In June of 2019, I embarked on what I planned to be a yearlong journey around the world. The journey would consist of 12 countries in 12 months. I was moving along nicely when, thanks to the coronavirus, I was stopped in my tracks in month 9. My location: Split, Croatia. Fast forward two and a half months later and it’s the place I call home these days – all thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. For a myriad of reasons, I decided to remain in Eastern Europe instead of returning home to the United States where the virus ran rampant. Like many places in the world, Croatia instituted local and national restrictions, shelter in place, and social distancing measures. This time of sheltering in place, as a single woman traveling abroad, is teaching me a lot about myself. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. I’m an extroverted introvert.
My old life, the one I left to roam the world for a year, was filled with social events, galas, concerts, girls’ night outs and birthday celebrations. No one embodied the mantra of “living for the weekend” like I did! Yet, there were also times when walking out of my office at 5pm on a Friday evening, the only thing I desired was a night on my couch emptying my DVR and catching up on prime time television. Due to the pandemic, the latter is more my way of life than the former and I am completely okay with it! After traveling for 9 months with 25 other people, I’ve found such solace in being alone, in not having to partake in banal conversations, in being free to choose how my day will look. There is so much joy in the peace and quiet I’ve found during this time of shelter in place. It’s taught me that while I enjoy people and society, I’m also just as content to be stuck at home entertaining myself.
2. I’m a pretty amazing cook.
At the height of the pandemic, like most restaurants around the world, restaurants in Split abruptly closed their doors It also wasn’t until approximately one month into the the shelter in place restrictions that food delivery services started again. Grocery stores have been the only consistent food supply during Split’s shelter in place. Thus, nourishment was primarily your responsibility which translated to many more home cooked meals. Thankfully, I have always enjoyed cooking – especially when fresh ingredients abound such is the case here in Croatia. Beef stroganoff, roasted purple cabbage, beef and barley stew, garlic mashed potatoes, pan seared salmon, roasted carrots and mushroom and truffle pasta, are just a few of the yummy meals I’ve created. I’m a single woman but over the past two months, I’ve cooked meals so good that I would want to marry myself!
3. I can be too hard on myself.
When shelter in place first began in Split, I would write a daily list of tasks to accomplish. For the first two weeks of quarantine, I crushed those lists. Oh the joy crossing off an item on the list would bring me. Then one day, I didn’t feel like doing anything. I had no desire to be productive and even the simple pleasure of crossing tasks off the list was no longer appealing. Couple this apathy with the fact that I couldn’t seem to get to bed before 1am nor wake up before 10am. It started to weigh on me. I started to beat myself up for not “making the best of this time,” for not taking steps to “come out of quarantine better than when I went in.” This behavior went on for about a week until I realized I was being way too hard on myself. “Shelter in place”, “pandemic”, “social distancing”, and “quarantine” were once foreign words that are now a part of our common vernacular. I needed to give myself grace. There were no rules on what I HAD to do each day. Surely, I didn’t want to sit and watch Netflix ad nauseam, but there was also no need to place such immense pressure on myself to be productive every single moment of the day. “Grace” would be another word that would be more frequently used in my vocabulary.
4. I am OK with taking a break from traveling.
I was blessed to travel to 11 countries in the short span of 9 months and it goes without saying that my next flight will be the one where I return home to the United States. After that, I’m not sure when I’ll travel again. New travel guidelines, border restrictions, large groups of people and the lack of a vaccine are more than enough to make me squeamish about traipsing all over the world again. I also have to admit that I miss having roots and a home base. Even by way of a worldwide pandemic, this time of quarantine and shelter in place has been a much needed break from what had become my exciting, yet at times chaotic, and overly busy life. I know travel is not completely out of my system but for now, I am content to be still.
This article was written by Nina Washington, MD, MPH. Nina is the 2020 HBCU Alumni Abroad Ambassador and currently resides in Split, Croatia.