I significantly contemplated whether to post this article, but in the end, I ceded. Being aware of all the social, physical, and financial effects COVID-19, I knew that releasing this might influence not only my life but also yours — the reader of this article.
So buckle up, it is going to be a rough ride.
I am currently a college student on summer break after finishing my freshman year. I study in the United States but reside in Kenya.
So after the announcement on the severity and high infection rate of the COVID-19 infection, I knew I would be safer at home. Additionally, schools in the United States were closing, and I have no close relatives in the country.
Traveling back home was no easy task. My itinerary initially stated that my flight would go from San Francisco, the US to Nairobi, Kenya passing through Frankfurt, Germany. However, on arriving at the airport, the handling agent notified me of the cancelation of my flight.
Surprisingly, I was calm, given that the airport was almost empty, with no other way of heading back home. To make matters worse, the flight I booked was the last logistically possible flight I could book as the country’s borders would be closed hours after my arrival.
“Let me call the head office, and we’ll see if we can get you home on another flight.” The handling agent said, smiling pitifully at my unfortunate situation. Finally, a beam of hope shone over the pejorative outlook, and matters seemed bearable.
After a few minutes, my flight was rerouted to pass through London then Amsterdam and finally to Nairobi.
In London, I also went through some problems as only EU country members were allowed to fly over European countries at that time. My case was deemed sufficient to travel (not sure how), but I was content. It was interesting flying as the only black person in the whole plane (at least as far as I could see).
At last, I finally reached home after the 36 hours of traveling tired and sleepy and was greeted by an infrared camera to check my temperature at the arrival check-in area.
My temperature was deemed too high, and despite not having any headache, nausea, or cough symptoms, I appeared as a potential candidate for the COVID-19 infection. I would do the same thing. They were just playing it safe.
Some hours later, after all the last flights arrived from all over the world, I, together with three other people — all coincidentally between the age of 19–24 — rushed to the government’s Infectious Disease Unit to be tested.
I stayed there for a night, after which I tested negative and went back home to self-quarantine for two weeks. The purpose of this article is not to show you the events that led up to my arrival back home, nor is it to show you my unique experience traveling during the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, it is to show you the lessons I learned through the whole process.
Take risk management practices when faced with uncertainty
- Take risk management practices when faced with uncertainty: I knew the pandemic would be well-stocked with chaos, confusion, and last-minute policies, so I insured my luggage for $5 to get $1000 if they got lost or delayed. During any other time, I would not have considered it, but this time was probable. Guess what? My luggage got stuck in Amsterdam, but because I did not file my report within 24 hours (I was locked in the IDU for testing and went for my bag a day later), I did not get the sweet $1000. The message, however, is to manage the risks that come from high-risk situations.
- Follow all the guidelines set out by authoritative figures in a particular discipline: I ensured that I followed the instructions set out by the CDC and WHO on how to approach the pandemic. I did not panic but stayed alert, covered my face with a mask, wore multiple gloves making sure to either sanitize or wash my hands when changing, and stayed six feet away from people. Given that the guidelines change frequently, those were the ones I followed. Similarly, the IDU I tested took extreme measures, given there were infected people in the building. Some of the actions I saw which might be helpful for anyone would be to change disposable masks and gloves (if applicable) frequently, wash your hands and face immediately on arriving back home and sanitizing after touching surfaces.
- Be rational before making important decisions: I agree that I had a plethora of factors that could each have made me either stay or leave for home, but planning your choices by using tools such as decision trees helps make decisions. For example, traveling would be expensive, a potential vector for infection, tiring, and possibly getting stuck in another country for a long time. On the other hand, not traveling would mean staying in a more expensive city, being distant with my family, the inability to travel at a later time due to borders closing and costly healthcare in the event of infection.
- Always be prepared: I was relatively prepared on what to do if my flight got canceled or I got stuck in any of the connecting countries. I traveled with multiple masks and gloves and disposed of them right after every encounter with a group of people and sanitized when I did not have my gloves on. As much as I am dealing with a sample size of n=1 as my evidence, I believe being prepared works on preventing unforeseen circumstances based on multiple accounts such as war and public health.
- Invest in yourself to learn through experiences: This piece of advice is conditional as not everyone has the capability of traveling to learn from the experiences that come from it. On the bright side, investing in yourself could also be inexpensive and could come in many forms, such as:
- Reading informative and motivational books
- Talking to knowledgable people or people who have had such experiences
- Learning new skills and joining a community that shares different perspectives
Luckily, I do not exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19 hitherto, and I urge you to follow the scientists on what they say and help flatten the curve.
If I tested positive, a chain of events would have cascaded, changing my life to a state I may not have expected. I would have to finish my classes over the summer or possibly repeat the semester, and I was diagnosed with pneumonia two times in my life and lung inflammation multiple times, so my recovery chances would have gone down. Let us not talk about the economic or social effects where I would have to pay a hefty fee and possibly have a tense relationship with my friends for the whole of this period.-
Thank you for reading my story.