And the pandemic rages on. Weeks turn into months as the world waits for a vaccine. Europe had just started reopening when signs of a second wave came up. Other countries, like the US and Brazil, have yet to stabilize their initial curves of infection. As the number of cases creeps back up, so do the restrictions on travel.
Essential travel is still allowed in most countries, but the definition of what is deemed essential varies. Several people in bi-national relationships have been left stranded from loved ones, especially if those relationships do not fit into the traditional model of marriage. In times of Covid-19, authorities cling to bureaucratic notions of family.
Many will argue that these restrictions are meant to safeguard lives and prevent the spread of the disease. There are, however, ways to significantly minimize risk (masks, quarantine, testing). If “essential travel” is allowed, why not consider the needs of these families as essential as well?
That’s precisely what the #LoveIsNotTourism movement is trying to do. Campaigns in Twitter and social media have been successful in drawing the attention of lawmakers and the media to the issue. It’s also important to note that the movement is not vying for an exemption to safety procedures: everyone is willing to comply with quarantine, testing or any other required measures.
I empathize with #LoveIsNotTourism after being in a long-distance relationship for almost four years. There were no borders between us, but we were 3000 km (almost 2000 miles) apart in a time when there was no Facetime nor Whatsapp. In those times, my now hubby didn’t even have a landline and would call me from a pay phone after 9pm, because that’s when long-distance rates would be a little cheaper. Yes, I’m a dinosaur… A lot has changed, but one thing remains the same: the pain of being apart. In our case, we knew when we would meet again, and counting down the days made the wait bearable.
Covid-19-era couples have no idea when they will be together again. Some had purchased tickets and were just about to get together, some were getting married, some were going to attend the birth of their children… Many had already been apart for a long time (check some of their stories on Instagram).
I joined the #LoveIsNotTourism group on Facebook thinking that I could help someone with information on Finland or Brazil. I read many stories of love in all its colors, shapes, accents and nationalities. The videos of loved ones finally getting back together are full of raw emotion and love, simply beautiful. The way strangers help one another, providing information or reassurance, makes me rekindle my faith in humankind. I felt I had to do my part, hence this blog post.
The good news is that several European countries now allow travel of loved ones, although the situation for those who need a visa for entry is still complicated, as many countries have not resumed visa issuing services. The European Union has already recommended all countries to accept bi-national partner travel. So far, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Czechia (requires extensive proof of the relationship such as joint bank accounts or children), Iceland, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Germany (partners must have lived together or have been together in Germany before) and France have done so. The UK, with its open-border policy (travelers from even at-risk countries are allowed, as long as they quarantine) has become the favorite route for stranded lovers. But many are still apart and the movement keeps growing. You can help by sharing your support in Twitter and social media (#LoveIsNotTourism, #LoveIsEssential). Check the website, Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Couples are not the only ones. There are several families apart. Colin Hartley, from the UK, could not attend his adult son’s funeral. Shirajum Erin, living in Finland, can not visit her sick grandmother in Bangladesh. She says her grandmother raised her and that she is very ill. Hazal Türken, also resident in Finland, is from Turkey. Her grandfather died in March, soon after borders were closed. She says that being unable to attend her grandfather’s funeral was the hardest thing she’s ever been through. Besides having heavily impacted her mental health, what happened made her question her life and her choice to live abroad: “is it worth it staying far from loved ones when they face all the difficulties or beautiful moments?”
I keep hearing people argue that we have to learn to live with the virus. It’s the argument that often fuels the demand for reopening restaurants, stores, malls and even bars. Well, then. It's all the more important to safeguard the mental health and well-being of people stranded from their loved ones. Because #LoveIsEssential.
Konsuu supports #LoveIsNotTourism.
Because we also need love in prose and poetry:
Love In The Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda
Shakespeare's Love Sonnets, illustrated by Caitlin Keegan
Multitudinous Heart, Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Amar se aprende amando, Carlos Drummond de Andrade