Post-Quarantine: Some Reflections on My First Trip
Tl;dr: quarantine measures have impacted people’s psyche to an extent we don’t yet understand.
Originally, I had planned to go to Ukraine (Odesa) during summer 2020 to learn the basics of Russian, move to Peru in September to do an AIESEC internship, then move to Russia to teach English in January 2021.
Instead, I spent the summer in Brugge, Belgium, working two jobs to make up for the money lost in the financial crash while looking for a job that I didn’t find because I do not speak Dutch well enough, don’t have any work experience and hands-down sh*tty university diplomas.
Since I had a contract for a room until the 31st of August, it was urgent for me to find something to do in September as well as a place to go to. As I hadn’t traveled for a long time, I bought a two-week ticket for Budapest, thinking it’d give me time to figure out whatever I needed to.
Then they closed their borders to avoid new quarantine, so I bought a one-way ticket to Poland because I felt the need to have a big portion of freedom. And so I ended up in Warsaw.
As the plane landed, I saw everyone taking off their masks once out. Victim of the social sheep effect, I took mine off too and took a deep breath. That feeling was weird. Something was wrong, I felt naked.
I had been wearing something on my face since the beginning of the quarantine and had gotten used to it even though it was extremely annoying. Once free from this obligation, I felt good yet “too free”, almost as if such a level of freedom could de facto not be legal. That’s when I understood the impact that the quarantine was having on the human psyche. More surprises were headed my way.
Hostels are traditionally social places with nice people easy to talk to. That’s why you go to hostels: to talk to people. I couldn’t help to notice that for the first time in seven years, the people in the hostel were as weird as my friend Sindija.
No one was really talking to each other, and guests were fleeing my looking in their eyes as an attempt to establish contact. I took note of this effect myself: I didn’t address the people sleeping in my room.
Call me crazy, but I suspect that the quarantine severely impacted everyone’s social skills and that as trivial as a simple conversation with a stranger was in the past, it has now become awkward, mentally painful, and emotionally draining.
While going out always yielded its fair share of social anxiety in my case, the need to socialize always outweighed the downsides.
The quarantine ended up leaving me in my own social and physical bubble without having to get out of it to do anything.
The comfort zone remained unchallenged for such a long time that when it was time to extend it again, it has lost all of its elasticity. The need to get out might have been wild, but the fear to do so was equally so.
The Bottom Line
As I’m writing this in a Warsaw cafe, I’m struggling to make sense of all that happened since the beginning of the year. On a personal level, I became fully carnivore, graduated, found no jobs, no internships, and has no plan to make money whatsoever.
On a worldwide political level, the USA is on the brink of civil war, China is about to become the most powerful country in the world, the EU does not have any plan for its future, democracy shrinks daily in Russia and Turkey and Africa is about to launch the biggest free-trade economic area in the world.
On an economic level, millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of businesses went broke, the worldwide economic activity plunged to levels never seen since the Second World War, democracies have imposed forced quarantine, and countries debt raised to unknown levels at an unknown speed.
The size of these problems is such that it is difficult to mentally assess them and reflect. It all feels like such a giant mess that the default reflex is simply not to think about it. Time will tell where we’re headed although I’m afraid that while the worst of the epidemic has passed, the worst of social damages is yet to come.