In this ‘COVID Chronicle’ Ana Guerberof-Arenas, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the RUG, describes the process of getting a short-term Coronavirus test so she could travel. Her experiences take her from a car-park in Groningen to a testing centre in Leeuwarden via confusion, kindness, and (naturally) heavy drizzle
By Ana Guerberof-Arenas
In these times of Coronavirus, moving to another country and meeting people can be a daunting
endeavour. Even if we are the most reclusive person, we all need others to survive. Human interaction is in our DNA, therefore we have language, because it is through this interaction that we thrive. Far from those that interpret Darwinism as a sort of battle to eliminate the weakest link under the motto “the survival of the fittest”, it seems that to survive we just need someone to have our back.
In early December, I had been living in Groningen for around three months. I had to travel back to Spain for an important programmed medical appointment, and I had to engaged in the now arduous task of booking an available flight and a PCR test to go to Barcelona on a Monday. Because of the 72-hour requirement, I could not book the test too much in advance, in case the flight was delayed or changed (the return flight had already been cancelled and changed!).
I booked for Saturday and I decided to go to the test centre first thing in the morning so that I would be the first one in and get this done quickly! “The Dutch are very organised”, I thought. “What can possibly go wrong?” (I can be so naïve at times). As a newly adopted Dutch citizen, I took my bike on Saturday at 07:30 in the morning. It was still dark, cold and rainy. No surprises here. With the aid of Google Maps, I went to this “test lab” that, as it turned out, was quite far from the centre. Was this still the city of Groningen? I thought while I cycled through green fields and canals, some ducks were having their first bath of the day.
By the time I arrived, it was raining heavily. This tiny testing centre was in the middle of a hotel parking lot, it was a prefab building of about 2 by 2 meters. Not very auspicious. Inside, I saw a young man frantically typing in his computer. I wondered if I was in the right place. Then he told me: “The internet is down!”. He explained that he had tried everything to fix the connection and start testing to no avail. Now he was waiting for the technicians to wake up and help him. These technicians worked around the clock, apparently. Time passed, maybe a couple of hours, and a group of people started gathering in the parking lot.
It rained heavily… still. After the young man talked to several people on the phone, filmed the screens and tried several procedures, he came out of his tiny prefab lab to talk to us outside. By now I had noticed that my clothes underneath the coat were slightly wet.
“Sorry, but the system will not work today at all. You can go to the test centre in Leeuwarden and
they will take care of you today or come back Monday”.
Leeuwarden sounded vaguely familiar to me, wasn’t that another city in another province? I asked our, by then demoralized, lab technician to make sure I understood the location. “Yes, it is in Friesland, you need to go by train. Unless someone here is kind enough to take you there”. I felt really embarrassed about the suggestion because we were amidst the Covid19 pandemic!! Nobody wants to be in a car with a stranger, so I muttered: “Oh, no, no, I have my bike here”. As if I were going to cycle 100 kilometres return under the rain!!
Understandably, people started to leave in their cars, while I pondered if it was worthwhile going back to Groningen, taking the train and the test, or changing the ticket and still be on time for my doctor’s appointment. Suddenly a young woman that had been on the queue with me and with whom I had exchanged a bit of chit-chat appeared suddenly in front of me and said: “We will drive you!”. I was so taken aback and at the same time touched by the way she spoke to me that I said: “Oh, but don’t worry. I will sort it out. It is too much hassle”. “No, no, it is not a hassle. We will take you!!”, she insisted.
Jassie and her husband Bob made room for me in their car, we put on our mondkapjes, rolled down the windows slightly, and off I went with my newfound friends and their beautiful baby to the capital of Friesland. We had a wonderfully animated conversation maybe because we were all a bit nervous or maybe because we felt united in the face of adversity; I learnt so much about how
people from the North of the Netherlands see themselves.
Their baby did not make a sound during the whole trip, not even during the nasty swab procedure. I was amazed. His name was Chris and he just smiled. For someone not religious at all, the fact that the baby was called Chris so close to Christmas seemed like a sign that I was accompanied by angels. And I was!
I remembered that famous line said by Blanche Dubois in Tennessee William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”, and I realized how important it is now to depend on each other. If we are to continue to thrive as a society, solidarity is, and this has become very apparent in this coronatijd, the way forward.