Last Tuesday, we took our regular afternoon coffee break at our local cafe and then went out for pizza later that evening. We joked that it might be the last time. The next day our cafe was closed. A day later all the restaurants and bars would have to close as per city decree.
A few days before all this we were having dinner with a friend and discussing staying in Medellin during the coronavirus crisis because it was so calm here. It’s still pretty calm here. Because the whole city and soon the country will be in lockdown. Shane and I took our last walk outside together on Wednesday. Since then, we go to the supermarket alone as per the rules – one person per household.
It’s a strange time and I’m filled with so many thoughts and feelings all spilling out at once. I panicked a little for the first time the day the Colombian government announced the weekend quarantine. Was that last Wednesday? I can’t remember. Time is moving at a different pace these days.
Last week we looked for flights to Australia… in case we needed to leave. We found a LATAM flight leaving Saturday. Saturday they cancelled all international LATAM flights. And then all international flights were cancelled. Or are they? I read somewhere that outbound flights might still be going out. Information is moving at light speed. And it’s not always clear.
There was a riot at a prison in Bogota. We’re not in Bogota and mostly I feel safe in Medellin. But sometimes I’m not sure we made the right decision to stay. But the question was always – Where would we go? Where could we go together? Would they let both of us in to Canada? Or Australia? Would we even make it to Australia if we tried or would we get stuck in Bogota or Chile?
We have a comfortable apartment. It has a terrace. We can’t go anywhere but at least now that the air is clearing up we can open all the windows and sit outside. The supermarket is a 3 minute walk away and, unlike in our own home countries, there is no hoarding. The shelves are fully stocked. In fact, they’re overstocked.
I’m so grateful for the internet right now. I’ve become accustomed over the years to staying in touch with friends online but at this moment in time, it’s even more meaningful. If there’s a bright side to all of this, I get to catch up with friends and I’m really happy about that.
And speaking of air, the air quality is the best it’s been in a while not just in Medellin. But all over the world. Maybe that’s the plan. Maybe Mother Nature just hit the off switch because no one else would. In November, just a few months ago, the EU declared a climate emergency. Just a couple of months ago, Australia was burning. Just a few months before that, the Amazon rainforest was burning. We are at a tipping point. And Mother Nature has hit the pause button. But is anyone paying attention? Will anyone change their ways when this is all over? I don’t know.
Judging by the hoarding in the supermarkets and the crowds of people at beaches and parks in North America and Australia, there is still a large part of humanity just looking out for themselves.
My daily Colombian routine hasn’t actually changed much. I’m mostly at home on a regular day anyway. I miss taking walks. My coffee break. A nice dinner out. Going outside at my leisure. But mostly it’s the same. Those outdoor breaks are simply replaced with more indoor activities – reading, writing, meditation, chi kung, yoga. And I think about how lucky we are to have a roof over our head and food to eat. I feel grateful. And I worry about all the people in Colombia who will not be able to work for the next 19 days and aren’t as fortunate as us. I worry a little about the violence that might ensue here when people get really desperate. There have already been protests and lootings around the country.
There are still people all over the world not taking this pandemic seriously. And how can you? I get it. If you’re not personally affected or don’t know someone personally affected, how can you take it seriously? When you look at the numbers compared to those dying from hunger, malaria, cancer, heart disease, it’s hard to take this seriously. But when you see how fast it has spread, how much it’s taxing health systems in Europe, how seriously it’s affecting certain parts of the population when it hits, it’s scary. We have a lot of elderly family members in countries where they’re only now taking it seriously and I’m worried.
We flew from Peru to Colombia on March 1. At that time, the coronavirus was only dipping its toe in the waters of South America. People were talking about it but it didn’t seem real at that point. At the local airport in Cusco, there were some Asians wearing masks but that seemed pretty normal. Arriving in Colombia, we were simply asked if we had travelled to one of 14 countries. We hadn’t. South America wasn’t even touched yet. A few days later, the first case hit Peru and then Colombia had its first case. But both countries remained in the single digits for a few more days so we weren’t nervous though we did start to think about what we needed to do if shit hit the fan. To be honest, we didn’t even know what that would mean.
We decided that it might be best to stay in Medellin. The cases are very low in South America and our feeling was, and is, that North America and Australia are not being as proactive as they should be. That it was going to get much worse there. We thought it was best to ride it out here. Worse case scenario, we’d just fly back to our home countries of Canada or Australia. So we looked up flights as, slowly, carriers began to cut back their flight schedule and then eventually cancel them altogether.
Things started to get serious pretty quickly here. The government ordered schools to close. Then they blocked the border to Venezuela. Then they started blocking people arriving from certain countries. Than it was all foreigners and even Colombians who are abroad. Large group events were cancelled. Football was cancelled. Bars then restaurants closed. Then they announced that anyone 70+ needed to shelter in place until the end of May. And then eventually, the government announced that certain major cities would be doing a quarantine drill over the weekend. The very next day, the government said that following this drill the entire country would be on lockdown for 19 days. Nothing but essential activity. One person per household at the grocery store. Everyone shelter in place unless you have a dog to walk. I wish we could borrow a dog.
I’ve had the flu twice. What I had both times was really bad. The first time was worse than the second. I was barely conscious. I couldn’t take care of myself. I fainted in the bathroom. I don’t remember that. Shane found me lying on the floor with my pants around my ankles and my head in the waste bin. I don’t remember most of that time actually. It was that bad. I wouldn’t want to relive that. Or worse.
I worry. I worry about our families. We’re very far away from them. I think even if we were near them we wouldn’t be able to visit. I worry about when we’ll be able to leave Colombia. And where we would be able to go. I worry about friends who have businesses that are falling apart. Debts that are going to be difficult to pay. I worry about the poor and the homeless in our communities. How will they get through these long periods of quarantine? I also think about all the people in the world who have been suffering at a far greater scale – through wars and famines and diseases with mortality rates that are much much higher. And I worry about the state of humanity. The state of our planet. The climate crisis that was a crisis long before coronavirus became a global pandemic.
And in all that worry only one thing is clear to me right now…
We’re all in this together. We all need to think about others and not just ourselves. We need to be mindful when buying supplies from the supermarket. There are other people that need things too. We need to get serious about social distancing. We have to act as if we ourselves are the ones that are sick and protect those around us from getting sick too. Don’t go visit with friends. Stay at home. Let’s not tax our health care systems. They are not prepared. The mortality rate of this virus depends on us. Ultimately the rate could be very low but it could also be very high. It depends on what we decide to do as a collective. Let’s make the short term sacrifice. We have been given the gift of pause. Let’s make use of that gift. Take some time to breathe. The air is cleaner these days after all.
It’s time to stop thinking about ourselves as separate from community. We are a part of something larger than ourselves. And now at this pivotal moment in history, we have the chance to help others and save lives simply by staying home, maintaining social distance, washing your hands, and only buying what you need at the grocery store. Is it really that hard to do?
Here is what we need to understand right now – this pandemic can only be eased through collective action that sharply curtails our individualistic behaviour in favour of the greater community and especially those most at risk. This will allow our health systems to better care for those who need care. This will mitigate unnecessary suffering and unnecessary death and we’ll be able to get through this and look back and be grateful that it only took as long as it did.
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. ~Mother Teresa