It’s now day 10 of quarantine back in Minneapolis. It’s hard to imagine just one month ago I was sitting on the steps outside an empty Ankor Wat in Cambodia. Three weeks ago I was exploring the beaches of Krabi, Thailand. And just over a week ago I rode a motorbike up the mountain in Chiang Mai to see the stars, look out into the city, and enjoy my last night abroad.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a month, that’s for sure. If you would have asked me a month ago if I would be home right now I would’ve definitely told you, no way! But alas, here I am. Honestly, I’m so over this virus. I’m sure you and many others are too. For me, it feels like I’ve been trying to play dodge with this thing since January. I guess it finally caught up with me.
By mid-March, things were starting to get bad in the US and in Europe. Countries in Asia were beginning to institute mandatory 14-day quarantines for all new arrivals. At this point, the State Department had recommended all Americans abroad to return home or else plan to stay put indefinitely. I think I was still leaning towards staying in Asia, hunkering down somewhere, and riding it through. But the more I looked at my options, the more difficult it became. Instead of mandatory quarantines for new arrivals, countries were now beginning to close their borders to all visitors.
I decided to meet a friend and fellow Minnesotan who was in Thailand to talk through together whether or not we should stay or go. It worked out because Thailand at that point did not have a mandatory quarantine. But it seemed like day by day, things kept getting worse everywhere. A few days after I entered Thailand, the country had issued a closure of all non essential businesses. As I was debating what to do, I knew wanted to go somewhere that seemed safe where I could stay put for a while. That didn’t leave very many options. And every day something would change. It’s like, I would make a plan and 24 hours later that had changed because of some uncontrollable variable – more border closings, change in entrance requirements, flight changes, etc. It was like constant whiplash. I decided to make one last ditch effort to fly to China to stay with a friend (yes China), which at this point was improving while everywhere else was getting worse. The next day, China also announced it was banning all entry from foreigners. This is when I decided it was probably time to just go home. And I thought to myself, “wow, is this really the end?” It’s certainly not how I imagined it at all. There’s so much more I wanted to do and see. I thought I would have more time to wind down, to mentally prepare. But I didn’t. I felt sad and trapped. I felt like I didn’t have a choice. Even getting flights back was difficult as I had to reschedule three times due to other border closings and flight cancellations. Thankfully, I was able to get on my flight from Bangkok to Seoul to JFK to MSP. A 36-hour journey.
I was extremely disappointed in the lack of screening I received when I entered into the United States. The border agent asked me one question, “which country did you come from?” and then I was allowed to enter. Nobody checked my temperature for a fever, no one interviewed me regarding my health, I didn’t have to fill out any health form, or anything. By this time, this was all common practice in every country I had visited. I was pretty used to getting my temperature checked everywhere – at airports, restaurants, convenience stores and hotels. It angered me quite a bit actually that what felt like basic, common-sense, public health measures to easily catch infected people were being completely ignored in the US.
So I am in Minneapolis now, I’ve been self-quarantining for about a week now and heading into another week before I move in with my mom. Whereas in most countries, this would be required, my quarantine is entirely voluntary. Again, it was alarming to see the US so behind on all this. In some countries you would be put in jail for breaking your 14 day quarantine. Others would make you download an app or make you wear a wristbands. Here in the US, if I wanted to, I could go out, talk to people, and potentially spread the virus to others without anyone even noticing or caring.
There’s no doubt that this whole fiasco has been a complete failure of political leadership in the US. If you’ve ever wondered what a leaderless world in disarray looks like, well it’s this. If you’ve ever wondered what a leaderless United States looks like, well it’s this. I wrote in my last fellowship report that this whole fiasco feels like a primer on how NOT to be a leader. What does it mean to be a good leader? Easy, be the opposite of our current leaders. Take responsibility. Encourage cooperation. Be empathetic. Take action. Be responsive. Bring people together. Be a role model. Listen. Show compassion. It’s incredibly sad to see that in the moments where we need our leaders most, they’ve chosen instead to cower, to place blame elsewhere, and to cause infighting among the people they are meant to serve.
Beyond this, it’s even more clear this failure has been exacerbated by the decades of particular ideological dominance in US politics. Trickle Down Economics which has left millions clamoring for money because people have been living paycheck to paycheck. Deregulation and defunding of our federal government which has left agencies on the front lines lacking the resources needed to tackle the situation. Federalist ideology which has left states competing amongst themselves for critical medical supplies. But America first, right?
Gosh, this virus has got me feeling all sorts of ways. I hope it gets us thinking about the world differently. I hope it helps us think about what’s really important to us. I hope it teaches us to be more caring and compassionate toward each other. I hope it gets us thinking about the consequences of our actions and the consequences of our politics. I hope it has given us time to dream about what else is possible. But I fear… it won’t. I fear once this is over we’ll all go back to how things were.
It’s been nice to be home. But really, I can’t stop thinking about my time in Asia and going back. I already miss it. It’s like I’m physically home but my mind is still there. Like, my mind is telling me that this will be over soon and I’ll be able to go back later. But I need to prepare myself for that to not be true. It’s a really weird feeling. I feel like I’m grieving something that has suddenly disappeared from my life but is actually still there and potentially reachable. Like I’m in limbo. Idk. It’s hard to explain.
At this point it’s hard to see what the future will look like. “Always in motion is the future.” That’s what Yoda said. I guess I’ll just have to take it day by day, like the rest of us.