Covid Impressions from an Italian in Transylvania

By Matt Franzetti

Everything may change. This is a photograph of my feelings on March 30th. But a piece of news, a call phone or a picture could change everything in an instant.

I moved to Brasov to work for an NGO for kids in the villages last July and I was planning to come back to Lombardy in April. I would have never been able to foresee what would have happened there (and in the rest of the world), so I look back on those days when my ignorance was bliss. .

In the middle of February, I spent a weekend with some friends of mine in Sofia. One of them is from Veneto, another region in Northern Italy. We felt relaxed. After all, wasn’t coronavirus just like a strong influenza? It was something far from us. We were joking about it back then. But meanwhile, while we were in Bulgaria, a man went to Codogno Hospital, reporting respiratory problems. A few days later he tested positive for COVID-19. When more and more cases were confirmed and the first people died after being infected by the virus, our worries grew exponentially. Of the nearly one million Romanians living there, thousands began trickling back home. Romanian media followed what was happening in Northern Italy with great attention. This had some consequences even on my everyday life here. I started getting questions about when I’d last been home and how many Italians I’d been in contact with. It struck me as a bit ironic because it’s likely that many Romanians in Bucharest or the western reaches of the country would have had more interactions with people from Italy than me.

My hometown of Lombardy, Italy. The town was the first in Europe to go on lockdown.

The situation in Italy got worse during the first days of March. Lombardy was placed on lockdown on March 8th, with thousands trying to catch trains, planes, buses, anything they could to other regions the night before lockdown began. Two days later, the measure was extended to all of Italy. I had spent the first days of the month in the Carpathians mountains, more than a little disconnected from the rest of the world. When I heard about the lockdown I mostly felt confusion. I hadn’t received alarming updates from my family and my first thought was about the personal consequences that this would have on my movements.

I started to have a better understanding over the following days, reading some articles in international newspapers. Then as now, I’ve done my best to avoid getting information through social media. Unfortunately, even during contagion, ok, especially during a contagion, political propaganda and misinformation spread faster than the virus itself. Talking more about the situation with my family and some friends in Northern Italy helped ease my concerns. The latter helped me to feel something more difficult to document than the number of cases, the death toll, the health care crisis and the economic one: the fear and the frustration among the people caused by the virus and the long quarantine. 

Back home, and now here, people are scared to go out for a walk due to the fear of being infected. There, and now here, everyone hopes not to meet anyone in the street, and they fear fines from wandering too far. People have to wait their turn in long queues for going one by one inside the supermarkets. They freak out when they see an ambulance in their town, hoping that it’s there for a reason other than COVID- 19.

Supermarket social distancing in Lombardy

The quarantine is getting more and more difficult to handle for those who live in small houses without a garden and far from the woods. This is especially true if they are alone, old and not able to use smartphones. It’s creating tensions among people forced to spend more time together. And this is a nightmare for whoever is coping with domestic abuse. The uncertainty about how long this situation will last makes everything worse.

But people are trying to make the most of this at the same time, and these are the stories we don’t always hear about. Some are spending much needed time reconnecting with family after a while. Many are trying to find creative solutions for fighting the virus. Many more are cultivating and discovering new passions. And most of us are experiencing never-ending calls on Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp with friends until we can all meet in person again. 

Today is March 30th. A friend of mine from Bologna just sent me a picture. Today she graduated, celebrating at home with her brother who came back to Italy after a 5 days trip from Portugal by van.

Life goes on. 

Practicing social distancing during a corona-riddled graduation celebration in Italy.

Continue to read more of Matt’s thoughts on coronavirus as an Italian abroad on Medium. You can follow Matt’s charity work in Transylvania on Facebook.

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