The last journey – in times of Corona -.

My legs lose their lightness the closer we get to the destination of our multi-day hike through the Baliem Valley. There is one more river to cross. Rapids swirl up the water under the tree trunk that serves as a makeshift bridge. Heavy rain clouds are in the air and will soon pour over us. Cicadas sound from the bushes, I listen to their buzzing and my footsteps, as in my head the orchestra of my feelings composes a melody – from the throbbing of my heart and the overlapping pulse.

In an hour, I will reach the Papuan provincial town of Wamena, log on to a very ponderous WLAN there after days of digital abstinence, and the world as I knew it will no longer be the same at that moment. This premonition creeps up on me. But when the latest information sluggishly reaches me, it overwhelms me with an unexpected force. I wish I had just kept walking, deeper and deeper into the mountains where the Danis meet the Yalis. Sometimes it pays to be uninformed – at least for peace of mind.

Suddenly, Europe closes its borders (where streams of refugees still stand), German vacationers are brought back with the greatest of effort as more and more countries close their borders or quarantine them, the Dax collapses, schools and daycare centers are closed, events are canceled, a worldwide travel warning is issued. In short, things are getting serious. A few hours remain for me to weigh up: Should I stay or go? And what does home mean to me? The unprecedented feeling of wanting to return to Germany overwhelms me. But how sensible is a return to the current Corona crisis area? Shouldn’t I rather wait for things to happen in Papua, where everything still seems more relaxed? The decision is taken from me just a few hours later. The Indonesian president is still resisting a lockdown, but the number of infected cases is rising and the health system is not prepared. The likelihood of shutting down public life hovers over us. The more crucial news, however, is that Germans will no longer be allowed to enter the country, nor will visas be issued or renewed. Yet in a few days my visa will expire. The belt of escape options is tightening. In the meantime, over 100 countries have banned or restricted entry for Germans.

At the airports in Wamena and Sentani, the temperature is measured. Health cards are distributed, a questionnaire is filled out. From now on, German citizenship is a stigma. Checking in at the next hotel is also a tough process after we put our passports on the table. The receptionist immediately pushes a disinfectant bottle over the counter and says “oh in Germany it is especially bad”. The fact that we have been far away from German soil for 3 weeks is also not heard. Whether we get a room is still in the stars, rather, after a long wait, another employee shows up who now wants to take our temperature. For the first time, I feel the downside of the otherwise cherished German passport, for the first time I feel something like discrimination – which otherwise many other Nationalities regularly experienced.

Phone calls follow in endless loops from Qatar Airways and some mails and messages. At the same time, we keep checking the news from Jakarta, Doha and Berlin. A rebooking is possible at the end, when we reach someone, but only at the actual flight price. At the same time, Qatar Airways advertises free rebookings on its social media channels. The return tickets to Germany for this week are in great demand, why not make a deal out of this situation, especially when you can calculate that Corona will probably paralyze air traffic for a long time. We are struggling a bit with our decision, barely having made it.

The longing for home diminishes the more I read through social media channels. After the wave of photos of hoarding purchases, it has now become en vogue to post pictures of people in parks with a finger pointing – no matter if there are large groups or even just two people on it. The message remains the same #stayFUCKINGathome – I’m limiting myself in solidarity with the most vulnerable, so please do the same! The “please” gets lost in the tone and shape of the caps most of the time after all. The tone is rough. I can’t get rid of the impression that the will to denounce and the call for restriction of liberties is growing. Solidarity is important, as is pulling together.

But is this really the way to reach the recalcitrant? Do these cautionary words even penetrate out of their own bubble – to the celebrating youth? I feel slightly uncomfortable when I think about the return. Bad times usually bring people’s bad qualities to the surface. They can strengthen togetherness or evoke antagonism. What kind of society do we want to live in? And what kind of society do we live in at all? Our living together is on a test bench. Once again, the selfishness of the individual is coming to the fore alongside the enormous solidarity. And it is always the other person who is selfish.

I only observe from a distance. What happens in Germany is only conveyed to me – by other people who already select and evaluate. Maybe it’s not so bad in reality? But the quick call for a curfew from otherwise liberal people disturbs me no less than the tasteless Corona parties celebrating young people and renitents who ignore the potential danger. Merkel’s level-headed yet admonishing voice acts like a protective band-aid. More sobriety, less emotion – that’s hard in these times, it seems. The interests that need to be reconciled in order to combat the virus are diverse. While Germany is working on the challenge of implementing strict measures to combat it, life in Indonesia is still going on as normal. Mouth guards and thermometers are certainly only the harbingers of something that has long been spreading, but has not yet been grasped in its true extent.

So we also go about our lives here normally. How does it feel to know that what you are doing will no longer be possible tomorrow? Worries and fears make way for a moment for the melancholic reliving of the last times. The intense

ive experience of moments that will no longer exist carefree for an indefinite period of time. The last laps in the water, the last time sitting at the fitness machine, the last coffee in the café, the last dinner in a restaurant, the last massage, the last touch. The time horizon of 4 weeks is certainly too short, how many infected people will there be by then, can the health system cope with it all, are the first measures showing success, do we have the curve under control? And what will social life look like after Easter? When can I see my parents again? And what will isolation do to us?

Above the rooftops of Jakarta, lightning streaks the sky. The world in a state of emergency seems ghostly. The next day, queues of Europeans and Americans form at the Emirates and Qatar Airways counters at the airport. Again and again I hear the words “We actually wanted to April, but” and “rebooking”. Already in the security check and immigration they get lost. On the plane to Doha, many rows remain empty (unlike later in the packed Berlin plane). As the plane taxis onto the runway, a thoughtful silence permeates the cabin. I once experienced a similar atmosphere when a plane had to take off again on landing in Lisbon. Shock stiffness or the gentle withdrawal of air as we held our breath – as if we didn’t want to impede success with any movement. Unlike in a plane that is about to crash. In such a plane, I once experienced in the 90s how passengers snatched the alcohol bottles out of the hands of the stewardesses and everyone became a chain smoker for hours. Partying and stupefying when there is no hope of rescue.

Jakarta is losing its size and contours among us. Indonesia will soon remain only a puzzle piece in our memory – of other times. The last journey. It’s as if life as we knew it is slowly running out of steam. The shiny, plump skin contracts, exposing what remains of being beneath the surface. Shrunk to mere existing and the struggle that comes with it. The pulse flattens, the veins of society threaten to freeze. Touchdown Berlin, March 21, 2020 at 1:20 pm. The birds are chirping. Spring is a day fresh. Tenderly, nature fights its way free. A woman enters the empty S-Bahn. “You’re all crazy, what’s wrong with you?” she shouts through the empty rows. “It’s nice weather outside, no one can enjoy it anymore, everyone’s just thinking about “that” Corona!” Even in the crisis – Berlin remains true to itself


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