Or, making the most of a challenging situation. COVID-19 has on-going, wide-ranging impact around the globe. It’s scary and overwhelming and exhausting. However, I like to look for opportunities in every situation; COVID-19 is offering an interesting opportunity to observe how differently people respond to stressful situations.
My family, while practicing social distancing and safe at home approaches right now, had a family vacation scheduled this month. At the time we needed to make decisions, we felt it was an acceptable to choice to continue with our plans. On March 14, we left for a week in Curacao. The good news is that we were renting a house with another family, and the house was located within a gated community. By Tuesday of that week, Curacao had gone to take-out only options at restaurants, and by Wednesday, beaches and other tourist venues (plus most things) were closed completely.
Even traveling through airports, our exposure was pretty limited, and we were able to enjoy our vacation – with some significant changes.
But, it was also fascinating to observe the behavior of those around us, as well as to observe my own behavior. As a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine how I would respond to the situations I’m inventing for my characters, to write an authentic experience.
Responses to this situation vary as much as you would expect; some folks were business as usual, while others were clearly wary of people and places. It’s been fascinating. Here are a few observations:
-People don’t know what to do. The air of confusion permeated every venue – do I say hello to strangers, or not? Do I offer help or look away? – very little eye contact, careful spacing between individuals, less confident posture by most.
-Airports are very, very quiet; not just due to the lessened number of people, but also because people are not having casual conversations, there was no laughter or happy chatter, and people were spacing themselves away from strangers even more than usual.
-Airplanes were filled with people cleaning their own spaces (to the point the pilot thanked us with a little sass and then had the crew collect the used wipes), but beyond that, some folks traveled as usual, while others wore gloves, masks, hats, long sleeves, eyes darting about – fearfully? self-consciously?
-Shopkeepers, restaurant managers, airline crew were all cordial, efficient, calm, and matter-of-fact. There was frustration in the restaurants, but also an understanding of the value of following the rules being implemented.
-Overall, people in service industry were as helpful as they’ve always been, answering questions or providing guidance.
-People overall were jumpy; every cough, sneeze, and sniffle received side-eyed glances from passersby, glances filled with question and concern.
-A few people were determined to carry on as close to usual as possible, almost defiantly so.
For me, I’m a fan of listening to experts (CDC, WHO) and using common sense. However, the Friday before we were schedule to leave – after we’d seen the State Department announcement informing Americans to come home immediately – our flight was canceled. United had, in fact, canceled all flights off the island (and we later learned they had cancelled 60% of their flights worldwide).
After some time on the phone, the United agent got us re-booked on the next-to-last American Airlines flight off the island before the borders were closed completely. That was when I got seriously stressed! For me, that looked like snappish responses to questions, relentless cleaning, and a need to be packed a full day before we were scheduled to leave, just in case. I didn’t relax until we landed in Miami. (NOTE: At the same time, we learned that one of my daughter’s teachers was trapped with 1000 other Americans in Peru, and is, in fact, still trapped there now.)
I’m planning to build out my notes and observations, and save these for future writing projects. However, it’s also a way for me to process this crazy situation, to make sense of things in some small way.
Sending well wishes and calming thoughts to everyone as we navigate the pandemic! XO (from a distance)