Volunteering Stories: Pandemic Thoughts – by Oana Haliciu

My name is Oana Haliciu and I’ve been living all alone for almost two months now, in the apartment I share with my flatmates, but who had long ago deserted the terrain of Graz, even before the quarantine has started. This is not my quarantine story, but an expression of my strong sense of elation given the almost infinite opportunities going together with so much free time, my thoughts on re-finding joy in doing the day’s most basic and normal activities and, last but not least, I will share with you parts of my self-reflection during the prolonged time of isolation.

But first, who am I actually? Yeah, it looks like a legit question. Well, I am from Romania and I started my volunteering project on 1st of December 2019. I remember the time of applying for ESC projects – it seems so ancient now – and how motivated I was to arrive here, how much I wanted to confront myself with the austrian dialect, to do this youthwork which I find so valuable (we can all learn so much from children, and teens need our best support in becoming responsible adults). I knew this experience would be unique and I knew I would encounter difficulties on the way, which would only give me important lessons about me and about life itself.

Concretely, I work as an advisor and supervisor in the youth center “ECHO”, with my other five coworkers. Here, ”our” teenagers are between 12 and 19 and they come for a talk with us, for the various games they can play, for the educative activities which are organised weekly, for the different challenges they can do and then win a free pizza or simply for gathering their friends and enjoying their time together. It’s been an interesting time working there. Now, we are online. Since March we have been using Discord (which, I have to say, does its job wonderfully) and my work consists in contacting teens and trying to convince them to join us on the platform, in spending online time with those who are already here, playing online games with them, as well as the “backstage” job, meaning the weekly brainstorming we are doing in our team meetings to find out solutions, developing attractive ideas for activities and challenges, so that our teens can have a less difficult time during the lockdown. Since all these changes have occured everywhere in the world I have been grateful to be part of such an amazing team, in which I felt stable and supported even in times of uncertainty, and where we could consistently encourage each other that, until we reopen the center, a strong focus on the online work is needed.

So, when talking about the absurd sense of happiness that surprised me when realizing the reality of the quarantine, I should begin by admitting that not everybody had or still has my conditions: not everybody felt safe and at home during this time, not everybody had the choice or the possibility to relax and discover their passions. Some may have been stuck between countries, enduring hunger and panic, some have lost their job and might face the terror of an unknown tomorrow or, even worse, some have lost a family member. There are definitely lots and lots of unhappy factors and situations to be added to this story. But when talking about me, one thing I knew for sure: I had all the reasons in the world to be grateful. My family was healthy, in a safe place, and so was I. I live in a comfortable apartment, I have Internet, hot water, a job, I am getting paid, I can choose what to have for dinner, I can sleep 12 hours a night if I want to, I can wake up and stare at the walls for the whole day, if I want. The only job I had (and still have) was to coexist with myself in the best way I possibly could. I soon realized that this pandemic was the opportunity for me to slow down, since I had always been in a rush, always running to catch trams or buses, running to avoid being late, attempting to calculate and organize my time so that I didn’t have to run anymore, staying up late so that I could win free time, and the story goes on. Now, I could finally do everything at my own pace because the world stopped running as well.

That’s how I started to learn Spanish (something I really wanted to do, but never found the time to start), that’s also how I began experiencing in the kitchen: I have never cooked such complex meals before and, most definitely, I have never watched cooking videos in my free time before. Slowly I got to understand that I am really passionate about healthy food and surprising combinations and tastes. I started to listen to different music and to discover new DJs. I redecorated my room. Another thing I got very serious about was my individual psychology study. I suddenly had so much time that I could endlessly watch interviews with psychiatrists and writers, I could read online any book I wanted, I could do some self-analysis and dream journalism.

And now that I am discussing mind and body care, during the pandemic I immersed myself in my daily meditation. It’s not only the night practice before bed, but also during the day I found myself gazing into the sky, wondering where all these birds are flying to so urgently, admiring the clouds’ forms, in short: I started to be more aware of myself and of my environment. Every morning I would go directly on the balcony to take a deep breath before
doing my stuff, but then I could not go away anymore. All I wanted was stay and watch the nothing taking place, stay and be. Actually, the only reason why I wake up early in the morning is because I need some time to be before I have to do anything. I don’t like waking up and having to do things or go places right away. It’s like I am being kicked and thrown in the external reality without having the opportunity to have consulted the inner one first.

Being all alone in a flat for three was never a problem for me. Having music for as long (or as loud) as I wanted and then imposing silence when I felt I needed it, without it being interrupted: this is what I call autonomy. I danced by myself, accompanied only by my favorite DJ’s quarantine live session. I read ridiculously gripping books which made me burst into laughter and talk to myself. I dream with my eyes open every day. What am I going to do once things get back to normal? For starters, I will appreciate real, physical books more than ever before: I hate destroying my eyes while reading on the computer. I will enjoy being in a rush again: I miss running (I am not a jogger, but a late runner). I will appreciate more having human interactions, real-life discussions and late night beers or early morning tea with literally anybody. I miss the sounds of a busy city. But let’s enjoy the present: I also love the sounds of a calm nature manifesting itself undisturbed by human activity.

45 Pandemic Thoughrs Oana (2)

More important than anything else, I will try to minimize the damaging print that I leave behind on this earth. I will try to live in harmony with all beings.