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  • Writer's pictureSintija Tocs-Macane

Trapped in the UK

Covid 19 has stopped a lot of things for a lot of people, but for me it has trapped me in a country I can't call my own.

It is getting closer and closer to Christmas and I won’t be able to travel back home to Latvia. It will be my first Christmas away from my family and friends. It is making me think of home and how much I genuinely miss it. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the UK, but it is very different to what I know, to what I am used to. Do you know the feeling when you go home and you just know everything about that place? You know how to get to a place you’ve never been to without using google maps or citymapper, you know how long it will take to get there, you know which tram to take.. I just realized how much I miss taking trams and trying to avoid the ticket guard a.k.a. the unnecessary stress I cause myself every time just because I do not want to pay 1.15 euro for a ticket. Ah, that is a game every Latvian loves to play, even though it is wrong and I don’t encourage this.. not after paying a 30 Euro fine that one time. Anyway, this feeling of knowing a place in and out is so incredibly satisfying and anyone who lives in a different country or not in their home city has definitely felt that relief when you go back home. It’s something I realise every time I go back.

Because of Covid I haven’t been able to travel back home recently, which has made me realise that I can’t go long without proper Latvian food from the nation's favourite restaurant, Lido. I also miss the granny-like activities like mushroom and berry picking, and marinating veggies. Another thing I missed out on was the annual cemetery festival, in which we remember the dead but also reconnect with the ones who are still living. I also do enjoy more normal activities like hopping on a train and going to the stunning seaside, trying to find the biggest ambers, and having fun road trips with my mates. Having great nights out and catching the first microbus home at might ask what a microbus is and basically it’s just a van, that takes you to places much quicker than a bendy bus, a regular bus or even a tram. Actually, one of my favourite memories ever is just cycling to the biggest market in Europe - yes Riga has the biggest market in Europe! Just me, my sister and my mum on a mission to get some fresh summer berries - obviously strawberries grow in every proper Latvians garden, so we are usually after blueberries and raspberries.

Game nights with friends, going to a sauna every week, going to thrift shops with my younger sister and being endlessly happy with how cheap everything is. Being happy with just how easy and understandable everything is. These are the wonderful things I miss about Latvia.

When the first lockdown started here in the UK I was still living my stressful student life in London, and as soon as I realised that London was Covid central, I decided I had to move, and fast. Luckly, I got to move to the North East of England and I could relax for a bit, focusing on my studies. However, I did have some mental challenges to overcome and for the first time after moving from London where I lived by myself. I moved to a town and lived (still do) with my boyfriend's family. No one ever made me feel unwanted, they are the loveliest people, but I really struggled to get used to everything. I always thought - I must be independent, don’t ask for help if you’re not absolutely struggling with everything, ask for help only if your life is falling apart… but that’s just not how it should be. A part of me still thinks in this way, but it’s never a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s never wrong to be in a position where you're the one who needs taking care of, not taking care of everything and everyone around you. As soon as you realise that and more importantly - get used to living with this mentally, you're doing yourself a massive favour. You're making your life much easier for yourself. I do still struggle with it from time to time, but I always remind myself that it’s me seeing things in that way, whilst everyone around me isn't. Only now I realise I was extremely lucky to be with people I really care about, rather than just be all by myself in London. It took some time getting used to because I have lived by myself since I was 18...sounds super sad, but honestly it’s lush! On top of that, I couldn’t go back to Latvia because of flight restrictions, so I had to stay in this little town I love dearly now, for an uncertain amount of time.

Eventually, I did go home... five months after the first lockdown was announced, after I was made redundant, after I didn’t know what to do with myself. I am quite independent and I am okay with being away from home for a long time, even though I miss my friends and have the best relationship with my family. However, during those five months I was really stressed and unsure about what was happening with university, but more importantly - my year abroad in China. For a long time I was being very optimistic, too optimistic even. I was sure I'd be able to go. China had opened its borders and I was looking forward to going away and actually being productive again. As you can imagine, that didn’t happen. Every morning I sit on my laptop at 5am, tuning into my Chinese university lectures. The Economist called this year as ‘The Year The Future Was Cancelled’, and that’s exactly how I feel. The only thing I was looking forward to was seeing my friends and family, but even that decision - when can I see them, was taken away from me for a long time.

It’s strange how I only get crazy homesick when I know I can’t just buy a plane ticket and be home in nearly 3 hours. I never thought I wouldn’t be allowed back in my own country. Every time I booked a flight it got cancelled because of lockdown in both Latvia and the UK being continuously extended. When I actually got to get off this island, Boris announced Eat Out to Help Out - at that point I didn’t want to leave! But my flight didn’t get cancelled for the first time in months.

Being away and in lockdown made me call my parents more than usual, watch more and more Latvian films and listen to Latvian music. Me blasting some quality Latvian rap did not impress my boyfriend, nor his family. Living in the UK has made me think in English more than in my own, native language. I know it could be a lot worse, but every time I think of how long I'm away from home and my family makes me a little sad, especially because I have so much fun when I’m there. I decided to come back when my studies started again, but now the situation is the same as in the first lockdown, here in the UK. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go home again.



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