Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Part Two)
Things have devolved with the pandemic situation since my last post, and because things are changing so fast, what I wrote before now seems downright frivolous. This post may seem that way now or two weeks from now, but I just wanted to let people know why are here and what is happening with us in Croatia.
Yesterday I have to admit I had a bit of a panic attack because of the coronavirus. I have been trying to remain calm because it seems that is what people are doing here in Croatia, especially from what I am seeing here in the city of Pula where we are living at this time.
As U.S. citizens we have obtained another one year residency visa in Croatia that will end on Dec. 27 of 2020. We had planned on staying here just until November so we could spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families in the USA, but along came Covid-19 and the decision to stay here all of a sudden seemed suspect and dangerous and a little scary. What incited the panic in me was a notice from the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb that said:
“Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. U.S. citizens who are considering returning to the United States are urged to work with their airlines to make travel arrangements while flights are still available.”
The “still available” was what was cause the panic to rise inside. Getting home has never been something I thought would not be “available” pre-pandemic, but here we are and there it was in black and white. Then I got a text from my daughter that someone I’m really close to had a relative that was sick, possibly with this virus. At the same time, another relative and one of my best friends had gone to the emergency room with entirely different health problems not related in any way to this virus. And then I had a discussion with one of my best friends who works as a nurse in New Orleans and heard that the situation was more dire than I had previously known, and I worried for her and my city’s safety.
The thought of someone I loved being sick and suffering and me being here without a way to get home caused the panic to rise. I tried to overcome it, but the anxiety that I’m sure everyone is experiencing to some degree with this global situation continued and pushed me to consider trying to get a flight back home. Even though I know in my heart that if anyone gets this illness, they are put in isolation and can’t be around anyone anyway. Still I thought on it all day and decided I needed to make a decision.
Then I thought of the implications of a flight home, if I could find one. The few I saw started in Zagreb (three hours from where we live) continued through Amsterdam then on to another in Atlanta and finally to New Orleans (or Sacramento where two of my daughters live.) But wait, I woke up yesterday morning to the news that Zagreb had been hit by an earthquake. It’s just one more calamity in the face of this pandemic that has stressed an already stressed population. Please keep the people of Zagreb in your prayers.
With this devastating news, the possibility of finding a flight seemed even more remote and more selfish if I’m being honest.
In normal times, a flight usually gets me home exhausted both in body and mind. But the idea of being stuck in airports because of travel delays and flight cancellations in this ever changing environment of the coronavirus becomes more insidious because of the risks of picking up the virus amongst other travelers from all over the world desperately trying to get back to their home countries. And of course, we would be put in isolation who knows where for two weeks when we returned because we could possibly be a danger to others then.
So I looked at where we were here in Croatia with the virus. At the moment of my writing, there are 201 (up to 300 I’m told now) cases in the whole country of 4 million people and one death. Just two days ago there were only 128 cases reported, so the situation is escalating here, but not at the rapid rate it is elsewhere.
Croatia acted quickly being so close to Italy and shut down restaurants, shops, bars, and all group events when the tolls started to rise there. Presently only supermarkets and pharmacies and mandatory businesses are open. Everything shuts down here at 6 p.m. (now closing at 5 p.m. as of today.) People are advised (and admonished now) to stay home and stay apart. As of yesterday, public transportation and public spaces such as parks, boardwalks and squares that are part of the overwhelming charm of this country are shut down. A total quarantine is likely here soon.
The good news is that we visited a large grocery store here about a week ago (while the isolation was in effect), and everything was completely stocked. There were no runs on toilet papers, paper towels or any food supplies, although I have yet to find hand sanitizer, which I’ve been searching for since the outbreak a month ago and have never been able to find. It’s possible I just don’t know where to look. I did find disinfectant cleaner and rubbing alcohol, so I clean and wipe the door handles and banisters of our apartment daily. I don’t know if it does anything if we aren’t really going anywhere now, but it makes me feel better. We have gone for walks on the deserted beachfront and a nearby park by our house, but not much else as we stocked our pantry with non-perishables almost a month ago because our good friends here had the foresight to see this whole situation coming.
People have heeded the warnings of staying isolated for the most part where we live in Istria, and there were markers on the grocery store floors when we visited recently showing the proper distances to maintain between customers. Two police officers stood outside the grocery in case too many people showed up at one time, but we were there at peak time, 12 noon, and not many people were there (maybe a dozen or so). The police smiled and waved us in in the same easygoing manner we have become accustomed to with most of the Croatian people we come in contact with. We live in a really small village outside of Pula which stays pretty empty offseason because most of the apartments and homes are holiday rentals. There is a small mini-market here which we visited last week to get eggs and milk and there were plenty of supplies (yes, toilet paper, too) available as well.
Everything I love about Istria is why being here during this pandemic is good place to be. The people are calm, intelligent, not prone to panic or angry outbursts, patient and most importantly, kind. Most people are also very practical and defer to scientific experts, authority and their elders. In Pula, a city of 60,000, it is extremely safe with very little crime whatsoever.
The expat community is alive and well here also and extremely helpful (a lifeline really) in this time of uncertainty. We FaceTime and text each to support each other, and we long for a time when we can get together for a veliki macchiato, walks by the beach, or a glass of Istrian wine when this crisis has passed. It’s just a matter of time.
My family and friends back home are my lifeline as well and are keeping me sane. We always have texted a lot, but now it’s a continuous daily occurrence. I’m in touch with my sister who is in one of those jobs that gives them exposure to sick people on a daily basis. With my daughters working from home, I am able to FaceTime them on their lunch breaks and hang out all together on the weekends with the help of group video calls. Last night we had a virtual birthday party on a group call to celebrate my son-in-law’s birthday.
A FaceTime portal purchase for my mom a year ago has meant the difference in both of our well-beings, since her knowledge of technology is limited. As much as people complain about social media (myself included), it has really come through for us in a big way during this time.
So we are safe here. We are healthy for now. We are staying inside. But still, like everyone, we are worried about what the future will bring.
One of our main concerns is to do our part in helping to make sure that this situation does not get out of control as it has in the nearby countries. Once you understand the underlying rationale and necessity for “social distancing”, you realize that it’s not all about fear that you personally are going to get sick if you are otherwise a healthy individual. It’s about pulling together as a city, community and country to keep the healthcare system from being completely inundated, by many magnitudes, and the resulting chaos and deaths. It’s about making sure you are not the cause of someone getting the virus who is old or has underlying health issues (diabetes, high blood pressure, smoker, asthma, etc.). Because that person could possibly survive if there are enough doctors, nurses, masks, equipment, ICU beds to go around. And maybe not if there are not.
The same questions loom here as in my hometown of New Orleans. Will people get the virus despite all of the safety precautions taking place? Will hospitals be overrun and not have the necessary equipment they need to handle the pandemic patients? Will the closing of restaurants and lack of tourists that bombard this beautiful area in the summer cause businesses to shut down and the population to become impoverished? Will the supply chain break down at some point because people can’t work? What will happen?
These are questions that are unknowable at this point. But they are unknowable anywhere. I wish you all peace wherever you are in this trial that we are all experiencing and health to everyone, especially those on the frontlines working as doctors, nurses, respiratory techs, healthcare professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy techs, our grocery store clerks and cashiers, and anyone who still has to be exposed on a daily basis to the general public because of their job.
Our “job” now is to support those who are still working by remaining home. We can do this.