18.03.2020. Latvian Quarantine.
My birthday is in March. This doesn’t make me special because almost everyone I know has a birthday in March. But this year was special because I feel that my 48th birthday year celebration was the last big bang before the shit hit the fan.
Today, one of my friends in the States asked me what the quarantine was like in Latvia, so I have been inspired to write a quick post discussing the situation.
For my birthday, I celebrated with Rita and a small group of ex-pats from the states. We had a beer tasting at a local bar called the Beer Fox or Callous Alus. We kind of joked about how this was the last night before the end of the world because the Latvian parliament was meeting at that very hour to discuss how to handle the Covid-19/Corona Virus situation.
Prior to this, I had been reading news updates from around the world. Now, I am sitting here drinking an Italian wine (who knows how much of this is left) and feeling like I noticed how real this situation was when Italy shut down. Then the NBA cancelled their season. It really hit home when Formula 1 announced that they would not race in Australia. Tom Hanks?! Wow… this is serious!
Latvia had about 20 cases at the beginning of the week, and the last count I saw was 71. The official list of quarantine rules can be seen here in English. The tall and short of it is that pretty much every event has been cancelled, any gatherings of 25 or more people are banned, we are supposed to maintain a social distance of 2 meters, and schools are out for a month.
At the beginning of this week, the borders were closed, and now there are some Latvians stranded in other countries who need to get home. This is kind of crazy.
Because I have been at home resting and recovering from my back surgery, I feel that I am completely prepared for the Corona Quarantine. I have gotten used to sitting at home doing what I need to do, so I think I am ready for whatever comes next.
The good news is that I have a new job that allows me to work from home. We conducted interviews today using Zoom which worked very well. I highly recommend.
Max is home from school and getting caught up on all the anime in the world. Rita has also been working from home on her projects, so we are pretty much okay.
We did do a few bulk purchases of dry goods to avoid having to go to the market so often. But in all honesty, I think one of us has been to some supermarket every day for the past week. The outside world seems to be carrying on as best it can.
Rita and I went to Jurmala for a weekend birthday getaway. We were the only ones in the restaurant on Friday night, but there were some other guests having breakfast in the morning. The staff said that there were many cancellations.
I visited my physical therapist on Tuesday. She bumped up my appointment by 4 hours because so many people had cancelled.
AirBaltic announced layoffs, and I fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The entertainment, travel, and restaurant businesses are going to be hit very hard. I cannot help thinking about the avalanche of economic issues that are going to follow the quarantine.
Personally, I am avoiding public transportation. Luckily, the weather is becoming a bit more spring like, and I have been cleared to ride my bike again. It felt good to get out in the open air. I highly recommend it even if you are supposed to maintain social distance, get out and get some air!
I see so many jokes about how happy our pets are to have us around. Coincidentally, Rita decided that we needed to have a dog, so now we have Jacques the cat and Hanna the dog. Hanna is adorable, but very energetic and passionate. I think it is good that we are at home because I believe she has the power and strength to tear apart the very fibers of this Art Nouveau building that we inhabit. As it is now, she and Jacques take their rage out sparring against one another. I think it is all in good fun.
Life Goes On
I am happy to wake up each morning to hear the trams roll by on Miera iela. I see the workers across the street fixing up the old house. There are people walking their dogs and driving their cars. It is not exactly the zombie apocalypse.
I know that the spread of the virus is an impending issue and we do not know how all of this will end, but I am hopeful that people have a way of figuring out how to move forward.
Max and I took a road trip to Saulkrasti and walked on the sunny beach on Sunday. We saw a lot of other people who had the same idea.
17.04.2020. Quarantine: One Month Later.
It is the middle of April, and as T. S. Eliot once wrote, “April is the cruelest month.”
I am not sure what he had in mind when he wrote those incredibly accurate words, but April 2020 sure fits that bill. I do realize each and every day how lucky I am to be mostly healthy and to not know anyone who is personally afflicted with Covid-19. But I also cannot help but to check the statistics each day at worldometers and see how it is spreading around the world.
Maybe you aren’t like me, and I hope you are not, but I constantly think about all the people who have lost their jobs, and all the jobs that likely won’t come back… and there is this darkness that weighs on me as I contemplate the ripple effects of every impact of this virus on our world. I keep praying that this is going to end soon and end well, and that those of us who see the other side will see a better world. Maybe we are on the cusp of a new human Renaissance where we come back to realize what is truly important in our lives and we end this constant competition to see who can accumulate more things. But based on Amazon’s sales this last week, I doubt that this will be the case. Just seeing Bezos stupid face in that article creates a bit of rage in me, I won’t lie.
Here in Riga, the semi-lockdown state has created a few visible casualties. The virtual reality entertainment shop on Terbetes iela is out of business as is the clothing store on the corner of Gertrudes, one of the only places I could find men’s reasonably priced fashion. Several restaurants are closed (hopefully only temporarily), and most of them rely on Wolt or Bolt to keep the doors open. Last week, we ordered pizza from the nearby Delisnack, and the order was delayed by 40 minutes. Max and I sat there waiting, and at least ten Wolt orders were handed over to cycling heroes in that short time. I am not complaining, but just observing.
We have been taking the new dog for frequent walks around the city. Sometimes we get coffee at Caffeine, and all the tables are roped off. You can only get to-go orders, and the floor is taped off in 2 meter sections so you do not get too close to anyone else. Social distancing on your honor is the rule for the most part. Although the police are regularly patrolling the streets. You are not supposed to be with any more than one person unless you are with your family. So groups are discouraged. One man who has tested positive for the virus has been caught leaving his quarantine twice! Each time he was fined 2000 euros. I wonder what he needed to leave his house for?
I scroll down the list on the worldometer and see that Latvia is still below the Diamond Princess in total Covid cases with 675 as of today. Only 5 deaths… which is good. We are testing 16,595/1 million people, which is pretty high, and from what I see, the countries that are testing the most people per capita are having the most success at keeping the disease at bay. Awhile back, I wrote a post asking why we can’t just test everyone… make this a world priority… focus all production on making enough tests and training people to administer the tests. It won’t be a wasted effort. We will then have this infrastructure for the next pandemic (and there will be one) and we will have an understanding of how this spreads and how to control it. If I were president of the world, that would be my mandate. Test everyone ASAP.
One of the deaths here in Latvia was a university professor who was a healthy man in his 50s. His wife wrote about his struggle in the popular magazine, Ir. I found the report of his death in English, but it does not mention that Rolands Tjarve died of Covid-19. I find this interesting. Rita explained how the article in Ir reported the disease entering his lungs and just slowly suffocating him. Ventilators didn’t help. He just couldn’t breathe. This is what absolutely terrifies me about the disease, and what is easy to forget when you don’t see it for yourself.
We bought masks. Actually, I have a friend who advertised that she is making masks, and I bought three for the family. To tell the truth, I find it very uncomfortable and hard to breathe when I wear it. I am not sure if they do any good, but in a crowded supermarket, I feel better with it on. I have read that the masks actually protect others more than they protect yourself, but that is fine. I like to do my part. Speaking of crowded supermarkets, it is really hit or miss whether or not people are following the rules of social distancing. At our local, smaller Rimi shop, people are very good about keeping their distance. But when Rita and I went to the larger Rimi on Hospitāļu, people were not so concerned. I had to really work to stay away from people.
What is amazing to me is how every single shop I go into has some preparation for this crisis. There is tape on the floor to measure out the 2 meters of required distance. Cashiers are protected by makeshift sneeze guards that have descended, as if by some magic, from the ceilings. How did all of these get installed so quickly? Stores are equipped with sanitizers and gloves. Extra staff members are there to clean off carts and baskets. At the Sky & More on Krasta iela, a guard met us by the door with a thermometer to check our temperatures. At first I thought it was a bit invasive, but then I thought, “I like this! This is a good idea!” Shoppers there could shop with at least some modicum of comfort knowing that no one there had an active fever. At Depo, the guard was a bit less successful in controlling traffic. People were just squeezing together, and it made me nervous. Slow down, take it easy, you will get into the store! Everything will be fine. (I keep telling myself that!)
When I was about ten years old, some idiot poisoned some Tylenol capsules and seven people died. This led to putting safety seals on every single product we buy so no one could tamper with them. I guess it has been effective since we haven’t seen another round of poisonings like we did back then, but I wonder if it was overkill? Someone in the plastic business made a killing, and today, it is even more pronounced! Every single individual pastry at Rimi is now wrapped in plastic. All the meats and cheeses in the deli section are covered in an extra layer of protection. After this is over, will we continue to follow this regimen of extreme sanitation? Will it go even further? Will handshakes be a silly tradition that future generations laugh about? Will social distancing become the norm?
Time will tell, but back to my original thesis. This whole thing is just a black cloud in an already dark sky. I keep waiting for the sun to come out and give us some hope. Little things keep me sane. I like work. My new job keeps me busy and focused. I love hearing from people around the world to see how they are dealing with this daily grind. Friends, family and loved ones in general make everything more tolerable. And let us always keep our sense of humor!
One way we have fought off the blues was to take a short trip via rented car away from the city to see the gorgeous Latvian country side. We got lost in the woods, saw a waterfall, and breathed the fresh air!
How are you keeping sane? What keeps you focused? Share your secrets! If you are really bored, don’t forget to check out Fantasy Brackets… the game we developed a few years ago. I hear it is making a comeback.
I am no longer a full-time teacher, and I suddenly miss the sound of my own voice. I was just thinking how for 20 years I have spent most of my career talking to other people. My job has been to stand in front of a class and to communicate ideas. What impact is it having on my psyche to simply give that up and do something else? To spend most of the day in relative silence? What will become of my voice?
The cool news is that I have a gig making video content for 5th graders. More about this later when it comes to fruition. I am kind of excited about this!
08.06.2020. The End of the Pandemic (we hope!)
The last 3 months have been surreal. I have been recovering from back surgery, the world was thrown into a global pandemic, my father passed away, I started a new career, and now we have protests and riots in the United States. The good news is that on 9 June, Latvia will officially lift the emergency health orders, and life will go back to normal for most people. There will still be some restrictions on gatherings, but these will be much less restrictive.
Travel has already started to open up. We visited Estonia (my first time) last weekend. We spent a couple of days in the lovely university city of Tartu. It felt really good to get in a car and drive to another country. The border was open, and no one seemed too concerned about Covid.
The rule for coming to Latvia is that if fewer than 15 of 100,000 residents of a country test positive for the virus, then they are allowed to come without restrictions. Hopefully the tourist industry will come back to life. We rode our bikes through Old Town Saturday night, and it felt very empty for a lovely June evening. Please, consider visiting Latvia! It is absolutely lovely in June (and most other months)!
I feel very blessed to have a new job that has allowed me to work from home and to try a completely different path in life. I work as a product reviewer for a start-up company. We are just getting our feet wet right now, but I spend my days researching, reviewing, and writing. I have a terrific team and I feel at home in my new position. The work really demonstrates this notion that to really learn you have to start from ignorance. I admit I know nothing, and it is fascinating to see how much I can knowledge I can acquire in a short time.
No Longer Teaching
The strangest part of this new job for me is that I am no longer a teacher. I did do a little video for Latvian schools… an English lesson for 5th graders. I still have a few private students who may start learning again after this quarantine ends. But I am not in the system. Summer no longer means the same thing it used to, and I completely missed this nightmare of online teaching that so many of my colleagues were suffering through over these past few months. I still feel solidarity with my educational comrades, and I laughed at many of the memes and videos sharing the joys and pains of zoom classrooms and all the other things that go with online classrooms. The other day I was at a protest to save a local park, and after it was over, two young people asked me, “What do you do?” And it used to be so easy to just answer, “I’m a teacher.” But now my job requires some explanation, and it is not nearly as universal.
As many of you who follow me on social media know, we have a dog. A dog really changes your life. You can have a cat, and basically everything is just the same. But a dog is a much bigger investment. There is training, walking, feeding… the animal becomes a part of every conversation. When traveling, we have to take the dog into consideration. I will say that Hanna is an enjoyable creature, full of life and love, but she is a lot of work. She has been keeping Jacques Balsam, the cat, in shape.
June brings with it reminders of how life has changed. I was supposed to go to Tarfu, Finland this weekend for a NOFX concert that has been postponed. My sister was going to visit Latvia this month, but that is no longer going to happen. We are still planning to have a proper funeral service for Vitauts, but we are not sure when. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the air between is still a bit foggy.
Learning New Stuff
I have spent some of this time learning to bake bread, as I guess everyone else has done (yeast being so hard to find). I also took an online guitar class, but my skills are definitely basic at best. I am proud of myself for getting callouses on my fingertips and learning some new chords and scales, but my fat hands just do not have the supple flexibility to play guitar with any serious expertise. People with skill who can play guitar and other instruments have my eternal respect.
I also read a few books, visited the beach and did some recovering via cycling, walking and such. My back is much better, than you for asking. It is so nice to be able to fall asleep with constant leg and back pain. There is still soreness, and I am still not as fit as I would like to be, but I think things are getting better all the time.
In Latvia, we are moving forward, and hopefully, this setback will not be a long-term setback for our small nation. When I walk around our neighborhood, and I see so many young people out enjoying life, it gives me great hope for the future. Businesses have suffered, but there seems to be a spirit of rebirth and renewal as the sun reaches its annual zenith. People will be ready for Līgo, and as we pass the halfway point for 2020, they will be ready to move on from what has transpired.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention George Floyd and the protests and riots going on in the United States right now. I feel so safely removed from all of the noise, and this place of privilege only reminds me of how privileged I am and have been my whole life. I have had lots of arguments about race and racism with people I respect, but it is hard to continue to respect people who simply seem blind to the ugly truth about America. One thing that really sinks in for me, as an expat, a new person in a new country, is how welcome I am in Latvia. And how the United States was supposed to be the melting pot. My parents came from another country and they seemlessly integrated into the New World which welcomed them.
But so many black people did not have the same welcome. The iconic quotation from Malcom X comes to mind about Plymouth Rock landing on them… this idea that a group of people has lived in America for 400 years, but they have never been welcomed or given a fair shake… it is sickening to me. And there are many who make this political and they want to blame Trump and blame the police and point fingers. But growing up in small-town Nebraska, I saw the ugliness of racism everywhere. I heard lots of terrible language and saw examples of people who I thought I knew turn ugly when the subject of race came up. It never made sense to me.
I wish I could do more. Like so many people I know, feeling helpless right now, and just hoping for change. I salute all of you who are fighting and doing what you can to make your voices heard. Change is a long time coming.