KOZHIKODE: Stuck in Kerala for nearly four months, Tunisian national Dhouha Hafsi almost fell into depression. She lost appetite and suffered sleep loss as three of her attempts to fly back home went in vain during the lockdown period. But the fourth attempt came through and she boarded a flight on July 22. After a 40-hour journey spanning four airports and three flights, Dhouha finally landed in her
hometown of Monastir.
"I didn't even inform my family about my arrival as I feared some last minute bottleneck would hamper my trip. In Kerala, especially in the last one month, I was just a step away from falling into depression," Dhouha told TNIE over phone from Monastir, where she is in quarantine.
She had reached the Greens Ayurveda Hospital at Azhiyur here on January 8 to attend a three-month certificate course in Ayurveda Lifestyle. "I was to return on April 7 but, suddenly, lockdown happened. I thought the situation would be back to normal soon. But nothing happened. I had to renew my tourist visa three times," Dhouha elaborated.
She was happy in the initial days as there were six other foreign women at the Greens hospital who were also stuck. But others left Azhiyur towards the end of June. "I felt more isolated then. The only relief was the group formed by the Tunisian Embassy comprising Tunisian citizens stuck in India," she said.
Dhouha tried to catch the Tunisian evacuation flight on May 22, but couldn't reach New Delhi. Though her ticket was okayed for a Qatar Airways flight on July 3, the flight was cancelled at the eleventh hour. There was also an Indian evacuation flight to Dubai, but it was only for UAE residents.
A business card brings hope
Following civil aviation news closely, she came to know that India and France were operating special flights for a specific period. "My attempt was to get out of India as the sky between Tunisia and France was open. While clearing all the unwanted stuff from my bag, I stumbled upon a business card of Farook Batha, the Calicut airport service manager of Qatar Airways. He told me that I can fly to France."
Through Batha, she got in touch with Shankar Subbra, duty manager of Air France at the Bengaluru airport. She was told that she can fly only with a special permission from the Tunisian Embassy in India.
"I was granted that permission by the Tunisian envoy to India, Nejmeddine Lakhal. Shabeena Sultana, the Tunisian Consul in Bengaluru too provided all support. The last-minute glitch came in the form of credit card. I had to pay for the ticket through a credit card which I didn't have. Again, the embassy intervened and I was allowed to pay in currency upon my arrival at the Bengaluru airport. Finally, I left Azhiyur on July 22 morning," Dhouha said. She flew out through the Kannur-Bengaluru-Paris-Tunis route before reaching Monastir.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian Ambassador to India, Lakhal, told TNIE that the assistance received from the Indian authorities, particularly from the Ministry of External Affairs, in facilitating the return of stranded Tunisians was highly appreciable.
'I rediscovered myself'
The Tunisian said the stressful experience has helped rediscover herself. "Crisis management is the best thing I learned. I thank God for coming across such wonderful people who made my return possible," she said. Dhouha will soon document her-lockdown experiences in Kerala.
So, will she come back to Kerala?
"Of course, I will. Kerala is a land of magic. Let these bad times be over. I would definitely come back," pat came the reply.