As we head past the one-year mark that COVID-19 first reared its ugly head in Wuhan, China and will soon approach the anniversary of the global pandemic being announced last March, I thought it appropriate to look back on what this year of social distancing and curfews has been like for an expat residing in one of Turkey’s biggest international community hubs, Bodrum.
Although we caught wind of the virus through news reports, in the initial two months of last year the danger felt far from Bodrum as life continued as normal with the exception of having to wear masks everywhere you go. Then reality sank in when suddenly those over the age of 65 and later under 20 were obligated to remain at their domicile for what lasted until June, after which those in these age categories were only allowed to leave their homes at certain intervals during the day.
With the expat community largely consisting of retirees, being under lockdown was a welcomed but challenging proposition. Everyone commended Turkey’s proactive stance to protect its residents, but of course, it meant suddenly halting all external shopping and socializing, which came with an adaptation period. Nonetheless, the expat community mobilized with younger members helping their friends with shopping or any needs, the entire transaction taking place at a distance and with masks and even gloves.
The weekend lockdowns began to feel like almost a luxury. With no temptations to venture outside of the home, I focused on hobbies and gardening, the latter of which is one of the benefits if you are fortunate enough to live in Bodrum. It is because of this garden that I do believe I actually spent more time physically outdoors during the lockdown than when there wasn’t one. Even though, on the days when there was no lockdown, and it was still spectacular spring, I along with many would go for long walks along the coast.
Going out for anything else became less and less enticing and then in June, intercity travel restrictions were lifted and there was a mass exodus of millions of cars to Turkey’s southern coast, a majority of which headed to Bodrum. Pandemic or not, every summer, with the arrival of Turkey’s urbanite vacationers, the roads become jam-packed with fancy cars and aggressive drivers. Admittedly, it was almost as if it was a normal summer, with the exception of wearing masks of course and restricted hours on entertainment operations. There are so many wonderful beaches in the area that it was possible to discover areas that felt more spacious and thus safe and still enjoy socializing at a distance and swimming.
While summer was fun, the fall was even better. After months of crowds, suddenly the area and the weather had calmed once again and we could socialize at a distance outside and most restaurants, while operating at lesser capacity for safety, were still lively albeit cautious.
Then came November and in addition to weekend curfews, restaurants were restricted from serving customers on the premises, which after a summer of relative freedom, came as a reality check. That being said, the mutual consensus of the expat community has always welcomed the preventative measures being taken in Turkey. Furthermore, this time the over-65-year-olds were allowed to leave their homes on weekdays if necessary from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., after which the under-20 age group is allowed to leave their homes from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. These restrictions, which have remained in place, have created the rhythm to which we live by as we wait out the worst of the pandemic as safely as possible.
The new year began with the "new" normal as we all rang in 2021 from our respective homes as the end of the year coincided with the weekend lockdown. We seem to have adapted to new schedules and created different objectives centered on the restrictions in place. This time around we are more familiar with the process and what is worth leaving our homes to take risks for. Many of us have also learned life lessons through this process and these are mine:
Time spent at home can be fun and productive. Gardening, both indoors and outdoors, is an especially rewarding and relaxing endeavor. Many of the best exercise practices can be done in your living room. Nearly every kind of hobby or interest is accessible through the internet, whether it be learning or sharing. Lastly, shopping from the comfort of your couch is just a good practice.
Shopping online is efficient. When you order your shopping online, there is the opportunity to clearly see the price point and range of products available. Thus, in the end, this process not only saves you money but also allows you to pinpoint the exact products you want and thus save time. I used to run multiple errands a day, popping into different local shops for precise products and would then lament all of the time spent. Now while that was a lovely way to get to know and support the community, during the pandemic era, switching to online shopping has presented other benefits, such as saving time, lessening my carbon footprint and lightening my financial load.
The neighborhood has a lot to offer. I have gotten to know my neighbors in a much more personal way throughout the pandemic. The weekly market is my one concession to shopping outdoors these days. A spectacular affair here in Bodrum as once a week, these open-air markets bring out the best fruits, vegetables, olives and cheeses of the season. There can be temperature and HES code checks, obtained via the Hayat Eve Sığar (Life Fits into Home) app, upon entry, making it feel safer to shop, which is all done outdoors. The shopping centers, albeit not the food courts, are operating as usual, with the same temp and code checks for entry. In fact, most shops are fully functional during the week, but I personally do not enter them. I find everything I need online or from my neighborhood.
Long walks have become the norm. The only activity I choose to engage in outside of my house is to take long walks on trails in the hills or along the coast. This is an activity in Bodrum that many people have turned to. On trails where you would normally not run into anyone, you now do in pleasant brief encounters. Walking has truly become one of the greatest pastimes and these days serve as the only activity “to see and be seen,” for those of all ages in Bodrum.
Sitting on the beach is the new “happening spot.” The other activity people are doing alone or with a friend is to take a fold-out chair and sit on the beach. While the sunset is a popular hour here in Bodrum, on sunny days, which we see even in the heart of winter, people will flock to the beach to watch the horizon. However, instead of wearing the fancy outfits Bodrum vacationers are famed for, everyone is wearing sweatpants of sorts and sneakers. These days, one would truly stand out at the beach if they were seen dressed up. With all of the restaurants closed for in house service, walking the coastal shores of the different regions of Bodrum paints a different image, as if transforming this chic destination into the sleepy fishing town it once was.
The noise level has lessened. With the weekend lockdown and a curfew set at 9 p.m. on weeknights, there is considerably less noise on the streets. In addition, having spent the first wave of the pandemic watching television for background noise, I now no longer watch it all. Somehow the need for distraction has dissipated as I grow accustomed to spending time alone and quiet.
Living with the light is lovely. One of my favorite lessons learned through the pandemic is to live my life according to the light. Watching the sunrise and sunset has achieved tantamount importance for me and many others who try to set aside the time the witness the sun make its move over the horizon. With the evening curfew having us all in our homes by 9 p.m., suddenly staying up late, as I have my whole life, is no longer desirable, especially when compared to the opportunity to watch the sunrise. So it’s now early to bed and early to rise and as the saying goes “nothing good happens after midnight.”