Shillong girl undertakes two-month long journey to return to “The Hills” amid COVID-19 crisis


SHILLONG | JULY 26, 2020: 

FEATURE by Jessica Zothanpuii Tochhawng

Can you imagine traveling back to the 1500s when the only mode of transportation for long journeys was through the sea? ANSWER: A slow and tedious journey, taking months at a stretch to reach from one continent to another.

Come to think of it now, traveling by ship is a luxury not everyone can afford not only in terms of money but also time. Today, traveling from one country to another is as simple as taking a walk in the park; thanks to the invention of cars and airplanes! But what happens when the only option to go back home is by ship? The answer is simple: Depending on your eagerness and your needs, you'd climb mountains to get to where you want.

Here's a story of a lady from Shillong in Meghalaya who spent almost two months in a ship, working and praying that she reaches home safe and sound amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her name is Daphishisha Kharwar, a resident of Jaiaw Laitdom (St.Joseph) in Shillong. A young lady, who was working in the hospitality sector in the United States of America (one of the worst countries affected by COVID-19), got out of the country just on time.

Since traveling by air was banned in most countries, she along with a few of her friends/colleagues, who hail from different parts of India, boarded a ship and spent almost two months at sea to travel from Caribbean port to Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Daphishisha Kharwar (TNT Photo)

In an exclusive interview with The Northeast Today, Daphi talks about her experience on the ship – 'Crown Princess' and how she got into the sea-tuation.

TNT: Miss Daphi, take us back to your school days and previous experiences.

Daphishisha Kharwar (DK): I did my schooling from Seng Khasi Higher Secondary School and my 12th from St Peter's HS School in Shillong; I then went to the Institute of Hotel Management where I attended a 4-month institutional training in Jaipur. After graduating from IHM, I worked for the Oberoi Group for 3½ years in Kolkata, Chandigarh, and New Delhi. I also worked at Enchante Tea Room in Laitumkhrah for two months before moving to the United States.

TNT: Awesome! What was your occupation there in the States?

DK: I'm a seafarer for the Princess Cruise Company; I worked in the kitchen at the Galley restaurant in the Caribbean Islands.

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TNT: When did you start your journey? if you were to summarise it.

DK: We were supposed to come by flight but since the government had shut down all the airports, we had to travel by ship. The ship I was on made its way to Colombo where I was able to get a flight to Mumbai. I was on the ship since April of 2020 and reached Mumbai on the 3rd of June where I got tested and quarantined for 9 days then left for Shillong on the 13th and got retested and quarantined for another 28 days.

TNT: Have you traveled on a Ship for that long before? How was the condition of the ship, did you have to follow certain protocols?

DK: No, it was the first time I had to travel for that long without docking. The ship was in a really good condition, the company took great care of the passengers and provided us with almost everything we needed; they even went as far as trying to provide every entertainment possible to ease the tensions and frustrations which were slowly brewing. As for the protocols, we followed the regular rules like social distancing as much as we could; we wore masks all the time and frequently washed our hands. On reaching Colombo, they sanitized us completely! From head to toe, including our bags and luggage, only then were we allowed to go in; even then they still checked our temperatures and were very careful.

TNT: That's great to hear, however, did you face any difficulties? 61 days on a ship must've been difficult, how did you spend your time?

DK: Tell me about it, I was homesick, the fact that I couldn't go outside out merely looking out made me miss home, even more. I was also worried as I didn't know how my family was doing in this situation. However, I feel lucky and am grateful I was able to return to Shillong before the COVID 19 situation deteriorated. I felt at ease knowing. Had I undertaken the trip a little late, it would've been much more difficult for me to go back to my family.

For 2 months we were working because we were feeding the crew members; we stopped working one week before we reached Colombo because we had to quarantine in the ship itself.

Daphishisha Kharwar (TNT Photo)

"Complaining about how we can do this or that will not do us good; so, read books, learn a new skill, anything productive. Let's take this as a blessing and reflect" ~~ Daphishisha Kharwar

TNT: Well, in light of the pandemic, Community COVID 19 Management Team (CCMT) has been running the quarantine centres, you were also quarantined there, so how was the whole experience?

DK: I was quarantined in St. Joseph school which is in my locality and I can say the headman and the CCMT and volunteers have done an amazing job looking after our safety, comfort, and any necessities we required. We can call or text them any time of the day and they are willing to help us.

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TNT: What do you plan to do while you're here? Do you think you'll go back to the States?

DK: I am not the type to just sit still at home and wait around doing nothing so I am currently job hunting for any kind of job I am capable of doing even if it's out of my field. I believe keeping the mind a little occupied is better than getting paranoid due to overthinking; People panic over the current pandemic and think too much about it; by following safety protocols and being careful, I feel like the situation can be much better.

TNT: Did you face any discrimination when you came back from the quarantine centre? What would like to say to everyone reading this…

DK: I did not face any discrimination from the locality. I was treated with a lot of kindness. I have been traveling for a long time and being on that long journey, I think they felt pity towards me. I'd just like to say — take care, stay safe and don't panic! Everything will be alright.

We can use this opportunity to take a breather from the hectic lifestyle we lead, spend time with your family, and enjoy the activities you normally won't be able to do. Complaining about how we can do this or that will not do us good; so, read books, learn a new skill, anything productive. Let's take this as a blessing and reflect.

TNT: Despite having to go through all that, one thing that struck us was your positive, bubbly personality, how have you maintained such a positive attitude? Do you have a particular motto you live by?

DK: It's because God has been so good to me that he never leaves me no matter what; so I always have a positive attitude towards Life that whatever happens, happens for a reason, and I am thankful that I have such supportive family who stands by me. So Count your blessings, even if you don't see them.

(About the writer: Jessica is a student who is awaiting her Class 12 results from National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). She is currently working as an intern for The Northeast Today (TNT) in Shillong)