• Ken Baeza

Leaving UWC

What started as a joke for many of us, finally became a nightmare. As I finish my second week of self-quarantine, I have been able to reflect on how sudden the COVID-19 Pandemic had an impact in our lives.

In January I went back to Moshi, Tanzania to continue my studies at UWC East Africa. I had lots of fun being part of EAMUN 2020, going to the Majimoto Hotsprings trip, and joining all the other activities that UWCEA had to offer during the last couple of months. Sadly, all this fun and joy was suddenly disrupted by the news that many UWC schools started to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The first one was UWC Changshu in China, followed by UWC Li Po Chun in Hong Kong, and many other UWCs. At the beginning of the year, at UWCEA we just joked about the virus, emphasizing how crazy it was that someone in China eating a bat could cause this crisis. We thought we were safe, because we were isolated in Moshi, which is basically in the middle of nowhere.

But we were wrong. When we needed to be isolated the most, people started to come to Moshi. First, the UWC National Committees had a meeting, with people from all over the world came to the campus. Then, Moshi hosted the Kilimanjaro Marathon (Kili Marathon), which is the biggest marathon in Africa. A lot of people came to Moshi, from Kenians to Americans, and even Asians, Moshi was flooded with tourists who came to join the marathon. On top of that, many tourists were still entering the country to visit the national parks.

In the midst of all these events, we were still calm at UWCEA. Some of us were even making plans for the spring break. Suddenly, on Saturday March 14th, a video of a possible COVID-19 infected person being rushed to a hospital near Moshi started ciruclating in social media. That's when the panic started. Less than a day later, many students started to book flights to go back home before it was too late. On Monday 16th, the first group of students left. It all happened so fast, we were all scared that we would end up being trapped in Tanzania due to travel restrictions. Luckily, I was able to find a way to go back to Guatemala.

On Thursday 19th, I departed from Kilimajaro Airport, which was surprisingly filled with workers wearing masks and using a lot of hand sanitizer, to Hamad International Airport in Qatar. Almost everyone was wearing a face mask at Qatar, and every single person was social distancing. I had to wait eight hours for my next flight, all I did during that time was eat some Burger King, and sleep. My flight from Qatar to Los Angeles was 16 hours... it was the longest flight I have ever taken. I was still feeling anxious, because there were some people coughin around me (luckiily, there was no one sitting right next to me). After having watched an unhealthy amount of movies, and used half a bottle of hand sanitizer, we arrived to LA. I felt I was closer to Guatemala. I had a couple of hours before my next flight, so I walked around the terminals, ate some KFC, got a chai latte from Starbucks, and even played a public grand piano (which is something I wouldn't recommend doing, especially because we are all trying to avoid getting infected with the virus). 

On March 21st, I arrived to Mexico City. I had had almost no sleep at all, and I felt exhausted. I went a couple times to Starbucks, and had an unheatlhy breakfast at McDonald's (I remind you all that I had not eaten any "western" food for the last three months...). My next flight was from Mexico City to Tapachula, in the South of Mexico. This was were the fun began. I originally had a flight from LA to Guatemala, but it was cancelled because the Guatemalan government banned all flights coming into the country; the only way to enter was by land. That's why I flew to Mexico City, and that's why I was flying to Tapachula.

Luckily, a couple of days before, I had the help of my Mexican classmate to find someone who could take me from the Tapachula Airport to the border with Guatemala. This is were again, I saw the beauty of UWC. A future UWC student from Mexico offered to help me. Her uncle gave me a ride from the airport to the Guatemalan border. The power of UWC is truly unbelievable. This Mexican girl, whom I have never met, who knows absolutely nothing about me (other than the fact that I am a UWC student) offered to help me get to my country - they even offered me to stay in their house if something went wrong. This shows that UWC is much more than just a movement, and a group of schools.... UWC is a big family, filled with people who are willing to help one another.

At the Guatemalan border, I had some complications because I was travelling alone, but my dad was waiting me there, and he helped me out to get in safely into the country. My long, three-day journey had finally come to an end. It was definitely an exciting - and stressful - experience, I had to be very careful by always wearing my face mask, using an insane amount of hand sanitizer, and distancing myself from everyone else.

But all of these events happened in a very short amount of time. We barely had time to react and process all of what was going on. Many of us rushed back to our countries, without realizing how big of an impact this would have in our lives. Now that I am here typing comfortably from my sofa, I realize that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had a very big impact on us. At UWCEA Moshi Campus we were all like a family. Sure, we had many things we disagreed on, but that's how families are. I realize now that the pandemic has now separated this family, and it will keep it separated for quite a long time (many of us are not going back until August). Even though we will see each other again, it will be at least 4 months from now, and having to go from seeing my UWC friends every single day, living with them, and sharing the same dorms with them, to being only connected a couple of hours through the internet is quite shocking.

To further add to the pain, the realization that we only have two years at UWC, and three months are being taken away from us is really sad. I wake up everyday, wishing I could be back in Moshi, wishing none of this had happened... but that's not the reality, and we have to face it. I have learned three important things from this pandemic. First of all,  I learned that we have to live every single day as if it was truly our last one - the situation can drasticaly change from one moment to another. Second, I learned that UWC is more than a group of schools, it's a family, filled with people who are compassionate and empathic, who are willing to go the extra mile to help others.  Finally, I realized how lucky I was to have a family that supported me with my desicision (and desire) of going back. There were many risks involved, but they were willing to take them so that I could go back to them.

These are, without a doubt, interesting times. No one knows what the future holds for us, we are all going throught a very similar experience. What we do now will more than ever have an impact on the future, so stay home, keep social distancing, and be safe.

Ken Baeza

P.S. If you have any question or comment feel free to contact me through the contact section of my blog. I'll be willing to answer all your questions and listen to your feedback.