Tales Of A Covid-19 Traveler
By Karl Homann
Karl Homann at the “Friendship of Nations Arch” in Kyiv
I am writing this from my apartment near the Independence Square (Maidan) of Kiev (Kyiv) in Ukraine, notorious for its Revolution of Dignity 2014. I have been in Kiev for just over two weeks now, taking a daily, two-hour, private course in Russian.
Originally, I planned the trip late May, early June, but when the coronavirus spread across the world and closed many borders, I cancelled and delayed the trip. As the days passed being locked down in my Mexican home, however, it became abundantly clear that the situation we were in would not end soon, nor could experts declare if and when it might. In fact, I expected things to get worse. So, I rebooked my flights.
Despite the dire warnings of the medical and political communities not to travel, my trip turned out to be rather anticlimactic and uneventful. From Guadalajara to Mexico City on Aeromexico—business class was offered at a cheaper fare than economy class—with my temperature normal, a mandatory mask, and a slight effort at social distancing, I arrived safely at my airport hotel. After the routine temperature check at the hotel entrance and hand and luggage disinfection, I was in my room. The 300-room hotel was as empty as a ghost town, with food served only in one´s room.
The following evening, I boarded an 11-hour Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, with more temperature check, again, my face mask, with every seat of the Boeing 747 taken. Social distancing? Only in the form of boarding and deplaning by row number. Then followed the one unpleasant event of being stuck in the Frankfurt airport transit lounge for 15 hours because I was not allowed to enter the Schengen zone, even if only for a night in the Hilton right in front of the airport exit.
There was an option to stay in sort of a chicken coop ¨hotel¨ facility in the airport for 400 Euros per night, or 50 Euros per hour: capitalism at its finest, taking advantage of the situation! No, I stayed in a reclining seat in the spacious and well-serviced airport transit lounge, fell asleep for a few short hours, and boarded my morning flight to Kiev the following morning. Lufthansa even upgraded me to business class on a small Embraer plane, following the by-now-routine sanitation measures and, this time, also by social distancing: the seat beside me was empty.
On to the last hurdle, which preoccupied me the most: Boryspil International Airport in Kiev. Both Canada (as per my passport) and Mexico (my permanent residence and origin of my travel) were on the Ukrainian red list of countries that have a higher infection rate per 100,000 than Ukraine, and travelers from either country were officially not allowed to enter Ukraine without a 14-day self-quarantine. I need not have feared. After the routine fever measurement, the immigration officer looked at my passport, then looked at me, never asked a question, stamped my passport, and I was free to enter Ukraine, no quarantine requirement. At the exit, with a placard that had my name on it, stood the driver who drove me to my apartment in Kiev.
So, here I am. Studying two hours of Russian every morning in my apartment, with my tutor, face to face and masked. In the afternoons, colleagues from the English Department of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, a small, but highly selective and historical university of this city, take me to museums, to orthodox monasteries with their golden domes, and to other significant heritage sites, of which Kiev is full. Unfortunately, all theaters, the symphony, and the opera are still closed. I would have loved to attend a performance of one of Tchaikovsky’s works, of which he wrote many here at his sister’s place, three hours southwest of Kiev.
Right now, I am waiting for a Mohyla friend to take me to a Sunday church service. Churches are open and so are most restaurants and stores; entry is allowed only with face masks, though many young people have their face mask dangling from their elbow.
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