Instead of Hoarding Toilet Rolls at the Onset of the Pandemic, I Sought Refuge at a Friend’s Place
At the end of our shared workday, my friend and I exchanged our thoughts on this newly discovered virus that was on a destructive spree in Wuhan. It all felt far away from home, even when the first few dozens of cases were discovered in Europe.
This was spring 2020. I wasn’t worried much. Then the WHO declared it a pandemic.
Pre-global lockdowns, I had already been working remotely for months. I spent most of my days in front of the computer in a tiny town in Spain.
In March, I had to fly back home to get some administrative things sorted. At that time, the virus was picking up its pace, and the authorities started to talk about taking “drastic measures”.
We were dealing with a whole new situation. The idea of spending months on end by myself got me worried about how I could spiral down into more of a mental mess. Not sure how I’d cope, I’d have to decide: stay put, or fly back to the Spanish pueblo and potentially be stuck there for a to-be-determined number of months, but at least with some good company.
I tried sleeping on it. That night, I kept waking up with my heart racing, worrying myself sick about the whats and the ifs. We’ve seen the videos of Wuhan residents stuck in that first 76-day lockdown. The sight was surreal.
If they’re treating it that seriously, we’re probably in for a treat too, I thought.
Still terrified of the uncertainty, I spoke with my friend. With an impending, ultra-strict nation-wide lockdown, there was no time to waste.
I booked a ticket for a flight due in two hours. It was a tight call. I dumped whatever clothes that were within arm’s reach in a carry-on, threw my devices in a backpack, and hurried to the airport. Chaotically Tetris-ing the contents of my overloaded backpack into the CT-scanner, workers from baggage check made snarky comments about how “this one isn’t prepared at all”.
They were 100% right. I wasn’t prepared. No one was.
That evening, we watched the live announcement of the “state of emergency”, which went into effect almost immediately.
As we all know, life came out differently at the other end. Patting the friendly local street cats was over. They changed their territory and behaved with more caution and suspicion towards people.
The thing I miss most is the spontaneity of life. The simple things. Meeting up with a friend or acquaintance without worrying about what they’ve been doing. Engaging in random conversations with strangers without subconsciously checking if they might be coughing or breathing more heavily than normal. Booking a short trip to wherever without taking into account rules, regulations, restrictions. Heck, I’ve ditched trips altogether.
At least we’ve moved on from food and toilet paper hoarding.
In a recent online study, 1,029 adults from 35 countries were interviewed to find out which groups tend to resort to hoarding (and that of toilet paper in particular). Findings show that the strongest predictor was the “perceived threat of Covid-19”. People who felt more threatened by the situation stockpiled more. This finding supports the idea that toilet paper is seen as a “symbol for safety”.
These findings were published in June 2020. One year in and the world is more polarized than before. I wonder how health workers will cope with all they’ve seen once this is all over.
My initial reaction to the pandemic was fear. But instead of hoarding and investing my money in toilet rolls, I sought refuge at a friend’s place, a “safe zone” in a tiny, quiet village far away from masses of people, where I stayed put for months.
Today, lockdowns get extended, tightened, loosened up. The approach keeps changing per nation and federal state. I observe how civilians' attitudes towards state-imposed regulations differ widely and keep changing as well.
I don’t expect all of this to pass anytime soon.
I wonder how it will feel to walk into a dance studio again, and greet everyone with a tight, unmasked hug. To get our blood pumping in unity, breathe and move around the room freely, without the fear of inhaling infected aerosols, and dance until the mirrors are covered in fog.
I look forward to having dinner dates with myself in lively, people-packed restaurants, just to enjoy the ambiance. I look forward to the next hitchhiking and bit-packing adventure without being afraid I might pick up something along the way.
Until that day is here, I’ll let my mind wander off to how it once was, because that’s what we have for now.
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