Pandemic Diaries 2: Rollercoaster
March 16, Monday: I’m so tense today. Trying to finish packing up and tidying up the room. Keeping busy to keep my mind off things. In the afternoon, I go to pick up a friend’s parcel, as she ordered it before she left and there is no one at home. This is the first time I leave the house in a week, I want to enjoy the wind on my face but also seeing people walking around stresses me. I feel terribly guilty for being out but perhaps more so annoyed at how relaxed other people are. I’m so jittery, if someone touches me now, I might cry. I expect something to happen at one point, and it does. In front of my friend’s flat, I get a message from a friend breaking the news to me.
“Turkey’s shutting down flights from the UK, as of tomorrow morning at 8.”
That means my flight will be cancelled, too. The flight before mine would go, but mine is after 8. I feel my eyes filling up, but I don’t want to break down in the middle of the road. It’s getting hard to breathe. Maybe since I’m going to Cyprus and not staying in Turkey, they might let me go. I’m trying to keep positive until I go home and read more on this. But a part of my brain is also continually screaming. I can’t be stuck here. I can’t be stuck here. I can’t be stuck here. I pick up the parcel and start walking with my friend on the phone. The distance between my flat and my friend’s flat seem larger than it is. My surroundings are turning, the ground under my feet feel s instable. My friend is trying to divert my attention, have me meditate while walking, focusing on my senses, bring my attention to the present moment. I feel like nothing would work at this moment. When I get home, I recheck the news and I start crying.
I’ve never felt more helpless, not in control of my life, homesick, desperate to leave the country of my dreams. I feel like a different person. My mind suddenly went blank, and I just want to be in that land that will always be home, with my family. I can’t think of anything else but my family. I shiver, all of a sudden, all the warmth leaves my body. This is the worst day of my life.
I call my parents, crying. I don’t want to upset them, but I can’t stop myself. I’m just freaking out. I’m trying to contain my panic attack as much as I can but I’m not very successful with that.
My dad calls the airline and people who might know something. First, they say the flight might still go but only take citizens, as the airline does not officially cancel the flights. Then, they say they’ll try to put me on an earlier flight but I might have to leave any moment. I get ready and wait. Minutes never felt like days as they feel right now. My flatmate comes home tries to calm me down, prepares something to eat, in case I need to go. My stomach feels like it’s tied in a knot but I still eat. After a lot of changes of this happens and that happens, I learn that none of them will work.
My mum has a breakdown. I’ve never seen her like that. I feel so awfully helpless, seeing her cry and not being able to hug her. Just when I’m about to let myself sink into the hands of desperation, a friend tells me about this project of the Federation of Turkish Cypriot Students in the UK of a charter taking Turkish Cypriot students stuck in the UK, back home. She adds me to their group chat and I sign up for a possible flight. It lights up a spark in me. If this happens, we’ll have to be put in a mandatory quarantine at a quarantine centre. We accept. At this point, we don’t care about anything but getting out of here.
In the meantime, I received an email from the airline company for the purchase of an alternative flight arranged for an earlier time. It’s extremely expensive. Capitalist opportunists, surfacing in times of chaos, how shocking. I call my dad who is asleep at this point, while we discuss whether to buy it or not, the tickets are already sold out. Can you see how desperate we all are?
In the meantime, another crisis broke. We hear news on a plane to the South of Cyprus from the UK (with Turkish Cypriots on it) being sent back because they require a health report from the GP in the UK, but they don’t give such thing. They are not even testing anyone without symptoms. Then, we hear that it’s not being sent back but the Turkish Cypriots being taken to quarantine there, alongside the Greek Cypriots instead of passing to the North. Panic takes over the group chat, as we worry both about our friends on that flight and the possible problems we might face.
At this point, it’s not Monday anymore but I’m staying up, as we were told we’ll be contacted to give information for the charter flight. I fear if I answer late, I might have a place on it. My mind is racing all the possible things that could go wrong. I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway.
I received the message at 4.30 am, answer it immediately. Still, the flight is not confirmed but they say that there is a high chance. Nothing I could do at this point, anyway. We also hear good news about our friends in Cyprus that the Turkish Cypriot government managed to pass them to our side and placed them into a quarantine centre at a good hotel. Now I could take a break from anxiety and get a little sleep.
March 17, Tuesday: I wake up every hour to check up on the group chat, in case anything important happens until I can’t go back to sleep again. I look at my luggage all packed up for the journey today that they couldn’t go on. How disappointed they look. I leave them as they are, ready in case someone says, “leave now.”
Not that anyone would. Our charter flight is planned for Friday, but we still need permissions taken from our government and the Turkish government, arrangement of an airline, etc. Many political stuff, I don’t understand but thank God the federation looks like they know what they are doing. The federation is formed by students like us. I know most of them, either personally or by name but Cyprus is a place that you just know of everyone, even if you’ve never spoken to them. I trust them, I know that they are doing the most they can. Although that doesn’t stop my anxiety.
The Turkish Cypriot public already heard about the charter flight plans, social media is full of hate messages, once again. I feel so tired.
We receive news from our friends who arrived last night and this morning before the border shut down who are sent off to quarantine centres. They are in great conditions. The food looks great, their rooms look great. Everything looks fine, which makes us both happy for them and ease our doubts about the quarantine centres. I’m so proud and surprised that our government are handling this so well. Now seeing this, I think this quarantine is a good idea which again the federation came up with to fight with the worry that we might spread the virus around the island, although some are still not convinced. This way, our families will be protected and we’ll have a comfortable place to work on our assignments for two weeks. For the first time in years, the thought of moving back to Cyprus pops up in my head. Not the time to think about this, though. Fear clouds judgement, anyway.
A lot of people signed up. More people than a plane which stresses me. A possibility of a second flight is being spoken but while even the first hasn’t been approved, yet, that seems risky. Sleeping is hard again, and it gets harder as I receive a message from a friend around 1.30 am. Apparently, they formed a separate group chat for people going with the flight on Friday and I’m not on it. I know a lot of people who signed up after me, and I received the text saying I’m signed up to the Friday plane, last night. But maybe I was late to sign up? A second plane is too risky. My chest starts feeling stuffy again. She tells me that perhaps there has been a mistake and wait for the e-mail they said, they will send to people who will be on the flight. Another sleepless night. Thank God, they do add me to the group chat after half an hour. My friend was a bit hasty to alert me, apparently, at that point they haven’t finished adding people on the group chat. Can you blame her though? Who is calm at this point?
March 18, Wednesday: Another night of waking up every hour. 2 days till the flight and we still don’t have all the necessary permits. I go through my luggage again, as it was prepared for home and not a quarantine centre. I’ll have to give up on somethings I want to bring and add somethings I would need in quarantine. They say we may have our parents drop stuff but you never know what’s going to happen. Preparing theoric luggage for a theoric flight feels so weird but then again, some people live in student halls who are packing up all their stuff for either storage or to send them off to Cyprus. I don’t even want to think about what would happen to them if the flight was not approved.
By noon, they confirm the flight. I’m incredibly happy, but also I can’t let myself to be completely happy. Anything can happen until that flight lands in Cyprus. We’ll take the plane from Standsted airport (which is the closest to me and the one I always use, I guess that’s the last drop of luck I have left). We’ll only do a touchdown in Turkey so that we won’t leave the plane and then go to Northern Cyprus. From there, buses will take us to our quarantine centre. The exact place is not confirmed, yet. Either some student halls or a hotel but as long as we’re home, we don’t care.
When things are finally starting to look fine, rumours about a lockdown in London break, as people see military vehicles around. No official announcement is made but my mum who has been at least as stressed and sleepless as me, and even more paranoid, says they can do a sudden lockdown without announcement. That is to keep people from escaping to other parts which caused the spread from North to South of Italy.
No tickets. Lockdown risk. Amazing.
My flatmates who were not going home also start considering going home to their parents. A low-key panic is surrounding the flat. Especially me, as one of my flatmates informs us that she has been in contact with someone who possibly has the coronavirus. All of us in the flat stop contact at that point, but my racing mind is adding this to the possible problems I could have before boarding on that plane.
If I put myself aside for a moment, she also has her 21st birthday coming in two days. I bake her some cupcakes as a present and as a way for me to distract myself, as I have nothing else to do but wait for a call about the tickets which I am not receiving earlier than tomorrow.
Her happiness is the best thing that happens to me in a long time, it feels.
March 19, Thursday: With my other flatmate, who is also one of my two best friends, we also get her a cake and put some candles on for her to blow. She comes down to find a surprise, and she starts crying. My eyes also begin to fill as she cries in front of us and we can’t even give her a hug. How underestimated is human contact. As we eat our cake, smiles after tears fill the room, too. God, I will miss this so much and I know this is the last day they are my flatmates. Nothing’s for certain at this moment but I just know that I won’t be back anytime soon if I manage to get on that plane. I’ve never imagined this to end like this.
After that, I say goodbye to my other best friend as she hurries to go home before a possible lockdown. I watch her finish packing, then leave the flat. This time I can’t even give her a hug. I just watch her leave with tears filling my eyes again. I’m an emotional wreck at this point. When will I see her again?
At night, still, no one has called about the ticket but I know from the group chat that I’m far from being the only one. I’m walking around the flat with my passport and debit card in hand. I look mental. People coming from Scotland with the bus are already on their way, and like many of us, some of those people don’t have a ticket, yet. They just hold onto the hope that everything will be alright. I feel like another long night is ahead of all of us. They inform us that the travelling agency is done for the night and will call us tomorrow before our flight in the afternoon. Not that I can sleep before I get the call, though. Lucky me, I do get the call, just when I thought they were done for the night.
Sleep and I still are not best buddies, though. We are told that the airlines are very strict about the luggage weights, as it is a charter flight. I ask the person who calls me about the ticket about having a handbag in addition to the hand luggage. She tells me I can have a small one. Small is a very vague term that my mind really dwells one. I weigh my luggage perfectly but the small bag bothers me. My bag is small but the stuff in it makes it look bigger and I cannot tell if it is small enough. I make my bag so many times, stuff some little things to the pockets of my jacket and tie everything up and put them in plastic bags to have them stay in place. My travel pillow looks impossibly small after the torment I put it through to easy my own torment. I lose the count of how many times I take out and put the stuff back both before and after I go to bed.
I fall asleep as I beg for no more problems. No more…
© photo from Unsplash
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