides the phone every time he sees traffic policemen. We finally reach a place called Damas with tall walls and metal grills like a prison center and a white rolling shutter as their gate. This has been recommended by the Lanka Hospital Director himself, a retired Wing Commander, and Dr. Sanjay. My first impression of this place makes me wonder if we have jumped from the frying pan, straight into the fire, it is a strange-looking unfinished house with many rooms, nothing like the website pictures, dirty with dead plants. It is hot and when we enter the assigned room a floor up, the loud drunken caretaker leads us, while the petite travel and tourism intern asks us for our dinner order.

    The room is dusty, with cobwebs in every corner, hair on the floor, one pillow on the bed, 1 towel, 2 plastic chairs, and a plastic table is what you get. There is no Covid protocol here, hygiene is a never heard word, have the Lanka Hospital authorities, the MOH, and PHI seen this place?

    The extremely strong-smelling incense in a bottle with sticks kept on the plastic table has made its mark in my brain; I first pick it up and throw it outside. The roof is not concrete but made of aluminum sheets, and the air conditioner is on full blast, both my husband and I sit down shocked, we have never lived in such conditions before. They promise to do the PCR test tomorrow and when the food arrives, it is wrapped in paper and handed to us in a green plastic packet, I have to go down and help myself to crockery and cutlery from a kitchen swarming with flies, we cannot eat.

  • still positive

    I have called the assigned number many times to complain about the food that is being dished out to us, we are vegetarian, and serving us vegetarian with accompaniments of fish and chicken does not work, we cannot push aside dead cooked creatures like separating curry leaves or whole spices and continue eating. Since I complained so many times, I now get a whole bunch of different vegetables batter fried and soggy for the next meal, which I waste. It is with great difficulty that I lodge a complaint with the visiting doctor who arranges for us to get Sri Lankan curry rice as our meals. Both my husband and I have stuffed ourselves with vitamin tablets, to keep our immunity up.

    I sit watching the ripples on the ocean surface, it is warm and the sea is calm, the horizon is dotted with small ships. When it is windy there are waves all throughout the sea, I guess the wind angrily pushes the water ahead.

    4 floors below the waves continuously lash against the very creatively placed huge set of rocks, and the compound of this Covid facility, I am sure those who served the Kala Pani during the British raj in India and the prisoners who were sent to Australia also by the British had the same ocean view.

    Throughout this ordeal many friends keep in touch to cheer us up, some, not understanding the situation, tease and jeer at my husband who is locked up in the same room with his wife. At the same time our three girls, who never lost hope, religiously called and messaged, to keep us motivated and know that tomorrow will be better, our daughter, a friend’s daughter, and a close friend from Mumbai.

    We got our 3rd test results and we are still positive, with levels lesser than what we started out. The whole situation is one of being helplessly hopeless. We are caught in some vicious circle that we cannot comprehend, this is a bankrupt country trying to pay its debts by looting foreigners. I pray continuously but who is listening, I cry in my sleep and beg; even then no one can hear me.

  • cannot remember which day it is..

    Days go by with very little to do.

    My afternoons are spent sitting on the most uncomfortable writing table chair which I have padded with a cushion, I found in the cabinet below the TV and I work on my cross-stitch, I never carry my needlework on holidays, just a couple of books to read, I wonder what made me do things differently this time. I have a book which I cannot concentrate on.

    We are staying 4 floors above the lover’s beach, the large dark brown rocks below are artistically arranged, sometimes there are couples sitting spending alone time with each other, or there are photoshoots, capturing the sea and rocks with all the memorabilia people are creating for themselves. I watched a wedding shoot, where the girl’s red saree got all wet with the seawater, and another one of a ‘mother to be’ who was photographed wearing a white flowing dress with a wreath on her head, sitting precariously on a rock holding blue and gold balloons.

    I just stare at the sea and watch the sunset; the sun is a bright orange ball slowly immersing itself into the blue restless waters of the Indian Ocean. On a clear evening far away I can see the Colombo skyline and just one tall building light’s up like a bright orange flame as if it is on fire. The building is covered with glass and its angle catches the light of the sun to reflect it until the sun is gone, and another day has passed.

    I wait patiently for the lab technician to come and test us again and hope we test negative for Covid so that we can leave this dreaded facility.

  • another day

    Every day I sit on the small balcony with my phone and write, today it was difficult, I   could not write.

    I just sat on the white wooden chair and watched the Fisherman fish in the morning and in the evening when the tide was high, the water covering the rocks he balanced himself on, both times he caught many fishes, silver ones, and after he unhooked them he slipped them into his lemon collection bag tied to his waist which danced all the time.

    They came and tested us today for Covid this morning since we have been in captivity for the last week. I have to carry the torn light green upholstered writing table straight chair outside the room so we can sit while the lab assistant dressed in her blue hazard suit prods and scrapes our nose and throat. We tell her we just want to go back home, she doesn’t care, she just takes down details, writes notes, and leaves with a warning that the report will be out late at night, we are anxious, but don’t mention it to each other, both of us are praying, there is silence for a very long time in the room.

    In the afternoon while we nap, the fire alarm goes off, it is a sharp ear-piercing sound, I wake up to open the door and look out, there is nobody, the alarm goes on for a couple of minutes and stops, nobody cares, the TV is blaring from the neighbor’s room.

    24 hours later we are handed our reports like citations which says we are Covid positive. We have no symptoms that are supposed to come with this dreaded disease, and considering both my husband and I are asthmatics, we just have a mild cough, which could also be due to the dusty musty room we are confined to.

  • day 4

    It is with great difficulty I learn how to open an account with Word press and upload a blog. In my previous published writing, I have made syntax errors that I do not know how to correct, I tried but all my efforts were unsuccessful, hence this time I got my daughter to edit before I published.

    Day 4

    I began my day laughing this morning and it felt extremely good. Just seemed like a new feeling.

    Our neighbours were a family of four – parents and two young daughters probably 8 and 12 years old, we were not allowed to speak to any other resident, ‘the rule book’ said so. It was a very windy day and the sea had little white waves all through. I guess it was the wind pushing the water to create these frothy waves, leaving the rocks below covered with the blue and white sea.

    The sliding doors to the balcony were open and my husband was midway through his morning nap. A loud knock on the door announced that breakfast had arrived, which meant the plastic packets filled with aluminium food containers had been placed on the tables kept outside every room in the corridor.

    Very obviously, both, my neighbours and I had our balcony doors open for a little bit of fresh air. The two girls from the adjacent suite and I stepped out to retrieve our goodie bags, and the wind caused both our stopper-less room doors to bang shut. The two young girls got scared and resorted to frantically knocking on their door calling out to their mother because we were all locked out in the corridor, and the rule book said ‘no stepping out of your room’. This left me in peals of laughter until my room door was opened by my grumpy husband.

    Today I have given up. There was no use in feeling sad and cooped up so I decided I would re-evaluate all my options in the room with whatever I had access to. I cut the top of an empty 1.5-litre plastic water bottle to make it my bathing mug since the shower did not work. Another bottle I cut to a smaller size to be my bowl which I filled with a little detergent powder and water to wash the few utensils we used for eating and making tea. The cover of the small white plastic box in which I got some tomato sauce as part of my meal was the soap saver for my detergent bar since the levels of the lid were perfect to ensure that the soap bar would dry. The bottom part of the same small white plastic box was my little cup to gargle my throat with diluted Betadine.

    I had collected many of the plastic packets in which our meals came. I now plan to tie them together and make myself a parachute just in case I decided to leap down four floors to escape this dreadful facility. But where would I go? Nobody was going to allow me to board an aircraft home unless I am tested Covid negative.

  • Day 2-3, isolated

    I sit on the white-painted wooden chair in isolation at the Nawaloka hospital care center, my balcony is 4 floors high facing the Indian Ocean, the waves never stop lashing the rocks below, and the constant movement of the blue water, on the horizon is somewhat of comfort on some days. The tall coconut palm tree leaves reach out to me. The crows are always swinging on the huge dark green swaying leaves. If I look down there are 3 men balancing themselves, standing on the rocks probably fishing for their meal. They were there yesterday and I am sure they will be there tomorrow too. Time crawls very slowly, the maximum amount of work I do is wipe surfaces with a Dettol wipe and hand wash my clothes. There is no clothesline to dry the washed clothes, hence I have to use the wooden chairs kept outside as my drying stand. Our room smells stale, urine, dust musty carpet, and the fishy air from the sea.
    Looking straight down over the balcony railing is a small neatly maintained garden that the gardener comes to maintain every day. Sometimes I see 2 kittens playing, or a small brown dog searching for something. But beyond the green boundary hedge, it looks as if the sea has vomited an enormous amount of plastic packets and garbage which looks disgusting and very sad.
    There is also a railway track close to this hotel property because in the morning as early as 6.30 am and late evening a number of trains go thundering by, I hear the whistle and feel the vibrations as they pass.

    Day 3, the crows do not come to our balcony anymore; they now know there is no food for them here since we have been given strict written instructions not to feed animals or birds in our rule book. Although I do see scraps of our breakfast bread thrown out of the other balconies on both sides and from below.
    With really not much to do, besides wait for our 3 meals, and 3 visits from the nursing staff which always announced with a loud commanding knock on the wooden door, I sit and stare at the sea below. I observe a young couple who have wandered onto the small beach, seeking privacy not knowing this hotel is a Covid isolation center. The boy grabs the girl’s phone and constantly teases her, pretending to drop it in the water, throw it, dodging her, running away, all the while the girl is trying to reach for her phone. From where I stand and watch, it looks amazingly irritating, but attraction does strange things to your mind, it blocks all the neurons to think logically. I continue to dry my laundry on the chairs and carry on.
    Today is cleaning day for me, I have a Dettol wipe and wipe down surfaces. I see the housekeeping person dressed in his hazard suit in the narrow wooden floored corridor and ask to borrow the vacuum cleaner for a few minutes and ferociously vacuum the dark green carpet, all the corners, the rails of the balcony sliding doors. I can feel the particles dashing against the plastic pipe when being sucked in.

    The rest of the day passes by with waiting for our unappetizing meals, packed in aluminum containers, tied in a white plastic packet, and a bottle of drinking water. Very thoughtfully, every day we are also supplied with a huge garbage bag to dispose of all the unwanted food. The wooden floor of the corridor is sticky, with the odor of rotting garbage, the facility is to care for Covid positive people, where hygiene is supposed to be primary and they charge us the same rates as you would pay in a 5-star hotel in Srilanka.

  • My experiences narrated in the last 2 posts are real