Travelling in Corona times, Part One

Author: Sahra Rosenkvist & Editor: Matthew Short

Note from the author

This is an excerpt taken from my experience and demonstrates how we can utilize field journals and autoethnography as a method for understanding the essence of doing things and how humans interact with the world around them.

23rd of July, 2020

I am on my way to the train station in Helsingborg, less than a half-hour until the train leaves for Copenhagen Airport. I am returning to Turkey for the first time in a year and it happens to be during the Corona era. It is very hard for me to travel in such a stressful time with the virus outbreak. I feel nervous, I want to go and see my family and have a sunny summer vacation but I am afraid of getting the virus while traveling to and around Turkey.

The fear, or ambiguity, of the chance of getting the virus is quite heavy especially when one would like to visit the dearest ones in another country after a long shutdown among borders.

Fear, anxiety, being exposed to something dangerous, something can hurt me or can hurt others through me and the responsibility of it are the issues that many individuals have faced as I did too.

Airport and plane

I put on my mask after getting off the train, it is required to wear face masks at the airport. I don’t believe what I see with my eyes now. The airport is empty, dead and lonely. I used this airport many times and each time I was amazed by its vibrating atmosphere. Usually, it is full of motions and people. Now, almost all stores are shut down, a lot fewer people are traveling and there’s no vivacity here. I find myself feeling sorry about how the corona outbreak has negatively affected us and how it has killed enjoyment and happiness.

The flight takes approximately three hours. I sit in the window seat, there is one empty seat between me and the other passenger sitting next to the corridor. All of the passengers are required to wear face masks during the flight. I wear a face mask called N 95, which is known as a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit with very efficient filtration of airborne particles. I hope it will help me keep myself away from any coronavirus spread.

There is a term, “new normal” widely used to refer to the new behavioral patterns in corona times. I don’t like this term at all, all these happenings are not normal to me and I do not want to accept them. As a traveler, I don’t want to see the airport empty, dead, lonely and almost all of its restaurants are shut down. I don’t want to use face masks which triggers my COVID-19 anxiety. No feeling of traveling as a life experience here, no happy traveling to see my dearest ones.

Safety is now the main issue in traveling over enjoyment, if everyone wears masks inside the plane we all are safe.

Meeting with family

Sabiha Gokcen airport is extremely crowded because of the period of the feast of sacrifice, many Turkish people living abroad come to visit their families in Turkey even though it is corona times. I try to be away from people at the carousel while waiting for my luggage, it is impossible to do this since there are people everywhere. It is forbidden for passengers’ relatives to wait inside and meet them, that is why there are corridors made of human bodies at the exit outside.

My mom meets me at the exit. She wants to hug me and kiss me. I refuse and say I’m trying to stay away because I don’t know if I have the coronavirus, I say: “Even though I missed you so much mom, I can’t. I am afraid I will give this sickness to you”. She shortly hugs me and kisses me on my hair anyway and she says we both have face masks, I still feel uncomfortable for myself and unsafe for her since I come from another country, Sweden, where we have no idea who has had COVID-19 or who have not, who carries, who does not. We do not want to use public transportation which is why we prefer to get a taxi to the marina where we take a big ferry to go to the city where my mom lives. It is a city that is quite close to Istanbul and has a lower population (approximately 120,000) with cleaner air. My mom decided to move there in 2017 with the thought that Istanbul was so crowded, stressful, chaotic and unbearable for her. During the pandemic, that city has not been forced to apply curfews as much as Istanbul has been. I feel better and safe to stay there and I know that the percentage of patients with COVID-19 is quite low in this city and the death rate as well.

Crowds are the most feared thing for spreading the virus and mostly create a feeling of unsafety. Public transportation is chaotic and a place where a person potentially gets the virus, paying more for a taxi as transportation is no issue when it comes to health.

A hug is a form of endearment, a very natural thing for a mom to do with her daughter. It is not safe to hug, it is actually a responsibility, if you hug you might pass the sickness to the other person but masks are the protective shields. However, even they do not create a feeling of safety in greetings.

Sickness death rates for each country, region, or city on TV and on the Internet are updated every day. The statistics direct people on where is the safest to go, for vacations.

Face mask, hand sanitizers and gun thermometers in the everyday life of Turkey

In Turkey, you have to wear masks every day pretty much everywhere, in public transportation, in stores, in shopping malls, even outside. I want to go and check some clothes, of course, I put my face mask on and walk to the store.

I am trying to get into a clothing store, I see a desk with gun thermometers and hand sanitizers at the entrance. I have three people ahead of me. I don’t understand what we are waiting for. Then I hear the staff behind the desk must check every single customer’s temperature and give them hand sanitizers before letting them in. It is an obligatory “cleaning” and “safety checking” ritual for shopping. I am suspicious about my temperature, what if I show some high temperature since the weather is 30 degrees, I am very warm and it seems possible to show a high temperature. It is my turn now, they sanitize my hands and put the gun temperature on my forehead, the machine beeps, I do not know what this means. It sounds like the previous time, the staff says something like: “Welcome, now you can go in”.

I don’t touch anything at the store like I am used to, now, there is a risk of contamination, therefore, I take my own precautions while I browse. I like some items but I do not want to try them on even though I guess they must be cleaned because of strict regulations. On the speaker, I hear some songs and in between the company’s doctor’s speech, he explains how they take precautions for COVID-19 at stores. They check staffs’ health conditions every day, clean all stores before opening and after closing, once an item is tried at the store, they take it away and disinfect it with some steam and keep it for one night in storage and then put it back on the shop floor. There are people everywhere, I think I need to keep my distance, otherwise, it is dangerous. I feel nervous and anxious about distance.

I do not buy anything and leave the store after looking for a while.

As a person living in Sweden putting on a mask and being forced to go through a fever check while entering every single store creates a level of anxiety. I am a stranger to all these habits, to my family and friends living in Turkey. Hand sanitizers are more normal for me since I have been used to carrying kolonya(cologne)* or wet wipes with me since my childhood. In Turkey, having cologne in a bag is not a big issue since we are very used to using it. But being forced to get hand sanitizers and passing the fever “test”, all these forceful rituals to enter a single store is too much.

Distance is hard to keep and touching items is dangerous. What if a person with COVID-19 has touched it. It is hard to buy stuff without touching and trying, especially for clothing. Feeling the texture or fabric and trying items and seeing if they fit well are important. Once these rituals are abandoned while shopping, buying something becomes harder.

*Kolonya: “For hundreds of years, this Ottoman-era cologne has been synonymous with Turkish hospitality. Traditionally this sweet-scented aroma made with fig blossoms, jasmine, rose or citrus ingredients is sprinkled on guests’ hands as they enter homes, hotels and hospitals; when they finish meals at restaurants; or as they gather for religious services. But unlike other natural scents, this ethanol-based concoction high alcohol content can kill more than 80% of germs and act as an effective hand disinfectant.” (Source: BBC.com)