Imagine being on a beautiful lake, surrounded by nothing but glistening water and rich greenery—sounds dreamy, right? This was how I described the beginning of my holiday in Thailand to my friends. But what should have been a relaxing and surreal experience soon became a desperate attempt to get back home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At first, it seemed like my trip was not going to be affected. To me, Thailand had better control of the situation than other countries, until I heard about the travel ban Trump had imposed on Europe. It was a trigger. Suddenly the gravity of the situation hit me. Here’s how COVID-19 impacted my holiday and how I made it home.
Maybe it was the language barrier or just my lack of awareness, but the situation in Thailand didn’t worry me to begin with. Yes, people were wearing masks and going a little crazy with the hand sanitiser—rightly so—but overall, things appeared to be pretty relaxed. This was nothing in comparison to the alarming frenzy that was taking place in the UK. With news of travel restrictions changing daily, my bubble was burst. The panic was setting in and there was no outrunning it. Finally, I started thinking about going home. I was willing to cut my holiday short, but how was I going to get home exactly? My flight had been cancelled, I was left in the dark as to what to do.
With barely any internet available where I was, the situation became unnerving and only increased my many speculations. It was all I could speak about and I had long forgotten the beautiful scenery and the wild animals.
I was stuck in the middle of the jungle and although everyone did their best to play it cool, the worry was written all over their faces. The fact that we might not be able to get home became a real possibility.
It’s such a strange feeling, trying to enjoy and take in everything in front of you but still having this nagging worry at the back of your mind, growing uncontrollable. The anxiety was crushing me and my mental health took a blow.
Eagerly awaiting to leave the jungle in order to establish some sort of connection with the outside world was already a hard task. But my need for some news was crippling. As soon as I connected to a nearby Wi-Fi box, messages from loved ones asking me to give them news from Thailand and news articles flooded my phone.
I had been planning this trip for months and there was much more to see but I had made my decision; I was ready to go back. Yet, still, I somehow expected everything to fall into place. Coming from the UK to Thailand had been so easy, how hard could it be to book a flight back to London?
In order to change the date of my flight back to the UK, I called the airline, which informed me that my flight had been cancelled in anticipation of upcoming travel restrictions. After endless calls with the travel agency, hours and hours of being put on hold, I was left with no answers and decided to try online chats instead.
Airlines and agencies were drowning in panicked requests from tourists trying to get back home. It was chaotic—one agent would say one thing and the other would say the opposite. One told me that there weren’t any available flights before April, while another one told me that I could have one of the last seats for £1,500.
On numerous occasions, I believed that I wouldn’t be leaving Thailand. It was easy to let myself imagine living out there, the weather was amazing, people were friendly and the cost of living was incredibly cheap. If it hadn’t been for my constant checking of the news on my phone, I could have happily stayed right where I was.
I decided to make the 6-hour journey to the airport without knowing what I would do once there.
The airport was crammed with distressed people queueing up at a few help desks. To me, the panic on people’s faces was calming. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in this situation made me feel better. In the end, I took a gamble and booked the first flight back to the UK I could find even though no one knew if it would get cancelled. It didn’t and I made it back home.
As many tourists are still in Thailand while the country is under lockdown, I am grateful to be in my own home. For now, I am still in quarantine but this feels like a small price to pay for safety.
Among the 1.3 billion Indians, some have had the chance to follow his provision in the comfort of their home while others are struggling and risking their lives just to get some food for their family. How exactly has COVID-19, and the unavoidable lockdown it brought with it, exposed more than ever India’s deep social inequalities?
People from India have always seen the country’s social inequalities, but the coronavirus outbreak has amplified the situation. Indian correspondent for The Guardian, Amrit Dhillon, recently wrote a brutally honest article titled As the wealthy quaff wine in comfort, India’s poor are thrown to the wolves, in which she summarised her experience of India’s lockdown to: “If, like me, you have a live-in maid who happens to have picked up some beautician skills, you are ‘condemned’ to confinement in a spa. Shall I have a facial today? Or a pedicure? No, let’s settle for a massage. It will relieve my lockdown tension.” For rich and middle-class people in India, being under lockdown is a very similar experience to a holiday—Dhillon describes it as “an enforced period of recreation or a chance for self-improvement.”
In the same breath, the newly imposed shutdown means one thing for India’s poorest population: things are about to get way worse. Street vendors are barred from selling their products outside, workers who usually get paid by the day will end up with no money at all and, meanwhile, the Indian government is struggling to offer people any kind of potential help. Poor communities are left with nothing; no work, no money, and no food.
Although the lockdown is also affecting working-class families in the UK, Italy, Spain and the rest of Europe, Dhillon highlights that for most of us in “[more egalitarian] societies, the lockdown experience is not marked by the same sharp disparities as in India.” Most EU citizens have access to smartphones or the necessary technology to connect with our friends and families and check up on them while feeling support and affection.
In India, millions of migrant workers are separated from the rest of their families who stayed in their hometown. Labourers have no choice but to stay in ‘rented accommodation’, which Dhillon describes as “dingy cells usually shared with six or seven other labourers.”
The lockdown is also catastrophic for the Muslim citizens that lost their homes during the anti-Muslim riots that started at the end of February in Delhi. At the time, many houses were burned down by Hindu mobs who killed 53 Muslims and injured thousands. Families ran away, some of them ended up living in the Eidgah relief camp in tents set up in the courtyard of a mosque.
But Eidgah was only temporary and on Monday the Delhi authorities forced the families to leave the crowded camp in order to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Muslims have been given the minimum rent for a small room (which equals to £33) and nothing more. While some citizens went to live with family members in other cities, others were left homeless.
As China, a country next to India, slowly gets back to business, the situation in India becomes alarming. Although it is obviously necessary for the Indian government to focus its attention on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, what does that mean for poor communities who were already struggling before this? As many questions are left unanswered for now, one thing is clear to me: we should feel grateful that we have a roof over our heads and cupboards filled with food instead of losing it over Houseparty lagging during peak hours. In the end, it’s all about perspective.