I got interviewed by the BBC today as I walked through the airport. Being a celebrity only in my own mind, I am not used to explaining my movements to the international press. But having so adamantly defended my initial decision to stay in the city, I suppose I owe an explanation for my flight, because I’m going home.
The reporter wanted to know where I was from, and I responded that I was born in California but was currently living in the city. “That’s perfect,” she cooed. When the cameras were rolling she asked my opinion on the influenza, and if that was why I was leaving. It is not necessarily obligatory to leave the city because of the flu, I said, but there is a lack of information about the situation and so it is a good time to take a little vacation back to California. She wanted to know, in my own words, how I was feeling about the situation. It’s scary, I admitted. But mostly because we don’t have enough information about how the flu spreads, and how many are infected.
And that is why I am leaving: I’m scared.
At the airport fewer people are wearing masks than on the streets. There are also fewer people at the airport. Most of those without masks seem to be tourists. (This is probably because many countries have closed their visa offices in Mexico.) Maybe some have cut their vacation short because of the swine flu, but for them they don’t belong to this city, and the disease is not theirs. They will return to their countries, safe again in their own worlds, where swine flu is just a headline in a newspaper and a few cases at a hospital.
But for one week I will be a tourist in my own country. I am not going home, because I am coming back. All my belongings are still on Calle Malintzin. I wear my mask because I lived here, breathed here, for four months. I take ownership of this city in my small little way, even though I am still a newcomer and forever an outsider. And for this reason I don’t feel removed from the disease nor those infected, no matter how far away I plan to get.
We felt like cop outs for leaving. Like the homesick kids who can’t stay out of their countries for too long. Like wealthy Americans who flee at the first sign of trouble. But perhaps our fear is so real because we are a part of the city, share it’s same troubles and worries. We wear our masks. We did not watch the masked masses from the windows of our hotel but rather went to the grocery store to buy water and canned food with the rest of the colonia. We watched as the restaurants we had eaten at every day closed, and how the streets emptied of traffic. While everything feels new and strange to a tourist, the normalcy of our lives was interrupted in a terrifying way.
Today they closed all the schools across the country. Restaurants in the DF have been ordered to shut down, only opening their doors to take-out orders. The rush on the supermarkets has already begun, although store owners assure the public they will remain open. The metro has enacted an emergency plan, dispatching all of its trains to try to avoid crowding. There are even rumors that the airport will close, despite my present case to the contrary. And while I say I am only leaving for a week, the truth is that we don’t know what will happen with the disease. They may shut the city down for longer. We may loose the semester.
So with a small suitcase and my blue facemask, I head to California. Happy to be arriving but sad to be going. And I am still scared. Of my program, six of us are leaving, four are staying, and three have fled (or remain outside of) the state. Catch you on the flip side.