On April 28, I received a text from my mom at 3:04 am. She told me that instead of going back home to India as planned, I would be spending the summer with two of my friends from high school in an Airbnb in Boston. This information came as a surprise — I knew the recent COVID-19 surge was bad, but I hadn’t expected the situation to be dire enough that I would have to stay back in America. After all, I’d be vaccinated, right? And in a few months, most people would have had their second dose administered — that was the plan, wasn’t it?
Being a student on campus with immediate family in India was a disconcerting experience. Though COVID-19 is still a relatively active topic of discussion in the Wellesley community, conversations have taken on a more optimistic lilt. By late March and early April, phrases like “I’m so sick and tired of the pandemic” and “I feel so suffocated by all the rules” had begun to turn into “I’m getting my second dose tomorrow!” and “I’m so excited for hot girl summer!” The excitement was contagious, of course. Discussing the Loco being back in business and taking in-person and cross-registered classes in the fall. Finally having roommates. Being able to go into the city. Finding some semblance of normalcy.
But then I would open my Instagram, and I was flooded with posts and stories from people who were still back home. “Urgent,” it said, in bold red letters. “Blood plasma from someone who has contracted COVID-19. DM me; my uncle is sick.” Resources and guides on how to fund people in critical conditions across the country. Accounts to help coordinate the distribution of oxygen tanks to people. Accounts to address the steadily debilitating mental health of the citizens. Videos of friends ranting about their helplessness and the need to hold the Indian Government accountable. Frustration about an inefficient political system, the hopelessness of a year in almost complete lockdown, and the sadness of hearing the sheer volume of the loss of life. Having been one of the first countries that went into lockdown at 500 cases in March 2020, to then watching the second wave build up to a tsunami in March 2021 was a devastatingly disconsolate situation.
My best friend from back home called me up to tell me that her mom and her grandmother had contracted COVID-19 and were isolating in two different rooms in their house as her father bore the burden of working his job and taking care of his sick family. My friends who stayed back instead of going to campus in America as planned told me about the stress that varying time zones and living in India during the surge had placed on them. Juniors from my old high school told me that they have “five family members down, and a grandfather in the ICU.” My mom explained how she had to cook meals for more than three different COVID-positive families in one week. I heard of people waiting on websites to get their vaccines as they open up at 9:00 am, only to have none available by 9:02 am.
I’m not sure there are enough words to describe the sheer perturbation of experiencing two juxtaposed worlds at once. In the Spring semester, it was especially disconcerting: I was a student residing within the safe confines of my dorm room watching spring unfold with its brightly flowered hues and warmer weather seeing nothing but hope in a steadily improving environment for the vaccinated in America. I later moved into my Airbnb in Boston instead of going home and got to spend the summer doing “normal” things: watching movies in theaters, shopping, etc., while my sister told me she had forgotten what it was like to meet someone without being six feet apart. COVID-19 as the go-to conversation topic is steadily becoming — dare I say it — obsolete, now replaced with the excited chatter of fall plans. Of course, this is not to say that there isn’t active discussion about it, but even as new variants arise, we see a steadily dwindling amount of coverage and press on them, especially if we compare it to the start of the outbreak. Thankfully, I got to go home in mid-July for a month. But even this turn of events was last minute, and up until a week before I left, I didn’t know whether I’d go home or when I would get to see them again.
The truth is that while the US is slowly finding a semblance of normalcy by removing the outdoor mask mandate for vaccinated people and opening up public places like movie theaters, COVID is still a very real problem in other regions. Countries like Myanmar, Haiti, Vietnam, Fiji and Botswana have seen a doubling of cases, while several other countries in Asia and Africa have been in the same (bad) position for months. Lockdown rules still exist, with mandatory 14 day quarantines, as well as the debilitating fear of new mutant variants and vaccine efficacy against them.
While it is important to move forward with our lives and slip into a hopefully steadily post-COVID lifestyle, it is necessary that we recognize that the experience of individuals in America is fundamentally different from the one in places with vaccine shortages, overpopulation (both as a quantitative product of the BJP Government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat — self-sufficient India — that made them initially refuse to take vaccines from other countries, and an uneven distribution of resources) and mutant strains. In India, vaccinations haven’t even opened up yet for people under the age of 18. People swarm into facilities to have access to any approved vaccine, which makes it so uncomfortable to watch people protest the vaccine and call COVID a hoax. In an article by the Washington Post titled “As an Indian, I am enraged by America’s refusal to set vaccine mandates,” Barkha Dutt, award-winning Indian television journalist, articulated this sentiment perfectly. “When we watch what’s happening in the US … It is astounding that people who have access to vaccines are choosing not to get jabbed. It’s anti-science. It’s self-indulgent. It’s a very First World white privilege.”
In a desperate attempt to return to normalcy, many Americans have convinced themselves that the pandemic that still rages around the world is over. This is obviously untrue both nationally and internationally. These attitudes, while understandable (because let’s be honest, we’re all exhausted), are not only tone deaf, but also carry with it the danger of fostering a false sense of security in public health and safety that does not yet exist with the mutant variants cropping up left right and center.
It is very easy to stay in the US-bubble, but it is not realistic and often erases a very real narrative that developing nations face. Even Wellesley, which is situated in a part of America that is doing relatively better with COVID, has become a bubble of its own. While the scale of deaths ranks higher internationally, we seem to have forgotten that even here, COVID and its new variants are still disproportionately affecting people. By staying cognizant of the situation everyone else is in, we can stay sensitive to the way that COVID has affected us around the world. By reading up more, learning about funds to donate to, and even doing your part to encourage the US Government to take a more active role in humanitarian aid to countries with vaccine shortages and less developed healthcare systems, we can all do our parts to make sure we can collectively get through the pandemic as a global community.
For everyone living in the US right now, hope is on the horizon and life as we know it is starting to return. As long as we are aware that COVID has not entirely disappeared and we do our parts to keep ourselves and our communities safe while being aware of the conditions the rest of the world is in, we can finally embrace a (selectively) maskless, hot girl fall.