This story is by K. K. Lau and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Paradise With a Twist
After living in Illinois for decades, I decided to move and try farming in a foreign country. As an office geek all my life, I was fascinated by connecting with nature, with its lush green landscapes, the smell of farms and dairy cows, and barefoot children that shyly giggled when I made them laugh for a picture. I will raise bottle fed calves at a dairy farm. I was ready to trade my Cole Hahn heels for rubber boots. I also would have time to sharpen my writing skills. Or, to start writing and be a writer of some sort. What could go wrong, right?
Not only had I stepped into a culturally challenged environment for me, I suddenly found myself trapped in a full quarantine. On account of the government reaction to the pandemic of the coronavirus that has overwhelmed the world, including me, we were literally locked down.
This is the story of how I survived!
My adventure began a few months earlier before WHO (World Health Organization) declared a pandemic situation. I was scheduled to fly to California to visit my Mom. Three days before my flight, the Ministry of Health announced they have identified their first Covid-19 victim, and upcoming restrictions in the country will be imposed shortly as the result of this highly contagious virus. The population of age 60 and older were of higher risk of contagion as well as any person with co-morbid health issues. My 92 year old mother has chronic respiratory problems so I was reluctant to fly at this time to visit with her. So, I asked my sisters what to do.
“Hi!” I chatted on WhatsApp.
“I am doing a family survey and I wanted to know if I should travel to California to visit Mom or should I postpone my trip?” I asked. “As you all know, I am scheduled to fly in a couple of days,” I added.
There was no hesitation on their part. They unanimously agreed I should postpone my trip. The risk, the health risk to both our Mom and mine were not worth taken at this time.
Seven days later, the airports closed.
The mandatory quarantine restricted the population movement to secure necessities only. Little by little businesses were forced to reduce staffing and eventually had to close. People were allowed to leave the house for banking, groceries and pharmaceutical needs and only by gender. What?
Women were allowed to leave on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and for a two-hour window. The two-hour window was based on the last digit of the person’s ID number. For example, my last digit was six, so I was allowed to move around town and outside the house between the hours of 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm. This quarantine was decreed by law, so fine and jail time were applicable to all violators. Police would monitor the streets and set up checkpoints. OMG!
“How would I manage with all these restrictions?” I asked my sisters. We have been connected through WhatsApp.
“You should have applied for your driver’s license earlier!” said one of them.
“It would not have mattered. She does not have a car either!” said another one.
And there lies my first dilemma.
I have rented a beautiful villa located on the way to the highest elevation of the country, over 3,200 feet above sea level and some 44 kilometers inland from the major city. The property was nestled on a hilltop overlooking the city, and on a clear night one could see the outline of the Pacific Ocean inviting you to move closer to its shores. I could only smell the ocean breeze in my head. And the beautiful twinkle of the city lights teasing you to a nightlife so opposite of where you are. The view that says, “you are alone but you don’t have to be.” A view that was simply spectacular on those nights!
I am connected to the nearest town about 15 kilometers either way from the main road. Up until now, walking a dirt trail from the villa to simply reach the main road was no easy feat in the rain, and worst on torrential rain! Fortunately I love getting wet in the rain, something I don’t do often, mind you, but for the occasional lightning, I have to remind myself to be careful. On dry days, it was a much better walk if you do not count the mosquitoes that often targeted me! I have a tight relationship with “Off”.
My dilemma was not getting any better with this quarantine.
My landlords were a retired couple from the states. They were housesitting the property for their friend, a local flower grower, and they lived at the cottage across the creek not too far from my villa.
“Could you reach out to them for help?” asked my sister.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I feel kinda embarrassed and dumb for not have planned this better!”
“Listen”, she replied, “no one could have planned for this pandemic. You either overcome embarrassment or die of hunger. And we are not ready for that to happen. Besides, how would we get your body back?”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you just said that to her, you idiot!” said another sister.
“Don’t call me an idiot! I was trying to force her to be rational and think, you moron!” she replied. I could feel the tension rising among them.
“Okay, okay, stop!” I said. “I will reach out to them.”
The retired couple turned out to be heaven sent. I was grateful that both were willing to help me without me feeling that I was imposing on them. We arranged for me to call them once a week with my grocery list. They would drive by and leave the groceries in my front door. I would slip over cash or a check through the screen door. I was fortunate that often with the delivery it included delicious homemade jam, bread, pie, or cookies.
Indeed life was improving over here!
It did not take long for me to get used to this lifestyle. My weekly goods were delivered to my door. I wake up to the sound of birds, sit out on the large terrace overlooking the scattered dairy farms surrounding the property. I see the Red Angus herd across the hill pasturing on a beautiful sunny day. I hear the dairy cows down the road mooing. The day unfolds so slowly, under a beautiful white and blue sky while I am sipping on a cup of coffee, and breathe!
Sessions of Muay Thai and Tai Chi complemented the long days by keeping my physical strength and flexibility in check. Okay, I am truly just a novice at these, but learned to enjoy the stillness, solitude and contemplation state that these movements create. Will I still enjoy this solitude when the quarantine is lifted? How much longer do I have?
Connectivity was a tad challenging, mostly slow and unstable. But I was grateful at least it was slow and unstable. It allowed me video chats with local new friends my heaven sent landlord and neighbor. Zoom conferences with my stateside girlfriends for Happy Hour Time. Drinking my go-to beverage, a young Chilean Merlot bottle of wine. It was smooth with a very mild bouquet and drank chilled on hot and humid days and nights. I know. I broke the rule of the wine connoisseur about letting the wine breathe before enjoying and savoring its characteristics. I am a novice at this too.
After all this move to the countryside with its lush and green landscapes, barefoot children walking alongside me on the dirt trail, complicated by a pandemic nightmare no one knew it was coming and would become such a global threat, for me, it is still the paradise I hoped for, a paradise with a twist.
The forced quarantine taught me that nature perseveres no matter what storm comes.
That the good nature of people also persevere. No matter how ugly and violent some people make life to be for others as we often hear in the news.
That no matter how far I go, I will always be connected to my sisters, my mom, my family and my friends.
That mankind continues to evolve in all directions, even on pandemic- type routes, but one of the most important things to experience is solitude and contemplation teaching us to face the here and now; your own here and now.
We have no idea how we will manage tomorrow with the social distancing and mask-wearing requirements. Although I would like to believe all these are temporary measures until a cure is found, I hope we learned that connecting with oneself in stillness and away from distractions might be the first and one key to better mankind.
“What now is has already been; what is to be, already is…” Book of Ecclesiastes