On March 16, after the school’s decision to shut down temporarily, I arrived home in Kathmandu, Nepal. Our usually unmanageable and crowded airport was almost eerily quiet, and I got out of the airport with my baggage much faster than ever before. Outside the airport, Kathmandu seemed to be its usual bustling self. Street vendors were lined up along the sidewalks selling vegetables, and throngs of college students waited to catch public buses. With only one confirmed and recovered case of COVID-19 in January, the danger of getting it did not seem imminent.
I was somewhat indignant when my grandmother told me I was to self-isolate for a week. It seemed as though life was continuing as normal in Nepal. Wasn’t it?
Out of concern for my grandmother who is immunocompromised, I followed her guidelines. As soon as I got home, I took a thorough shower and gave my clothes to be washed immediately. I was not strictly quarantined and knew that these measures were precautionary, but they are highly necessary in a time like now.
The following days consisted of mainly binge-watching Netflix original On My Block (which I highly recommend) and catching up on sleep. I found myself eagerly awaiting the start of online classes. Every minute I spent not doing schoolwork, or something productive, felt like wasted time.
After my week-long isolation, I was allowed to go outside, but I hardly did. My favorite restaurants and movie theaters were closed, and my friends were all advised to stay at home by their parents, just like the rest of the world. The streets were quiet, and the air was much less polluted than ever before — a stark contrast from when I arrived a week ago.
I spent copious amounts of my free time, which was all of my time, reading articles about the outbreak, its effects and how it would end. When I wasn’t reading about it, I was inevitably thinking about it. I thought about what the best government responses to this situation would be, and felt a huge sense of respect towards healthcare workers and government officials. I worried about daily-wage workers, who make up a huge population of my country, and how they would provide for their families.
Amidst all of this, I read countless posts on social media advising people to use this time to heal and reflect, and though it is important to remember that perspective, frankly, I was sick of it. Life, to me, had never felt so uncertain and purposeless.
As my friends and I bombarded our social media group chats with “I miss you” messages, the Nepali government sent out a notice of a nation-wide weeklong lockdown. We were sure it would go on for longer, as the government attempted to prevent the outbreak from infecting everyone at the same time, knowing our healthcare infrastructure would not be able to handle that. Every day, the number of cases and deaths grew by thousands all over the world, while we were still at a total of five cases. This was due in part, to the fact that Nepal has extremely limited testing and the government not conducting nearly enough tests for COVID-19. Our best hospitals were turning away sick patients, in an effort to make space for patients who may be infected with coronavirus in the coming days.
The government had also issued a statement that our international airport would be completely shut down until April 8, which was hugely controversial. Nepal has a huge number of migrant workers working in the Middle East, who would all be stuck there for an indefinite period of time. Hundreds of Nepalis were stuck at the India border, and our government was not taking any action. Around 2 million Nepalis work in India today, and these people, wanting to get back to their families, had nowhere to go. One man, out of complete desperation, managed to swim across the Mahakali river, which acts as a natural border between India and Nepal.
It felt completely unfair for the government to deny citizens the right to come home, during such an unstable time.
These travel restrictions also had an impact on me, though much smaller. My parents, who live in Nigeria, cannot come home before April 31, as the international airport in Nigeria is closed until then. My sister and I are at home, with my grandmother, which is great, but both my sister and I, and my parents wanted our whole family to be together during this scary and uncertain time.
Ultimately, I realized there was only one thing to be done in a situation like this: wait it out and see what happens, with no preconceived set of expectations.
When this all passes, which it will in time, there are many, many lessons to be learned from it. And for now, as you’ve heard on annoying TV commercials and from your parents way more times than you need to hear, keep washing your hands.
Aadya Aryal is the features editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Janvi Poddar