Today our family is 11 days into our mandatory 14-day self-isolation, the requirement for returning to Canada from overseas. It’s been filled with yard work, school at home, house projects, and appropriately socially distanced visiting. Our house here which we’ve owned for 12 years and rented out for the last 10, has been vacant for the past 8 months so we were able to move right in, and there is no shortage of repair jobs and fixing to do.
Coming back to COVID-Canada has been strange. Overall, I’ve been impressed and quite proud to see the way the various authorities here have handled this incredibly risky, unforeseen, and novel event. I think because we have been exposed to places where there are extreme responses in various directions. In Burundi right now there are mass gatherings of hundreds or even thousands of people as they start the full month of campaigning for the presidential election. No schools are closed, people are packed into churches, and public transit. In countries around Burundi, there are crackdowns so harsh that police beat people with sticks if they dare leave their houses after curfew, and mobs stone foreigners seen to be the source of the virus.
Here in Canada the daily press briefings are led by medical officers, non-politically appointed health care professionals who have balanced a sense of both calm and seriousness throughout the last few months. Stay at home orders are massively being followed, as communities give up individual freedom for the sake of protecting those most vulnerable, and giving the medical workers a chance at winning this battle.
And it appears to be working. While clearly the response has included mistakes, right now Canada has one of the lowest rates per capita (of nations with wide-spread and &/or reliable testing) for both total cases and death.
Since getting back, we’ve enjoyed visiting from our deck, as people come and sit on our front lawn. Of course, it’s very hard – and awkward – to see close family and friends we haven’t seen for at least three years, and only be able to wave from 2 meters away, but it sure feels closer than being on the other side of the world.
It’s clearly a hard time for many people – but we actually feel like it is easier on us than on many here. So many people here had plans for the summer, they had things prepared, things they were looking forward to – and now all those have been taken away. We came back knowing it would be like this, and we didn’t have anything planned, so we feel like we didn’t have anything taken away. We haven’t really lost anything from what we thought our summer in Canada would be like. People’s jobs and lives have been significantly upended, completely unexpectedly and unwelcomed. Our lives of clearly vastly, vastly different than Burundi – but we knew that, and in fact that a huge part of why we’re here.
The other thing that’s become apparent is that it seems we’ve been training for this.
Over the last few weeks as millions around the world hunker-down in isolation to slow and prevent the spread of this virus, we’ve seen that people are starting to say things that seem not unusual to us. That is, aspects of people’s lives in COVID-lock-down North America in some ways resembles what our lives look like all the time
People who are shocked, amazed, horrified, angry, surprised, or happy about new facets of life – that sound a bit like life in our normal conditions.
We honestly essentially never go anywhere in the evening – well, nowhere outside our little residential compound. There are no meals out, no movies, no concerts or meetings. There are no sports practices or music lessons. No popping out to the store, no driving over to friends’ places. We quite simply are never off our hill after dark, basically inside our residential compound by 6 every day.
We can go weeks without getting in a car
We stock up on food, because we have to, and make things from scratch because it’s the only option.
We are used to stores – or sometimes the entire country – running out of things
We can only use calls and video calls to keep in touch with family and friends
We only see the same people – day in day out.
We can feel pretty cut off from the rest of the world.
We feel like there is always a sense of uncertainty, a lack of clarity for what’s coming next.
This is not meant to diminish what everyone is going through – as this has brought real, significant, hardship to so many – but merely to share that it seems like COVID-Canada is in some ways more similar to regular-Kibuye than regular Canada was.
So that’s the view from the perspective of leaving the country for a few years – and popping back in the middle of all this. Strange. But still good.