I floated between feelings of guilt, helplessness, and gratitude…”

An overseas wedding leads to lockdown for a group of Tritons.

Sarah Alaoui ’12 (second from left) with Triton friends enjoying a sunset in Morocco.

On Saturday, March 14, I got married in Marrakech, Morocco. I’d been hyping up the city and wedding activities for months in our WhatsApp group, and I was thrilled that five of my friends from UC San Diego would be making it. The day after the wedding, however, the country unexpectedly announced it would shut down its airspace, suspending all incoming and outgoing international flights as part of a new COVID-19 protective measure. This was the cherry on top of what had already been an eventful wedding planning process, as news about the virus—and the virus itself—was spreading around the world, and each day of the preceding month brought messages about new guest cancellations.

Overnight, we went from giving our friends tips about souks to explore, cafes to visit, and hammams to try, to giving them face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer for their journeys back home.

Many of our closest friends and family members had managed to attend our event, flying in from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. We enjoyed the time we had with them, and did not pay much attention to the unfolding pandemic taking place outside our bubble of joy. The Moroccan government’s announcement changed all of that, and like many others around the globe, placed the virus at the center of our lives—though as we would later realize, watching TV footage of the rest of the world, we were the lucky ones.

Some of our guests managed to catch their planes as planned while the new policy was rolling out, others had their flights canceled or rerouted. There was contradictory information floating around online from different sources—the Moroccan government, airline companies, embassies, the news—and it was difficult to get answers to our million questions. Was it better to stay put in Morocco, which seemed to be taking the virus seriously, unlike the headlines we were seeing from the U.S. where food and supply hoarding was already happening? Or was it better to try to find any flight out of the country while emergency flights were still being organized, given that we had no idea when the airspace would re-open again? 

I was lucky because while I live in the U.S., I was staying with my family in Marrakech, so I was already with my close ones. However, I had five of my best friends still stranded in the country, each going back to a different city. Two of them—Eva Kobi ’10 (Roosevelt) and Roxana Aminian ’12 (Warren)—decided to try their luck at getting a new flight at the local airport. At that point, the Marrakech airport was a disaster with hundreds of stranded European tourists trying to go back home from their sunny vacations. Eva and Roxana were told that all flights on the airline they’d initially booked were canceled. They ended up driving 3 hours to Casablanca, and again, no flights. After spending the night there, and hours of calls with different airlines, they were finally able to slip onto a charter flight taking French citizens back home.

All the while, I floated between feelings of guilt, helplessness, and gratitude. Guilt because they were stuck in the country after having attended my wedding. Helplessness because I had no information to help them get home. Gratitude because they attended my wedding, and we still managed to have a hearty celebration. I was hoping we’d be able to laugh about it all soon.

By the time Eva and Roxana made it back to Los Angeles, we were down to three guests hunkered down at my family home: Chase, a friend from San Diego, Yelena Akopian ’11 (Muir), and Elisabetta Lampedecchia, my former college roommate who had been an Italian exchange student at UC San Diego’s IR/PS program, now known as GPS. 

We half-laughed, half-worried about how long this would last. Life could have been worse than being isolated with my closest friends in the world, but I wondered if the same characteristics that made me befriend them—strong-mindedness, spirit, tenacity—were the same traits that would make us want to kill each other in quarantine.

The whole situation reminded me of those ice breaker games you’d play at camp or Orientation Week, where you’d each have to play a role—a sailor, a doctor, a chef—and pick who should die first given their capabilities and potential value to other survivors. I wondered who would be able to survive, who would keep their cool, and who would make the rest of the house lose it. 

Elisabetta prepares a meal for the group.

Chase was the easygoing, happy camper; Elisabetta was the fiery chef of the group, taking long hours to prepare Italian meals for us; and Yelena, former Guardian editor and savvy researcher, manned Twitter for any updates about possible evacuation flights back to the U.S. She was also the group’s COVID-19 rapporteur – consuming articles and articles about how the pandemic was unfolding and sharing the good and the bad with us.

We played Scrabble, we watched Friends re-runs, and we raided my parents’ fridge. Finally, we managed to leave Morocco within four to five days of the initial announcement. Elisabetta made the extremely tough decision to fly to Italy—at that point the center of the epidemic—to be with her parents; Chase flew back to Paris, where, as our new normal has made cooking a way to build community, she now Whatsapps us photos of homemade quarantine quiches (quaranquiche?). And Yelena and I flew back to what has since become the center of the pandemic, the U.S. 

My husband and I are back in D.C., daydreaming about our honeymoon, someday, when commercial flights will be back online. We have lots more time to plan each and every detail. Looking back on it, our wedding feels like a beautiful blur, and we’re still trying to digest the aftermath—the aftermath that has become the unfolding reality of each and every person around the world.

Sarah Alaoui ’12 is a political science major from Sixth College and former student writer for Triton magazine. She and her husband live in Washington, D.C., where she is pursuing a PhD in the Middle East Studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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