A 'Waiting Game': Former Area Resident, Family Stuck In Vietnam – Jamestown Post Journal

Sep 4, 2021
Pictured are Meghan Bartok, her fiance James, and their baby, Claire. The family is currently residing in Vietnam under increasingly difficult circumstances. Submitted photos
When Meghan Bartok and her fiance, James, moved to Vietnam they never could have imagined the difficulties they would face.
With the spread of COVID-19, the couple and their baby, Claire, are stuck in the middle of an intense lockdown where they are confined to their home and cannot leave even to get groceries or exercise. Bartok is a former resident of Chautauqua County, and James is a citizen of Ireland.
The pair moved to Ho Chi Minh City in August 2020 after traveling the country over the summer. Bartok and her fiance are both educators and settled down in Vietnam’s largest city right before the school year to prepare for their teaching positions.
The couple discovered they were going to have a baby that same month, and decided to stay in Vietnam due to ongoing travel restrictions in their home countries. Likewise, Bartok said her fiance couldn’t have been with her for the birth of their daughter in either Ireland or the U.S. Claire was born in March 2021, and COVID-19 lockdowns grew in number, starting in late April.
Bartok said the situation has just gotten worse as time has gone on.
Pictured are Meghan Bartok, her fiance James, and their baby, Claire. The family is currently residing in Vietnam under increasingly difficult circumstances. Submitted photo
“I’ve been living in Asia since February of 2020,” she said. “As the pandemic started growing elsewhere, Vietnam seemed like the safest place to stay. Up until April of this year when the Delta variant arrived, Vietnam had some of the lowest case numbers in the world, and our life was relatively normal. We were able to teach our students in the classroom and go out to eat with our friends.”
Previously, when there would be a small outbreak, they would lock down the city for a month, then things would be back to normal, Bartok explained. Currently, the family has been living under some form of restriction for 17 weeks, and improvement is not in sight.
“There are over 10,000 new cases per day in the country, and 5,00-plus of those cases are in our city,” Bartok said. “I won’t lie, the restrictions have been really tough. Since June, we have not been allowed out of the house for anything other than medical care or grocery shopping. You are not even allowed out to exercise, and gatherings of more than two people indoors are banned. Slowly, they’ve continuously tightened the restrictions since they were introduced in June. They started allotting timed shopping tickets in July, but we never received any tickets.”
Currently, the family is relying on food delivery services, for which there is usually a wait time of two or three weeks to receive an order. Bartok said stores are often out of stock of meat and vegetables, but the contents of the order are a mystery until it arrives.
Over the last week, the restrictions have become even more strict. Bartok said no one is allowed to leave their home for any reason.
“They have closed down all businesses, including grocery stores and their delivery services,” she said. “Our local ward (neighborhood) has arranged meat and vegetable delivery, but there is no word on how to get other essentials such as rice or noodles, baby diapers, and clean drinking water. We ran out of drinking water two days ago and there seems to be no way to get more. We have been boiling water before we drink it, but still doesn’t make the water entirely safe to drink.”
Bartok said they are coping with the situation as best they can, but this is a significant challenge. They are looking to leave Vietnam as soon as possible, but are having difficulties getting Claire’s birth certificate to do so.
“Due to the lockdowns, we have been unable to get all of Claire’s paperwork in order to ensure she has proper documentation to leave the country, namely her birth certificate and passport,” Bartok said. “We’ve kind of gotten to the point where we have accepted that we will be stuck here until the government offices reopen and they can issue our daughter her birth certificate. However, being denied access to essentials is definitely hard. We’re just dreaming of the day that we’ll be able to get on a plane out of here, and we just keep telling ourselves this will be over at some point.”
She said both Irish and American governmental agencies can’t help until Claire has her Vietnamese birth certificate. Both countries essentially view the situation as outside of their control until that occurs. The situation has been frustrating, to say the least, Bartok said.
“You need so many different pieces of paperwork to get the child’s birth certificate here, and it is especially hard for foreigners,” she said. “Because we are not married, they are refusing to put my fiance’s name on the birth certificate, which will create another set of problems in the future. We even got a DNA test, as it was recommended to us by the government office itself, to then be told by the same office that even with a DNA test, it still wouldn’t be possible. The whole process has been nothing short of frustrating and as not even the mail service is open at the moment, nothing can be done to help this process until movement restrictions are lifted.”
Bartok said the issue lies mainly with the Vietnamese government. She said the family is playing a “waiting game.”
“If someone has any connections with the U.S. government who could get the requirement of a local birth certificate to issue a passport waived, that would be a huge help,” she said. “However, I know that’s a big requirement.”
In the meantime, they are saving as much money as they can to move when they are able. However, those efforts have been significantly curtailed as her fiance’s hours have been cut due to the increasing issues with the pandemic. Bartok said his job will most likely be cut soon, as Vietnam will most likely suspend English teaching programs for the beginning of the school year. Bartok said her job might also be on the chopping block as she teaches English online, and China has introduced new restrictions for positions like hers.
“It’s not a great time to be an English teacher,” she said.
To help out, Bartok said one of her friends started a Go Fund Me account for her and her family.
“We are very worried about how we will be able to afford to leave and start over elsewhere,” she said. “Just our plane tickets and all the other necessary documents to leave will cost us around $2,000. As much as we can’t afford to leave and resettle elsewhere, we also cannot stay in Vietnam with absolutely no income, which will likely be the situation in the next two months.”
Bartok said they still speak to their families about once a week. She said it can be difficult with the time difference, but they appreciate seeing their faces and talking with them on a video chat.
“My mom especially is very eager for us to be able to leave and be somewhere safer,” she said. “Everyone desperately wants to meet our daughter, who they have only seen in pictures and videos.”
Bartok said she is trying to share her story and spread awareness of the situation in Vietnam, and what her family has been going through.
“I know this pandemic has changed a lot of people’s lives and we’ve all experienced hard times,” she said. “I just never thought, in 2021, I would be living somewhere with no clean drinking water and absolutely no way to leave the situation. We just want to get out of here to start a better life for our daughter.”
For more information on the situation and to donate to Bartok and her family, please visit: https://gofund.me/a221d4eb.
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