April 10, 2020

One question keeps rattling in my brain: How did I get here?

I can pin it to one date in particular: March 1st, 2020. Over a month ago, when I was blissfully unaware, when boarders were still open. When I was boarding a plane from Barbados to Dominica. 

Nicoles’ parents finally arrived! This means we are off today! I cant wait to explore Dominica. We have all these wonderful plans: diving with Kayla, hiking, going to see Scotts Head! And to see mountains finally!!! I’ve been missing mountains so much since I moved to Barbados. Berry told me a story once, that back in the day before there were GPS many ships carrying supplies or exporting ships would sail right by Barbados when it was dark. It is basically the Netherlands of the Carribean. 

As our plane approached the little island, devastated by Hurricane Maria two years ago, all I could see was the glory, the beauty and the stunning sights of a volcano created island. Steep, dramatic mountains, lush with greenery. It was a dream to get away from the dried vegetation that was Barbados. Plus a chance to finally have a long break from work! 

Immediately Nicole and I hop in a cab and head up to Toucari to dive with Kayla at her new dive shop: SALT. So cute, just a little shipping container, and a hired fisherman. And down we went into the water to see lobsters, barracudas, supernatural rock formations and our first indication of a vacation! 

The very next day Nicole and I said our goodbyes and got onto a bus headed into the main city, Ressau to join Nicoles’ family. Through the week we participated in a number of hikes, the main one nearly killing us all. It was 12 miles and took us a good 9 hours to hike. The guide, Peter, pointed out flora helping with all kinds of ailments. And he kept making comments about the cure for coronavirus being within the forest. Being here on this magical island. 

Of course, by this time I had heard of coronavirus. I had friends changing their plans because of the virus. But I had also assumed it would be contained, it would not have long term ramifications. You see, Nicole and I are both scuba instructors out in Barbados. She had plans of returning to England for a few months after our trip. And I was making plans of sailing from Barbados to the UK for a month and a half shortly after our return. 

We heard of the cruise ship docked a few miles off of Barbados as two people coughed earlier in February. But the passengers were tested and after three days the Prime Minister, Mia Motely, had boarded the ship, given a ‘thank you for your patience’ speech and allowed everyone to disembark. Barbados was taking measures to ensure that the virus did not come into the country. These should have been my first signs. But I was happily oblivious. Taking a few extra measures to protect ourselves: bleach in the regulator bucket, no sharing of regulators, etc. But overall, business as usual. 

The day after our hell hike to the boiling lakes, we spoke about the climbing ropes, the different coloured waters from minerals, the walking through rivers and scaling of mountains to see one of the worlds boiling lakes. And although my feelings about the hike were not great, I was still glad it was done. I can now run a marathon if I want. I can now do any hike without fear. It was the hardest in my life. Thus, a day to decompress was much needed. We watched the news and heard the alerts and serious warnings about the virus. 

The reality that had become Italy and China, the lack of understanding from the American leader, the devastation this virus really is. When something like that really hits you, when you have been lucky enough or busy enough to bypass the growth of the spread and the reality. Well that in itself is an insane hit to the head. It scared me at that moment. It scared me that I was oceans away from any family member. And that was when a little voice in my head started to creep in with the fictitious ideas: imagine if my family still lived in Italy, imagine if mom catches it alone in Greece, imagine…

I did what anyone in denial of a world virus would do, I tuned it out. I kept playing cards with Nicoles’ mom, Diane, and listening to her wild life stories. We resumed our schedule the following day, and I started listening to Dianes warnings a little more, her knowledge by having followed the story since the China outbreak, all the while exploring the nature island. 

Upon our return, no distinct measures were taken. No PPE, no excess hand sanitizer, just washing our hands and returning home. Getting back to our little lives in Barbados, riding the buses, shaking hands, nothing out of the ordinary. I was getting ready to move out of Nicoles’ house and she was packing up for England. We had one last magnificent hurray. 

Within the next few days, I moved into my new house. I rode into work with my boss, Andre. Sweet, kind, optimistic man. Work was slowing down. The cruise lines cancelled cruises, as they were transporting the virus from one island to the next. Borders in the BVIs and Bahama were closed. Overnight. No warnings. Europe was closing down slowly. Some places more rapidly than others. I spoke with Andre, and asked him. Told him my fear of being locked down here. Told him my fear of being locked out of Greece, away from my mom if something happened. He supported me. Telling me it is my decision, he will not hold any malice, but also it would be okay. In a week or two we’ll be sitting at a bar drinking wine and laughing at the panic happening around the globe: at the lack of toilet paper, at the feelings we felt, and at the absurdity we saw all around us. But he reassured me, regardless of what happens here in Barbados, if I am here, he will make sure I am taken care of.

My friends around the globe have been locked down on various islands. Forbidden to leave, yet, with no income, with no job, what are they to do? Scuba instructors on average make enough to survive, some luckily are able to save. But stuck away from families, with no income. It scared me. It scared me to be where I was. Even though Barbados still did not have any cases, they were reluctant to close down borders since the primary source of GDP for the country is tourism. Barbados wanted to wait it out, ensure that their people had work and an income. I can understand that point of view, but there is also the doom that the virus will enter. The virus will become part of the fabric of this society. Of a society that shares drinks, hugs their mates and has limited water availability in the northern areas. 

Our reservations dropped, we only had one couple coming back to dive with us as their flights back home kept getting cancelled. Work was thin, and I told them to not work me as much as others who had families to feed and rents to pay. After a non-informative team meeting, about cleaning our supplies more, cleaning the front desk, and car, I decided the benefits did not outweigh the fear. I went home and told my parents I needed to come home. We had a long conversation before that, and they finally agreed it was the right choice. I booked my flight for the following week. I had to tell everyone, I had to pack and I had to tie up some loose ends. 

The next day Barbados announced the first case of coronavirus.

In the next couple of days the growth was exponential. 

It was brought in through a flight from two people coming in from North America. 

Trying to read the articles, trying to keep up with the minute changes of the virus affecting air travel. And that is when I finally was able to connect with my friend who works on airlines. She said everyone is cutting their deal short, everyone is minimizing air travel and if I am able to, to change my flight sooner. So, I changed it for two days before my original flight. Just a couple days away.

I spoke with Andre, and I told my friends at the shop. We had a little impromptu party, and then my panic resided. I did something to change my fear. 

I arrived at the airport to be told this is one of the last flights leaving for Europe. The check-in line took over 2 hours. They were stressed, I was stressed. But I was leaving. I had gloves, a mask, hand sanitizer, and lycol wipes. Our flight was full. A few people with gloves, even less with masks. And it made me question whether I was overreacting to our situation, or if they were underreacting.

Regardless, I was not taking any chances. I came back to subdue my fear, I came back to help mom, I came back to be with my family. And no, I was not going to do anything that might cause any of them any damage. So, with that I came fully stocked. My flight plan changed every time I had a layover, a new twist, a new plane. The flight board was riddled with the word “cancelled” and until I stepped onto my last of three planes I was uncertain if it would take off. In the next few days flights became even more scarce in Europe. Im lucky. I made it to Greece. I made it home.

My next challenge: two weeks of strict quarantine. I got into a cab and went straight upstairs to my dads house. Here is where I have been for over two weeks.

Right in the middle of the room is a king sized bed. Too big for any room, but somehow it works. When I sit on the bed I look to the right. There is a book shelf, a few selected books from dad. A coffee maker, a fruit basket and a massive water bottle. To my right I have a chair which faces a small balcony. Following through the hall, the room on the left is my father’s office and straight ahead is a bathroom. The best spot of this quarantine room is a massive balcony with chairs and a table.

As I got here, they had set up the laundry machine, i just had to throw in my clothes and hit on. Clean off the outside of my luggage and take a nice long shower. Im here! I made it! I can’t believe it. 

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