By Dr. Maka Maglakelidze, Public Health Consultant
The last two years, Berlin was where I called home. I was there to work on a research project on air pollution’s effects on health as part of my fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam. When this work was coming to an end, COVID-19 hit our planet and, in a matter of days, a new world was born.
This new reality of social distancing truly troubled my last days in Berlin. I wanted those days to be memorable and full of interesting workshops, hugging friends and colleagues, laughter, reflections about future projects, and more uplifting goodbyes.
The COVID-19 crisis has arrived slowly, sneaked in. Initially, we did not think the world would be fully disrupted. But when borders started to close, I could still see myself as lucky for having one of the last planet tickets back home in Georgia.
In times of pandemic, no one sticks to a plan. Resilience is what matters
I was supposed to fly to Tbilisi, but the flight was diverted to Batumi, 400 km away from my home. It is interesting to observe the character of people and countries during a crisis.
After many years of turmoil, suddenly Georgian Government emerged like a knight in shining armor. Everything was so well organized. From the airport, we were taken to a luxurious hotel overlooking the port of Batumi. It was a bit strange. I felt like being in a dystopian book or film. The hotel hosts in special outfits gave me the room keys and instructed me to stay there for two weeks. At first, I thought I would give myself a break and read, watch old films, meditate, journal, reflect… which I did and still do, but at times I would wake up at night with an urge to open the windows, get out of the room, run away and breathe fresh air. This experience gave me the vivid feeling of being a prisoner.
Batumi and the seaview became my only friends. Regardless of the weather, Batumi was there for me. I could at least watch some ships coming to the port in the morning, while workers build the roads during the day.
At the same time, I was noticing that my fellow quarantined neighbor’s nerves were exploding by changes in voice tones and content of the phone conversations. A floor below, there were students, who initially reacted quite idealistically by listening to and singing Radiohead’s “Creep” and Lennon’s “Imagine”, but after some days the song repertoire changed to a single “Who let the dogs out” (on repeat mode).
Then it became clear. Luxurious hotel rooms were not enough to keep us mentally sane. Once we stay inside for two weeks, we finally realise how daylight, fresh air, wind, the warmth of the sun on your skin and, even, the annoying rain are essential for our wellbeing.
This also made me think about all the global inequalities. What about those without a roof or water? We certainly have been taken a lot for granted. The therapeutic effects of nature is one good example. We simply don't value enough the importance of healthy ecosystems to provide us fresh air, clean water and, simply, a space to reduce our anxiety and improve our mental health.
Slowing down gave me the perfect opportunity to become more mindful. I was alone and yet I never felt so globally connected. The interdependency of humans and the planet has never been so vivid to me.
Quotes from Schopenhauer - “health is not everything, but everything is nothing without it” and “when “I” is replaced by “we”, even illness becomes wellness” by Malcolm X, popped up into my mind as universal truths. Nature took over the global mise-en-scène for a while. Air got cleaner and animals started to appear in urban spaces more often. We, humans, took the secondary roles and I had the sad impression that, only by putting humans into cages, mother Earth could finally start breathing again.
My two forced weeks in an unfamiliar cage, made me wonder if the COVID-19 Pandemic will inspire us to get rid of a certain arrogance. No, we are not the masters of the universe. I am convinced that a dose of humility would help us as a civilization. We have to come together in symbiosis with the planet. This is the real healing needed in the post-pandemic world, as we learn that “everything was forever until it was no more”.