Pandemic Diaries 3: The Day From Hell
March 20, Friday: I always have morning flights, so waking up and still having a lot of time in my hands feels weird and also doesn’t help with my anxiety. People coming from Scotland are already at the airport. I tidy up around a little, make my bag again – multiple times – until I decide to leave early. The more I stay, the more I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. I say my final goodbye to my only flatmate left and leave. The mask makes me feel like I’m suffocating, especially with the warmer weather today and the suitcases I’m carrying. The coach is more crowded than usual, as it takes a different route today.
There aren’t many of us at the airport, yet but I feel better about being here than home. In a few hours people I’m actually friends with, start arriving. I meet a friend of mine that I haven’t seen in years. Restraining myself from hugging her is upsetting, but I feel good about having company, after some time of just looking at my phone.
Some people, including my friend, still are waiting for the call from the agency about their tickets. I’m so glad I’m not one of them. Though still, I could not relax until I’m on that plane. She gets the call shortly after she arrives at the airport.
The check-in process sweats us all. As I mentioned before, they are very strict with the weight limit, and there is no option of paying excess. Not everyone weighed their luggage obsessively like me, apparently. Shortly, the side of the check-in desks fills up with open suitcases and people frantically going through their belongings, deciding on stuff to give up on and looking for people with empty space in their suitcases to save some of their belongings. Meanwhile, as I know my luggage is fine, my bag anxiety comes back. It is small people around me reassure me, while many people don’t know what to expect. I compare my bag to the bags accepted and rejected until I pass the check-in with no problem. Which I should say is a rare condition for me.
After some more wait, we get on the plane. I am one of the first people to get on. It feels so good to finally be on that plane. When we finally take off most of my anxiety leaves me. After a while, people start going around the plane, singing, chatting and taking photos. This feels like our school trips. More so, as some people around me did actually go to my school. Classmates, schoolmates, lots of people I know from different places like youth camps and friends of friends, some people I know of, only a little number of people I don’t know at all. A flight full of people of similar ages and the same nationality. This is indeed, a flight to remember.
When we got on the plane, we still didn’t know about our quarantine centre, we heard that it might be student halls. Compared to the people before us who are at a hotel right now, it feels a little unfair, but they promise us good care wherever we end up. As long as we are taken care of and we are back in our country, the place don’t matter. We are all so happy to be on that flight. Now that we’re on this plane, everything would be okay.
March 21, Saturday: When we arrive in Northern Cyprus, it’s 3 am. They don’t let us into the airport, and they keep us waiting in the plane as they collect our IDs/passports. They let us out of the plane in groups of 30. There is a team of police, health workers and bus drivers waiting outside the plane. They take our temperatures one by one. Our suitcases are lined up in front of the plane for us to pick them up. We pick up our luggage, place them on the bus and take the paper given us to sign that we agree to the quarantine conditions. I relax as the familiarity settles in and the tiredness kicks in as anxiety leaves.
When we arrive at the quarantine centre, they keep us outside for a while, as they sanitise our suitcases and take people in one by one. It’s cold and raining. We start getting restless, as the waiting goes on. If we catch a cold now, society will interpret that as we have coronavirus. Another excuse for them to attack us.
And then the bomb explodes. People who finally manage to get into their rooms start sending photos on the group chat and the photos are unbelievable. The supposedly sanitised rooms are incredibly dirty. Stained toilets, pee covered toilet seats, body hairs, used razors and many disgusting things that feels distressing for me to name. No toilet paper, no soap. No one would stay there in normal conditions, let alone in a circumstance like this in which hygiene is even more critical than usual. I am at the end of the queue so I am not in at this point and as more photos start coming from different people, we refuse to go in. It’s 4 am, there is no one we can talk to. Only people around are some police officers making sure we don’t escape (*eye-roll*), few workers at the halls and some health officers. The only thing they tell us is to go inside and make a list of things to clean and they would fix it in the morning. No one is supposed to go into our rooms after we take them. This is such nonsense. It feels like a trap. We don’t know what to do. My mum is still awake waiting for good news but I can’t give her any. I’m not a good liar and on top of that, I’m panicking. All I could say was, “Help us.”
The cold and the rain is biting, we are hungry and tired. My mask, which was already hard to wear gets even heavier to wear, as time goes on. The bridge of my nose is bruised and my cheeks are flushed with sweat. My hands are showing an allergic reaction to the sanitisers we’ve been using for hours now. No one to help us at this time of the night. Some people have nervous breakdowns, some start feeling sick from the cold and we have no option but to wait till morning. The tension between us and the police and health officers increases, as they try to convince us to take our rooms. But we realise that they are not letting out, people who already are in their rooms. If we go in now, there is no way out. So we stand our ground in front of the building. After a while, we also manage to take out our friends who trapped inside. We’re not going to stay here.
At 6 am, the press and the angry parents start coming. The number of police officers increases as now it’s not us they need to keep in but our families they need to keep out. We also warn them to stay away from us. I tell my parents to not come at all, though it would have given me some kind of comfort to see them even from far afar. A part of me keeps searching for them among the incoming parents but I know, this is the right decision. I don’t want to risk their health, and my mum, who is already psychologically exhausted, would have an even worse breakdown in this condition. I am still grateful for other people there backing us up and social media is also crowded with the photos we’ve sent to our parents.
After a while, the president arrives. “You’re not staying here,” he says, “Give me a few hours, and I’ll handle it.”
We are still anxious, but we know it is going to be okay from here. In the meantime, everyone takes out the small snacks they have. People who have comparatively decent rooms – with no one trying to lock us in at that point – start having people rest and warm-up and use the bathroom. The workers bring some toilet papers and soaps mixed with water in paper cups. They are such jokes but it is not the workers’ fault. It’s the administration. All 150 of us try to support each other without physically interacting. Those who are federation members stand at the front of the crowd making our case and getting any news. Though there is no physical contact, we feel completely connected and synced and supported.
First, they tell us there are three hotels with spaces, none that would accommodate all of us and they have us decide among us on who is going to which one. One of them is in my city. Though the distances in Cyprus are not long, I still want to be as near to my family as possible. I know I couldn’t see them but I would feel better about it, I know so would my mum. We suggest that all of us from that city to go there. That is the best hotel among the three so everyone pretty much wants that one. However, the most space was there and those of us from there wouldn’t fill up all the rooms, anyway. As we try to decide what to do, someone else informs us that the prime minister, who arrived alongside some other political figures sometime after the president, found us another place that has room for us all. Shortly, the buses arrive to take us and they also bring us some food.
As we make our way to this hotel I’ve never heard of, I’m still shivering from the cold, and it’s been past 24 hours since I’ve been awake. Some of the others have been awake for a longer time.
As the bus goes up mountains for the hotel, I feel dizzy. The hotel is in the mountains but also in a kind of a pit inside the mountains. It’s a bit weird. When we arrive at the hotel, it is around 10. They let each bus out one by one, sanitise our luggage (again), take our temperatures one by one, give us new masks and the keys to our rooms. While the people on the first bus are going through the procedures and we are waiting, another news come.
Someone make it end.
The locals cut in front of one of the buses behind us. The locals and the mayor of the area are against us staying here. They say this hotel is too close to residential buildings and is not the right place for us to stay. Yes, it is close but not that close. This isn’t an airborne disease anyway! We manage to have the bus pass through but the protests don’t stop for a while. People whose buildings see ours, keep stalking us and film us as we go into our rooms as if we are doing something wrong. They treat us like we are zombies or criminals or plague-stricken.
I’m exhausted, and I feel disgusting. All I want is a warm shower and some sleep. The room looks fine. Not the best, can’t be compared to the other quarantine hotel but it is at least clean. I have a hard time getting the hot water and the plugs work and every little thing that is wrong with the room bothers me. My logical side says, it’s okay they just got informed and they prepared all these rooms in an hour and the hotel was normally under renovation. It’s clean, it’s warm and they are preparing lunch, it’s okay. However my other side is the dominant one, so I have the mental breakdown that I stopped myself from having during our strike in front of the student halls. A warm shower, a clean room, some food and some sleep, am I asking for too much?
With some help from the group chat, I manage to have the warm water work. The water keeps changing temperature, and the showerhead at the top is broke but I finally have a shower, have some food and go to bed. This will be alright.
© photo from Unsplash
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