Pandemic Diaries 1: The Beginning of the Storm
March 9, Monday: This is the day that marks the beginning of a prolonged storm for me. I’m a Turkish Cypriot student in London. It’s the week after reading week, only one-third of the class is in, our professor mentions a possible shut down of the university in the following weeks for the rest of the semester due to increase in Coronavirus cases in London. We find it annoying. First, the UCU strikes (industrial action for better pay and work conditions, and securing pensions), now this. It is my final year and the amount of classes we’ll be missing is getting more annoying than yay I don’t have to go to uni. But I’m trying to see this as more time to focus on my dissertation. When the class finishes, it’s already dark, and the campus is nearly empty. This is so depressing, it looks like a scene from a dystopian movie.
But this isn’t what started it.
“2 cases confirmed in Cyprus.”
Now, this is what started it all for me. After reading this news, I didn’t sleep properly for days. Cyprus is a small island, once the virus arrives, I know it can spread fast. Especially, the North (where I am from) doesn’t have enough equipment to deal with large numbers of cases. Also, we lost a lot of equipment in a fire last month, in our biggest state hospital.
For those of you who don’t know, there is a border between the North and the South of the country. For the past two weeks, there have been marches by the peace activists against the decision to shut the borders by the government of the South. This is because this decision looked more of a political move using the virus as an excuse. After all, there were no confirmed cases at the time. As of today, we can’t fight anymore. I agreed with the marchers but today, I’m glad the cases are in the South and not the North. Don’t get me wrong, I’m upset that it is in our island in the first place but I know that the South is more capable of handling this, as they have access to more equipment than us.
March 10, Tuesday: “Two hotels in Famagusta are under quarantine as two tourists test positive for COVID-19.”
One of which is right next to my sister’s school… They got sent home. I’m calm, the virus affects the elderly anyway, right? But then again my mum and sister often go to my grandma’s for lunch. I call them and tell them that they probably shouldn’t go to my grandma’s for a while.
It’s fine. It’ll be fine.
March 11, Wednesday: Okay, I still don’t want to panic, but shit just got real. WHO just announced a global pandemic. I guess the ‘media exaggerates’ shit stops working now.
I saw this video of a Turkish Cypriot student in Italy, talking about how Italy got to this point and warning Cypriots to avoid doing the same. He talks about so many good points but my mind drifts to the thought that he’s under lockdown in a room in a foreign country, away from his family, alone. Yes, when you live somewhere for a few years, maybe it’s not so foreign but in a crisis like this, it is so foreign and lonely. All your family away from you during such uncertain times… The thought of the same thing happening to me fills my eyes with tears, but I can’t risk carrying this disease to my country. They can’t handle it. We can’t handle it.
March 12, Thursday: Boris Johnson’s making an announcement on the pandemic today. Everyone’s waiting for him to shut down schools.
“Wash your hands.”
“Many more families will lose their loved ones before their times.”
A.k.a. he does nothing. He seems so indifferent, he is basically like wash your hand, sing happy birthday and have a pint. UNBELIEVABLE.
My university sends an e-mail giving us permission to go home if we wish to, although they are not cancelling classes. I don’t want to be here. The UK is not doing well, this isn’t going to get better. But that’s another reason why I can’t risk my loved ones’ health in Cyprus. I don’t know what to do.
March 13, Friday: The university finally decides to cancel all in-person classes a.k.a fuck whatever the government says. People are mostly annoyed than relieved. Yes, I don’t love the situation but this was necessary. Some people are still making fun of it. They still use ‘media exaggerates’ and ‘other illnesses kill more a year’. I didn’t think of it as serious until this week, too, but is it really a media exaggeration when WHO announces a global pandemic? I mean, if someone knows something, it’s definitely them. To prevent the panic, they announce numbers smaller than the actual amount, if they say it is a pandemic, this is serious. And it doesn’t make sense, how can you make an annual data comparison when this type of virus existed for just 3 months? But also no doubt the British are making fun of this. Why should they take it seriously when people leading the country are not? This is such a joke.
On the other hand, border closures are increasing. Many more people are going back home.
I can’t do this. I can’t stay here.
My parents say the journey would be dangerous. I could both be a carrier, but also we don’t know how this virus would affect an old asthma patient, like myself.
Staying here is dangerous, too. My flatmates are still out all the time, even if I am not.
I can carry it to Cyprus.
Many people are already going back, anyway. With the ‘herd immunity’ tactic, the cases will raise so much, NHS already has so much pressure. There is no guarantee that only the elderly will be affected in the future, too, this virus keeps changing, and there are so many we still don’t know. When it comes to choosing, they won’t choose us. Also, what if Cyprus goes under lockdown, as well and my parents can’t send me money? Above all, I don’t know when I will make it back home again.
This could go on for months.
I’m so terrified of being alone. I can’t stand the idea of being alone. Even the thought of it makes me feel paralysed. I’m sorry, I can’t be selfless, I just can’t.
I want to come home.
That’s what I tell my parents the moment they pick up the phone. No more debates. I can’t take it.
My dad buys me a ticket for Tuesday. London to Istanbul, then to Northern Cyprus because there are no direct flights to Northern Cyprus, as it is not recognised by the world. I either did this or go to the South and pass the border, but it seems harder to do that at the moment. I don’t trust the border passage right now. My mum argues Tuesday is too far away, a lot can happen in 3 days. My dad says the government has to let their citizens in. I trust my dad, my mum says it’s a bad idea.
March 14, Saturday: I start worrying about letting my dad decide the day. New decisions are made all the time. I jump every time there is news. Many people are against us going back. Social media is going crazy with all the hate we’re receiving for wanting to go back. I understand that people are scared, we doubted our decisions, as well but this is so heartbreaking. In a small community like ours, everyone knows everyone and we’re not just our parents’ children, we’re that community’s children, at least that’s what I always thought. I’m so disappointed in everyone who just wants to leave us to our fate here. There are lots of Cypriot students in the U.K. We’re the future of that tiny island, and they want to leave us behind. The most worrying thing is that public opinions are very effective in government decisions in my country. They can stop us coming any minute. My heart skips a beat every time there is news. Please, just let me come home. All I want is to be with my family. How is that too much to ask?
But let’s put me aside. Many of us students live in halls, some of my friends’ contracts will run out soon, and we don’t know how long this situation will go on. It will definitely get worse before it gets better. What would they do? This is a time in which everyone thinks themselves and themselves only. I guess you can’t really blame them, but it hurts when they speak without thinking.
One of my best friends drops by to say goodbye. Not a goodbye goodbye but it’s hard not knowing when I’ll see her next. She baked me some cookies. I don’t know how long will it be till she bakes to cheer me up. She tells me about some of her friends that are going home for good. I never thought about that. Now, I start thinking about all the people that I won’t get to say goodbye. I feel very nostalgic, but it still doesn’t feel like an ending. I don’t even know if it is and it’s one of the things I hate the most in life; not knowing the last time I saw someone was the last time.
March 15, Sunday: They did a public call to students abroad today:
I got a mini-anxiety attack for a moment, as I thought they meant that we can’t come, but it is just an advice. For now. Now, they just told us we’ll need to quarantine ourselves at home, in our rooms and physically distance ourselves from our family for 2 weeks. Good thing my room at home has a balcony. My parents are thinking about everything, I’m so glad I don’t have to plan this one thing myself.
I keep saying the same things, but my brain just keeps repeating. I feel like a broken record but I am so terrified, and every time I see a hate post on Facebook, my heart starts racing faster. The idea of being stuck here makes my hands tremble. The constant anxiety of something’s going to happen. People around me don’t understand my fear. I just want to be understood.
“You’re not going to die.”
I know I’m not in one of the high-risk group, it’s not death I’m scared of at the moment. London feels more massive than ever, more dangerous than ever, more foreign than ever. Lonelier than ever. I’ve learned something. No matter how close you are with your friends, they are not family. Right now I can’t think about anything else but being with them.
I started packing. No matter what I put into my luggage, it feels, not enough. I have all these books I need to take with me for my assignments, and it’s not even half of what I need. And leisure reading? How long will I be in Cyprus? I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I don’t know what’s coming.
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