Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series that examines how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of Cuencanos and Cuenca expats.
By Robert Bradley and Sylvan Hardy
Paulin Jose, director, VIP Home Healthcare
Helping sick expats through the pandemic
Paulin Jose, Clinical Director, VIP Home Healthcare, has not had a day off in over two months. She works an average of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, helping a clientele of mostly foreign residents.
Her clinical support staff does the same.
The last few months have seen a dramatic increase in the number of folks who, while compromised before the Covid pandemic, are now showing additional signs of fatigue and depression, Jose says. People who were improving seem to have hit a plateau, or are slipping back from their progress.
Jose, who moved to Cuenca from India in 2016, sees a clear link between the damage caused by the pandemic and the decline of people’s general health — and not only among her patients. “Too many people are afraid to venture outdoors, even with all of the social safeguards in place,” she lamented. “As a result, they are succumbing to vitamin D deficiency, fatigue and the malaise brought on by social isolation.”
VIP is now caring for more heart-related conditions than before, Jose reports, mostly brought on by stress, lack of exercise, and alcohol use.
“Our mission is to treat the whole body,” she said. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical — now more than ever.”
Taxi driver, facilitator — and friend
German Zhina has been driving a taxi and facilitating issues for Cuenca gringos for eight years. He has built a well-deserved reputation for his commitment to his clients — often going far beyond expectations — in his determination to assist those in need.
The ongoing pandemic has changed his routine in significant ways. Although the number of folks he attends has dropped, he is spending more time with individual clients.
Folks who once were in a rush and only required him for transportation purposes, are booking longer time periods with Zhina, often simply to chat, or to accompany them on errands. These folks are more lonely than before, he says, and are reaching out for the comfort and companionship.
They often find the solution with Zhina.
He has come to a new understanding of his role in the lives of his clients and takes it to heart. He is developing closer, deeper relationships. “Many people need a friend these days,” he says.
David Morrill, expat
To travel or not to travel in the time of pandemic
For many foreign residents, a major draw of expat life is the freedom to travel internationally and, in particular, back to the home country to see family and friends. Covid-19 has made the decision of whether or when to travel complicated.
This wasn’t an issue for 15-year-expat David Morrill. “I have a new grandbaby in Oklahoma and there was no way I wasn’t going up there to see her,” After his March travel plans were cancelled by the pandemic lockdown, he was also eager to see his sons in Miami and Atlanta as well as his daugther in Tulsa.
He flew out of Cuenca in early July, two weeks after Ecuador reopened its airports.
Everyone has to make their own decision about traveling, Morrill says. “There’s a risk-benefit calculation involved and, obviously, if this was the Black Death or the 1918 flu that calculation would be different.”
He adds: “I have friends who’ve decided to put off travel indefinitely and since they have health problems I think it’s the right call. In my case, traveling is an important part of my life and being relatively healthy I would need a pretty compelling reason not to do it.”
Like other recent international travelers in and out of Cuenca, Morrill says there’s a “major pain-in-the-ass factor” in hitting the road. “There’s the due diligence involved in finding out the rules in the places you’re going. There are cancelled flights, delays and sometimes health checks.”
And then there are the unexpected, often bizzare, challenges to deal with. “Ever tried talking in Spanish to an airline ticket agent wearing two face masks and a plastic shield sitting behind a plexiglass divider?” he asks. “And then there was the discussion in the Dallas / Fort Worth airport with a security guard about whether I had to replace my mask after every bite of my sandwich or whether I could keep it off until I finished.”
Morrill plans to fly out again in February for his granddaughter’s second birthday.
Owner / chef of Tienda Cafe
Those who know Isabel Tinoco, the owner and chef at Tienda Cafe across from San Sebastian Plaza, are in no way surprised.
She made very good use of her downtime during the pandemic. Creative and productive by nature, Tinoco concocted a plan to stoke the home fires, and reimagine her restaurant so she would be prepared when it is time to re-open. First, she hired and trained an assistant, and now the two of them are testing new recipes and fine-tuning new techniques.
To accommodate anxious patrons wanting breakfast, and folks who want to chat over coffee and a piece of one of her signature pies, Tinoco opens the doors from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. while she and her assistant work in the kitchen.
In two weeks’ time, she and her staff will be ready. The mainstays of the old menu — plantain waffles are my favorite — and, of course, her world-famous pies will be front and center. What else she is cooking up we will just have to see.
Isabel Tinoco is spending her time following her passion and pushing the dark cloud of Covid-19 aside.