Love in the Time of Coronavirus, #7

Line outside of the Lisbon airport as travelers try to change their tickets to avoid getting stuck in Europe.

Will it ever stop? All of the flight cancellations? Flight 922 is cancelled today (this is significant because that’s the same flight number as mine for tomorrow!) and I suspect mine will be cancelled tomorrow. I’ve got to take action and go to the airport.

Packing up my things I give my keycard back to reception. “I’m going to the airport to see if I can get on a flight today, but things might not work out and might be back later to stay the night.”

“Ok, we’ve done this a couple of times today. I’ll leave your name in the system,” he assures me. Normally there are a few guests relaxing, reading their messages on their phone or playing the guitar on one of the three sofas in the living room of this popular hostel. But not this morning.

Heading straight for the large metro station right below the hostel, I’m at the airport in a short thirty minutes.

Along the way, memories of the Icelandic volcano eruption of 2010 and how the ash spewed over European skies affected Heathrow Airport warned me that there would certainly be excruciatingly long lines. Days later, when the skies were deemed safe and flights were cleared for take off, I literally ran to the airport doors. Thanks to the efficient security guards, I was able to pass the massive lines who were only there to try to reschedule flights out – while I was about to miss mine!

Exiting the Lisbon metro, which opens right at the departures door, there are two policemen or security guards vetting who goes into the airport. I explain that my flight number 922 is for tomorrow, but that the one today has been cancelled, making me think the one tomorrow will likely be cancelled. I want to check if I can get on a flight today. It’s only 10am, I might have a chance.

The policeman agrees and allows me to go inside. Close to the TAP desk, I’m so pleased to see a manageable line. Could I be so lucky? It’s nothing like Heathrow in 2010, but I ask the young woman at the end of the line what this queue is for. She replies that it’s to “buy a new ticket.”

Not wanting to get to the counter and be turned away because what I want to do is make changes, not buy a whole new ticket, I ask someone in a TAP uniform who is filtering the counter line. Explaining my situation, she indicates for me to exit the back doors and stand in that queue.

When I exit, the queue is so long it curves around the side of the parking lot. Sigh. It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

Today I have so many updates to write for the blog that I pull out my daily planner and chicken-scratch three pages worth to transcribe over to the laptop when I can.

A man comes up to a woman near me in line and mutters something to her in Castilian Spanish, but I’m not paying attention.

The woman does say, extremely clearly and rather loudly “Y qué si nos metemos adelante? Al estilo español?” (“and what if we cut in line. Spanish-style?”).

Just as she is finishing her sentence, her face freezes and her voice quivers. Clearly, she realizes there might be Spanish-speakers overhearing her ill-mannered, selfish plans. I’m going to be careful here and not state explicitly what kind of a reputation Spaniards have in Latin America. But what kind of a reputation can you expect them to have if you hear a Spaniard stating quite loudly that it is a very Spanish thing to sack off everyone else and cut in line to get their way?

As a side note: In the US people colloquially use the term “Spanish” to refer to a person who speaks Spanish, but I would like to point out that by definition “Spanish” means a person from Spain (i.e. Spaniard) and NOT a Latin American, Hispanic, Latino, etc.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

After an uneventful hour waiting in line, I note that the line now extends to the end of the building. A journalist has appeared with a cameraman. She asks if anyone is trying to fly to Spain. Another hour goes by and my fellow queue-ers indulge in a bit of chit chat. The couple ahead and behind me are both Brazilian. One couple is retirement-age, the other is younger and old enough to have careers at this point. Both are just trying to get home. I get out of line often to warm up in the sun, since most of the time I’m in the shadow of the building. I lose track of where I am but I’m pretty sure the young couple has moved ahead of me.

Looking at my chats, I don’t bother telling Elias anything about what’s going on. He hasn’t cared to ask, nor has he answered my inquiry for an update on his uncle’s health. He hasn’t even written me today.

The lack of any alarm on the part of my parents and my godparents signals to me that possibly:

  1. They have gotten used to me being abroad and living a little on the edge.
  2. They don’t think the airport cancellations are a huge deal… and they have gotten used to me living a little on the edge.
  3. They know I can take care of myself… and they have gotten used to me living a little on the edge.

My family barely messaged me, and I’d actually been messaging much more with Fernanda, the nice roomie from DC who managed to leave a couple of days before, and a Puerto Rican from a chat group in Panama. The Puerto Rican had told me her mom was also in Lisbon, also trying to get on a flight to the states. She forwards me a picture. I recognize a white van, and the architecture of the building. Her mom has just joined the end of the very same line I’m in!

Videotaping myself from my waist to my face, I send it to her so her mom can identify me in real time. In less than a couple of minutes we are standing face to face. She’s wearing a black mask so I take that to mean she’s a little worried, so I don’t hug her. Odd for Puerto Ricans.

When she tells me she has flights with Iberia, I keep my thoughts to myself, but I’m already pessimistic for her.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Another hour goes by, I’ve written all I can write, my feet are aching and I’m doing all kinds of leg, hip and thigh stretch exercises that make me oddly look like a fidgety three-year old. In fact, I am a fidgety three-year old.

Airport staff let us inside, finally, when a small, strong woman with a big rucksack I’d not seen before rushes past us. The young couple and I look at each other, puzzled. Did she just have the audacity to cut in front of us?

Boldly, I question the woman in English: “You know there’s a line?”

“Yes, but you were walking slowly and I’m in a rush.”

“Well you don’t just do that. There’s a line. If you are in a rush, you ask someone who works here to help you.”

“But you were walking slowly.”

I translate for the young couple what she’d said. And they say in Portuguese “So!? We’ve been here three hours!”

“So! It doesn’t work that way,” I say to the rude woman, stepping in front of her, with the couple also protesting in Portuguese and following suit.

The woman continues to mouth off and I tell her that this would be over and done with if she just didn’t keep talking.

She continued to mouth off and I simply didn’t care to listen to her. After a moment of silence…

“What is this line for?” she asks me.

Freeze.

Have you ever had one of those involuntary action experiences? Where your body or mind didn’t even process anything? It simply did you a favor of reacting for you without asking?

Go ask someone!!!!” I snapped loudly.

… and the woman continues to mouth off. “I feel sorry for whoever has to live with her,” I cannot help but think.

When her highness realizes I’m ignoring her and won’t be her BFF and rushes off to go speak with someone else, I feel my body relax again.

Currently, I’m inside the airport and getting close to a counter where I can speak with someone. Mentally, I’m ok. I’m doing what I gotta do.

The young couple tells me “You were ahead of us,” and with his arm, the man cordially signals for me to move ahead of them.

A woman in a TAP uniform that exudes confidence, with that “I know what I’m doing” certainty in her face and movements is treading along the line giving people the opportunity to ask questions.

Recounting my situation, she replies: “We only had two flights going to the US today and they have both left. Any other flight we have today is completely booked. When is your flight, again?”

“Tomorrow,” I state. “Flight 922,” I just knew she would know this flight number.

With a sharp nod, like a military captain, she replies efficiently: “That one is still on schedule.”

“Do you think it will be cancelled tomorrow?” I say slightly whiny, slightly hopeful. I sense she is the no-bullshit type so I know I will get a straight answer, even if it hurts.

“No one knows. But it’s still on schedule.”

“So there’s nothing for me to do here in this line?”

“No,” simply.

Like a good communicator, she waits for me to give a sign before ending the conversation. I nod and say “thank you, so I guess I’ll go now,” and she moves on to help other passengers.

After nearly four hours of waiting, I turn to the two Brazilian couples I’d been shuffling along in line with and wish them good luck. They reply effusively, returning the good wishes and I zip out, glad to be out of the tension, lines, and the echoes of an airport.

With only two oat bars and half a banana in my tummy, I’m starving. Blasting past multiple cafés that are still open, I don’t want anything to do with airports today. Not even my hunger could make me stop at a café near the airport.

All I want is to indulge in the sun, a walk by the breezy riverside under my ample, happy hostel, and to treat myself to something tasty, maybe at a café.

Clearing My Head with a Walk & Wine… the Best Head-Clearers

Back at the hostel, I dump my stuff and go for a short walk along the riverside. I come back to do some work and at 7pm, I start socializing to take my mind off of things.

While I’d stayed calm through most of these coronavirus developments, the constant changes in flights, four hours at the airport and not being able to dance is starting to make me feel anxious.

Rolling my eyes at myself, as usual, I struggle to uncork a wine bottle. Pull. Turn. Pull. Turn. Deep breath. Squeeze between the thighs. It takes me about five minutes. Feeling accomplished when the cork finally comes out, I’m ready to drink, share some wine and seek out good conversations.

In another one of those odd coincidences that universe drops on you, one of the volunteers at the hostel is Egyptian! Egyptian Arabic feels like home to me. Beside, Sara is an incredible, intelligent sponge and has already had many life experiences. I’ve been happy to speak with her any time when we’ve had a chance.

Stealing a glass cup from the kitchen I bring it up to the Zebra Rooftop Bar, over the hostel, where Sara’s hanging out and pour her a glass of wine.

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There’s already a nice gathering of friendly Brazilians and various open wine bottles on the floor nearby and I scamper off over there in happy spirits. Sara, in her long, bohemian patchwork skirt soon joins. The Brazilians leave, and others join us. Sara and I have a moment of weeping with a Brummie who lost his sister in a tragic accident, and would have celebrated her birthday that week, and the nice bloke from York who had walked me to the door of a grocery store a few days ago, let’s just call him Matthew. (um. that’s his real name)

Before we know it we are nearly done with the wine bottle, it’s night and our legs are doing crazy splits and yoga poses thanks to alcohol-induced child-like energy. The guys have gone off and Sara and I are determined to gain our balance in the tree of life pose, staring determinedly at each other silently, her eyes are wide and glazed over when her head twitches just slightly. Suddenly:

“You know who you look like? You look like my grandmother. Teita,” she makes the following statement to preempt the conclusion that I might come to that I look old “She was beautiful when she was younger. I was just thinking that you remind me of someone. But you are very different from her. She had a hard life. She was …” searching for the words she shakes her head unable to find a word that does justice to her grandmother. She gives me some details about her grandmother’s hard life, and I understand.

I smile outwardly and inside, hoping that I can have the privilege of being a kind, soft soul version of her grandmother in Sara’s life.

The guys reappear, with the last drop of wine, and my head just a little woozy, I bid good night to everyone. I half hugged Sara, actually wanting to give her a proper hug, but you never know how someone is going to take big shows of emotion. “I’m glad I look like your grandma.” It might give her a second chance to be gentle and sweet with her granddaughter and leave Sara with more love.

The pleasant surprise of the evening is Matthew’s warm, long hug and kisses on the top of my head. We’d had a few conversations in the interim days about the digital nomad life, marketing, writing, we’d sat side by side and laughed at a few standup comedian bits that I’d streamed on the sofa in the reception and gushed about the rambunctious toddlers in our lives (neither of us have kids, we were just doting on our family’s toddlers that we can delight in for a few hours and promptly hand off).

Our moment was ending with a warm hug and appreciation for each other… and an incongruous slap on the butt from the overly drunk Brummie. “Hey, no!” my protest let him know it was not ok. Matthew puts his hand out, back towards the Brummie to warn him, and turns slightly to place his body between the Brummie and me.

I spend a little time in the kitchen before going to my room, where Sara tells me the Brummie was told to leave for trying to get fresh with another girl. I sneak out and my night winds down to an abrupt stop. Still feeling loyal to Elias, I don’t want a heart-pattering moment with Matthew. Although I think I should have.

The universe keeps presenting me with all different versions of love. Elias. Fernanda. Sara. Matthew.

The reality sets in that I have to go to the airport the next day. Frankly, I’m dreading going to the states where pandemonium is ensuing. From the bits I’ve gathered from social media and my parents, it’s just not how I would do things, nor do I want to endure that society-media-government-induced stress. But it could get difficult with no job and a full apartment and car in the states to have to take care of.

Universe: I will not be upset with anything that happens tomorrow.

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