Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of Produce Business.
The words, “You have been tested positive for the COVID virus,” still ring in my ears…
Thursday 25/11/2022, 23h59. I board flight KL0592 from Johannesburg, South Africa, to travel back to my home in The Hague, The Netherlands. I have just spent 4 amazing days in and around South Africa’s Kruger Park, where my team and I developed an amazing range of non-alcoholic distilled spirits beverages, using local fruits and herbs. I look forward to seeing my family in The Netherlands again.
Friday 26/11/2021, 11H00. We land in Amsterdam. The captain announces: “Due to an alarming new strain of the COVID virus found in South Africa, we are not allowed to leave the plane. We will update you shortly.”
Friday 26/11/2021, 16H30. After almost 6 hours of waiting in the plane, we enter an isolated area of the airport. Every single one of the 300 passenger is tested for the COVID virus.
Friday 26/11/2021. I receive the result of my test. “You have been tested positive for the COVID virus. You will receive further instructions from the health services.” I wait.
Saturday 27/11/2021. I am taken to a specially isolated COVID hotel close to the airport where I receive the verdict: 7 days of solitary isolation. The room is great, the medical staff attentive. But 7 days of talking to myself??
Saturday 4/12/2021. I am released from the isolation hotel, in good health and happy to be outside again.
So, what lessons did I learn during the seven days of isolation? My first realisation was that it is like being thrown into a huge expanse of water. You know how to swim; you just must simply find the right direction to swim in. For most of my life, I have been running around. Suddenly I was confronted with myself only and realized that I have not really put anything in place with which to keep myself occupied in such a situation. My life has been focused outwardly… now I had to reverse it. Being so accessible to other people every day can make it easy to forget to find quality time for yourself.
On the internet, I found the following argument that supports my realisation: “With external stimulation always just a click away, it’s never been so easy to avoid our inner worlds. Why would you sit with a feeling like boredom or sadness if you can distract yourself from it by texting a friend, or bingeing a Netflix show, or launching a Zoom call?”
When you’re thrown upon yourself, you realize you are more equipped than you realized. A lot of the system keeps us from realizing our own power.
Lesson 1. After the initial shock, I had to embrace the distress that I was feeling. I had to remind myself that it is only for now, not forever. I had to move on and make a plan.
Lesson 2. I had to set a purpose for the time that I would be isolated. Apparently, the sociologist Dr. Eric Fong once said: “It’s when people don’t see a purpose in their suffering that they freak out.” I decided that this isolation was a gift that would enable me to reconnect with myself and do stuff that I otherwise would not have time for.
Lesson 3. After the initial chaos involved in being awake for close on 48 hours, I knew that to get through isolation in high spirits, I had to set a daily routine, especially with regards to work, regular exercise, and nutrition. Although the temptation was there, I decided that I would not binge on working, watching television, eating, drinking excessive alcohol, or doing nothing. I knew that it would only make things worse!
Lesson 4. Because I am a highly social person, I had to engage my personal network. Talking to my friends and family at various intervals definitely brightened up my day. Their positivity became mine. I also realized that this was a golden opportunity to say things that I have always wanted to say. But I also had to be selective. In a situation such as mine, the whole world wants to talk to you. Answering every call would create chaos in my head.
Lesson 5. I had to activate all compartments of my brain. I made a list of topics and places that I wanted to explore mentally. I set specific times for allowing my mind to have ‘nothing time’. I had great fun simply closing my eyes, dreaming away and and doing mind-travels to the beautiful places that I have visited during my fresh produce travels, such as Mancora Bay in Peru, Guayaquil in Ecuador, Xiamen in China, and Atlantic City in America. I ate a virtual steak at STK in New York, had lunch with pomelo farmers in Pinghe in China, and enjoyed a magnificent meal with a local rural community in South Africa. All while lying in my bed in the isolation wing of the hotel.
Lesson 6. To have some “light time,” I had to find fun things to do. I counted the tiles in the bathroom. Twice. I made a playlist of hiphop songs, a genre that is completely new to me. I watched a rerun of the Teletubbies. I counted the flowers in the curtain. I smiled at myself a lot.
Lesson 7. I am as strong as my mind allows me to be.
I am thankful for having been given this experience that has made me very aware of the fact that I can go home to my loving family after contracting COVID, whilst millions of others died.
Be happy. Be kind. Be blessed.
covid #survivor #isolation #lovelife #gratitude
Nic Jooste is an independent fresh produce consultant who has done presentations at the New York Produce Show on multiple occasions. He lives in The Netherlands.