The PIE: Where were you when the borders closed?
Mujiburrahman: I was at home in Yogyakarta (Indonesia). I had done two years of preparing and writing, and then I had one year of field research which started in November 2019. I was really happy with the data collected in the community and was ready to come back to Australia in April then suddenly the borders closed. It was very shocking.
The PIE: What’s was the Covid situation like there?
“Then I got the call to say Darwin was opening up, but only for certain countries”
M: There was a nine-month lockdown, and we were partly living in Jakarta so there was a pretty high community infection rate. It was pretty scary there. We weren’t even brave enough to go out of the house. We’d just go back out to buy basic supplies. But then after about three months people started to go back to normal using the social distancing measures.
The PIE: How did you get onto the pilot flight?
M: We had to register our interest to return. But also from when the pandemic started in March, when the WHO announced that this is a pandemic of international concern, I start talking to the Office of Research and Innovation, talking to my supervisors and talking to anyone in Australia basically saying I want to return and asking how was it going to be done.
Then every time there was an online meeting with other students, gatherings with the dean and stuff like that, I’d ask about if there was a way to return and when the borders are opening.
I have to say CDU were really good. They listened to our concerns and were quick to follow up. They didn’t promise anything they just said “we will do our best”.
Then I got the call to say Darwin was opening up, but only for certain countries and Indonesia wasn’t one but I thought if those countries could go maybe Indonesia could too. Then finally about two months before the flight, Indonesia was approved as a low risk country.
The PIE: What was it like when the day of your flight finally arrived?
M: It was very scary because 72 hours before the flight, we had to get our swab test and [it had] to be negative so we took the test and thank God we were negative. It was the first time I took the swab test so first, that was the first scariest part, then the next scariest part was trying to board the plane.
“Touchdown in Darwin was great. Everything was streamlined”
I thought that everything was secure but then the flight from Singapore to Darwin was denied. So we were at the airport and had all our passports and documentation from CDU and health documents and then they finally gave us the boarding ticket to Singapore, but they wouldn’t issue the ticket to Australia. We called the travel agents and CDU team, who were great, to sort it out but we didn’t know what was happening. So we were sitting there waiting to board then they called our names and I was sure we were going to get kicked off the flight but then they suddenly gave us the good news that we could fly to Australia.
That was the happiest feeling.
It turned out to be just a technical glitch. After that everything was just fine. Touchdown in Darwin was great. Everything was streamlined. We didn’t have the normal wait. It was really quick and we were really happy just to be in Alice Springs.
The PIE: What was quarantine like at Howard Springs?
M: It was really nice. Compared to hotel quarantine where you have to just be in your room and cannot go out, we had 20 minutes a day to get out of our rooms and we had time to swim, in limited numbers of course.
The CDU staff gave us care packages of activities and they kept calling us every day asking, ‘How are you guys doing? How’s your mental state? How’s your physical state?’ I would just say five stars because there were many activities to do, like coffee discussions with other students who were in the quarantine, yoga and dancing and all these other activities to fill those needs and make you feel that you’re not really in a quarantine.
The PIE: What happened when quarantine was over?
M: There was a welcoming ceremony. It was really nice having the Welcome to Country [ceremony], with some members of the community showing their appreciation and thanks to international students for coming to Darwin and being a unique part of the territory and community.
There were other international students that gave a speech saying how the community is really nice and welcoming, and the true humanity comes out when there’s problems. We can see Territorians hand in hand with us.
The PIE: So what will you do now?
M: I’m back in my office where there’s books and good internet connection! And just writing and researching papers and planning meetings with my supervisor.
“I want to maximise my productivity”
I want to maximise my productivity. If I could write three to four papers, it would be great so I just want to start writing. I know that would be the best thing to do for this year, even during the Christmas holidays, I think, to read and write.