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 Shannon in Seattle: A vet visit

Beezle is a daschund. He needs to visit the vet this week so we signed up for an appointment.

We received a text reminder to text from outside and be prepared to check in at the door. Owners cannot come in with the pet. They take credit card at dropoff to limit contacts.

The vet will zoom or phone when s/he is examining your pet.

Beezle hates this idea. He wants to leave now.

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.

Eileen from Spain – Problems

Spain has tried so hard during the pandemic to control transmission of the disease, with strict police enforcement through stop and fine. People generally have done the right thing. even now we are all wearing masks and self distancing. However, since our new normal there have been a few incidences which have worked against the control of the numbers infected, and now Spain is suffering. 

2 Bolivians arrived in Madrid 2 weeks ago. They were not checked on arrival for infection. They caught a bus to a town called Totana  in my region. On arrival they met many friends in a bar and then went to a night club in the town. These 2 people were infected and have closed down the entire town. 

Last night 400 migrants arrived from Africa landing all along the eastern coast, Benidorm to Aguilas about 220 kilometres. Previous landings which are now frequent have shown about 10 % are infected. These arrivals also manage to escape causing havoc in the community. The authorities are really stretched on where to house these people. 

Now today Britain has declared a quarantine of 14 days on all people arriving from Spain. This has put the final nail in the coffin to the very fragile summer tourist industry. 

This silent transmission of infection in unknown places has made us all nervous and most of us are going into self semi-isolation. We have done it once before so we will do it again until we think it might be safe to go further afield.   
Empty beach

Eileen from Spain- Summer on the Costa Calida

We have spent three weeks living a near normal life. The Spanish are generally trying to maintain social distancing and are wearing masks in public places.

I live near a Spanish holiday area where many Spaniards have to their holidays homes. However it is much quieter than normal . I think many have stayed away or are not going out to public places. See the photo of a popular beach taken a few days ago.

This coast is situated on the South – east coast facing Africa and about 150 miles away.

This time of the year we see many boats sailing from Morocco with migrants seeking a new life

A boat landed last week with 20 people on board. The authorities tested them and found one COVID infected man in the group. They hospitalised him and yesterday using his bed sheets he escaped out of the window of the hospital and jumped a good distance to the ground.

The police spent all Sunday searching the area and eventually found him in a nearby village.

The authorities wanted to quarantine the rest of the people on the boat in a nearby coastal holiday village. The residents protested in the streets until
it was decided to house them in an isolated place in the country.

Despite our near normal life we are all still very apprehensive as we know the virus has not gone away. Numbers infected in our area have gone up to 20 infected over the weekend, which for the area is very high. The province of Galicia has been locked down again and we are very unsure of what the summer will bring.
In the meantime we are very lucky to have many outdoor cafes and restaurants where we can self distance and enjoy the warm evenings.

Guest Post from Jonathan Merrett in Sallèles d’Aude, France: three activities …

In February I had three activities lined up:

our house was already rented out for six weeks over the summer holidays, and we expected the gaps would be filled in;

I had six weddings booked over the same period (I officiate at weddings at a local chateau); and

I was due to go and inspect schools in Nepal for a week in May.

By the end of March, the Nepal trip had been cancelled and so had the house bookings. As I write this, one wedding has moved to October, one has cancelled, and the remainder are waiting to see what happens.

Looking at the house bookings, since the French government has loosened the travel restrictions, we have had a number of French families and groups book the house (about five weeks’ worth currently). This reflects the government’s move to encourage French families to take holidays within the country. They have not gone as far as the Polish government, for instance, which has given out financial incentives to people to holiday in their home country, but the message in France has been to encourage people to stay within the country and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities here for rest and relaxation. With beaches now open and restaurants and bars being able to serve food and drink (with a one metre distancing rule and clear instructions about table service) the local tourist industry can operate, partially, and hopefully survive.

The wedding situation is much less clear as all of the couples and their families are UK-based. Will borders be open or not for what might be classed as non-essential travel? The bizarre introduction of a 14-day quarantine by the UK government has made things even more complicated – families don’t know whether to book their travel or not and don’t know whether they will have to fulfil quarantine rules or not on their return home. I say bizarre as so many of the rules in the UK at present seem to be not rules as we know them but sort of ‘indicators to follow if you feel like it’ – thank goodness most people are sensible and follow the rules and resist driving to Barnard Castle.

Over the past nine years I have travelled to southern Africa, South America, Nepal and various bits of Europe inspecting international examination centres for Cambridge Assessment. What will be the future of international exams now, or even exams in general, now we have had a summer without them? Students have graduated and will pass on to universities (though what are they going to look like in September?) without having sat or passed exams – perhaps this already suspect way of assessing students will change?

And what about international air travel? When will we feel safe to travel inside that oversized sardine tin again, breathing each other’s air for hours at a time? Will countries that have reduced the effects of Covid welcome guests from countries where it is still rampant (the UK, for example) and will we want to visit countries where the virus is still active in the population?

All three of the above are income streams which the virus has affected. None is our sole income, all are significant; but what of the future?

Guest contribution from Christopher Merrett in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: the sporting question

Runners in the Comrades Marathon

June 9. From the Thornveld: I had expected that lockdown might provide us with blessed relief from pollution, litter, noise – and professional sport. That was naïve. The airwaves and newspaper pages remained saturated with the clichéd thoughts of players, endless speculation about the completion of leagues and resumption of ‘normality’, and truckloads of utter trivia.

Sebastian Coe, head of global athletics, recently spoke of ‘frustration’ that ‘top events’ had no firm dates for resumption and said that athletics might act unilaterally and without approval. His attitude was deplorable; but also self-defeating because national health authorities make the decisions he appears to want to arrogate to himself and they are backed by legislation. But he demonstrates a blatant example of sports hubris fuelled by popular adulation and millions of dollars. And it is the last factor that is behind the agitation for leagues and competitions to resume as soon as possible: big money deals.

Here in KwaZulu-Natal it was not until 8 May that the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) accepted there would be no race this year between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Given that it has been blindingly obvious for months that a (perhaps the) main cause of viral infection is human proximity and density, clearly the CMA has been living on another, apparently Covid-19-free, planet. The very essence of the ultra-marathon is mass: the numbers of runners, the packed nature of the start, the race culture of group running, and the exuberant involvement and sociability of spectators (see the photograph above near the end of the 2019 race in Pietermaritzburg). Some of the classic moments of this gruelling race involve runners physically assisting others, particularly at the finish. There’s a very high chance that there will be no race in 2021, the centenary year, either.

One problem according to the CMA was that T-shirts had been printed and goody bags prepared. Sponsors had already coughed up funds, so yet again it all comes back to money. But it goes beyond financing to issues of entitlement and continued refusal to recognise that professional sport is simply a business. Indeed, many critics persuasively argue that it is just another arm of global capital.

Lockdown has cut a swathe of destruction across economies and societies. Many businesses will disappear without trace and hundreds of thousands of people will never work again in the formal sector. Why should professional sport think it is owed any favours; any more than, say, theatres, opera houses or concert halls? Commodified sport produces nothing of lasting value, material or intellectual.

But perhaps the virus and its lockdown will produce a positive outcome. Vast sums of money are locked up in sport courtesy of sponsorship and broadcast rights. In some sports people who have minimal skills beyond dealing with a ball earn enormous salaries and perks. Teams fly endlessly around the world impressing a gigantic carbon footprint. We are told the world will never be the same again. If so, maybe a great deal of this will end and international sport will be cut down to more appropriate dimensions and influence.

From the Thornveld is a site that provides access to writing by Christopher Merrett, a former academic librarian, university administrator and journalist based in Pietermaritzburg. He has written on a wide range of topics – specialising in the past on human rights issues in South Africa, particularly censorship and freedom of expression, and on the politics of sport.

Eileen from Spain – How shall we remember COVID-19

This question came to mind when a Corona trophy split the ladies golf group.

For the first time since lockdown the lady golfers arranged a competition and the sponsor donated a trophy which she called the Corona Cup.

This name caused feelings to run deep.

Half of the ladies felt they did not want to remember this awful time and did not want to receive such a trophy. Others thought it rude to play but not accept the sponsors generosity.

The sponsor explained;

This lockdown and its terrible consequences had not been experienced by mankind since the Spanish Flu and we had lived through a special piece of social history. Despite our problems during this time our Sponsor  had seen such generosity, kindness, sacrifice and solidarity, and those were the sentiments she wanted us all to remember.

As is always the case  the competition was won by a lady who did not want to receive the trophy even after the reasons were explained, so a bunch of flowers was given instead.

As life looks like it will be back to near normal in Spain from next week, we could easily forget the sacrifices that have been made.

I agree with the sentiments of the sponsor but I also believe we have to remember the meaning and consequences of  isolation and death as we are not out of the woods yet.

from Shannon in Seattle, WA: the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone.

Capital Hill, Seattle

My 13 year old son, Wren, and I made a visit to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle,WA. It was both inspiring and peaceful with a festival + BLM protest + collectivist atmosphere. We wore masks as did most people. Groups of people sat at good distance in the park ( there were dense crowds in places). People seemed happy and supportive, just walking about.

The carport door to the East Precinct police station
social distancing taking place in Cal Anderson Park

From Eileen in Spain -Living Together

I live in a multicultural resort in Spain, where nearly every Northern European country is represented.

It has been interesting observing how these different nationalities have coped with the lock down.

The Scottish on the whole have been living to the letter of the law, the Brits have been very accepting whilst the others have pushed the restrictions to the limits. They have shown a slightly more disregard and rebelliousness to the law.

My Danish friend walked 3 kilometres a day for a loaf of bread, my German friend took to caring for a horse so he could ride daily and my Belgian friend went far afield to exercise his dog when 500 metres was the distance allowed. Admittedly they never put anyone in danger but they had a different perspective on the situation.

However after 3 months of restrictions, we are all in accord about allowing strangers visit the resort.  The fear is real that after such sacrifice there is a chance we could still get infected.

Avoiding Spanish holidaymakers, mainly from Madrid, one of the hardest hit regions, will be possible as despite COVID, Spanish people are very much creatures of habit. For example, most of the shops in our village are now open and operating normally but tomorrow is a fiesta. No matter that they have been closed for over 2 months they will all be closed for the “Region of Murcia” holiday.

If you want to avoid crowds in large shops all you need to do is go between 2.30 and 4.30pm.Spanish lunch time. They are deserted except for a few non Spanish shoppers.The beach is similar with most people coming religiously between 11.30-2pm and 5-8pm.Even though many are still working from home or on furlough, restaurants are only busy at weekends.

I believe knowing these habits will allow us all to live together in harmony avoiding one another and keeping safe.