'I Feel Like a Walking Virus. But It Seems People Aren't Stressed'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: What it's like to be a globetrotter in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic

Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein
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Kalina Dobrowa, Marie Roder and Yohad Arkin.
Kalina Dobrowa, Marie Roder and Yohad Arkin.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein

Kalina Dobrowa, 26, moving to Sofia, Bulgaria; Marie Roder, 27, moving to Tel Aviv; and Yohad Arkin, 25, lives in Tel Aviv; Marie and Kalina are arriving from Berlin

Marie: I was interviewed for this column five years ago!


I was on a student exchange program, and I fell in love with the country. I said then I intended to come back, and I actually did live here. I did a master’s in combating terrorism.

And now?

Yohad and I were in Berlin for eight months, because he was on a student exchange program. He’s back and now I’m arriving and will try to get a partner visa.

What do you want to do here?

Be a journalist. I’m working now for a German paper, but I want to be a radio journalist. I applied to be an intern on the “Israel Story” podcast. I hope I’ll be accepted.

Kalina, what’s your connection to this?

Kalina: I’m Marie’s friend. I met her at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya when were both students and fell in love with her. We hadn’t met for a few months, and suddenly, at 6 A.M., on the way to the flight from Berlin, I see this tall girl. I thought I was hallucinating.

What do you have on your coat and your hand?

Braided threads. There’s a holiday in Bulgaria now called “Grandma March.” The weather then depends on “Grandma’s mood,” and she ties white and red threads on children. Actually, we buy them and everyone exchanges them as good luck charms for health and prosperity.

Does it work against the coronavirus, too?

I really hope so. These are for you to wear as a brooch and a bracelet. But when you see a flowering tree, hang it on it, so it will bear fruit.

Do you live in Bulgaria?

Not yet. I’m completing my master’s degree here in June, hopefully.

Why are you going back?

I need a little home time. I moved to Vienna when I was 18 for four years, and later moved to Berlin. I wanted to find out what I like; I was studying business administration but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. To study something and to work in that profession are two very different things, and before the master’s I wanted to get some experience. I specialized in producing events, in accountancy, and I was also a personal assistant.

Do you know now what you want to do?

Not really. I’m striking a balance between big goals and inner attentiveness, what’s right for me and what isn’t. I want to go back to Sofia, because it’s a refuge that demands a lot less energy. In Israel I need to fight for every little thing; in Bulgaria I want to rest on the sofa and to know that’s my sofa.

Have you never had a sofa of your own?

I never felt in any rented apartment that it was mine. I need a feeling of being in my zone. I’ll be happy to find a job that will allow me to wander but also have a place of my own. At the moment I have stuff in Berlin, Vienna and Israel, and I wander around with a small trolley bag with everything from elegant clothes to pajamas. I’ve never bought a picture to hang up. I have no deep roots or thoughts about a homeland but now I need the feeling of home.

What’s it like to wander in times like these?

I feel like a walking virus, to be honest. But out it seems to me that people aren't stressed. On the news, everything is exaggerated and stressful. It’s interesting that fear affects people in different ways. People need to go on being careful, but not to stop their life.

So you were told to go into quarantine?

Marie: We talked about that during the whole flight, because before we boarded we heard that we’d need to prove that we have a place to be in quarantine. I was really worried that we wouldn’t be allowed to stay. When my turn came I was asked about the purpose of the visit and I said I was trying to get a partner visa. They said, “Okay, enjoy.”

Yohad: Yes, the whole thing was very stressful.

Marie: Now’s the time to soak up sun and chill out.

Yohad: Looks to me like we’ll have to go into quarantine.

Marie: Yes? For sure? Okay.

Lindsey Longman.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Lindsey Longman, 72, lives in Leschenault, Australia; flying to Cyprus

How has the coronavirus epidemic affected your plans?

My husband and I had planned to take a longer trip and not get home until the end of March. We were in Portugal for nine days, and then we came to Israel for 12 days. We were supposed to stay on here for another few days and then go to Greece.

And what happened?

The airline called and told us that they were sorry for the inconvenience, but the flight was canceled. Greece wasn’t willing to accept any people from Israel because of the corona epidemic. So we shortened our stay in Jerusalem, because we’re afraid of getting stuck here for a long time. From here we’re going to Cyprus, then to Doha and after that home to Australia. It’s going to be a long journey.

Why did you come to Israel?

For a vacation. We wanted to go to a place with a culture different from ours, and we hardly knew anything about Israel. My husband is also very interested in agriculture, because he had a farm with wheat, sheep and cattle.

Did you manage to learn anything about agriculture?

The truth is, we didn’t; it’s very different here. But I did see children in costumes in the street, and I immediately asked why they weren’t in school. People explained to me about the Purim holiday.

Why did it bother you that the children weren’t in school?

Educational reflex, I suppose. I was a primary school teacher for 50 years, and I still work: I evaluate how students in teachers colleges teach classes and I grade them according to their behavior with children, how they convey the material, their passion for the profession, ability to control the class and other criteria.

Do young people in Australia want to become teachers?

Not like they used to, and I don’t blame them: It’s a much more difficult mission today. There is a lot of administrative work and bureaucratic tasks to be done: preparation, reporting, meetings, professional assessments. The teaching itself has become almost secondary. And I think that a great many people don’t like it. More and more is heaped on to the curriculum, but nothing is ever removed from it. You need to be a very strong person to do it. And that’s not the only problem.

What else?

The children. They’re not what they were like in my time, their behavior isn’t as good. First of all, they have “rights” and they are the “center,” and everything revolves around them. It’s worse for everyone, because there is no longer any authority, there is no one to lead. The parents themselves also disparage the teachers, so why should the children respect them? If Mom and Dad think it’s not worth much, the children will certainly think the same. But much of this has to do with today’s family units.

What do you mean?

To be honest, the nuclear family isn’t what it used to be. There are all kinds of peculiar families, and children hardly ever spend time with their biological parents. That’s part of the problem with their authority.

What else has changed?

Mainly technology. Children today are wired completely differently in terms of attention and communication. On the one hand, it’s important, it’s progress. Back then I stood in front of a blackboard with a piece of chalk in my hand, and that was that. Today the business has changed completely. But I feel that it’s all very clinical and distant. You no longer have the close relationship that existed in my day between the teacher and the children, the warmth alongside the discipline. My daughter is a school principal in England, and she says that they’re actually going backward: They don’t teach “how to learn,” but use some basic curriculum. They’re going back to Shakespeare and to classical literature. I don’t know any more who’s right.

So today you wouldn’t want to be a teacher.

I have a great deal of passion for teaching, and always enjoyed it very much. But today it’s hard even for me. It wears me down. But I meet parents whom I once taught, and that lifts my spirit, because many of them have gone far and are doing fine things.

Have they remained the same children you knew?

Totally! It amazes me to see how little the basic character changes – the adult is the child they were.

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