A Long Journey Home During COVID-19

While most of us have been seeing COVID-19 unfold here at home, in the United States, others have been experiencing it in other countries. One of those people who have had that difference of experience was Dr. Rebecca Hartman, a history professor here at EOU. She had been teaching completely online winter term and decided to travel to Spain and then Egypt with friends of hers for almost the entire month of March. When Hartman was about to leave, people expressed concern for her since some cases had begun to pop up in the U.S. She was still going to travel because, “the risk seemed low, with the virus seemingly concentrated in Asia.” She says about her attitude towards travel and thinking the risk was low that now “It’s hard now to imagine thinking that way.”

Her first few days in Europe were spent in Madrid, where she frequented bars, restaurants, and museums with her travel companion, as well as stopped at coffee shops to work on her classes. In just a few days time, the country would be on lockdown. She describes how no one seemed to know that “the virus was spreading silently and deadly through the city.” From Madrid she traveled to Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. It was there that Spain went into lockdown, only allowing people to leave to go to the store for groceries, or the pharmacy. At this point, she knew the Egypt leg of her trip was out the window, and that she needed to get home.

Travelers were actively trying to get home, and Professor Hartman knew if she didn’t get a flight out of Spain, she would be stuck there. After wrestling with airlines, cancelled flights, and buying new plane tickets, she was finally able to fly to Frankfurt, Germany, and then later to the US. The only reason she was able to get on that flight out of Madrid, to Germany, was because she had proof she wasn’t staying there. They, too, were taking precautions, and she said by then, “I was terrified.”

After a long ordeal, including having to go through a “screening”, she finally landed in Portland and got on a small plane to Pendleton. Through all of this, Dr. Hartman kept asking the airlines if they had masks or other precautionary items, which they did not. The most she could do was to try to stay away from people, wiping down everything she touched with disinfectant wipes, fearing she could spread it if she had it. After getting home, she began a fourteen-day self-quarantine. Hartman continues to be asymptomatic but is trying to take all the precautions she can.

About her term and how she plans on going on with classes, she says, “Mostly I try to be sensitive to how disruptive this is for students, especially on campus students who sure didn’t plan or want to take classes online.” She says she’s grateful to be employed, since there has been talk about the economic crisis that could be a result of this social isolation that the country is practicing. She is also trying to take care of her daughter, who is living in the apartment connected to her house, while not being able to see her. Keeping them both mentally and physically healthy is her top priority. She continues to interact with students online and teach her classes, “trying to maintain some semblance of normality in the face of a crisis that is still unfolding.”

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