Covid-19 had very little impact on my life until fellow 2018 MBA Kris Padget and I went on, what was meant to be a short trip from London to Marrakech, last March 2020. Literally in the middle of the night, the Moroccan government suspended all incoming and outgoing international travel, resulting in us running a rather frantic command centre between our families in San Francisco and Edmonton, Canada: as we all Googled potential options to avoid being trapped in North Africa for three months or more.
It quickly became clear that there was nothing available going to London, so we resigned ourselves to a circuitous journey back home involving a train or two. After watching tickets out of Marrakech getting snapped up on the internet before our eyes, Kris’s brother in law asked if we could get to Casablanca by early afternoon because he had found two tickets that would get us out of the country. Yes, obviously, we replied. Where were these tickets to? Well, Miami. The one in Florida. I was not aware that this particular direct flight existed, but there are enough people flying it, including the rapper Pitbull, who constantly references “Morocco to Miami” in his songs, that I guess it is commercially viable.
And so we got the first train to Casablanca. Arriving at the airport was chaos, as there was a massive crowd of people without tickets who were being stopped from going in and inundating the airline desks by security guards – tensions were understandably running high. It was vaguely reminiscent of queuing for a helicopter atop the US embassy in Saigon circa 1975.
Not being able to reach my father by phone back in Marrakech, I had emailed him saying that everyone was safe and all limbs were intact, but there was a slightly unusual situation and Kris and I were going to be in Miami in about 12 hours’ time, so it would be really helpful if we could use some of his loyalty points to arrange a hotel for us. He read this and called me just having returned from spin class (early days of the pandemic!) as we were wandering the Casablanca equivalent of WH Smith. Honestly, he took it in his stride. By the time we landed, I was assured, I would have a hotel confirmation in my inbox, “somewhere nice” on Miami Beach. “It should be fun,” my dad told me, and wished us a safe flight.
About 28 hours after we first found out that the Moroccan borders were closing, we found ourselves in South Florida. We had avoided being trapped in North Africa for the foreseeable future, but we barely believed it ourselves. How were we even supposed to begin addressing the texts asking “How’s Marrakech”? It was easiest to post an Instagram story of us at sunrise on South Beach with the caption “SURPRISE MIAMI” and take it from there.
You are never too far from the reach of the Cambridge MBA cohort, because I got a message from fellow classmate Nic Bryant, not long thereafter asking if that was a joke or if we were really in Miami, because he and his partner Laura and a couple of friends were driving up from the Florida Keys. As if this whole thing hadn’t been surreal enough already, mere hours later we were catching up over a pitcher of pina coladas next to the pool, which is probably the best outcome possible when you’ve been forced to flee a country in the middle of the night. Nic and Laura were also kind enough to bring a giant canister of sanitary wipes with them, which was so valuable at that point in the pandemic, that there was a veritable black market.
I did make it out of Florida and back to London, and by the time I got home to Islington I was so ecstatic that I could have kissed the (filthy) pavement. This little trip, which ended up taking me through seven airports on three continents over the course of 10,000 miles, really set the tone for the rest of 2020 – both in terms of expecting the unexpected, as well as frequent and often harrowing air travel at a time when everyone else was forced to stay home. Between being relocated to Berlin in Q4 and San Francisco in Q1 for work, I have had more pre-flight Covid tests shoved up my nose than I can count and enough of closed borders and flight cancellations to last a lifetime. That being said, I do want to go back to Morocco…just not at the beginning of a pandemic.
CJBS alumna, Cecile Babcock is an Associate Director with Long Harbour, an established real estate and asset backed investment manager, headquartered in London.