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A year in review: six months locked down in a tiny Bangladesh flat

Whilst this was one of the most difficult years of my life, it was also simultaneously one of the best yet. You might think that ‘best year yet’ is a stretch, perhaps even a leap over a chasm – it might outrage you, with everything that happened in 2020 – but hear me out; this is coming from a girl who had no other option but to spend a six-month long lockdown in a little flat in Bangladesh.

Before I get down to the emotional trauma, I think we’ve all forgotten the few months before the pandemic. Some highlights for me from pre-Covid 2020 include the 1920’s themed party in McEwan Hall, going on a trip to the highlands with my friends for the first time, and of course, how can you deny the triumph in cancelled exams?! This was also the year I saw snowfall for the first time, and also the first time I fell in love (!). I was basically living my best life before we received the dreaded news in March – so I don’t think that’s worth nothing. 

But that’s when it started going downhill; I’m definitely luckier than the vast number of people who have been much greatly afflicted by the pandemic, but I think I’ve had a somewhat uniquely stressful experience – I got locked out of my home-country in Malaysia because I don’t hold a Malaysian passport and they had, at the time, blocked even residents from entering. I’ve lived in Malaysia with my parents for the past seven years: it’s where I grew up and all my friends live there. I decided to go back to Bangladesh (where some of my extended family lived), where I was originally born, instead of staying alone in Edinburgh through the summer. This is a place I have not lived in for a period of longer than two weeks for the past 9 years – and oh boy, lockdown in Bangladesh was intense. My mom was able to catch a last-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka, and once I arrived, I had absolutely no idea that I would be unable to leave for the next 6 months.

The first few months of lockdown were the most difficult. Bangladesh had a severe lockdown for a few weeks, where you could only leave once a day to buy groceries, with police patrolling the streets (at least in the area I was staying), but once the government couldn’t keep that up anymore, it was absolute chaos. The complete lack of restrictions meant that going out was like a warzone, where you had infinite opportunities to catch the virus. Not that it mattered anyway, because in that six-month period, I only left the flat a grand total of two times (and that was to go to the bank). 

There wasn’t really a space to exercise outside, and living in Dhaka, a city that has the worst air pollution in the entire world, was not great news for my chronic bronchitis. I was also inexplicably losing insane amounts of hair; towards August, we found out that the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) had been increasing the amount of bleach to the water system in order to fight the spreading of the virus – I genuinely fell off the earth, yet some of my Bangladeshi friends were not even surprised at the decisions of the authorities. My skin had dried out, severe eczema returned on my face and I started having lower back problems again after two years due to significant inactivity. But all these health issues were nothing compared to the emotional strain of living in an endless cycle of the same day every single day with no end date. Being an extrovert through and through, I felt like I had no breathing space. I found a journal entry from that period and even I had forgotten how difficult it was at that time. I’ll insert it below for your perusal:

“I woke up at 5pm today after a strange dream. Read the few texts I received whilst I was asleep, and started to feel the anxiety building up in me, tears rushing to my eyes to fall. This isn’t new. I continued to type some cheerful replies, and then after skipping through some bleak stories on Instagram, shut my phone. I lay on my bed for some time, trying to ride out the wave; if you feel down everyday, after a certain period of time it feels just as easy as surfing is to a professional surfer. I suddenly sat up because of an inexplicable feeling to escape the bed and then sat there for fifteen minutes staring into darkness, knowing that there is nowhere to go. I blankly remarked to myself that today was going to be one of the bad days.” 

I think one of the worst parts was not knowing when I would be able to return to Malaysia, or even Edinburgh – every two-three weeks there would be a hope of returning, and every time, they extended the restrictions again. Hope was crushed over and over again. 

But I got through it in the end; and came out of it having had a valuable experience. I realised I have an incredibly amazing support network. My group of close girlfriends from high school set up a weekly call early on in order to keep me sane – we still call every single week even though we’re (sort of) back to normal life, and we’re closer now than we ever have been for that. And of course, it would be insincere not to mention a major part of my day that got me through lockdown; my boyfriend calling me every single day, even though he himself didn’t really have any restrictions over in Denmark. We talked about random things and we really did make the most of ‘Netflix Party’! 

I remember the absolute pure elation I felt when I was suddenly on a plane again, after six months of being trapped, flying back to Edinburgh in September. It is a huge relief to be back here, in a city I really love, spending time with my closest friends (and not having to do long-distance!) You don’t know how much I’ve learnt to appreciate the ability to go outside for a walk. Oh and a special last note: dear Netflix Party, I truly hope I never have to use you again.

Image: United Nations COVID-19 Response via Unsplash