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Strange times in the neighborhood; Going a little crazy; My Covid encounter; It breaks your heart

By Alice Chaummers

Is this weird or what? The pandemia thing, I mean.

What’s so lousy about it is that it’s gone on for so long and there’s no end in sight. We’re used to disasters, natural and man-made, that have some sort of sequence — like a beginning, a middle and an end — that we can more or less count on. Earthquakes are over in a few minutes, hurricanes and blizzards in a few days and, for most of us, wars are a long way away. Just as important, in those disasters we’re used to getting information we all trust.

Covid is different.

Beyond believing the crisis could have been better managed – did we really need to wreck the economy? – I try hard to stay out of the Covid arguments, particularly when it gets to fatality rates, herd immunity, the HITs, IFRs and the other contested initialisms. I must say that I am amazed at how many world-class infectious disease experts we have right here in the Cuenca expat commumity. Even better, all of them are absolutely, positively right (and everyone else is absolutely, positively full of crap), with the links and YouTubes to prove it. Fortunately, we have social media and comment sections, like the one on this site, where the experts dazzle us with their brilliance and certitude.

Mostly empty restaurants are a sign of the times.

Two of the scientists I follow, John Ioannidis and Michael Osterholm — docs with very different opinions about the thing — aren’t nearly as smart as the Cuenca experts. Both said last week that in two years everything they’re saying today may turn out to be wrong.

New rituals and going a little crazy
How about all the new rituals we’ve become accustomed to? Like standing on white circles, wearing masks (aint that a conversation starter?), having our temperature taken with laser guns and our hands squirted with alcohol and performing pirouettes on disinfecting pads while guys in hazmat suits spray us down with God-knows-what. Best of all, we get to be treated like children again.

Speaking of masks, does anyone else have trouble identifying friends and acquaintances on the sidewalk? (“Oh, sorry, I mistook you for someone else who applies their mascara like a drunken sailor”). It’s kind of like a masquerade ball but without the music and champagne.

And how about the mental health issue? Aren’t a lot of us going a little wacky although we try hard not to show it? (It reminds of my college days when my friends and I would get stoned and go to the mall and someone would inevitably say, “Just act normal”).

Talking to friends, there’s some pretty serious anxiety, confusion, anger and just plain befuddlement out there. One friend who seems to be handling things with fabulous composure told me that she went out on her patio the other day and screamed at the top of her lungs. When her husband came running down the stairs and asked what the hell was going on she told him, “Nothing at all, dear, everything’s just fine.”

Dealing with it
For anyone who claims Covid is a hoax or like the common cold, I offer a heartfelt “kiss my ass.” Three months ago, my husband was packing my overnight hospital bag when my fever broke at 104 (that’s 40 grados for those of you who’ve gone metric). Like a friend who was also infected, I had terrible muscle pain for a couple days and then a lot of fatigue, but I’m pretty much recovered now.

I know a gringa and a Cuencano who died of it in June. She was only 58 but had struggled recently with diabetes.

It breaks your heart
It’s almost more than I can handle to walk past the families begging on El Centro streets. Most of them are Venezuelans but a few are Colombian, I’ve discovered. I carry a pocket full of dollars and half-dollars when I go out and yesterday I gave away $8 during a twenty-minute walk.

A refugee family begging on an El Centro streeet: It breaks your heart.

My husband and I give food to a Venezuelan couple with a small boy. They tell us that between the meals provided by local charities and what they collect on the street, they have enough to eat. The problem is housing. Most refugees live in historic district conventillos, run-down buildings where poor families rent rooms and share bathrooms, but some families can’t even afford these any more and are getting kicked out. The mother is six-months pregnant and said she gets good medical care from the Venezuelan docs at GRACE. Please, please, give to the local organizations that help the refugees.

Also struggling in the pandemic are the Cuencano beggars and street performers who have to share the charity with the refugees. My favorite midgets, who are not actually beggars since they sell candy, and the legless man on Presidente Borrero, say their proceeds are way down. But they aren’t bitter. “Times are bad and we are all hurting,” says Carlos, the little man. “We have to share.”

It also breaks my heart to see the restaurants struggling — the ones that have reopened, that is. The owners tell me that no one is making money and most aren’t even covering costs with all the social distancing rules. The ones that do the best are the places popular with young people, like Dot House and Chiplote.

What’s really depressing is to be the only diners in restaurants that used to be packed, at least on weekend nights. It’s happened to us at Raymipampa, Fabiano’s, Cafe del Museo and Tutto Freddo but, fortunately, business is picking up. Giovany at del Museo says that there’s slow but steady improvement but he worries there might be another lockdown.

Are you ‘woke’?
“Woke” is the new password into today’s youth culture. Actually, my favorite, even if it was a little before my time, is “hip.” In the 1950s and 1960s, hip was the way to be for cool cats and nobody over 30 qualified. Of course, in the 70s, “cool” was woke. My husband asked me yesterday morning if I was woke and I told him, “Yeah, but I’m going back to sleep.”