The Pandemic Letters: Trapped Overseas

Trapped in Turkey: The Experience of Elena

Associate Editor Jim Weitz has compiled a series of interviews and first-person accounts of travelers trapped overseas by quarantine protocols associated with the CCP Virus (COVID 19).

My name is Elena. I’m from the UK. I’m 35 years of age and work as an artist and a teacher. I’ve been in Turkey for a year or so. I was actually on my way to the Alps Region to start a job as an English teacher at an international school in Europe. I was supposed to travel in March 2020. I had a ticket, but the day before I was to leave, the lockdown started and the airports here were closed for flights. My ticket was not insured so I lost the money I had paid, and I could not make it to the only international airport where there were occasional flights to Europe, because transportation was impossible. I do not drive, and it was several hours away. In any case, the school was closed down completely and the job was obviously canceled. Like with most situations/places, there was no way to know how long my stay here would be extended. That kind of information was not a realistic possibility as this was an unprecedented situation. It’s been quite uncertain and day by day.

It was a strange feeling to have to stay in a place not knowing anyone and with no idea as to when I would leave. I have not really considered the initial job that was cancelled as a future possibility because the situation there is still not clear in regards to whether they will open full time this year. I have been exploring other options.

The apartment where I was staying was not reduced in rent during the months of lockdown as others were. It seemed like the landlord thought that because I was a foreigner, I must have more money. In fact, I was nearly broke. It became financially infeasible to stay there after several months. I also found out recently that for around four of those months, my bills were much higher than they should have been, because instead of paying for my electricity/power/heating/water as usual, unbeknownst to me bills were divided between people living in the same buildings. I was on my own in a one-bedroom studio, whereas some apartments had families with several bedrooms, etc. I honestly could not understand why the bills were so high, but an English friend said that she had heard that was happening. Anyway, at least I was safe and secure where I was. I am thankful for that. Another strange thing was we still had to pay for the residential complex gym, swimming pool, spa facilities and outdoor sports fields and gardens each month, despite the fact that they were closed for over five months. Anyway, it is what it is. Again, I feel thankful that I was in a safe and secure place.

I honestly thing the whole situation has been handled and is being handled very well here. One exception was when there was a mass panic after people in Istanbul were only informed of a three-day curfew two hours before it started at midnight. This caused mass panic buying and a lot of chaos. Although I did not see anything like that myself, it was all over Twitter and the news. However, from then on, the weekly or twice weekly curfews were always planned well and announced in advance with plenty of time for people to prepare accordingly.

When I look at the news about what has been going on in many parts of the world, I feel very grateful and thankful to have been here during that time from March until the end of July at least. I have recently gotten some work babysitting and teaching children English on an informal basis. Of course, it would be nice to be on a safe and serene tropical island somewhere. I will probably be moving on soon though so perhaps that might happen.
It would be nice to be somewhere warm and tropical.


About the editor/compiler:
James Weitz is the author Gonzo Global Inc., a satire of globalization in which Mexican tap water is exported to the United States and sold as a laxative. He is also a travel writer. He has lived in Asia and Latin America for most of the previous 15 years. During that time, Weitz has worked as a technical editor and taught ESL, composition and law at schools and universities in Latin America, China and Taiwan. Previously, he worked on anti-corruption issues at the Organization of American States and in the Latin American and Caribbean section at the World Bank. His writings have appeared in print at the Mekong Review and in the online journals Red Savina Review, and Pennyshorts. Weitz has a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics with a focus on cross-cultural communication from Nottingham University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota. He is an Associate Editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters and also contributes articles to O:JA&L on Literary Tourism associated with the Western Pacific region.

Image: National flag of Turkey. Public domain.