The following blog post speaks only to my personal experience, emotions, and thoughts at the end of my time in Cape Town, my transition back home, and my quarantine.
7 weeks. That’s the amount of time I was privileged enough to spend in Cape Town, South Africa. Less than halfway through my semester, I was told to get back to the United States as quickly as possible. I was forced to pack my bags during what was supposed to be my spring break, leaving behind the city and the people I was just beginning to form meaningful relationships with.
As recently as last Saturday morning, I was enjoying my semester in Cape Town and even went grocery shopping as a way to sort of “prove” to myself that I’d be there at least another week. How wrong I was.
I had a deal with my mom: when my friends Jeremy and Michelle– midshipmen at the Naval Academy that I befriended abroad in Cape Town this semester– were called home, that would be an indicator that it would be time for me to leave. On the afternoon of Saturday, March 14th, they got an email that they were under orders to return home, and I booked a flight home for Friday, March 20th. Just over 24 hours later, my program canceled.
Unfortunately, that first flight I booked had a layover in London, and on Sunday, March 15th, the government imposed travel restrictions that canceled my flight. My eyes flooded with tears as concerns built that I wouldn’t be able to get home to the States. I ended up catching a flight out on the evening of Monday, March 16th, which meant that the “bucket list” of to-dos I had planned for my last week were no longer options.
On what suddenly became my second-to-last day in Cape Town, I went to dinner with my previously mentioned Naval Academy friends and the three good friends we made in South Africa at our favorite all-you-can-eat Sushi place. Our plan was to go watch our last South African sunset following dinner, but a wildfire had broken out on Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and the ash-covered scarlet sky made it impossible.
I spent the rest of that night packing up the life I had made for myself in the 7 weeks I had spent in Cape Town. The following morning, the same group of friends met up for coffee to say our goodbyes. I surprised myself by not crying the entire time. Jeremy had the first flight out following our coffee date, so Michelle and I were left with our final afternoon in Cape Town together.
We decided to walk through Kirstenbosch Gardens, situated at the foot of Table Mountain. With my flight time looming closer and still needing to pack, we eventually and unwillingly left, knowing that what we were leaving in that park was also the future we could have had if we had been able to spend the rest of our semester in Cape Town.
My South African friend Justin was gracious enough to offer me a ride to the airport so that I didn’t have to Uber, so he was my final Capetonian goodbye. I spent the last of my Rand in the airport, and then boarded a completely full flight back to the USA. 16 hours later, I landed in Newark, NJ. From there, I flew home to Charlotte, NC on a flight that had 13 people on it total.
I had expected to have my temperature taken somewhere along the way, but that never happened. Instead, I was asked on three occasions if I had traveled to China or any other countries with a Level 3 travel advisory, to which I answered no– and only once was my passport double-checked for confirmation that I hadn’t.
As a precaution, I am self-quarantined at my dad’s house for 14 days because my mom is immunosuppressed. Even though I wasn’t supposed to see my mom or brother until their plans to come to visit me in May, it somehow makes me miss them more to be down the road but not be able to see them. My mom and brother stopped by yesterday and I waved to them through the window, and FaceTime dates with them and my dogs will be daily until I can go home.
At this point, I think most people have been impacted personally by COVID-19. Like most of you, I am doing my best to view and appreciate this situation as a growth opportunity– a time to be humbled by my own privilege and the amazing experiences it allowed me to have. Even though my heart is so heavy and there are moments when I have overwhelming fears that the world is ending, I know that it is not. I simultaneously recognize that my emotions are valid and it is fully acceptable and right for me to be heart-broken.
As a public health student, I take comfort in knowing that even though taking the steps to cancel events and socially distance ourselves are incredibly difficult and might not seem worth it, the good news is that if we do it right it won’t seem worth it, because if we don’t see many infections it means that it actually worked.
I never imagined that I would go abroad because I didn’t think I would be able to spend that much time away from home (see my previous blog post). Thus, the irony that my semester abroad was cut short is not lost on me. Somehow, it took losing my semester in Cape Town to realize that it was something I was fully capable of doing.
Life will continue on. Neither as I had thought it would nor as I had hoped it would, but it will continue.
As the South Africans would say: