Czech Republic,  Life Abroad,  Spring,  Thoughts

Surviving March, Pt. II: Embracing #MaskLife

Well, that escalated quickly. From the time I published the my last post on March 11th, the day after the first of our emergency measures (which was the school closure announcement), only ten days ago, the situation in the world has devolved rapidly (I predict ten days from now at the end of the month, we’ll be able to say that once more, sadly). No longer are people even speaking about traveling (and if they are, they shouldn’t be). I have since learned new Czech words necessary to understand for everyday life that I haven’t had to know before, like vláda (governance), nouzový stav (emergency measure), and omezení (restriction).

Where did we leave off? The day after my post went live, gatherings of more than ten people were banned, restaurants and bars to have limited evening hours, and the announcement that had people the most shook: the closure of our borders to almost everyone. (To put it into an American perspective, that would be like Washington sealing the border with Oregon, or New York closing the border with New Jersey) Two days later (Saturday morning), all businesses except essential ones were closed. On Sunday, the country was put under quarantine, which in Czech terms means more like “shelter in place” – we are allowed to leave only for purposeful, necessary activities (going to the countryside or parks are still fortunately allowed – I mean, this is the Czech Republic) and nobody is to meet socially unless they are part of the same family unit who is quarantining together. My primary place of work also closed. Two days after that, we were not to leave the house without a face mask.

This one sort of irked me at first. I was rolling my eyes at the convoluted information we were all receiving — initially, the public (anywhere in the world) were not supposed to buy masks as we should leave them to carers or healthcare professionals. Suddenly, what seemed like the following day, the entire population should be wearing masks. Oho, and wherever to get these precious little commodities?

Before we got masks, looking every bit like The Invisible Man.

The first half of the past week has seen industrious Czechs — from scouts to grannies, busting out the old sewing machine and sewing up a storm. Our friend Anna made masks for the lot of us, and probably for some of you reading this right now 😉 So thankful to know such people here!
There was a lot of controversy about masks. Many argued that particles can still escape cotton masks and that only an N95 model will do, but the Czech government and much of its people decided masks are certainly better than no masks.

So don them we will. I’ll tell you though, it is super eerie going out and seeing every.single.person. wearing masks. Even if you try to forget our current pandemic situation, you just can’t. Maybe not until you’re inside the house and get distracted by something long enough (maybe like, one hour max) to forget about it. Does anyone else wake up and can’t believe we’re still stuck in this nightmare? It’s very much like we’re living in a TV series right now, these times.

S/S 2020 Collection

As part of these measures, we are obviously trying to avoid how often we go into public places, like the supermarket. This has made me extremely thankful for every little bit of fresh fruits and vegetables around the house. Like, I will fight you for that last half a carrot. I have also really been missing fresh fruit.

In the middle of the week, we finally braved the shops for fresh produce; a divide and conquer situation as more than one person from the same household are discouraged from going grocery shopping together. It’s strange to see busy Krajinska (street) so empty. Some little eateries and restaurants along this stretch opened their front door, pushed a table up to make a little “to-go” counter — it’s wonderful you can still buy restaurant food to go if you are into that sort of thing!

I went to my local farm shop that day after 12pm. That day, the government had closed all food shops from 10am-12pm to allow the elderly time to shop without us germy young folk hanging around (this time has since been permanently changed to 7am to 9am, which makes a lot more sense if you know any Czech elderly folks). But I’ve digressed. My farm shop had placed large swaths of cling wrap across the counter area, leaving only a small area on the counter below (like a bank or money change window) to place your wares. All bread loaves were wrapped in plastic. But aside from that, I was completely in awe at such beautiful produce to be seen in mid-March. So much stock, nobody else in the shop. Two colors of beets. The ever elusive kale! Wild garlic! At the bigger supermarkets, Alex has reported that stock is completely normal, aside from the most popular kind of flour.

While panic-buying seems to be sadly setting in all over the world, I am pleased that the Czech people seem to only be buying what they need. The Prime Minister has assured everyone that stock will remain normal, so there is no need for crazed and hysterical consumer behavior. Yes, even shelves full of toilet paper.

The main thing I had also mentioned in my last post is that the Czech people are taking this really seriously and it’s incredibly heartening. Historically, they’ve seen enough war, occupation, regime changes, and crises to know how to deal with them. People are keeping their chins up and carefully carrying on.

As far as work, the past week was a disaster, as language teachers. We basically had a one-week funemployment staycation that we didn’t ask for. Going forward, I feel more confident about distance learning and teaching and will be a bit more insistent that this is the way it has to carry on, for now. I’m optimistic I’ll at least get to a two-thirds capacity within the next week or two again.

Mentally-speaking, we’ve been fine (so far). Both of us thankfully lean more towards the introvert side of things, but I am enjoying connecting with friends and family more often than usual thanks to messaging apps and video calls. As we experienced such amazing weather, the things I really miss the most right now are spending non-purposeful time outside in the sunshine (now that winter weather is back for the next week or two, it’s a non-issue) and cultural activities. When your only sunny and warm outdoor space is a public one, I foresee this being an issue. Also, as we don’t have a car here, our only access to the countryside beyond what we can walk to will be by bus or train. I have been holding off a bit on that as I’m not so eager to take public transportation just to be immersed the forest, but in a few weeks I might break.

As far as talking about COVID around the house, we have limited that to only from breakfast to dinner hours as it is far too easy to let talking or reading about it take over your life, which is in no way a healthy way to live.

We have had a bit of fun in the past week with all of our free time, though!

Last weekend I surprised Alex when I transformed our dining area into a Japanese restaurant — maki rolls, healing miso soup, low/candle-lighting, traditional Japanese music playing in the background — it honestly felt like we were at a restaurant! (Tip: Change the lighting, change the space)

Mmmmm, leftovers.

We’ve also had a lot of good walks in in the incredible spring weather and I even planted some of the first (cold-hardy) seeds at my garden plot. With all that delicious produce, I’ve been cooking up some fun things like the first batch of wild garlic pesto of the year. Tonight I’m planning a “culture night in” as I hope to stream an opera or theater performance from one of the many generous theaters offering these free nightly streaming performances, for example, the Metropolitan Opera. With living abroad and also living in this health crisis, it has delighted me how many things confined to place are now taking place online, allowing for people all over the world to enjoy them. One of the little silver linings at a time when any silver lining is appreciated. I am so thankful! Seeing how fun and creative people are getting during this time has really lifted my spirits, and I hope yours, too.

I am concerned for my home state of Washington, the worst hit by this virus of the U.S. so far. I fear that people don’t know how bad this is actually going to get, pretty fast. I fear that people aren’t taking this seriously and aren’t staying home. I think people are starting to pay attention, but we need more serious measures to get us(them) there. I would tell them to prepare for strict measures like the ones we are experiencing here coming their way sooner than they think. I don’t know how the ever-individualistic Americans are going to handle it, but they’ve got to.

It almost goes without saying that my upcoming trip abroad which would have taken place in a couple of weeks is cancelled (even if I was crazy enough to travel, the closed borders are pretty effective in stopping that) as, I’m sure, some plans are for you as well. Every fun cultural thing in next three months has been cancelled. Daði Freyr has been crowned de facto winner of Eurovision 2020 by the Internet at large.

And yet… spring is not cancelled. The annual awakening of the earth that we can reliably count on is happening right now. Blossoms are blooming, plants growing, birds tweeting. I hope this is both a wake-up call that we need to treat the planet with more care when this is all over, and sign that life soldiers on and everything will be okay in the end.

Stay safe and healthy, friends. It’s time to get creative and resourceful and find out what we can really do!

PS, If you are lucky enough to have a stable work and financial situation during these times, please consider making purchases which you would typically do under normal circumstances, or even an extra purchase if you can manage. Arts organizations or individual artists (musicians, theaters, newspapers, online journalism), small restaurants and cafes which offer to-go services, teachers or tutors, the online stores of small shops or artists in your community. It matters now more than ever who we buy from because their livelihoods are depending on it.