In Barcelona, the sun is shining, and like most days, I wake to the sound of music playing in the bar below my Barceloneta apartment. Late morning joggers run along the beach in shorts, and groups of sun-wrinkled Catalan women wash their feet in the showers on the sand.
I take my coffee in Petit Bar, where old men drink beer for breakfast, and stare at me less now than they did months ago, when I was something foreign, and different from them.
But today, they stare a bit more. Today, their is a virus affecting us all, and I come from a country that shuts the world out
“Jenny, vi las noticias—I saw the news,” Sylvia says, while she pours milk in my coffee. She tells me it is good I didn’t go to the States, as I had planned to do three days prior. If I had gone, I wouldn’t be able to come back, she says. If I had gone, I wouldn’t be able to come home, she says.
What do you do when you have two homes, and you are forced to choose?For many Americans, it is a choice they are facing for the first time. I think of all the foreigners in the land of the free, who spend years without seeing their family, because they like me, were forced to choose.
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But the travel ban is for only one month—so far. And for many Americans, they have only one home, the United States, and now they scramble to return, while confusion collides with misinformation and canceled flights.
Two boys eat one sandwich.
Their study abroad program is canceled. They search flights home, to the land of the free, where nothing is free.
I finish my coffee, and I try not to come too close or back away too far from the man from New Guinea who coughs into his hands before folding his newspaper and coming to ask me about the ban my country has placed on the 26 countries with unrestricted travel within European borders.
“Why not England?” He asks me. I have no answer, but I remember a week before when he warned me that the virus would begin to feel like war.
Perhaps more than ever before, the world has a common enemy and the United States chooses to stay apart. Italy shuts its borders to protect the world, and the US slams the door in the face of the European Union, while Washington begs for more testing kits and begin to wonder how they might quarantine the masses of homeless, living in the streets.
I stay in Barcelona, worried that returning to the United States would trap me there, where I have family, but no health care.
Today, there is no ban on Americans traveling to Europe, only an advisory to stay put, in the land of the free where nothing is free. But rules change daily in the time of Coronavirus, and we are grasping seconds, while we struggle to contain, and fail to understand.
In Barceloneta, electric scooters buzz past groups of tourists on rented bicycles, wearing face masks while their hands hold the communal handlebars of communal bicycles.
If you are an American living in Europe, you’ve gotten used to apologizing for your President, or maybe even apologizing for yourself.
If you are an American citizen, you can still fly to the United States, although, you may want to bring your own toilet paper. As the country tries to manage the virus, its is failing to contain the panic that has emptied store shelves and created a scarcity of face masks for the doctors and nurses who need them the most.
If you are an American, who has made a home in Europe, you may have grown accustomed to explaining your country. And if you are a person in the world, you may have begun to understand that borders drawn on maps, do little to keep us safe and much to keep us apart.
Jennifer Lutz is a travel writer and essayist, born in the United States and living Europe.