from Barbara, previously in Brazil, now in London: Home

12 November 2021

Writing a last entry for the blog has been on my mind for so long, but I think I was unconsciously waiting for the moment when I would be at a point where a circle was closed, children going back to school and being happy, learning and having friends to play with; where I would be working again and enjoying more time for myself, with my wonderful husband Josh and with our friends and family; where I would feel home, serene and with more control in my hands. 

Funny enough, as the blog is just now coming to an end, I have also felt ready to write an entry these days. 

One year ago, we came back from Brazil. We rented a house for six months; had children at home during lockdown and experienced the challenges of home-schooling with a five years old, while looking after a two years old; moved back to our own house (at last); rediscovered the joys to have a walk in a park, to go to a restaurant and to see our friends and families again; became maestros in lateral flow and PCR tests (which we can now probably do blindfolded); became obsessed with graphs, reports and charts showing the evolution of Covid cases; unlearnt where to find information on the evolution of Covid cases; got our first jab; discussed its side effects; got our second jab; discussed its side effects; started taking our children to school and nursery again; learned how to not spend every minute of our days with them and to get used to that new space; look at them grow, thrive, make new friends and get on so easily with their life outside our house; learnt how to travel again; listened to others and how they have experienced the past year, some tragically, others less so. And we told our story, how we moved house four times across two continents during Covid, while everyone else was staying home.

Home. The focus of so much attention in the past year and so. We have learnt how to work from home, how to be together at home, how to not have visitors at home and see people outside the home, how to make home a multipurpose place where work, childminding, schooling, playing, cooking eating, sleeping and, when lucky, resting and relaxing, would all come together. For us who have been moving houses and continents during Covid, we had to learn how to make each house a home.

For sure, life is not the same as before, and we are not the same as before. Life with Covid has changed us and the world around us. We may still suffer lots of these changes for the foreseeable future, but we may also have positively decided on some of them – new priorities, new ways of looking at life and how we want to live it, new ways of looking at ourselves and who we want to be. 

This week after months spent at home looking after our children, while I was doubting this would ever happen again, I have finally started working again for a UN agency and for the French Development Agency. One of my projects should lead me to travel to Laos for ten days in early 2022 to work with coffee producers, Covid rules permitting. When I decided to move to London in 2012 to start a PhD, this is the type of project I was hoping I would work on once I would graduate. Almost ten years ago. A marriage, two children, a transcontinental move, a few different houses, many lateral flow and PCR tests and two jabs later, and Covid still around, this is finally happening, and probably in a better way than I was hoping for. I feel I have come a long way – like everyone else. And I feel so happy.

Covid was not a thing two years ago, and I know how the whole world could turn upside down so easily and so quickly. For now, I just want to enjoy these few steps ahead. Life goes on.

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. 

from Barbara in Florianópolis, Brazil: Community news and listening to mothers

7 March. We learnt from our neighbour that there are about twenty contamination cases in our neighbourhood. That was quite a surprise, although we knew that there was no good reason for our area to escape miraculously from the worldwide plague. We live in the island part of the city which is not very populated except during the summer that has now ended so we feel that this low density of population is probably a good thing to limit the spread of the virus.

Our house is in a condominium where there are about fifteen other houses, all with young children, thus we are faced with the question as to whether to barricade ourselves totally from our neighbours or to let the kids enjoy playing with each other every now and then. 

It is still unsure when schools are opening again – some people say at the end of the month, others mention September. I wish we had a few more toys and books to entertain the kids, although we are doing pretty good at inventing new games and making fun child-friendly scientific experiences.

We see more and more people wearing masks. I asked at the pharmacy: there are no mask available anymore in the whole of Florianopolis. We will probably end up making our own ones if it becomes clear that we need these. A few weeks ago, I turned down my mum’s offer of masks, thinking it was an unnecessary and superfluous precaution. Who said we should always listen to our mothers? 

from Barbara P. in Florianopolis, Brazil. State of Emergency. Diary to April 4

General overview of our situation. Our family arrived here one week before the crisis started hitting Brazil – and 4 days before Josh’s company banned all travels for its employees. We don’t know the country and don’t know the language; schools, restaurants and shops are closed except pharmacies and supermarkets, since Brazil entered State of emergency; and all our moving boxes are still kept by the customs. Therefore, we don’t have much of our belongings with us. I am trying to recycle everything I can and turn it into a toy for the kids.

Josh is working from home and his company is monitoring the situation here for us as expats every week

16 March. Took the kids to school. The Uber driver asked me where I was from, and when I said France, I felt some hesitation. People here start to understand how serious the situation is in Europe. When I arrived at the school, I was asked (very nicely) to take Hannah back home because she had a runny nose the week before! Not even a symptom of corona virus. Lots of misinformation here. I was a bit upset, especially as the staff cleaned the nose of two other babies in front of me while I was still there. I asked what about these babies – the person suddenly realised that they were indeed more sick than Hannah and she told me she would call the parents.

Later that day we received the news that the school would close the following day for 14 days. Josh told me that his company would monitor the country situation for all expats on a regular basis and that we could go back home if we wanted. Well, we don’t have a house in London anymore as it is rented out and we wouldn’t be able to meet with our families… so all in all, the situation still seems better here, having a big house with the kids inside a safe condominium.

17 March. I took Sacha to Decathlon to buy him a bike to practice in the condominium in anticipation of future difficult access to the outside world. That was a good move considering that Brazil entered state of emergency the day after. We also bought some papers, glue and other stuff to do craft activities at home. I thought it would probably be the last time Sacha would see the outside world for a long time.

18 March. State of emergency declared in Brazil. We heard the news in the morning. I rushed to Tok Stock (local IKEA-style shop) to buy some toys for the kids as we had only very few. Our boxes had been blocked by the customs in Brazil and with them all our clothes, toys, books and Hannah’s bed.

Tok Stock does not have much toys but I found 3 or 4 books, 2 puzzle games, two little chairs and a table for kids (we can’t figure out how to assemble it though!). I rushed to a mall next door hoping that the toy shop there would be open but only the supermarket and the pharmacy were open.

The kids were happy when I came back home with the bags. We kept all the packaging (cardboard boxes, plastic etc.) for creating toys of our own.

I saw a video of the protest that was happening in Sao Paolo – cacophony of pan-bashing against Bolsonaro’s approach to corona virus. The same happened in other big cities of Brazil. I went out later to take the rubbish out and heard some pan-bashing close by – either in our condominium or the houses just outside. People were also protesting here.

19 March. Built two robots with cans of coca cola and plastic bottles. Talked with Michela who told me that there were now 30 cases of corona virus positive in the care house of her mum in Italy up from 3 cases last week. She was worried that people were behaving in a very selfish way in London and that supermarkets were already empty at 10am.

20 March. Played new game Mikado (made of bag of skews found the night before at the supermarket) with Sacha.

Online French class for Sacha – he used to go to this class every Friday in London and was so happy to know he could follow the classes online. Felt like a bit of London in our home in Brazil. While taking Sacha out for cycling I met a neighbour doing his exercise cycling around the condominium. He informed me that the police was now patrolling on the beaches and streets to forbid all group gathering.

During lunch Josh informed me that his colleague Alex in India would be repatriated to London, and that two colleagues in Rio will be taken to Floripa by private plane

Made an airplane out of a can of Coca-Cola and bits of paper – Sacha was very happy. Hannah is still very clingy with me. Unusually clingy since we arrived in Brazil.

I went to the local butcher, pharmacy and supermarket to stretch my legs and see a bit of the outside world. No-one at the butcher. Pharmacy: alcohol to wash our hands at the entrance; edge protection of 1m in front of the pharmacists/employees. Supermarket: it is now mandatory to stop by an employee who pours alcohol on our hands and on the trolley or basket we will be using before entering the supermarket. Shelves are still very full. When paying I noticed the guy behind me with 20 bottles of milk.

24 March. Josh went to the supermarket and they now apply a 2m social distance rule between customers. They seem to take serious measures here although no case of corona virus has been identified on the island to my knowledge.

There are now 58 cases of corona virus in Michela’s mum’s care house – out of a total of 100 residents. Received a lovely message from my (Brazilian) former boss at the UN, who told me that this was a tough time to come to Brazil and that I could count on him for anything. Always very nice to hear but what could he do? It still felt good.

I offered to my and Josh’s parents to regularly read a book to the kids through Facetime as a way to have a privileged moment with them. They are all thrilled about the idea. Screens are not always so bad! Sacha is also doing an online yoga class every morning. He enjoys it very much.

Josh has now arranged his own work schedule so as to look after the kids two hours every afternoon. That way I could have a bit of time for my own projects. Much needed! Even though I am pretty sure I will miss this special time with the kids once the school opens again.

29 March. The political situation is unclear. Bolsonaro believes that the economic life should continue as before and that the coronavirus crisis is over-estimated. He is against closing schools and shops. Fortunately, these decisions are made at the local level. The Governor of the State of Santa Catarina, where we live, is in favour of reopening schools and shops this week, however the mayor of Florianopolis believes that schools and shops should remain closed for at least another week. Now, who has more power to make such decision between the governor and the mayor? I guess we will know soon enough. But even if shops and schools re-open, would we want to go to the shops and send our kids back to school knowing how bad the situation is elsewhere and could be here if we don’t take all prevention measures?

Today Michela told me that 3 people had died in her mother’s care house and that her mother has developed a fever. I also learnt that my aunt Sonia who lives in Paris and who has a cancer has been infected by the virus.

31 March. We met our little neighbours – a whole bunch of small monkeys jumping from a tree to the next one just in front of our house. We were all so excited. The kids were overwhelmed – and for me it just felt so nice to have a glimpse of the wildlife out there. That reminded me of all our travel plans and the beautiful things we could do and see in Brazil and elsewhere, outside the house and our condominium. Surely one day.

The spinning bike that Josh ordered online was finally delivered after the cancellation of the order by the first online company. Wow – things could work. We had not exercised for so long. I have never been an athlete, but I could not wait to feel my body work.

4 April. April has started as has Sacha’s countdown to his birthday on the 17th of this month. Poor little guy will not have the party he would have liked with his friends and family. And I am not sure what presents we could get him. The only place we can buy something is the supermarket. Bananas and chocolate as birthday gifts? He would actually love the chocolate bit! Meanwhile we keep inventing new games and toys. The kids love their time at home.

Bolsonaro is being increasingly isolated and faces calls for impeachment over his dismissal of coronavirus threat to Brazil. Who knows what will happen here and where we will be in a few weeks or months? Everything seems all too real and surreal at the same time.

80 patients have now been infected by corona virus in Michela’s mum’s care house and 30 persons have died. My aunt Sonia is still in the hospital in Paris. People in Josh’s family have also been infected.

We know more and more people who have been contaminated – and we are well aware that we will continue to know more and more of them. Who will be the next one, when, and will he or she recover safely? How many deaths will be announced by the newspapers tomorrow? These are nagging questions. We had no idea just a few weeks ago.