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My First Week of COVID-19 in Town: a Week with More Transformations than I could Realize


Open AIR - March 24, 2020 - 0 comments

By Bertha Vallejo

I am an Open AIR QES Fellow with the University of Johannesburg, currently in The Netherlands, due to COVID-19/coronavirus. I have expertise in science, technology, and innovation policy analysis, particularly regarding technological and social change. I am currently researching the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies and its effects on local multinational’s counterparts. I have a three-year-old boy, and I am trying to get some work done from home under the current lockdown.

When COVID-19 appeared in China a bit more than a month ago, I never expected this to become a pandemic and to affect us on so many levels. Slowly, the scenarios that we observed comfortably from our sofas started to become our reality. How different it is to watch something that is happening far away, after dinner, just before going to bed, than it is to have the situation right here at home. I still remember how the situation changed in just two days; we were having dinner when a TV press conference announced virtual classes, working from home, and cancelation of events. Soon after, schools and public services closed. Suddenly, we were asked to remain in our homes.

The First Week: Keeping ‘My Reality’

The first week I started to follow the news, check WhatsApp regularly, and read posts on Facebook from people in Italy and other places around the world. I didn’t even notice when I became paranoid about the whole situation. I had restless nights, I was afraid of food supplies, of taking care of my family. I did not even associate my emotional state with the amount of trash news with which I was feeding my mind. That week I felt scared because I could not control what was happening. At the same time, I was trying to keep ‘my reality, my routines’ as undisturbed as possible. I tried to focus on finishing a journal article, clearing things from my “to do” list and pretending to keep life as usual. It was like swimming against the current, and soon, reality hit me: this is not life as usual!! When I accepted this, mysteriously, a sense of calm came over me. Of course, I didn’t manage to finish any of the papers I was planning to complete.

The Worst Came to Reality

Soon after, the nightmare of almost all working moms became a reality: daycare would be closed, except for those professions that were deemed vital (doctors, nurses, police officers, etc). My first reaction was to read the list three times to see how I could fit myself into one of these categories (I knew it was a bit desperate, but this was how I felt). When I realized there was no possible way I could be deemed ‘vital’, my second thought was, ‘What am I going to do with my son at home all day!!’ I could not sleep, thinking about how I was supposed to work with him at work all day. Looking back, I feel terrible about this, but that thought freaked me out more than the virus!

The first day with my son at home went terribly. His father had multiple calls for work, and effectively had to take over the ground floor of the house. My son and I were confined to the first floor, where I tried to type two words while he continuously came to me for hugs, playing, singing, crying, hunger, and whatever crossed his 3-year-old mind. I felt so hopeless and desperate.  The thought continually going through my mind was, ‘How will I survive this?’

Friends are There to Help You to Find Yourself

Later that week, I received an email that my weekly School of Community (a weekly session in which I reflect on my own experience with a group of friends) meeting will continue virtually. After reading the documents assigned to the meeting, I realized that we are so lucky to be healthy, to be together, to have good friends, to have a little boy disturbing my work because he is healthy and happy. I felt so ashamed of my feelings/thoughts of the previous days. The virtual interaction with my friends, to see their faces, to hear them share their experiences of how they were coping with the unknown, made me realize how only in company we can face our challenges and fears. Since this realization, I have texted my colleagues, my friends, my students, and my family to express my solidarity. I have opened my time for whoever feels the need of [virtual] company.

Today

Today, I am learning to type a few words with my little boy sitting on my lap, typing a paragraph having him on a carpet under my computer desk or playing games, while trying to finish reading an article. Today, I am waking up 2 hours earlier and going to bed two hours later to have at least some time for uninterrupted concentration. And, most importantly, today, I am trusting destiny. I still feel emotional about not being close to my mother, my brothers, and the rest of my family. Today, I am grateful for being able to be with my boyfriend, our son, and to have good friends whose company reminds me not to forget my blessings. Today, I am thankful for those that have opened their [virtual] spaces to make me feel less isolated. Today, I am open to seeing these events as an opportunity and a challenge. Today, I wrote this blog to share my experience, hoping it is useful to somebody else. Only in company, not on our own, can we help ourselves.