New Brunswick

Islands apart: COVID-19 drives Grand Manan woman to reunite with Trinidadian fiancé in Serbia

Love knows no bounds for this couple who has been apart for more than five months because of a global pandemic.

With borders still closed, couple hopes European country will stay open long enough for them to get through

Carly Fleet hasn't seen her fiancé, Sean Bodden, in five months because of COVID-19. He can't come to Canada where she's living and she can't go to Grenada where he's living, so the duo plan to meet in Serbia instead. (Submitted by Carly Fleet)

Carly Fleet is travelling more than 60 hours to get to Serbia with no place to stay or any idea how long she will be there.

But the New Brunswick woman will finally be with Sean Bodden, her fiancé whom she hasn't seen in exactly 134 days.

"There's no end in sight," she said. "We just don't want to live like this any longer. We don't want to be apart." 

Right now she's living at her home on Grand Manan, an island that sits on the Bay of Fundy in Atlantic Canada, while her fiancé is living in Grenada, an island in the Caribbean.  

Both islands are free of COVID-19. But borders to both countries have been closed to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. 

"We're leaving our safe havens to go meet up in Europe," Fleet said.

She described the duo as vagabonds living in a pandemic. 

A future put on hold 

The couple met over a year ago while Fleet was on vacation in Grenada. The two struck up a conversation on the beach and Bodden offered to drive her to the boat where she was residing. 

"It was love at first sight," she said.  "We just knew before it even made sense that we wanted to be together." 

The couple talks all day and everyday on an online phone app called WhatsApp, where they make plans and dream of when they will reunite.

But it's not the same.

"He's right there in the phone but I can't be there," said Fleet, crying into the phone. 

"I can't hug him, or touch him, or kiss him."

The couple doesn't know whether they will be allowed into the Eastern European country, but they're willing to give it a try. (Submitted by Carly Fleet)

Since the pandemic hit, the couple has missed many milestones together. Fleet's 40th birthday party and a surprise wedding they planned to host on Grand Manan, where they would be married by Fleet's local pastor with close family and friends. 

"They're experiences and they're milestones and they're moments together," she said, while trying to hold back more tears.

"It's our relationship. It's our entire future and it has just been put on hold and I feel like it's been completely disregarded by the government." 

A goodbye that was never supposed to last

Fleet left Grenada at the end of February for a six-week work contract on a small cruise ship.

She was in Antarctica when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March. 

Immediately, the ship returned to Argentina, where it initially departed from. But the port was closed. Then the cruise ship sailed around, trying to find a port of entry that would take them. 

The couple poses for a photo on Grand Manan, where they planned to spend their summer and get married. (Submitted by Carly Fleet )

In April, the ship was finally able to dock in Brazil. 

Since Grenada's borders were still closed, Fleet was forced to return home to Canada without her fiancé.

They were originally supposed to meet up in Toronto at the beginning of April, where they would return home to Grand Manan for the summer and work at Fleet's hotel business.  

"It has been a series of disappointments and setbacks, trying to reunite ever since." 

Why Serbia?

Everyday, Fleet and Bodden are prowling the internet to see which countries are still open, and that they can both enter without visas. While Fleet is allowed into certain countries within the European Union because she's Canadian, Bodden is not.

The 55-year-old is from Trinidad and Tobago but owns his own marine repair business in Grenada.

Right now, countries open to foreign nationals include Serbia, Turkey and Croatia. They chose Serbia, as it was the first country to open its borders. Previously it maintained low rates of coronavirus but has since seen a cluster of more than 300 cases in Belgrade, the country's capital.

That could force the couple to change their plans and reside in Istanbul for the time being. 

"It's just such a changing landscape all the time right now," she said. 

Since they were first separated, the couple has tried everything from chartering a boat to Antigua, another island in the Caribbean to Bodden captaining another boat from Grenada for a couple living in the U.S. Both plans were unsuccessful. 

I don't like flying at all, but I love Carly.- Sean Bodden

So they went with their next plan. Fly to Europe.

Since the airport is still closed, Bodden is leaving Grenada on a chartered flight with six other people to the island of Martinique. Then he will arrive at the airport in Paris, where he plans to drop his bags, hug Fleet as tightly as he can and kiss her for a longtime.  

"I'm just anxious to see Carly," he said.

On Wednesday, Fleet will take a 90-minute ferry ride to the mainland of New Brunswick and fly from Moncton to Toronto, to Montreal to France. 

If all goes to plan, the couple will take a connecting flight to Istanbul and land in Belgrade by Friday evening.

"Mentally it's been very distressful," Bodden said. 

The couple doesn't know how long they will be gone. All that matters is they'll be together. (Submitted by Carly Fleet)

The 55-year-old joked he planned to bring a bottle of scotch on his flight to calm his nerves. 

"I don't like flying at all but I love Carly," he said.

Fleet has lived overseas for more than 20 years, travelled to more than 40 countries, hitchhiked on three different continents and has gone skydiving in Australia.

But nothing has prepared her for this adventure. 

"It's hard to assess what the actual risk factor is," she said. "We don't want to put ourselves at risk." 

Hockey over family

Fleet is part of online advocacy groups, where people share stories of being separated from their families.

"The government has continually ignored our appeals," she said. "In a country like Canada I never would have believed our Canadian government would subject its own citizens to such cruelty."

She said the hardest part was when the federal government approved the NHL's proposal of a cohort quarantine, allowing players to be exempt from two week self-isolation after coming into Canada. 

She described this as a slap in the face. 

"That was the deciding factor … I cannot live in a country that places the importance of a sport over the importance of being reunited with their families."

The couple took a trip to Cuba in January before Fleet left to work on a small cruise ship. (Submitted by Carly Fleet)

Although she understands why borders are closed, Fleet said the federal government should be willing to make exceptions for families. She would even be willing to bring Bodden home to Grand Manan where he could self-isolate for 14 days. And live there until the pandemic is over.

She said their plans have been messy and hard to predict. But Fleet refuses to come back to Canada without her fiancé.

So for the journey, Fleet is packing a few summer clothes, one change of shoes and her laptop, so she can work from wherever they're staying. Everything else, they'll figure out when they're there — wherever that ends up being. 

"We're going to travel light and see where we end up," she said. "We haven't been left with any other choice." 

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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