DATELINE March 21, 2020, Medellín, Colombia.

As recently as a couple of weeks ago we were going about our business like everyone else: working, walking our dogs, eating out, taking long bike rides, exploring new corners of the city, and – John’s favorite activity – travel planning. And, oh, we had big plans: at the end of March, we had a long weekend visit to Bogotá booked. On April 16, we were flying to Europe for three weeks in Spain and Portugal, our big trip of the year. In May, we’d planned a trip to Austin, Texas to spend some time with family. We also have (had?) trips to Ecuador and Aruba/Bonaire on the books. And that was just the first part of the year.

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Today’s above-the-fold headline: a new country-wide quarantine

And then the sky started falling.

Like people everywhere, we’ve been watching with mounting horror and fear as COVID-19 has tightened its grip on the world. It’s stunning to reflect that only two weeks ago, we were thinking our trip to Spain might still be possible. “Oh, surely things will have calmed down by April 16!” And today, we’re heartsick to wake up to this statistic: well over 21,000 documented COVID-19 cases in Spain, where more than a thousand people have lost their lives. And then there’s the horrifying situation in Italy, where they can’t seem to turn a corner on this terrible illness and over 4,000 people have died. The courage and dedication of the doctors and nurses there, many of whom have themselves caught the virus, should be the first thing to remember when we start feeling a little sorry for ourselves about things like toilet paper shortages and, yes, cancelled travel plans.

0AFE5A3F-39F8-4994-B9B3-07A7EA333D85_1_201_a Colombia Expats in a COVID-19 World: And So It Begins Colombia COVID-19 The Expat Life
Thank you, Len Niehoff.

It seems that the entire human race has been caught with its pants down. Scientists have been saying for years that the world faces a major, existential threat of global pandemic. That threat is here, and yet, world leaders have done precious little to prepare. COVID-19 has been allowed to fly around the world at will, long past the point at which international air travel should have been completely shut down. Governments are independently developing vaccines and treatments, rather than pooling their resources and coming up with common solutions to benefit the whole of mankind. Some world leaders are far more focused on elections and numbers that make them look bad than on protecting their people.

A perfect example is the spotty and unorganized response to the COVID-19 threat in our own country, the U.S. The lack of effective leadership at the highest levels has sowed chaos, misinformation, and a cavalier attitude by a lot of folks, who either think they’re invincible, believe the threat to be overblown, or think it’s some sort of political conspiracy.  We’re encouraged that a few governors – California, New York, Illinois – have started to take matters into their own hands and enact strict quarantines and other measures. We hope the trend continues.

The Colombia response to COVID-19

Apart from a brief bout of political gamesmanship by the Colombian president (these leaders just can’t help themselves!), the response here has been proactive, fast, and organized. The official count of cases as of today is 196, with (so far, gracias a Díos), no deaths. A week ago, Colombia started restricting international visitors entering the country to citizens and residents only, and those were instantly subject to supervised home quarantine. Starting tomorrow, there will be NO international flights to Colombia.

The city of Medellín started early on to reconfigure hospitals and create new and expanded ICU units dedicated to virus victims. All over the country, shopping malls and other large buildings are being transformed to temporary hospitals with thousands upon thousands of beds. We’ll need them: health officials today are saying that as many as four million people might contract COVID-19.

D502D260-379F-4D6D-AF8B-09CE0E3E43CE_1_201_a-1024x761 Colombia Expats in a COVID-19 World: And So It Begins Colombia COVID-19 The Expat Life
On our permitted 20-minute dog walk today. Our little street is normally bustling on Saturday morning. Now it’s eerily quiet.
CB99D4BF-6CE2-41EA-84A7-AB0CE3C02C55_1_201_a-1024x696 Colombia Expats in a COVID-19 World: And So It Begins Colombia COVID-19 The Expat Life
This is Avenida Nutibara, a major thoroughfare through our comuna that is normally choked with traffic. The cars across the street are in front of a supermarket, already bustling at 7:30 this morning.

Yesterday at 7 p.m., our province of Antioquia began a four-day isolation period, which (as of this morning) has now been extended nationwide until April 13. Only essential employees are allowed to go to their jobs, and all businesses except grocery stores and emergency medical facilities are closed. People are only allowed out briefly for dog walking or food shopping. For ourselves, we started our own social isolation last Monday, so we’re already in this groove. We’re obsessed with washing our hands, not touching our faces (gosh, that one’s hard) and keeping distance between ourselves and other people. We have limited supplies of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, so we’re trying to avoid situations where we have to use too much of those.

Our good friends and fellow Medellín expats, Byron and Mariah Edgington, posted their own humorous and very informative take on life here with COVID-19. Move over, Panama Papers – money laundering has come to Colombia!

More than anything else today, we feel gratitude. And hope.

The world as we know it has been altered – probably forever – by this terrible virus. Just reading over that first paragraph reminds me how very blessed John and I have been to have the resources to travel and see the world.

5300B20D-B538-4788-94D5-79759993854F_1_201_a-1024x789 Colombia Expats in a COVID-19 World: And So It Begins Colombia COVID-19 The Expat Life
Our kids, on what may be their last car trip. This was on our visit to the little colonial towns of San Rafael and San Carlos only two weeks ago. It was a different world.

We’re grateful to have a secure roof over our heads, food to eat, and plenty of water to wash with. So many people around the world don’t even have those basic necessities, even in the best of times. What are they going to do now? And what can we do to help them?

I feel grateful I’m still able to work, unlike many others (thank you, Wall Street Communications!). We’re grateful that (so far) our family hasn’t been touched by the virus, yet. We’re grateful for our two fur darlings, Rosie and Tango, and that they’re healthy. We’re grateful for the internet and the means to stay in contact with family and our friends all over the world.

We’re grateful for the health care workers here, and the world over, who are willing to put their own lives on the line to save others.

Byron and Mariah took this video from their home last night, but the same scene took place in our neighborhood. At 8 p.m., people all across the city went out on their balconies to cheer and show appreciation for Medellín healthcare workers. It was heartwarming!

 

With things moving so fast, what is the world going to look like in a week? When we read back over this post a week from now, how astonished will we be with the changes? What is the situation going to look like a month from now? In August? In December? We don’t see any upside at all in the short term; in fact, things are about to get much, much worse in many countries. Longer-term, we see two scenarios playing out:

  • Governments will continue to be in disarray. People will keep ignoring pleas to socially isolate. COVID-19 cases will surge, hospitals will be overwhelmed, medical supplies will dry up, and health care workers will exhaust themselves. Many more will sicken and die as a result.
    OR:
  • 8C6B0D5E-BC55-4DAF-AB59-ABBB3303C387 Colombia Expats in a COVID-19 World: And So It Begins Colombia COVID-19 The Expat Life The social messages will start to resonate. People will get serious about isolating themselves. Mandated quarantines will start to have an effect, and the rate of new cases will start to slow enough for healthcare systems to manage: the proverbial flattening of the curve. In the meantime, real progress will continue on finding effective treatments and a vaccine. Calmer voices of leadership will start to prevail, bringing people together (in a virtual way, of course!) to put aside political differences and help each other cope. We choose this scenario.

Longer-term, who knows? It is a certainty that life as we know it will be radically changed. So many things we took for granted before, including the ability to travel freely, might be gone forever. There are plenty of silver linings: a chance to stop and reflect, take a breath, and be grateful. A chance for the earth to renew itself, an opportunity for petty divisions to heal, and a chance for people to come together for the sake of the planet. When the smoke clears (and it will), how will we as a human race step up to these opportunities?

We wish you all a safe and healthy week. Stay home and wash your hands!

41 Comments

  1. Gwen Manning Reply

    Thank you so much for your inspirational blog. I appreciated your insights. I think we are really lucky to be going through this pandemic in Colombia. The government has made good, swift decisions. The people in Medellin are very respectful of the laws and the situation. Where else has a city collectively praised the workers by cheering every night at 8 pm. Wow!
    It is a family oriented country and being together in quarantine is not a burden. Actually, most people work long hours and 6 days a week. It must be a welcome respite. You watch. I bet this country will nip this virus in the bud.

    Many of my friends are now having fun turning back to grass roots. Making homemade bread. Cooking. Cleaning house. Attending to hobbies. Helping the elderly in their apartments
    Even here, in my apartment, I am having time to interact with my neighbours. Playing card games. Learning more Spanish, and they English. Life has slowed down and is now ours to enjoy!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Gwen! We also feel very lucky to be here, where they seem to be managing the situation pretty well (so far). It’s a good time for everyone to take a collective breath and reflect on what REALLY matters. Even the air’s better today – have you noticed? A real silver lining 🙂 Be well.

  2. Gotta stay hopeful. I keep thinking of what Anne Frank and her family had to deal with during their 2 years of hiding from the Germans.. That was much worse than social isolation in a home with sufficient food, water, utilities, Internet access, television, radio, and music choices and the ability to step outside and maybe go for a short walk while maintaining social distancing.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Spot on. The sacrifices we’re making now seem tiny in comparison. As crazy as things are likely to get, we need to keep our hope and our perspective. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Wow, what a great message in that last photo. Happy to hear you’re doing relatively well in Colombia, especially by comparison with the US. Thankfully state and local governments are taking more effective action (than federal) and many Americans are stepping up in their own unique ways to help in whatever way possible, even if that just means staying home for a few weeks. Stay healthy!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I think it’s the people, not their governments, that will end up prevailing through this. It’s happened many times before and I believe it will happen again. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Thoughtful and timely post. Sadly, I believe your options, for what the world will look like in a week, will end up being the option with the dim forecast. There are still millions of people in the US who are not taking this seriously, and I believe there are still 6 states in the midwest whose governors have yet to impose statewide mandates. You know, because it’s just the flu (insert eye roll here) and because of the initial downplay of the virus from the White House.

    We live in Maryland where the governor has been highly proactive. And, we are on day 7 of our self-imposed isolation. I think we’re in for a long ride.

    Be well!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Completely agree. Even I’m not optimistic enough to believe there will be any meaningful improvements in a week (perhaps I should rephrase that part!). If anything, things are about to get much, much worse, especially in the U.S. I’m glad you live in a proactive state. Just hunker down and stay safe – it’s all any of us can do. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Good insights and info, thanks for posting. And thanks for the plug. We will indeed be astonished looking back. Here’s hoping it’s good astonished, and not head shaking bad.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome, mis amigas! Loving your posts as well. Maybe that’s how we bloggers will get through this – by continuing to pour out our thoughts on our blogs. Hugs to you both!

  6. Wonderful blog post! So interesting to read how other countries are dealing with the pandemic and how people are coping and trying to stay positive in the face of our new challenges.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you so much for reading, and your comment! Hope you and yours are safe and hunkered down.

  7. Great article thanks for sharing with us. Each government is handling things in a different way at the moment. We are not sure whether we are heading in lockdown mode here in Australia soon. Stay safe.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Jane! Hope you and Duncan are staying safe and healthy down there in Australia. And we hope your government and others start locking down sooner vs. later. We have to #flattenthecurve.

  8. Sherry Pedersen Reply

    I live in the US. California. I have no political agenda here but was saddened to read your comment about the handling of the situation here in the states. Everyone is trying the best they can, including the federal government. Each state must handle the situation as each state has different outbreaks. The feds are assisting the states via the request of the Governor of each state. Are there backlogs of medical equipment and testing. Yes. Just as in every other country. We too had a trip planned for Europe in April. Spain, Portugal, France. and England. All of those countries are worse off than the US. Is it because of poor planning. I don’t think so. No one could have planned for this. It’s terrible for the entire world.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi, and thanks for your comment. We don’t have a political agenda either, but we stand by our statement. The U.S. is a wonderful country with 50 amazing and unique states, but it is still the UNITED States. And in the absence of calm, decisive, and well-informed leadership at the top, leadership that defers to expert knowledge and leadership that understands how to motivate and inspire people to work together for each other, bad things happen. Our great fear is that this leadership void will be to the huge detriment of the people and country we love.

      And absolutely, the entire world was caught off guard by this, hence my statement about “getting caught with its pants down.” But I disagree with you that better planning can’t make a difference. There are now several countries that have been able to manage the virus more effectively, because they had solid plans in place. South Korea and Singapore, for instance. Iceland has an incredibly high case count for such a small country, but that’s because they are offering testing for every citizen. And so far, they’ve only had a single death. Here’s an interesting article about it: https://www.buzzfeed.com/albertonardelli/coronavirus-testing-iceland

      Anyway, this is not the forum for a tit-for-tat debate. Our main intent for this post was to give our perspective, as expats who are looking at things from afar, and also to send a message of gratitude and hope. We wish you and your family all the best.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you so much, Donna! We are hoping and praying for #2 as well. And we believe it will happen. Sending best wishes to you and yours 🙂

  9. Great coverage. Eerie to see your block so empty. Had also received By and Mariah’s blog and loved the show of appreciation in Envigado. Not at all surprised to hear that it is Medellín wide. Am glad that you are safe and healthy and appreciate your reaching out to us to check in on our status. We will get through this.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Yes, we will get through this, amiga, together – even if the togetherness is at a 6-foot distance or only over the “interwebs.” Lots of hugs to you and Fabio. 🙂

  10. When the virus started wreaking havoc in Asia last month, the Indonesian government consistently downplayed the risk the country could face given its unpreparedness to deal with something like this. Our health minister even lambasted a professor from Harvard who, based on his modelling, argued that by that time there should have been confirmed cases in Indonesia. He told people that Indonesia was safe because of prayers (of all people, I really didn’t wish to hear something like this coming out from a health minister!). Then when the first cases of COVID-19 in the country were reported a few weeks ago, most people suddenly woke up to a hard truth that Indonesia is just as susceptible to the virus as any other places, or even worse. As of yesterday, we’ve already had 450 cases with 38 fatalities, and experts believe this is only the beginning.

    I had booked a trip for the second week of April to a small city in Java. But it’s been cancelled. However, my mother’s biggest worry is if things keep getting worse until May, because at the end of that month the Islamic festival of Eid will be held to mark the end of Ramadan, and during this time Indonesia usually witnesses a surge of domestic travels when people return to their hometowns to gather with their families. I’m sure we all can’t wait for this madness to be over, hopefully sooner than later. Stay safe you two, John and Susan!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Wow, a health minister that told people prayers could keep them safe. I’m not knocking prayer at all (I pray myself), but that’s the kind of leadership that will get people killed. But that’s not very different from the way many other leaders have handled things, including in the U.S. I’m glad your country is coming around to the threat now. Sorry to hear about your trip to Java. And hopefully by the end of May, Indonesia will have wised up enough to cancel all domestic flights. I shudder to think what the world’s going to look like by the end of May, but I hope things are better.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment, and we wish you and your mother, and your family, health and good tidings in this difficult time.

  11. Thanks for sharing your insights, John and Susan. I’m feeling much gratitude and hope, too. Stay safe and be well!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome, Natalie. Thank you for reading. Gratitude and hope will get us through this, I think. Likewise, wishing good health to you and yours!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Mike – great to hear from you, and thank you! Sending virtual hugs and best wishes to you and Muzz <3

  12. Wonderful post. I too choose scenario #2. We’re in isolation for at least 3 weeks having just returned from Malaysia. It feels good to be home. I agree, and hope, that the world will be altered by this, hopefully in a good way. Medellin sounds like a wonderful place! Stay safe.
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Alison and Don! We’ve been following your saga on Facebook and we’re so glad you made it home. We have other friends in a similar situation who were coming from Spain and had to go into isolation, but now the whole country is under lockdown. Things are changing so fast with this situation . . .anyway, glad to hear you both are home safe and sound!

      • Thanks so much. We are so happy to be home. Hope your friends in Spain are ok. I think this whole thing is bigger than we can comprehend at the moment, and that many people will be stranded. 🙁

  13. My hubby was born in Colombia and has visited family in Chile off and on over the years. Seems like many countries got quickly on board to take measures to reduce the spread of this virus and it has made a difference. Although we are safe at home here in Northern California, our leadership electeds are fearful of many things made by these decisions, mostly the fear of not being re-elected. Cry me a river. Hope you are staying safe!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Isn’t it astounding that EVEN NOW, politicians are more worried about elections than human lives? You know what they say about karma. Anyway, hope you and your hubby are staying safe as well.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Terri – me again! I just visited your blog and read your latest post, and wanted to pass along our sympathy re: your mother’s passing. Based on your loving obituary, we can see she was a wonderful lady. Wishing you light and love today.

      PS I don’t see a way to comment on your posts? Am I missing it?

      – Susan

  14. Sobering stuff, guys. Can’t help feeling that both the UK and the US are sleepwalking into a nightmare that’ll be difficult to recover from. We feel lucky to have found some space and isolation in rural France for the next few weeks/months. But, as you say, it’s hard to imagine what the world will be like at the end of next week, never mind next month. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping ourselves to ourselves. And, of course, washing those hands.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We’re so glad you two have found such a lovely and peaceful place in which to hunker down. Hug Nicky for us and stay safe 🙂

  15. Great information and good to know Colombia is handling the situation so well! The talking points coming from the White House today are the reason I’m more worried about the people living in my hometown of New Orleans than I am of living as an expat in Croatia. Croatia seems to be taking measured and rational steps and is putting the economy secondary to this pandemic and the people’s health. They are listening to scientists and doctors, and currently only have one death and 361 cases.

    Let’s hope we all emerge from this situation more cognizant of our privileges and with a more earth friendly approach to our wanderings. I know I’m already feeling that in the future I should limit my overseas trips home and enjoy the beautiful surroundings here in Croatia more when restrictions are lifted. Previously we had been doing a lot more European travel because we could and two trips to the states each year. It was easy and fairly inexpensive because of low cost airlines and our proximity to everything in Europe. But ”it’s the little things“ as this pandemic has shown us. 🌸☕️🍝🌺

    Thanks for visiting wanderingoffsomewhere.com as I really appreciated hearing your take on this situation. ❤️ Take care and virtual hugs to you😘, Cindy ❤️

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Cindy! It seems that so many other countries – Croatia and Colombia included – are doing a good job of being proactive and staying out ahead of COVID-19. And then there are countries like the U.S. and Mexico. I am terrified for both, given the chaotic response in the U.S. and the apparent indifference in Mexico. It’s hard not to foresee disaster in both places (I hope I’m wrong). Astonishing that the U.S. president is still putting the economy ahead of saving lives.

      Indeed, the pandemic has given us as expats and travelers a lot to think about. Our long-term plan was to be based in Europe (Spain!) so we could travel more there. Who knows what the future brings now. Croatia has been very high on our list – I hope we still get to visit someday.

      BTW, were you affected by the earthquake in Croatia?

      Appreciate your comment. Be safe. 🙂

  16. Hi Susan and John! Your post echos a lot of what I’ve been going through. I too can’t believe the changes in the situation and in my own thoughts and behaviours over the last few weeks. It seems we are all going through a similar trajectory on slightly different timelines. I also feel grateful for my many blessings in life and have found myself looking back feeling guilty about frustrations on not being able to travel. I’m glad to hear of the positive and swift Columbian response. Stay safe!

  17. John and Susan Pazera Reply

    Hi Caroline – thanks for your comment. It’s a pretty strange time, linking all of us everywhere in a common struggle. Maybe that will be a silver lining – the disaster that brought unity to the world. I guess we can hope 🙂 Anyway, hope you and yours are safe and well.

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