16 April 2020 – AM
Today’s the day.
Melvin Chen barely has the time to eat. He is too busy packing and organising, checking his bags and the room’s drawers to make sure nothing is left behind.
Everything went downhill since the Peru government announced a state of emergency on 15 March 2020. His flight home, scheduled to depart on 18 March, was cancelled as all airports are closed. What was originally a one-month work trip was extended to include another month of waiting.
But the wait was not that agonising – the Third Secretary at the Embassy of Malaysia in Peru, Pn. Lailatul-Akmal Abd. Rahman replied to his request for help almost immediately. Melvin was added to a WhatsApp group which included other Malaysians who are also stranded in Peru, and Pn. Lailatul gave them daily updates about the embassy’s efforts to secure a flight back home for them.
And today’s finally the day – the day he can finally go home to Malaysia.
The procedures required [to bring us home] aren’t easy. Good job and credit to the Malaysian embassy in Peru for all the efforts.Melvin Chen to TRP
16 April 2020 – Noon
According to Pn. Lailatul, it is almost impossible for the embassy to get a flight from Peru to Malaysia due to the closure of airports and borders in Peru. However, they managed to charter a short-haul flight that will bring Melvin and the other Malaysians from Peru to Brazil, where they will board a plane back to Malaysia. For this to happen, approvals were needed from three countries’ governments – Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil.
In order for Melvin to catch the plane home, he needs to first make his way to Lima, where the flight will depart.
But that is also one of the biggest problems – Melvin is currently in the Peruvian city of Pucallpa, almost 800km away from Lima.
He remembers feeling really grateful when the embassy informed him that they have arranged transportation to bring him from Pucallpa to Lima.
I brought two bottles of large mineral water, biscuit, and bread with me as the journey would take 20 hours. The Malaysian embassy has already asked me to bring all this as the journey from Pucallpa to Lima can’t stop, unless it’s to pump petrol.Melvin Chen to TRP
16 April 2020 – PM
This cannot be happening.
Five hours into his journey to Lima and Melvin is now looking at the aftermath of a landslide. There is a hill of soil, rocks, and fallen trees blocking the road. It is impossible for any vehicle to drive through it.
With at least 15 hours of driving time ahead, he realises that time is slowly running out for him. Melvin takes out his phone, wanting to make a call to the Malaysian embassy to alert them about his situation.
There is no mobile coverage. The bars that indicate network coverage on his phone are flat.
Panicking, he asks one of the locals around for help. They tell him that this is a hill area and mobile coverage is only available further down the hill – but the trip will take him about 45 minutes.
Not having much of a choice, he makes his way down the hill to call the embassy.
16 April 2020 – late PM
Just as the embassy promised, help arrived as soon as it could in the form of a tractor and more police personnel.
The embassy called the local police station immediately after Melvin informed them about the landslide. The authorities then quickly arranged for help to remove the soil and debris from the road. But it will take a while before the road is fully cleared – and both he and the driver need rest.
However, there are no hotels or rooms that are available for rent nearby. They then decide to make some minor adjustments to convert the car into an ‘overnight accommodation’.
Tonight, the temperature outside is 4°C.
17 April 2020 – PM
The road is finally clear! The police informs Melvin that they can continue their journey to Lima now.
They even offer to escort Melvin and his driver down the hill, so they can make up for lost time. All in all, he was stuck on that hill for 18 hours, and now prays that there will not be anymore hiccups on the journey.
18 April 2020 – AM
It is exactly four hours before his flight to Brazil takes off – and Melvin has finally safely arrived in Lima.
Thankfully, Pn. Lailatul has arranged for him to rest at her house for the time being. The country is still under lockdown, and there is nowhere Melvin can wait till his departure time.
Thinking that he must be hungry upon arrival, she even prepared some bihun goreng and fried eggs for him.
He then follows Pn. Lailatul to the assembly point, where he and the other Malaysians are driven to the airport. Once there, they go through the usual boarding checks and screening while waiting for their flight to be ready. This is probably the first time in the past two days that he is finally relaxed and at ease.
He is one step closer to home now.
Melvin also seizes the opportunity to thank Pn. Lailatul and the other members of the Malaysian embassy in Peru. This repatriation mission would not have been possible without the embassy’s team, who has been working around the clock for the past month to make this happen.
23 April 2020
There are no words that can really describe how happy Melvin and his fellow Malaysians felt when the plane finally landed in KLIA.
As per the latest government regulations, all returning Malaysians will be sent to gazetted hotels and hostels for 14 days of quarantine. After all that he has gone through in the past week, this is only a minor inconvenience for Melvin. He is confident that he will be reunited with his family again soon.
TRP would like to thank Melvin Chen again for sharing his story with us. If you are a Malaysian who is currently stranded overseas, do contact the Malaysian embassy of the country you are located in.
TRP also takes this chance to applaud the efforts and hard work by Wisma Putra in bringing our fellow Malaysians back home.
I have an unhealthy obsession with chocolate, gummy candy, and "Confucius says" jokes.