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  • Elena K.

Like a "Prisoner..."

Updated: May 22, 2020


View from my "prison" balcony.


***


"Will they give us lamb?" I hear a man's heavy voice sitting a couple of rows away from me yelling.


He didn't know he was going to be underfed.


***


On a cloudy day, I left my apartment in Maryland to head to the airport after 73 days in quarantine.


It was with a smile that I boarded a plane from Maryland to Frankfurt.


Dulles International Airport was empty, almost apocalyptic; everything was closed.

Dulles airport...


But the security procedure was easy, effective, and careful. Walking to the gate, I felt like a ghost.


I boarded a United Airlines flight, where I was given Lysol wipes and a whole row to myself to sit comfortably and safely; everything was sanitized and clean (although people still don't know how to properly use a mask). The flight was pleasant.


I wish the story ended here, but upon my arrival, things took a turn.


After a five hour wait in Frankfurt, I boarded a Lufthansa flight to Greece. That flight was packed; all seats were filled. People on this flight also didn't know how to use a mask properly...


While on board, we were all given a form to complete about where we would stay in quarantine for 14 days, along with other personal information.


And then I landed... ( ~ 5:30 pm Greek time.)


I was standing in the airplane aisle for a while to deplane, and that's when people started to joke about what was going to happen to us.


"Will they give us lamb?" I hear a man's heavy voice sitting a couple of rows away from me yelling.


"I have cards! We can all gather up and play," shouts an older woman.


"I ain't going anywhere without lamb!" the man continues, and everyone on that section of the plane laughs.


"You're going to a hotel; we all are," another woman with short blonde hair jumps in the conversation.


"I have a dying relative (not Covid-related.) I need to go to the hospital asap," says a woman with black hair sitting in the row in front of me.


"Don't worry; we'll be okay," a younger woman next to the black-haired woman comforts her.


They allow us to deplane in groups of 40. I'm finally standing in line at the airport when I see the testing area. A security guard gives us another form to fill (a medical one.) As I'm filling the form, a cameraman/media person starts to film the procedure.


Filming tired passengers who were underslept and just wanted to go home. There were no interviews, no words, just a camera filming us as we waited for our turn to be called in the open testing station.


My turn comes, and a kind nurse dictates me to take off my mask. She takes my medical form, puts a stick on my throat, and then dismisses me.


A man announces that we will be taken to a hotel until they get back the test results the next day. Those of us who come out positive will stay in the hotel for 14 days.


Those with negative results will be sent home for a mandatory 14-day quarantine; if you leave the house (yes, even to walk outside alone,) you'll be fined 5000 euros.


I ask out of curiosity whether someone who has passed Covid -19 and has antibodies will be allowed to go home if they present a medical paper. They say no without further explanation.


A guard moves me and others to the baggage claim area.


We hear that some bags were not loaded in Frankfurt even though we had a five-hour wait there. I run to check if my bag made it. Security guards and police officers stare down at me, making sure I don't escape the airport.


My bag is not lost; I breathe in relief.


I feel bad for the man who desperately watches the final bags come through, and the moving row stops. No more bags... He'll have to go to the hotel without anything.


Police move us to a bus and load our luggage. They count us over and over again to make sure no one has escaped.


They belittle us and tell us to hurry.


The bus is not clean; it has transported other people from other flights before us. We are not practicing social distance. Perhaps, if you hadn't gotten Covid-19 up until that time, now was the time to get it.


I look out the window as the bus speeds down the interstate miles away from the airport.


We arrive in the "not so great part of Athens." The bus stops in front of a closed hotel that has turned into a "prison." Guards load us off the bus, and we're given our luggage. The cameraman is there filming us again. Filming people next to each other trying to find their bags in the chaos, people who haven't slept and eaten in hours... People who didn't ask or know that this was going to happen to them. They didn't have a choice...


Imagine a group of tourists all packed together trying to enter the "prison." That's what it looked like.


Once I step inside the hotel, a friendly staff member helps me with my luggage (he's not afraid of me yet.) At the front desk, when my turn comes, I'm given a room and a paper with rules. I'm told to go there and wait for someone to bring my luggage upstairs.


A couple of minutes pass, and I hear a knock on my door. The same staff member comes all the way inside my room (still not afraid of me) and leaves me my luggage. I thank him (I'm not wearing a mask at the time.) He smiles and says something about being overworked.


I soon realize my American phone will die, and my Greek phone is not working. I only have an American charger.


I leave my room to go down to reception and ask if they have an adaptor. They give me an adaptor and tell me to go back into my room and not come out again. The same person who had checked me in the room earlier in a friendly way is now horrified of my sight because I'm a moving threat.


At this point, it's 8:30 pm, and I haven't had anything to eat or drink for hours. Finally, I hear a knock on my door and someone has left on the hallway floor outside my room a brown bag.


Nobody asked us earlier if anyone has allergies or dietary restrictions or health problems.


I open the brown bag only to find a plane portion of food (consisting of a tiny warm meal, a small dessert, and a tiny salad as well as a small bottle of water.) I drink some water and eat the warm meal.


I feel dizzy. It's been over 36 hours that I'm awake.


Seating on my bed, I'm thinking of the irony. You test us, pack us like animals, then keep us at a distance again and lock us up as we have Ebola. Yet, tourists are supposed to come in soon without any checks. And your citizens who were stranded months away from home in quarantine are the danger... The malls are open... But we are the threat. You tested us; good job. Why can't we go home and quarantine now? Is it smart to pack us all together and lock us up? And if someone is sick, they have to endure all this alone for 14 days? What happened to humanity?


My eyes close; I pass out.


I wake up at 7 am hungry but have to wait until 8 am when someone will drop off another brown bag with breakfast.


I call the designated number to inquire about time, and they tell me that breakfast might come anywhere between 8 am - 10 am. I look at the paper with the rules which lists the stuff I was going to get. The breakfast sounds promising. It reads: boiled egg, toast, fruit, a slice of cake, and juice.


I'm waiting excited and hungry!


I hear the brown bag being dropped off and open my door to get it. I'm salivating. I take out the plastic container, and I find...


A "frozen" boiled egg, an untoasted toast (yep, you read that right) a box of juice, bad fruit, and a cake... Here's what they meant by cake:


I call the number and ask if I can order something. They say we're not allowed to get delivery, but I can PAY for a coffee and a slice of warm cheesepie. I accept it.


I gobble the cheesepie and drink the coffee (made from canned milk.)


I look at the time; four more hours until lunch will be dropped off.


I decide to write...


And suddenly... I get a phone call!


Oh my God! Everyone on the flight tested negative.


It's 1:30 pm, I'm leaving the "prison". I see the sun; I taste freedom.


I'll never complain again about little inconveniences - not after that. I would rather be in a shithole with my friends and family eating out of a can than be a "prisoner" in a room. We don't need luxury; we just need to remember to be human.


We need freedom, and I am free.



A note to readers (please read):


I did my best to be fair; this is my experience, and I have no motives writing this other than to hope that we can learn from it and do better. And not just us (Greece) but all governments in the world. We live in hard times; nobody knows what to do. People are afraid; I get it. But we've overcome more, and we have to keep going in a civilized manner. This country, Greece, has gone through a lot. It came out of an economic crisis, it constantly fights back Turkey's threats, it's been an underdog in the international community, it's dealing with a refugee crisis it didn't cause, and yet the people, the Greek people are there for each other. They make jokes, laugh, support each other even in the worst of conditions. Yes, our government doesn't tell us to drink Clorox, but being abandoned like that and treated as if we have Ebola is disappointing. This government has served Greece exceptionally, but it's not perfect. No government is perfect, and it'll never be. But we're in this together. While the original intention was good, it's not working if you consider "civilization standards," and it certainly didn't make anyone feel safe.


Time to change it!


Time to bring in the tourists and show them the real Greece. The breathtaking islands, the mouthwatering food, the scenic mountains and valleys, the history...


E.K.


Thoughts on this piece? Please reach out.

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