New York City |
The sound of emergency siren can be heard at a distance. I looked outside my window to an Empty street. The sound of the siren gets louder as an ambulance passes by with a few police cars following it. This happens 20 times a day, the siren sound is a constant, reminder about the situation I am living in right now. One might think it’s easy to stay home, but believe me when you hear the emergency sirens all day and night, news reports of increasing death tolls and no good development in curing the virus, it really gets in your head and affects you a lot.
COVID-19 started as something, which was scary but far away. But nobody ever thought that it could make the whole wide world stop.
I remember March 12th was the last ‘Normal’ day, when I took the train to my college. We had a class with very few students in an empty campus. Everyone was scared and clueless of what was going to happen in the upcoming days. I started wearing masks and gloves quite early, filled up my bottle of sanitizer. I was the only one with all things prepared at that point of time. People looked at me as if I came from some other land.
I live in Jersey City, 15 mins away from New York City. I used to travel everyday through the World trade centre. My college is near Wall street, I am used to the crowd and people running over each other. That is what happens on a normal NYC street. But on my last day, wall street closed out, it was silent. The kind of silence which gives chills down your body.
We saw trucks of the military going north of New York State for sealing the borders of the epicentre district, New Rochelle. It is 45 minutes away from where I live. The city came to a standstill since then. But the number of Positive cases was still under a thousand, so everyone was relaxed and still doing their daily work. It was the end of the first week of my quarantine. The Numbers kept on increasing day by day and suddenly it jumped up high into lakhs. Gradually, I stopped watching the numbers. This is where it started impacting my mental health.
One week after the lockdown. I remember receiving an Email stating that two of my Professors were tested positive and two other students. And I met my professor on the last day of my college. So I was practically exposed to the Virus and it was possible that I might also get infected. It was a very stressful time for me. I was scared and alone. I was not prepared for this when I left India 6 months ago. I thought to myself If I get sick I might recover from the symptoms but not the stressful impact it will create on my mind. Thankfully, I passed two weeks of quarantine without any symptoms.
Once the two week of quarantine ended, I went out for grocery shopping. People were still not taking social distancing seriously. The government cannot force people to do certain things here. Everyone has a choice whether to follow or not. I remember the nursery school was open in my neighbourhood till the end of March. Everyone thought that it is not such a serious thing. I have a Deli right next door and a liquor shop around the corner. People gathered around the shop every day in groups of 5-10. It was risky even going out of my door for getting a post as well. Eventually, things changed within few weeks when the number came up to 2-3 lakhs and New York became the new epicentre. Everyone panicked by the end of March but I am lucky that I stocked everything at the right time. Soon stores started closing and there were strict rules and regulation if you are going out. It was too late by that time. I just watched the graph going up. At one point, reports started saying that the whole NY city has been exposed to the virus some way or the other.
I think the main reason for this extreme spread was not doing a proper lockdown at the right time. Only a night curfew was declared, and some restrictions for social gatherings, but nobody took it seriously. The federal government and State government were fighting and blaming each other. Majority of working class here are daily wagers, who cannot sit at home and expect to get paid. They have to go to work to get food and survive. The rise of unemployment, the risk of suicides and increasing number of crimes were also something the government was concerned about. The government started testing vaccines but was unable to succeed. Relief funds were soon declared and the police patrolling started near my locality. Things started to get in control but the numbers were still increasing.
All Colleges declared remote learning till further notice. I am a Filmmaker and it is not easy learning creative skills via online classes. Everything completely changed within a few weeks. The banks in India closed and I was going through some financial problems and I was planning to leave the US but then it was possible that my student status gets in danger. As you all already know, the president here doesn’t like people coming to the US. So practically I was stuck here I couldn’t leave even if the lockdown uplifted. Luckily, I was guided and helped by my Professor and Counsellor. I was awarded with a financial aid. We also had meditation and yoga practices in the morning. Karaoke and dance in the evening. This helped all of us in maintaining our mental health at peace during this time. What I appreciate a lot about the education system here is that there are people who are ready to help you even if you are going through a personal problem. I cannot thank my college enough for being with me and helping me out at this time.
We are still going through a tough situation, the numbers are still increasing and people are dying. We will be having online classes for the next semester as well. I miss home but sadly I will not be able to come back anytime soon. I think I have to fight this thing alone. And I am sure there are many like me, stuck away from their family. I would specially like to thank all medical health care providers and front line workers who are still working and providing us with basic needs. Everyone is taking things seriously now, following government orders, staying home, wearing masks while going out.
As an international student who is graduating this year, I have to land a job by September and return the student loan that I have taken back in India. I cannot go back; I will lose my visa status. Also, it is risky and stressful to stay here as there will be no jobs in the upcoming months. It is a stressful time for sure but I believe it will pass and we will come out of it with much strength.