For Indians, weddings are grand family affairs, where ever in the world they take place. When a family wedding was planned in Atlanta, it was given that I would be attending. The tickets were booked about 3 months ago and at that time World had not heard of Coronavirus. Today this is the only thing we are talking about. I am not the one who gets tensed about things that are occurring in far off places or fret unnecessarily about health issues. My flight was also through Doha, which was not yet in the list of infected counties, so I was not worrying too much.
However, slowly I started feeling the pressure. Newspapers, Television, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp – everything was full of Coronavirus. The updates of the new casualties, travel advisories, flight cancellations, precautions, local remedies swamped our lives and there was no escape. I don’t need to mention that lots of them were contradictory. Family and friends added to the confusion and I started getting well-meaning advice from all quarters. I was told to :
- Wear a mask(N95) at all times / Mask doesn’t help and it should be worn by the infected
- Wash your hands every 10-15 minutes / use a sanitizer if you can’t wash hands.
- Carry medicines for fever/ cough/ aches and gobble the medicines at the first instance of a sneeze.
- Carry Homemade food as the food may be infected.
- Not to use Chinese products
- Not to sit near people of certain nationalities.
It was impossible to ignore the instructions pouring in. I purchased the mask, sanitizer, and the medicines, with some extras as I had heard that the sanitizers were in short supply in the USA. I decided to ignore the advice about food and Chinese products. For the first time in life, I felt nervous about embarking on a journey. The wedding had to be attended as it was my nephew’s wedding, so there was no chance of backtracking. I left home armed with my mask, sanitizer, and courage.
I was in for a surprise. With the amount of coverage and publicity, I was sure 80% of people would be in masks at the airport. It was the exact opposite. Hardly anyone wore masks and people seemed to be in no fear. From elderly to kids, rich to the middle class, airline staff to porters, Indians to foreigners – everyone was only concerned about the task at hand. There were people wearing masks, but they were few and far between. No one was avoiding anyone or keeping anyone at a distance.
I had heard about empty airports and half-empty flights, but the Delhi airport was jam-packed and bustling as usual. The Check-in staff, Immigration officers, security personnel, air hosts all were behaving naturally and without any inhibitions. I started wondering if I was being over cautious? Or maybe we Indians are ignorant or too casual about things?
When I reached the Doha airport, this logic also took a beating. Hamad International Airport in Doha is an aviation hub, where citizens of various countries rub shoulders with each other. The airport was bursting with passengers – again without masks and seemingly without a care in the world. I decided to put the mask in my handbag for the time being. I was still washing hands and using the sanitizer, though I could feel my hands drying up.
The flight to Doha was a long one, but the staff was smiling, plane food was edible (for a change) and I could manage a few hours of sleep. We reached Atlanta and I made sure that I was not showing any signs of cold after sitting in an air-conditioned environment for hours. I still had to face the long serpentine immigration lines, tough US immigration officials, and the stringent health screening. The fear of being quarantined for 14 days in a matchbox room with a little window still persisted.
It seemed to be my lucky day. There were absolutely no lines and the immigration officer was funny and friendly. And I could not locate any health desk on my way out to collect my luggage. My luggage was lying beside the carousel, I collected it and was out of the airport in a jiffy. It was a very pleasant and non-eventful journey and nothing to write an article about. But I just felt that it should be written so that we should not overhype an issue which is already impacting our lives to such a great extent.
My story might be completely different from other travelers and people may have divergent experiences. This write-up doesn’t mean that we should not be cautious or not take precautions. The elderly and kids should definitely avoid traveling and one should avoid heavily infected areas. But let us not panic, overdramatize the situation, and spread fear on social media. Some journeys have to be completed, some commitments have to be kept and we all take a few risks in our lives. Venkadarath Saritha did just that. The world cannot come to a standstill. So weigh your options, keep focus, and take a call.