From Series: Lockdown Around the World: The Individual Stories – Community in Isolation

My name is Leire and I’m a first year student at Glasgow Uni. I come from San
Sebastian in the Basque Country, one of the zones most affected by Coronavirus in Spain.
I’m home right now; I flew back on the last plane from Edinburgh, 4 days after Spain
installed a nationwide lockdown. I won’t go into too much detail on my weeks before
leaving Glasgow because I imagine many are familiar: leaving my whole life behind on less than a week’s notice, packing up everything I own in case I’m not in Glasgow to vacate halls, having to say goodbye to all of my friends with no way of knowing when I’ll see them again.

The lockdown has been in place for just over two weeks (as of the 30th of March)
and everything is deserted. The rules of the lockdown are simple: every business except for those considered essential (mostly just supermarkets and pharmacies) are closed, and
people can only go out for a limited number of things, such as grocery shopping or walking the dog. This is confirmed to extend for at least one month (starting the 15th of March), but people expect it’ll be even longer.

Everyday quarantine life also has its quirks, as many of us around the world now
know but never could have anticipated two weeks ago. People queue outside of
supermarkets in order to limit the number of people inside; they stay a metre away from each other, and when it’s time to shop, they do so using gloves. Army tanks roam the
streets here, fining anyone who can’t justify being outside. People are allowed to walk their dogs but they have to do so alone, and aren’t allowed to interact with anyone in the street. Most medical procedures not related to coronavirus (like tests or surgeries) are being postponed. The internet is plagued with videos of toddlers struggling to understand why they can’t go to the park.

And it seems like it’s only getting worse. As of Monday, 26 March, Spain has almost
60,000 infected people, making it the 4th most infected country, and has surpassed China in number of deaths. The President is rumoured to have coronavirus (seeing as his wife has it), and many other politicians are confirmed to have it. Hospitals are on the brink of collapse, and it seems like the trouble has barely started. COVID-19’s long incubation process means that people infected 14 to 21 days ago (when quarantine still was not in effect, and people mingled as usual) will start showing symptoms. People who formerly parroted “I’m not afraid of the virus, I’m just afraid of the hysteria,” are now starting to realize them and their loved ones are also at risk.

But through the bleak reality of a pandemic and a quarantine, there are also
beautiful displays of humanity. Every night at 8 p.m., religiously, the entire country stops
what they’re doing and claps and cheers out of their windows to show support for the
people that support us through this crisis – the supermarket workers, the cleaners, the
doctors and nurses. Windows, balconies and terraces have become essential to a
community life more bustling than ever. People organize street-wide games of bingo, they put on dance parties, do gymnastics or play “I spy”. The two toddlers who live on the apartment block across the street from my house have decorated their balcony with
drawings and a sign saying “hello”, and they wave at me every time they see me. So does
the elderly man who walks around his terrace every morning, the man opposite who plays the guitar for the whole neighbourhood, and the middle-aged ladies who sunbathe even in the chilly Basque spring.

We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know how many more are going
to die; if we’ll get to see spring; how this is going to affect the economy or when we’ll get
normal life back. And people are terrified. But these little shows of community help make the seemingly endless stretch of quarantine days special, almost pleasant. They help me believe that we’ll get out of this together, helping each other, caring for each other, using solidarity and community as tools to propel us forward. And I know once this crisis is finally over, that we’ll have retained these lessons, and we’ll emerge with more respect towards essential workers, more involved in our community, more willing to help those of us who are the most vulnerable; overall, we’ll emerge kinder.

[Leire Zalakain – she/her]

[Photo credit: Leire Zalakain]

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