When you move to a new culture, new country, new continent, it’s the little things that grab your attention the first few hours and days. On/off switches on every outlet. A washer and drying in one. Hot chapati or a cappuccino delivered to my door within minutes. Climate control in every room. A view from the hotel window. A bathroom with every bedroom (that’s a thing here).
It’s the little things that make a big difference. At the airport, as we gazed upon rows of chairs, signs in English, and numerous healthcare workers in full personal protective equipment, a worker approached us and asked how he could help. Did we fill out this particular form? Where were were in the process? How could he help us proceed? It was so organized! Every arriving passenger paid for and received a COVID test. Every passenger was required to remain in hotel quarantine until the results came back – usually 24-48 hours with result available online.
Our circumstances required us to remain in hotel quarantine for 14 days. After ten days we had a momentous excursion to a testing facility for the mandatory second COVID test. We all got sticks up our nose from professional and apologetic healthcare workers. We’ve traveled extensively the last few months and been tested numerous times. We can attest that the deep nose swab is quite unpleasant, but even our two-year-old survived. We had to hold her down as she wailed and then, when the probing was complete, she jumped off my lap and chipperly expressed “I’m okay!” On to the next thing.
That microscopic virus is a ‘little thing’ that makes a big difference. We used to hit the ground running upon arrival in the new time zone. House hunting started in the throes of jet lag. We met people in a foggy haze and didn’t remember their names next time we met – or didn’t remembering meeting them at all. Our stomachs were in the wrong time zone as we ordered a dish at a restaurant, eyes heavy with exhaustion, when all we really wanted was a bowl of cereal and bed.
A fourteen day quarantine can accommodate all that. We didn’t miss one meeting or commitment because of jet lag. There was no pressure to find a house or car, meet people or start working because none of that was an option. People had different expectation of us because we were in quarantine. New friends dropped off games and books and a variety of comfort foods. Meals were delivered any time of day via a fantastic app that sources food from local eateries for a very affordable price. By the time we were released, jet lag was a thing of the past.
Mere decades ago jet lag didn’t exist. Relocations to a distant lands across the ocean were arduous journeys by boat. There was no ship lag. Jet lag exists because air travel condenses time crossing the longitudes. The transoceanic voyage was essentially a quarantine that allowed the body to adjust over time. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do except wait. It was a normal and expected part of travel. People endured or enjoyed the journey (depending on which class you were traveling and why), and it was a clear time of transition. The old had gone but the new had not yet arrived.
While I would not wish a mandatory quarantine on anyone, it does have its redeeming qualities when coupled with a relocation. We didn’t have the option of a taking a cruise ship – and under the current circumstances, air travel is a much better idea. However, we still reaped some of the benefits of the millennia-old experience of a period of isolation preceding arrival. It can be a formative part of a journey. Though next time I wouldn’t complain if that period of isolation was on a cruise ship with inclusive childcare instead of a hotel apartment during a pandemic.