Where it all started
In sauna. Well, probably somewhere along the way even before, but sauna makes a more interesting tale to tell.
Ahmad always talked about Vancouver in Canada and how nice their goalball Grandslam was. That I should come to a tournament as a referee. So I guess before that legendary sauna it was just an idea, but after the heat and birch branches beating it started becoming reality.
I will talk about sauna benefits another day – there are plenty if only you’re healthy enough to go. Now I want to talk about the social benefit of it. As it was written in this interesting article about sauna in Estonia being the best social network, I think that’s just what played a big part for us too:
“We use friendships as a mechanism to both protect us against external threats and soothe us from internal stress./ … /For individuals, more meaningful friendships leads to more happiness and better health./ …/ The role of the sauna has changed a lot over thousands of years, but one thing that has remained the same across northern Europe is that it’s a communal experience. Going to the sauna enables us to connect more deeply with people around us. In fact, one study even claims that men who sweat together are more likely to co-operate together afterwards. Apparently, women are already good at co-operating.” Adam Rangtitle: After thousands of years, the sauna is still the best social network
I don’t know exactly which part was most appealing to the Canadian goalball players when they came, but after last year’s tournament in Vilnius, we spend an incredibly fun day hanging out together in @ivanasmusagonga where the guys got a nice birch branches beating and some beers in the bar downstairs (which is conveniently also the entrance to the sauna). Lots of fun stories were shared and Lithuania and Canada compared. For the rest, it stays in sauna.
I believe serious talks about coming to Canada started in early November 2019. And finally a ticket was bought in early December 2019. It was fairly expensive, about €570, but it was partly covered by the organizer. I started preparing for my travel by reading online articles and watching various Youtube and Netflix videos about Vancouver and had about enough sights to visit for 4 days after the goalball tournament. I was looking forward to go to this tournament in particular, because it is organized by a player that is my friend and I was expecting no stress as a referee and I have never been to Canada and I needed vacation, and….
As the tournament got closer, there was another referee who was supposed to leave with me and she decided a bit too late, so it was not possible for her to go. Then the organizer called my boyfriend to play for his (VGC) team, because he would not be able to dedicate so much. So he had to decide whether to go about 6 weeks before the start of a tournament. The tickets were then even more expensive and we wanted to be on the same flight at least from Frankfurt to Vancouver. For him it was more convenient at this point to buy two separate tickets (skip to later): one from Vilnius to Frankfurt, where he would spend a night at a friend’s place and then meet me to continue the longer part of the journey to Vancouver.
In the beginning of February the news about Corona virus was already pretty viral (pun never intended, yet here it is), but in China. China is far away from us and the virus is not travelling with stuff that we import form them. Funny memes were circulating about that. Then the memes started circulating about Northern Italy. We laughed, but then got a bit worried as somebody coughed or mentioned the Olympic games might be postponed.
A few days later, February 6th, in Lithuania the temperatures fell below 0⁰ C for the first time this winter, it was about -7 when I decided to take a walk. I was very adventurous and clueless about the cold, I’d forgotten what the cold feels like, because we just haven’t had any this winter. And somewhere between that evening and two days later I got sick, I only took two walks outside and one visit to the gym and one never knows how, but I got a virus. It didn’t take long before my boyfriend also got it. The family doctor told us he can’t know which virus it is and they don’t make tests for types of viruses here. The staff laughed when we wore face masks. After about a week we got better, me remaining with a cough that ‘is normal and can stay for up to two months after the sickness’. So I went to work and coughed. I believe it was very annoying for my colleagues and perhaps some were silently afraid to sit next to me. Yet nobody until today got sick, so I am fairly confident it was really just a cough that is still present at times.
When my cough didn’t stop and I felt some other pains in my body I went to the hospital and asked to be tested and to do a lung X-ray, EKG and comprehensive blood test. This time everything looked normal, no presence of a virus, no lung damage, no blood abnormalities. I really want to be specific here, even though at other times I would never reveal such detailed health condition. However today, in light of what we know about COVID-19, I am sure it is important to be very specific and get all the tests available out there.
This medical examination was made 5 days before the planned departure with the instructions from the doctor I can go back to work normally and travel normally. Just not to China or Italy.
New times, stricter measures
Yes, we did also ask the organizer if the tournament is still on, if there are some changes or cancellations. Everything seemed fine. Italy was still far away, countries close to us did not have many confirmed Corona virus cases, however unessential travel was not advised. We got instructions on how we would take care for our health and safety on the tournament: wear latex gloves, use hand sanitizers, spray benches and balls with alcohol spray, not touch any players (beware: touching with blind person is as normal as anyone can imagine – even required if they want to be accompanied somewhere or lead to the court; those contacts are as necessary as they are subconscious sometimes). New times coming and we need to adapt. Fine, all fine.
But what is “unessential travel” nowadays? What does it really mean? Mostly people understood that having vacation now is not a smart idea, especially in China, South Korea, Japan, Italy or on a cruise ships. BUT… what if you’d already booked this in advance? And if you needed to take a business trip? Honestly, until it was necessary, really last minute, people were not even asking themselves more questions – we were caught in the wheels and concepts of “cheap travels”, “open borders”, jumping from one continent to another in hours if you only had money. Europeans were all powerful, thinking nothing can hit us, “push it just a little bit more’, was out motto…
But then two days before our journey, on March 10th, especially as I was trying to get ourselves a travel insurance for the time of the journey, I asked myself those important questions. Is this tournament an essential travel? I want to go so much, but do we have to? If nobody cancels our flight or hotel or the games, we won’t even get our money back, that much was clear. And Canada is a safe place, they only have about 70 cases of Corona virus infected people. It’s fine. We’ll wear our masks (will we need those gas masks from I found on Vilnius fair?), disinfect hands, not touch our faces, follow the precautions, and we will be fine. I hope. Will we? Should we go? One day before I ask myself those questions… Am I crazy?
*to be continued.