Thursday, 26 March 2020

Moving to Australia Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Honest Truth...

Moving to Australia Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic:
As well as the devastating bushfires that were ravaging the nation at the time, when I was making plans to move to Australia, my main concerns were if it would be the right choice for me. Would I fit in and make friends? Would my new colleagues take to me kindly, would I even be good at my job? Oddly enough, I also wondered whether the beachy lifestyle and the blistering sun would almost be too much of a luxury for me and my glacially-honed skin to appreciate. Needless to say, it has been humbling the rate at which those priorities have dissipated. As fair as those apprehensions were to me back on a bitterly cold UK December day, now it doesn't even hold a candle as to what is actually happening in the world today. I mean, forget about getting to know my workmates, I can barely even be in the same room as them right now! 

At the time of writing this, 12 people have fallen prey of the foul COVID-19 virus in Australia, while killing 18,000 worldwide. The numbers are alarming. What was once a few scattered cases within the wet market of Wuhan, China, is now, spreading globally at the speed of lightning, and is quite literally, threatening to wipe us out like the plague. It has all been happening so quickly that I'm just about making sense of it all. 

Just three weeks ago, I wasn't at all bothered by Coronavirus. Yes, I knew the death toll was on the rise, and the media coverage was getting more and more startling by the hour. But - engulfed in the mind frame of 'it could never happen to me' - the pandemic didn't seem all too serious to me at that point. Shamefully, I even pitied my truly wonderful housemate - who I didn't realise straight off the back was having lengthy phone calls with her extremely anxious parents back home in her native China. 

One day she was left close to tears as she saw me walk in - cool, calm and collected - with my food shop in tow. 'Did you buy food...?' she asked meekly. 'Yeah!' I replied, while on the verge of saying something witty about my carby consumption before realising her mood was off. 'You know someone just died today in Sydney from Coronavirus? Just please be careful,' she endearingly lectured. As well as her fears for me, the next hour consisted of her detailing her fears for potentially contracting the deadly disease herself and fears for her family back in Beijing. Since moving in, I hadn't seen her leave the house unless it was for a super quick pitstop to get food herself - and the reason behind that all suddenly made sense. She was deathly afraid - quite literally. With my then shrug it off, carefree nature - I confidently told her we had nothing to worry about. 

Now I wonder, do I really have nothing to worry about? Given the severity of the situation right now, my roommate's concerns for me now make sense. Just a few weeks back, I was new in the country, the new girl at work, and in a much-welcomed position of saying 'yes, yes, yes!' to every social event, every gathering, every invite that came my way. I joined the gym, ensured to keep abreast of all my new local shops and cafes - and thankfully began switching out my grim backpacker's wardrobe with shiny new purchases. I was doing everything right. Things were changing for the better, people genuinely seemed to have taken to me, I was quickly getting accustomed to an exciting new job, I was taking full advantage of a work/life balance which I hadn't in many years - and most importantly, the cloud was lifting. 

I hadn't felt manically depressed, furious, ticked off by something small, or even abnormally anxious in weeks. But that changed the other night. Still at the time ploughing on with office working, I had come home fatigued as a result of standard Monday blues. I was obviously ready to doze off. However, after getting comfy in my bed, what ensued was hours upon hours of my mind lost in a vortex of anxiety, worry - and ultimately tears. I was wide awake until 3 am. Was it all too good to be true? After weeks of denial, had the rug been officially pulled from under my feet? 

Moving to Australia Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic:

There is no longer any more escaping from this present-day apocalyptic era. I've seen passengers during the morning rush hour quickly dwindle as I persevered on my way into work for a fix of social interaction. Earlier this week, I read some wildly exaggerated headline of guards soon ordered to stand at people's doors, ready and waiting to unleash a barrel of consequences if you were to break free from the confines of your four walls. After immersing myself in the fear-mongering read, I looked up to street view, and eerily, there was barely a soul in sight - in what is usually a hectic Sydney CBD. Parallels from The Handmaid's Tale were immediately drawn.  

My unravelling fear would then follow me home to my housemate, who, without fail every day, would be waiting for me in the living room, ensuring she was the first person I would see upon opening the door - thus fuelling yet another dread-filled conversation about Coronavirus. Her fears, I always thought, were a shame. As petrified as she was, she was effervescently bubbly - and not to sink into a hole of egoism in this time of despair - but she was also utterly fascinated with me. From my lifestyle, my job, my looks, my British and South Asian culture - she would study my differences with great interest. And while a few months back, someone like her would much bother me, she was by far one of my favourite people I had lived with. 

Devastatingly enough, she flew back to China yesterday morning. I only found out an hour before she left - her eyes red and her voice trembling, she explained her parents had had enough of their distance in such a time and had booked her a last-minute flight back so that they could be together - following her 14 days of self-isolation of course. It was needless to say, with her lack of persistent and spontaneous laughter in the background, my first day of working from home was even lonelier than I had expected.

Another thing that has made this whole ordeal even worse - I can't tell you how many times in this past week alone people have looked at me with unfathomable pity. 'In particular, I feel sorry for you! Coming all the way here, and then all this happens!' echoes unfolding all around me. The pity has also been pretty brutal from a cluster of random men via the joys of dating apps. 'Christ, what a time to be new in town!' they write in response to a generic bio I wrote, then copied and pasted across all the apps the day after I first stepped foot on Australian soil back in Jan. (My bio has now been updated - but who cares, I can't date now anyway). 

Clearly, I know this isn't a forever thing - but it truly does put things into perspective. Dazed and confused, I have had to compartmentalise things in my head; otherwise, I would have gone bonkers by now. Despite selfishly feeling a sudden and fleeting pang of FOMO when pictures emerged of a packed Bondi Beach last week I understand that soon enough, I will be able to continue with my Aussie adventures just as I had planned. Do I really need to make so much of an effort to 'enjoy myself' right now when people are getting infected left, right and centre? I also have to think about my family back home in the UK who are taking all the necessary steps to stay safe. I don't want to let the team down by getting seriously ill halfway across the world. Yes, my mum would defy the odds by flying out here to nurse me back to health, I'm sure - but do I need to make that a necessity? 

Me, as well as the rest of the world, are certainly being tested. For sure, I came here for a new lease on life, but amid my initial worry before the New Year, I told myself, come rain or shine, I would make it work over the next twelve months - and that's still what I intend to do. Even if it means relying solely on the company of hand sanitiser, toilet paper, and pasta for the foreseeable future.

Read part one of my Australia backpacking journey - Hostel Life, Loneliness & Pinch Me Moment.
Moving to Australia Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic:

Images sourced from Unsplash


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