Masks and Mayhem

Once upon a time, I took an overnight train ride from Albuquerque to Los Angeles for spring break with my mom and my sister. It was sometime in the mid nineties, pre cell phones or internet and back when they played one nightly movie in the lounge car. On this particular journey, the movie that Amtrak chose was called Outbreak. Umm, whose brilliant idea was it to show a movie about a viral disease gone awry on a train filled with passengers and stale air? Half way through the movie, we got up and made our way back to our train car, wrapped ourselves in any available garment, and tried not to panic when someone sneezed. It didn’t work.

Cut to today. Corona virus.

A global viral outbreak that some are calling a pandemic and others are warning could become one. Either way, not great news for Mother Earth’s human tenants. In the space of one month, it went from a virus that seemed far away, to one that made cruise ships look like the worst places on earth, to one that is reminding us all of just how reliant we are on each other and how intertwined we have become. Surreal images of vacant cities, subway platforms filled with people wearing masks, stories of others paying hundreds of dollars for a box of masks that should cost no more than $20. In the span of a couple of days, panic and mayhem. Well, that was quick. Civilization really is a fragile thing built on the head of a pin. Or so it sometimes seems.

And…tonight I will board an international flight to Africa. We planned this trip five weeks ago, just before the first rumblings of a virus began to emerge from China. We watched as it spread and checked the CDC website’s travel warnings daily. And then, this week, all hell broke loose. To go or not to go? We decide to go.

A beach town at the tippy tip of South Africa awaits, as does a family in Zimbabwe, old friends of my boyfriend’s. During a recent acupuncture appointment, my doctor advises drinking whiskey on the plane, along with lots of water.

The CDC says masks aren’t needed unless you are already ill and trying to keep your germs to yourself or caring for someone who is ill. Nevertheless masks sell out everywhere when news that the virus is in Italy hits the news. I go to every drug store in town before finally giving up. My dad finds some at a lumber yard and gets them to me. I, along with everyone else, just want to do something to feel like we are doing something.

I pack a suitcase that is, no joke, half filled with hand sanitizer, teas, wet wipes, vitamins, and meds. I wear a hoodie with a scarf and douse the scarf in an immune boosting essential oil. My neuroses run wild.

And now we are in the airport, waiting for the first of three flights that will land us in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, sometime on Sunday morning. I swing between excited and anxious but keep coming back to faith that it’s all going to be ok.

I am about to head south of the equator for the first time. To see elephants. To meet people I’ve heard much about. To play in the Indian Ocean. And fingers crossed, to return home to a country that isn’t unraveling in panic, healthy and happy.

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