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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Magenta Dreams: WHS Alumni Flees Study Abroad Trip Due to Covid-19

Ohio State University student and Wyoming High School Alumni, Erin Broderick, was studying in Granada, Spain when she was forced to leave Spain on short notice due to the escalating pandemic.

By Erin Broderick
Wyoming High School, Class of 2017
I was studying abroad in Granada, Spain. An amazing, small city in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Even though I didn’t know anyone and had to drag myself to make the leap to move there, it was the best decision of my life. I fell in love with the warm, sunny desert-like city in the south of Spain--with cheap wine, fast friends, hiking, politics, and more time to simply live than I had ever known.

Despite months of warnings and clear signs I would be forced to move back to the United States, life still managed to be surprising as I lived in denial. Ohio State University sent an email to us saying, COME HOME NOW OR WE WON’T HELP YOU. Even though my friends were already quarantining in their basements after being pulled the week before, I agreed with my friend Atena that until our Spanish university shut down, we would not sacrifice our semester worth of experiences or a semester’s tuition. Only two hours later, at 2:00 a.m. our time, Donald Trump got on the air to announce he was closing the borders in less than 48 hours. He did not give assurances that we would be welcomed back, he did not define what Covid-19 testing and isolation at the airports would be, and I did not trust him. No one did. My roommate packed her things by 3:00 a.m., bought a plane ticket out by 4:00 a.m., and left the next afternoon. In hindsight, she was the smart one.

Within 18 hours, President Pedro Sanchez of Spain, announced that the entire nation was under strict lockdown. Meaning you couldn’t walk your dog, children weren’t allowed out of the house, and all universities were shut down. As soon as their president issued that warning, everyone followed orders. No one protested saving people’s lives with guns. My friend’s host brother, only five years old, wore a superhero suit everywhere so he could “defeat corona.”

Sadly, I forgot my superhero cape in the United States, so I was really terrified. Even if I was let back into the U.S. and my symptoms were minor enough to go undetected, there was nothing I could do if all of the buses and airports were shut down. Before corona, I forgot myself, I let my American-ness be my superpower, my invincibility, even though that invincibility was in fact, just privilege with distinct limits.

Anyways, I had an entire apartment with five months of stuff and three months of memories to pack up. Because I didn’t pay $3000 for a plane ticket within the 48 hours I found out I had to leave, I had to wait three whole days in Spanish lockdown. I was one of four people out of 60 people in my program left in Spain. Every few hours meant saying goodbye to someone or meeting up with a friend and not realizing it would be the last time I would ever see them.

By the last day, I had broken down enough times to be content with sitting on the rooftop of my friend's apartment staring out at the Sierra Nevada mountain range, mindlessly running my fingers through my obnoxiously pink hair (that I secretly LOVED). I ran from her house to mine because for the first time since I had been there it was raining, and the police roamed the streets to enforce lockdown. The streets that were once full of fruit stands, cafeterias, and bustling shoppers. Full of my friends, family, and a people and country I was beginning to love. More than anything, the streets once full of potential, were empty.

The day finally came for my departure. Six hours before I was supposed to catch my flight to Madrid, it was cancelled. My friend Mateo and I planned to travel together and so we panicked and bought a bus ticket that left at 2:00 a.m. and took six hours to get to Madrid. In mid-March, Madrid had thousands of cases of Covid-19, and we had to drive in a non-ventilated bus for six hours with no access to masks, gloves, or even hand sanitizer… and we both had a dry cough (that we convinced ourselves was allergies). Every cough, especially our own, set us on edge. To distract or maybe laugh at ourselves, Mateo suggested we make it into a game. We would both set a stopwatch on our phones to see who got home later, Chicago or Cincinnati (for the record, Mateo won with a resounding 25 hours and 42 minutes). Leaving wasn’t even sad, it was surreal.

I finally got home, and by home I mean a lovely, little isolated farmhouse in Indiana, after an intricate game of car swapping and groceries stuffed in trunks and eating an entire burrito bowl that tasted like nothing. As a side note, the lack of taste and smell is a symptom of COVID-19 and not mistakable. It was like a burning in my nose with no stuffiness and even if I drank hot sauce or sniffed BAGGED TUNA I couldn’t tell you what it was unless I looked at it (true story). However, I have yet to have access to testing, but if I did have it, I was lucky.

I have to say a huge thank you to Nora Salazar and her family for giving me a safe place to land and allowing me to protect my family by quarantining at her farm. Moments like those, of such pure generosity and compassion make “times like these” bearable. And yes, as time passes and we all sacrifice different things on different levels, we all still desperately need compassion. Compassion for ourselves as we try to survive and take care of our loved ones, and beyond that compassion for others. We don’t know what our neighbors are going through right now and social distancing makes that barrier even harder to cross. I know now that my experience, while it pales in comparison to the trauma healthcare workers are going through or people experiencing complete financial desolation or the death of a loved one or dying, my experience is a drop in the bucket. But honestly that drop is an ocean of feelings I will spend my whole life processing.

I love each of you, and please, hold compassion in your hearts with each impossible decision you make.

“Chica, est├ís bien?”

Atena and I look at each other in panic, because this is not the position you want to be caught in at 1:00 a.m. on a dark street in a foreign country, 24 hours before you are forced to travel through the two cities with thousands of cases of the latest virus that you worry you might have but can’t say you do for fear of being trapped somewhere no one can reach you, but here goes nothing...

“NO! Lo siento, we are fine. I am trying to dye my hair and I can’t use my shower past 11:00 p.m., and I have to… leave… tomorrow. Muchas gracias chicos… Si, estamos bien.” I try to mime and point to my wet, now bright pink hair, with my bright pink hands but I decide the hand motions aren’t helping my oh we are totally fine, no worries here case. Atena, one of my best friends and mastermind behind the street salon, decides to pour more water on my head the very moment I put my hands down, to further demonstrate my point. Now I am holding in laughter and barely able to look through a stream of pink water but, heck, crazier things have happened to all of us in the past 24 hours.

The group of kids laugh and must agree with my thought because they say, “No pasa nada, chicas. Luego!” They walk down the street without a backwards glance.

“Atena, seriously, we need more water! My hands are coming away bright pink! And what if someone else walks past that isn’t a group of super drunk teens? Its 1:00 a.m. I mean its Granada, I know we are fine but still… This just, well, it sucks.”

A few silent moments pass. Until that laughter that I've been holding in, bubbles out, in bright burst of hysterics.

“Look, I know I am just spiraling. It's temporary and silly and I’ve always wanted to do it. My hair doesn’t matter. Not when we won’t see each other for who knows how long and our neighbors might be dying and maybe we infected our families and I don’t know where I will live when we get home and the police come out tomorrow to enforce shelter in place (but we need to leave somehow) and our president closed the borders without telling us we were allowed to come back and the world is in crisis and hundreds of thousands of people are dying and everyone left without saying goodbye in the middle of the night and two weeks ago we were exploring the world and now... BUT SERIOUSLY, just like everything else this started out as a fun, memorable experience and now we are alone and pouring cold water on my head to wash out the MAGENTA dye from my hair and its 1:00 a.m. and I don’t think I am going to be able to leave. I can’t leave here, Atena. Not only is my flight going to be cancelled… I don’t think I can leave. I’ve just never been so happy. Which I know is a privilege and this whole experience was a privilege… a dream… but now it’s a freaking nightmare. And I don’t know where to go from here. Never have I felt so helpless or at the mercy of the world. And I know I’m lucky, cause this is the first time I’ve been trapped by a border and a global pandemic and incompetent governments but why should I need to tell myself that this is ever lucky.”

Atena had been running her fingers through my hair but at some point in my word vomit she froze. She bent down to look at me and say,

“Erin, I love you, but you can’t wash away something you asked to change you. But like everything else, this will eventually wash away. But no, yeah, you’re right, this sucks. We need to take it day by day and just get out. Then we can panic. What do we always say, and by always, I mean the past 24 hours?”

I look her in the eyes, unblinking, and say, “Nothing ever surprises me”.

Atena and I were playing this game where one person panics and the other person comforts and then 30 minutes later we switch roles. It really did feel like a game though, one constant, sick loop.

We nod our heads and the movement causes me to spray her with pink dye so she says, “Let’s go buy some more water”.

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