By Carly Lunden
Day one: Kigali, Rwanda. 8:30am.
I’m drinking coffee on the porch, a pause before our world is flipped upside down. My husband sits next to me, scrolling through his phone. It all feels normal. Right as rain. Except that nothing is.
In a few hours, we’ll be on a plane to Doha. Then New York. Then Minneapolis. Home.
In January, we moved to Rwanda for work. What we didn’t factor into our plans was a global pandemic.
A week ago, Rwanda detected its first case of COVID-19. Restrictions escalated quickly from there. Public gatherings prohibited, schools on pause, restaurants and bars starting to close. The virus is slipping through via international travelers, and the country is taking aggressive measures to stop it.
On Wednesday, they announced the grounding of all international flights - effective today at midnight. Now, suddenly, we had to choose: either pack up and leave, or risk not coming home until this is all over. The speed at which that choice unfolded has left me dizzy and disoriented.
After two sleepless nights, we chose home. Bottom line: as an only child, I simply couldn’t chance the possibility of my parents getting sick and not being there. Even if they are in quarantine.
We have no idea how long we’ll be gone. Everything is in slow motion. My to-do list is my saving grace: Pack. Pay the bills. Arrange a taxi. Tell everyone who needs to know.
Our flight leaves at 4:30pm. Eight hours. We’ll be on it.
Day two: Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t know what time it is.
The airplane is humming, that steady underlying roar. Familiar but deafening. I’m seated towards the front of a packed plane, filled with people whose trips were cut short, whose work abroad was interrupted, facing new realities and uncharted territory at home.
We’re on our way to JFK. It’s a long flight, almost 15 hours. We’re 11 hours in. It’s tough for everyone. But it’s especially tough for the littlest kids, who are here in abundance - families trying to make it back.
Next to me is a one year old boy with his parents. He’s squirming in his mom’s lap. And he’s not a happy camper. He’s been in tears for hours, his mom trying - and failing - to distract him with cartoons. Then snacks. Then walks around the plane. No dice. But I get it, little dude, I’m not thrilled about this either.
Walking through the airport in Doha was surreal: passengers strolling around in hazmat suits, nearly everyone in face masks. Many wearing plastic gloves. Despite the outward protections, I felt so exposed. With this invisible virus, anyone could be a threat. The security agents? The man walking a little too close, trying to catch his flight? The flight attendants? The little boy next to me?
I wipe down my screen and all the surfaces around me. Is it enough? Maybe. We’ll know in 14 days. But for now, I’m switching my computer off and turning on a movie, a welcome distraction. 3.5 hours to go.
Day three: Danbury, Wisconsin. 6:00pm.
This morning we borrowed a car from my in-laws and drove to northwoods Wisconsin, where my husband’s family cabin is located, nestled amongst tall pines on the edge of a frozen lake. If we have to spend 14 days in quarantine, there’s no place I’d rather be.
This log cabin has always been where we come to find peace. To slow down. To cook and drink, swim and ski. It’s special. Luckily, it also has wi-fi.
After some foggy, jet-lagged research, we found a grocery store up here that does curbside pickup. And, it was available for pickup the same day, not possible at overwhelmed groceries in Minneapolis. At the store this morning, we didn’t come out of our car, instead relying on the kind store employee to load the bags. We feel a bit radioactive.
I’m so grateful for this contactless grocery option. But as I went through the bags earlier today, the reality of this crisis hit home. No eggs, no spinach, no oatmeal, no apples, no cans of tuna. About half the order was missing. With the panicked buying, they were simply out of stock. We’ll try again in a few days.
A friend advised that these two weeks, in our favorite place, is a gift. To get our heads back on straight, to transition to what this unknown, new life will be. She’s right. So now I’m going to get dinner started. We’re going to put on music. And we’ll take this day by day.
Life in lockdown. Womankind approached its community to write about life in lockdown around the globe, notably a three-day diary of everyday life under the threat of COVID-19. Womankind is publishing these stories freely to show how the pandemic is affecting women from all over the globe - from New York, to Barcelona to Glastonbury.
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