Covid in Argentina

Life in the time of Covid

We may be maintaining our distance, but the entire globe is sharing in a collective experience. For once, we are all in this together. We are fighting the same enemy, striving for the same outcome and working for the same goal. We can unite and understand one another because we’re all cycling through similar emotions in similar circumstances. And yet, while it’s all the same, we’ve all experienced it very differently. Government strategies and leadership, the volatility of an economy, varying population size and density, access to healthcare, access to soap and running water and a laundry list of other external factors make all the difference. Then pile on a personal level of your living and family situation, your employment situation, your mental health or relationship status and you’ve got a jumbled mess of lots and lots of feels.

How it went down in Argentina

I arrived in Argentina in early January 2020 to sunshine and summer. The plan was to stay in Buenos Aires for two months, go exploring the northern part of the country and eventually cross over to Brazil. I’d visit friends and fit in some beach time before my flight to Portugal at the end of April. Except Argentina is the only country in the world to suspend flights for over 8 months.  

On March 15 I boarded a bus for a standard 19 hour Wifi free journey to the city of Salta. Unbeknownst to me, this was the night Argentina started to take the coronavirus more seriously.

Around 11 hours in, the bus pulled over and officers in hazmat suits boarded the bus. They checked passports and handed out paperwork to the two Colombians, myself and three Bolivians on board. Apparently Argentines couldn’t possibly have had any exposure. Two hours later we stopped again and took the six of us foreigners to a makeshift tent. They took our information down again along with our blood pressure and temperatures.While it made absolutely zero sense that the other 97% didn’t have to do this, I will admit I was grateful because it would’ve taken hours to get through the entire double decker bus’s worth of passengers.

An hour or two later this happened again. I take no issue with precautions and protocols but the time for that was perhaps before we boarded and sat together on this bus for just shy of an entire day. What if someone had a fever? Would they quarantine the entire bus in this random small town for two weeks? Do you think something has changed in my condition within the last hour? At this point it was doing something just to do something. We arrived over 2 and a half hours late and were set free, missing an actual opportune time to take temperatures and passenger information.

Four days later, with around 100 new cases per day, Argentina went on full quarantine. International, regional and even local city borders closed along with everything else. The government cancelled all non-repatriation flights until September 1st. Only supermarkets and pharmacies remained open. Children were not allowed outside AT ALL so those without the luxury of a yard spent nearly two months inside. Dogs were only allowed bathroom breaks and in some cases going to grocery stores outside of your neighborhood resulted in a fine. A country of around 50 million shut its doors.  

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Quarantine

Despite how often I am on the move I am also very much a homebody. It started off as this unbelievable situation that was so unimaginable it was, in a twisted way, a little exciting. “How crazy is this?!” “Can you believe it?” Happy hours, Tiger King and hilarious self-deprecating memes were ways to fill all this extra time that I no longer needed to feel guilty for wasting. I mean, I had no choice, right?

Many aspects of my life didn’t change at all. I have worked from “home” for two and a half years and have become accustomed to dealing with the pitfalls. Similarly, unless I am fortunate enough to pay someone a visit, keeping in touch with friends and family is always digital. If anything, people have become more enthusiastic about making it happen than they were before.

My weekends, admittedly, became significantly less busy. I ended up filling those with some pretty epic cooking and taking the time to learn things I never would have before. I started flossing, devouring books, sleeping longer and took the time to really reflect.

With that September 1st deadline on the horizon, however distant, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. There were day to day ups and downs, but that happens in regular life too. I was able to talk myself out of the negativity by focusing on the gratitude for all of the good that was coming from the situation. On the small end I have been able to save money since I never do anything and I have finally made the time to work on a multitude of projects I’ve been talking about for ages. On the larger end I kept my job and those I love have been healthy throughout this entire ordeal.  

Fall turned to winter as the months went by little by little things started to open up. We were able to recreationally walk (not run, but walk) for an hour a day within 500 meters of our houses. Bars and restaurants began to open with restrictions, shops opened 3 days a week, depending on your ID number, actual exercise was eventually allowed and as long as you had a mask life was starting to resemble what it had before.

Homemade potato and mushroom vareniki

Homemade potato and mushroom vareniki

Homemade deep dish pizza

Homemade deep dish pizza

Linguine, orecchiette and trofie

Linguine, orecchiette and trofie

Homemade veggie pot pie with a sage butter crust and homemade herbed cornbread

Homemade veggie pot pie with a sage butter crust and homemade herbed cornbread

The Spiral

But as time went on, the world started to divide. Some countries got better while others got worse, an already polarized political system in the United States escalated to a level beyond ludicrous and the fight for equality finally started to gain traction as the privileged began to learn that we’ve been on the wrong side of this thing the entire time. The weight of these divisions hit hard as the novelty of the absurdity started to wear off and people grew tired of being so inconvenienced.

The time I had to reflect quickly morphed into something completely different. I had so much time to think that once I ran out of things I started tearing open old wounds to dive back in to those. Work became the center of my days which is unhealthy for me and why I left the United States in the first place.  It was one thing when the whole world was shut down but watching others get to travel and attend weddings and go out to eat has been a particularly different brand of torture. Throwing around judgement has become easier than ever, anxiety inducing headlines and cringe worthy stories fill the internet which is the only place I ever get to go to anymore.   

As September 1 approached, so too, did the rise in cases. Up from 100 new cases per day it began to rise to anywhere from 9,000 – 12,000 new cases per day. Things started to close down again and September 1 changed to the 20th which then moved to October 11 which may be pushed again. With that end date long gone and the election drawing nearer it has been harder and harder to maintain a positive outlook.

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So, what now?  

I’ve seen memes and had conversations about how wild it is that we’re making history right now but to be quite honest I don’t really agree. I had never heard of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 until comparisons were being made to Covid-19. In just over two years 500 million people infected and an estimated death toll between 17 and 50 million. The Great Depression is a small chapter in an elementary school history book that basically said, “Times were tough, it was crazy and sad, thank goodness it ended,” sprinkled in with a little context on either side. We all thought, “Wow that sucks. I can’t imagine. But also, do you want to trade Lunchables?” What’s so different about this except that we’re the ones being affected now?

Everyone has been waiting on the edge of their seat for the vaccine to come out and for this to suddenly be over. Instead of trying to find a new normal we’ve burnt out waiting for the end and have started trying to get back to normal life which has led to second waves and more outbreaks. We are so quick to forget. Every time I wake up with a hangover I say to myself, wow, never doing THAT again.  Let’s just say that if I had a Covid vaccine for every time I’ve said that…. The world would be safe. Instead, I wait for the Advil to kick in and order bottomless mimosas at brunch that very same morning (but maybe this is a personal problem).

We have been stripped down to the bare bones and what have we found? Essential workers are underpaid and undervalued, aggressive nationalism and a highly individualistic society.  Aren’t we taught history so as not to repeat it? Where are we headed?  

The world is changing and we have to adapt with it. We can’t move forward living the lives we used to nor can we make any progress locked down. There is no one right answer. Being safe at home could mean not working but going to work could mean sacrificing the safety of yourself and those you love. We need to learn how find a more sustainable middle ground because seesawing between extremes isn’t going to work.

The Way Forward

It’s much easier said than done. All of it is. We can do nothing about it and we can do everything about it. I have no control over when flights start again, when borders open, when curfew is over, when the restaurants open. I have no control over how the world reacts or a vaccine release. Regulations and the behavior of others is very much out of my hands.  And I have to let that go.

What I do have control over is myself and my behavior. I can wear a mask and make smart decisions. I can continue to use this gift of time in a positive way. These last few months I am writing more, taking online classes and not shaving my legs. My clothes are finally on hangers and in drawers and I am trying to relish in having a routine. I can day dream about future plans and I can forgive myself on bad days. I can vote. It’s important to recognize how privileged I am but allow myself to feel sorry for myself every now and again too. It’s ok to indulge in junk food until I feel sick because it still brings me joy and it’s ok to talk yourself into things and then out of things or to start a project and then give up. 

Be kind to yourself, be kind to others because we all feel different things at different times. Support each other and give each other space. Push yourself – you’re capable of more than you think. But forgive yourself too, if you need to take a day off or sleep in or take a break.

I didn’t want to get into the politics and economics of Argentina because I wouldn’t do it justice. That being said, they are being hit particularly hard here. If you would like to help struggling families in Buenos Aires visit this website (in English). It lists a few different organizations where you can send donations. If you would like to help out elsewhere, World Central Kitchen is one of my faves Stateside and The WHO and Global Giving have global relief funds! 

It’s still easier said than done. But you can’t get anywhere if you don’t start. So, whatever it is you choose and however it is you move forward, just starting doing it. Be purposeful, be understanding and most importantly, be safe!