Long wait for reunions

The sweetness of reunion is the joy of heaven.

— Richard Paul Evans, American author

When will the borders between Malaysia and Singapore be open? Or for that matter, the borders between Malaysia and Thailand and the borders between Malaysia and Indonesia?

Nobody knows. But one thing’s for sure. As long as the Covid-19 threat remains serious, these borders will not open.

That means Malaysians who are separated by borders will have to wait a long time to be reunited with their loved ones.

Take for example, my niece, Ah Hong, who’s currently staying in Johor Bahru with her parents.

She and her parents want to return to Sarawak for a short visit but will not do so for the time being because the current conditions and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are not conducive even for short visits by domestic travellers.

For example, Malaysians entering Sarawak have to comply with certain SOPs including random samples via PCR test at state borders (air, land, and sea).
The PCR test is used by doctors to diagnose people who are sick with Covid-19.

It uses a sample of mucus typically taken from a person’s nose or throat. It looks for the genetic material of the coronavirus and uses a technology called PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which amplifies the viral genetic material if it is present.

According to a statement released on a Queensland government website, the standard Covid-19 test involves collecting nasal (inside the nose) and throat swabs, and/or sputum (mucus coughed up). The doctor or nurse doing
the test will place a swab on a thin stick in the back of the throat and 2-3cm up into the nose.

If the person being tested is coughing up mucus, he or she will be asked to cough into a collection container. These samples are then sent to a laboratory for testing.

The statement added that the Covid-19 test should not be painful. However, it can be uncomfortable even though it only lasts a couple of seconds.

Even though it is not painful, the fact that it is uncomfortable is enough to make my niece and her parents cringe and postpone their travelling plans.

Ah Hong, 24, too, has not met her boyfrend, 26, who is working in Singapore, since March 18 when the movement control order (MCO) was first implemented.

Before the border between Malaysia and Singapore closed, he was commuting daily between Singapore and Johor Baru.

On the eve of the lockdown, he was among the Malaysians who were told by their bosses to go back to Johor Bahru to collect their clothes and then rush back to Singapore so that they could continue working in the republic.

After the border closed, the young man, who had just started working in Singapore, put up with a colleague. Later, he moved out to stay with a distant relative.

Commuting daily between Johor Bahru and Singapore was time-consuming and tiring but at least, he had his fill of hearty, healthy balanced meals with my niece and her parents.

In Singapore now, the young man buys food from stalls and misses the loving care of my niece’s family and the healthy balanced meals he used to enjoy. Even though he communicates with my niece daily via WhatsApp, he is waiting impatiently for things to be normal again so that he can return to Johor Bahru and meet her again.

Living a lonely life in Singapore during the current lockdown is definitely a new, humbling and unforgettable experience for the young Sarawakian from Kuching. Since absence makes the heart fonder, he has certainly learnt to value those he loves more now.

When the border between Singapore and Malaysia reopens again, my niece’s boyfriend plans to take a long break from work and return first to Johor Bahru and then Kuching , his hometown and where his parents live, for short visits. He misses all his favourite food from the stalls in Kuching and the food cooked by my niece’s family and his mother.

In the meantime, whenever my niece shares pictures of the food she enjoys with her family, he can only admire them and pray that the Covid-19 pandemic will end soon and that he can travel freely again.

My friends, as we spend happy times with our families, let us spare a thought for many Malaysian workers who cannot be with their loved ones and families because the borders are closed due to Covid-19. Let’s pray for an end to the pandemic.