The crowds of Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok swirled about me, virtually faceless individuals covered in masks. Even the babies wore them in miniature. Having just secured his boarding pass, BackpackMr was beside me at last, putting on his mask.
Though we’d left the states in mid January, I’d read about the emerging coronavirus and had ordered medical masks a couple of days prior to departure. A fool’s mission, some might say, but I’d traveled enough in Asia to know that masks were de rigueur, particularly when a nasty virus was afoot. More, on my most recent plane trip I’d sat next to a coughing, sputtering, unmasked American who insisted on wiping her nose in between smartphone swipes, touching the seats and armrests and coughing without covering. I’d like to thank her publicly for the gift she gave me, and no doubt any other passenger who sat in that section of the plane for the next 48 hours.
I’d brought four masks with me, all pink (of course), and in spite of my encouragement, BackpackMr brought none. BackpackMr was bound for the U.S., and I was headed to my beloved city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. So as news of the virus, and the virus itself spread throughout parts of Asia, I gave him two of mine for the long journey home, even though I knew I had at least 10 more flights and just two masks myself.
This is love in the time of coronavirus.
We kissed a cottony goodbye through our masks. He headed for the international departures terminal, I veered toward the domestic terminal. We wouldn’t see each other for another three weeks.
In that time, the virus gained a solid foothold in China, and began its advance to other parts of the world. Through my subsequent travels to Bali, Myanmar and Japan, I felt like I was outrunning Pepé Le Pew, frantically glancing behind me as I boarded flight after flight, skimming the hot zones, bathing in hand sanitizer, and hoping–not so much that I wouldn’t become sick–but that I would not become a vector. I know several people with health conditions so serious such a virus would place them in peril.
I came home from Japan just over two weeks ago. This Saturday, when taking a friend to a hospital emergency room here in Tucson, I found a coronavirus screening station at the entrance. As I’d been to Asia within the past two weeks, love in the time of coronavirus meant putting on a medical mask again, to protect the sick.
I have been thinking a lot about what it is to be a good world citizen when a virus like this one becomes a sinister opportunist.
It is easy to argue, as so many do, that travel is a selfish pursuit. He left to “find himself,” we say. “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer,” as the saying goes–but there’s no mention of how travel enriches the world as a whole. Overtourism indeed underscores this argument of selfishness; we’re flooding ancient sites, trampling the beautiful places, destroying the very thing we travel to love–before everyone else does, before it’s gone. More, I remember an unkind person gossiping, passing judgement about my personal challenges when I had gone overseas, “That’s not what you do,” though she didn’t so much as know my middle name nor anything but what she’d heard via the rumor mill. And–though I’m not fully on board with this–perhaps these sentiments are right, in some ways, maybe travel is at its very core selfish.
So if travel is indeed a selfish pursuit, how do we adjust for the collective good, particularly when our choice to travel or promote travel could actually endanger others?
It’s essential that we all practice love in the time of coronavirus, because only by loving one another can we stand a chance at containing a pathogen like this, while limiting the stress it places on one another. And that love encompasses all the goodness that is within our reach, if we dig deeply enough…goodness which is sadly in such short supply sometimes.
- Cultural understanding.
- Personal responsibility.
Online, there is so much hate, xenophobia, and racism being spread. It literally makes me sick inside. And it seems so deliberate, though sometimes subliminal. Love in the time of coronavirus means calling this out, particularly when it’s our leadership who are perpetuating the hate. Like this.
Fox News has also perpetuated this verbiage. Love in the time of coronavirus means turning the channel and seeking news from reputable sources.
Love in the time of coronavirus also calls us to self-care. Not just ensuring we are taking care of our own health by having ample supplies of medicines and food on hand in the event of a lockdown or supply shortage due to transport issues, but also stepping away from social media and perhaps limiting our exposure to news media. Grounding ourselves, instead, in the things that make us whole. I’m assessing my habits, and making changes, because a constant input of negativity and fear is taking a toll on my wellbeing. I want to be informed, while controlling my anxiety.
Love in the time of coronavirus calls us to be truthful. There is so much misinformation being spread, not to mention life-saving information being withheld. We are the midst of a potential pandemic, and withholding information without regard to the potential deadly results is pure evil.
Love in the time of coronavirus calls us to compassion and empathy. That means, as universities cancel classes and orders students to travel home (as Harvard did this morning), we must think about the impacts on students who do not have the financial wellbeing to purchase a last minute ticket, or do not have internet access, or differently abled students who do not have accessible spaces where they can attend remote classes.
We must think about the children who experience food insecurity who will go without meals if schools close for any length of time, kids who have no safety net.
We must remember that the very act of “stocking up” on necessities is an absolute privilege. For so, so many, there is barely enough money to cover the cost of living, much less drop several hundreds of dollars to prepare for a possible lockdown or shortage.
Love in the time of coronavirus also calls us to remember that typically others need the very same supplies we do…and we want them to be healthy too. So maybe not grabbing and hoarding all of the sanitizer or toilet paper is best. Maybe taking only what you need is the compassionate choice, if not simply and beautifully selfless.
And as events are cancelled and ripple effects spread, we must think about those who operate in the margins. Those paid hourly wages or those who are self-employed who cannot afford to take a sick day. Those pressured to work through illness by their employers. Those who depend upon income from events like SXSW, who now don’t know how they will pay for housing. Those who work in the travel industry whose jobs will be cut. Those who don’t have insurance, cannot afford a copay, cannot even dream of getting expensive vaccines or medication, who simply cannot entertain the thought of taking part in our medical system no matter what viruses they may pick up.
Love in a time of coronavirus calls us to personal responsibility. To police our own biases. To address the core issues of hate and cultural misunderstanding within ourselves. To seek out reputable information in the age of rampant misinformation. To take care of ourselves, take care of our own, and take care of everyone with whom we share this vulnerable planet.
As a global pandemic looms, love in the time of coronavirus also means pressing pause on travel. So for the time being, I’ll be sharing other content…content focused on values we hold dear other than immersive travel: plant-based eating, social justice, human rights, preservation of the planet, and creating inroads to understanding and empathy. It’s what we’ve always been about, and though travel is often the shortest distance between here and there, it’s time to take a different path, for now. For all of our health and wellbeing, the world over.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.