From Barbara in Florianopolis: An exceptional time

11 August

My circumstances are quite exceptional as we had moved to Brazil when corona was not a thing yet – but just one week before everything escalated, the lockdown was decided here and schools and shops were closed. So there we were, my husband, our two children aged 1 and 4, and myself, in a country we knew nothing about, without speaking Portuguese, with no friend or family around, without our personal things for almost two months (our boxes were blocked at the border because no-one was working in its warehouse anymore) – trying to entertain the kids with the few toys and books we had taken with us in our backpacks and with whatever else we could find. I could have never imagined how many treasures I would find one day in a simple shoe or a cardboard box. 

Five months later, we still don’t have our residency cards because all the administrative offices are still closed – and this has certain implications on our everyday life because everything here is so bureaucratic. For instance, because we don’t have a residency card, we cannot open a bank account which means, among other complications, that we cannot do online shopping on the Brazilian websites as they all require a Brazilian credit card. And at times when “physical” shops are closed or have limited opening hours or limited supplies, this is truly annoying and frustrating. Schools are still closed and we have no idea when they open again.  After having been re-opened for a few weeks, parks and public places are forbidden again. 

What we thought would be an exciting adventure and exploration of a new continent turned out to be a thorough exploration of our house. Believe me, we know every centimetre of it. 

Despite the strict lockdown measures, the number of infections has grown exponentially in our region. My husband Josh has just been tested positive. Weirdly enough, I have done the test twice and both tests show that I haven’t been infected. Which is a good thing as at least I can continue getting supplies from the local supermarket while Josh has to quarantine. 

I have also started working again – although of course, given our circumstances, I can only do a few hours here and there – working on a book (I was supposed to submit my manuscript to my publishing house in May but I am nowhere close to finishing a chapter!) and on agricultural development projects, including the organisation of an international conference at the UN in Rome next June. 

So – life is very slow and at the same time very intense. Just being with my baby and my toddler are enough to fill my days with joy (when will I ever experience such precious time with them again? Soon enough won’t they be teenagers and not return my calls?) but also to exhaust me and, some days, leave me terribly frustrated. Simply because I never have a break and cannot envision any at the moment. It feels weird to see pictures of my friends and family back in Europe going on holiday or simply meeting again for a lunch or a drink. 

Our life here is very limited – at least physically. For the rest, we try to use our imagination to escape and plan nice activities for our kids. Despite our circumstances, we still have fun and we know that our life here will not last forever. We just have to keep going, little by little and bit by bit. One day, when all this is over, we will look back and feel very proud of ourselves! 

But in all this, I just didn’t find enough time to contribute to this fascinating blog. Because the little free time I have I just try to do my work, or learn Portuguese, or just relax. And not being an English native speaker (I am French), I find it a bit more difficult and time-consuming to write in English.

From Barbara in Florianopolis, Brazil: No in between, no middle way

10 May: It has been a few weeks since I last wrote a diary entry. Time has passed so fast and yet so slowly. It seems that not only the way we live our life has changed, but also our relationship with and sense of time has been altered. Either we think in terms of the next minute or hour – what activity to do next with the kids, what to get at the supermarket, what to cook for lunch – or in months or years – will we be able to celebrate Christmas with our families, will my sister’s and Josh’s brother’s weddings take place in 2021 as originally planned (two separate weddings I shall clarify!), will we have to shorten our stay in Brazil and comeback to London after a year. But no in-between, no middle way. Next week and next month are not part of our life planning. Could the same be said about distances? We either live very close to our loved ones – locked down in the same house – or very far from them, even if not actually far, because social distancing increases all distances and undermines physical, close contacts.

Thinking ahead about the post-COVID19 life, whenever that will be, I am haunted by one simple question: will it be like before? Or will we have to get used to wearing masks and keeping social distances? Will this become the new normal?

Life has changed around us. People are all wearing masks on the streets and it would feel awkward not to wear one. Before entering a pharmacy or a supermarket, an employee takes our temperature and makes sure that we have washed our hands with a gel sanitiser. Stores, gyms and restaurants operate again to 30% of their customer capacity but schools are still closed. Yesterday we had food delivery and there was a label on the package indicating the temperature of the person who had prepared our order along with a code we could use online to watch retrospectively the recording of the preparation of the meal in the restaurant’s kitchen – so that we could be reassured that all hygiene and prevention measures had been taken. That seemed a bit extreme to us!

In many ways the measures that are in place in Florianopolis go beyond those in European countries even if the situation is much less alarming here. Brazil has now 135,519 cases confirmed and recorded 9,265 deaths due to Covid-19. More than 3/4 of the confirmed cases are in Southeast Brazil. In our State, Santa Catarina, there have been 3,082 cases of Covid-19 confirmed and 63 deaths confirmed.

Beyond numbers, people seem quite relaxed around us. Not much stress or anxiety. It is now allowed to go to the beach for a walk and for the first time since we arrived more than two months ago, we took the kids to the beach that is 10-minute walking distance from our place. They had such a wonderful time playing with the sand and seeing infinite blue space after staying inside the condominium for eight weeks. That same week, my uncle Misha in Israel died of cancer. Following the Jewish tradition, the funerals took place less than 48h after he passed away. Over sixty people came from all over the country to attend the funerals but most of them had to turn back. Due to coronavirus and for health protection purposes, the authorities allowed only fifteen of them to be present.

Not only we cannot live our life as freely as we used to, we cannot bury our dead and say goodbye as we wish either.

from Barbara P. in Florianópolis, Brazil: Sacha’s birthday …

17 April: Sacha’s birthday was today and this year it looked like no other birthdays. No friends or family around except us and three neighbours that we met a couple of weeks ago. Two days ago, I looked for presents to give him on the part of his grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. I could only find one small shop that would open on phone request and there was not much inside.

But oh well, having mainly played with plastic bottles and empty yogurt pots for five weeks, surely anything new would have made him happy. And indeed, Sacha was thrilled to discover his presents that we had hidden everywhere in the house as part of a treasure hunt game. He was also so pleased and excited to receive the many messages and videos that our friends and family had sent him. Of course, it was not the same as if they had been here with us, and we missed each and every one of them. 

from Barbara P in Florianópolis, Brazil: mixed messages from government

13 April: Brazil has now 22,720 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,270 registered deaths. To put these figures in perspective, it is useful to know that the population of Brazil is just over 210 million people. While no-one can deny the slow increase in the number of infections and deaths due to COVID-19, the country is still far from experiencing the disaster situations in Europe.  

Yet an article was published in the Guardian today entitled ‘Bolsonaro dragging Brazil towards coronavirus calamity, experts fear’. As explained in the article, Brazil may experience a devastating public health crisis similar to those that have hit Italy and New York if Bolsonaro continues to undermine social distancing measures.

At the same time, nearly all 27 governors of Brazil’s states have shown more awareness than their president by calling on the population to stay at home and respect social distancing. Yet more and more people in the big cities like Rio and São Paulo find it difficult to respect these rules, especially given the importance of physical contact in Brazilian way of life. Brazilians are also said to be increasingly confused by mixed messages from government, Bolsonaro ‘s defiance of distancing being highly criticized by his health minister. At the very least, there is a lot of confusion here. 

The best news of the day was that my aunt Sonia came back home after spending two weeks at the hospital. She is still very weak and cannot speak on the phone so I didn’t get to have a direct contact with her, but ooh – what a massive relief and what a joy to imagine her at home!

from Barbara in Florianópolis in Brazil: Family infected – and unpacking the new way

8 March. Miraculously, our moving boxes were delivered today! Everything suddenly speeded up. It did feel better than Christmas seeing our clothes again, and the kids’ toys and books, and Hannah’s bed after we had shipped them six weeks ago and had lived in Brazil with what we had in our suitcases only. The kids were totally thrilled. The house was becoming more like a home. It will definitely be easier to entertain the kids at home for a few more months. 

Removing our stuff from the boxes that had stayed so long in the airport of Sao Paolo and so might have been contaminated by corona virus became a special operation, with the use of several pairs of plastic gloves, hand washing after every box had been opened, and the storage of the boxes in a corner of the garage for at least 24 hours to make sure that all potential contamination by the virus had been removed even if the risk was very small. Josh decided we should celebrate the delivery of our boxes after such long time and he prepared a special dinner for us. That was lovely! 

Later that day Michela told me that her mother had been tested twice for corona virus. The first test was negative but had to be done again as the nurse had used a Chinese test that was found to be faulty. Apparently, China has sent a lot of faulty medical equipment to several European countries struggling with the corona virus outbreak. The second test was positive. Michela’s mother has had symptoms for 13 days and her fever was starting to decrease so she was probably starting to recover from it. That was the positive news. 

As for my aunt Sonia, she is still on a drip at the hospital in Paris. It has been more than a week now.