South America: class division and a lack of leadership

Alexandra (Brazil)

I am visiting my husband’s grandparents in Brazil who are quite old. They have been struggling with respiratory issues for years already so they are in the ultimate risk group. They asked us to not leave the house first only for a week, but since the number of infected people has kept growing so rapidly, it was extended. It’s been like this for 2 weeks already and it’s quite hard. Especially since we came here expecting to spend each day at the beach. I spend my days mostly taking care of my 4-month old baby and watching shows when she is asleep. I try to do a short workout every day and talk to friends and family. If I was in my own house, I would have the option for more activities and the possibility to go out to parks.

My husband’s grandparents watch a lot of TV – it’s honestly scary to watch the news. Even they get upset because all that’s being repeated is ‘death’ and on the background of each report is a circling, floating image of the virus. It’s all they listen to from morning to evening. Sometimes they watch a religious channel, where the pandemic is constantly being addressed by a preaching pastor and his choir. Furthermore, there is a song playing on TV about Coronavirus and social distancing (“Understand I won’t be holding your hand, I won’t hug you or give you a kiss, I am gonna stay at home and not meet up…”). The situation here is difficult, there is a lot of panic and confusion. However, when I pass somewhere with the car I always see a bunch of people in the same place together. Brazil has a big issue with social class division.  The rich people are quite judgmental in regards to the homeless and they are concerned with the people on the street infecting them. But most people who got infected have gotten the virus while traveling to Europe or America.

I usually like staying at home, however it has been very hard for me and it has affected me and every member of my family’s mental health. The positive side to it is that I get to spend time with my baby, devoting my full attention to her, and focusing on the fact that she will never be this small again. But it upsets me to know that I am not able to take her out to get fresh air for more than 30 minutes. My husband is also having a tough time, he only gets to come here once every other year and he would like to see his friends and other family members. He also finds himself in the middle, having to be the messenger between me and his grandparents. I try to argue that going alone to the park or for a walk is not dangerous, considering the fact that we keep our distance from other people and have proper hygiene standards, but they are just too scared. The cautious approach has transitioned into paranoia and irrationality. I have a feeling that our world will change permanently, despite the eventual passing of the pandemic. However, I try to focus on the fact that I find myself and my family in a very privileged position for now.

Mexico (Kika)

I’ve been isolated inside of my house for two weeks now. I had to stay in my own bedroom for one week because I interacted with Europeans on a Mexican beach two weeks ago and caught a cold – we still don’t know if I have coronavirus or just a flu. It was really stressful because the mind can be so powerful and with all the news information 24/7 I found myself really anxious and doubting whether I was infected. I also struggled with not being able to go to a doctor, but I feel it’s way more risky going there and getting infected. There’s not much I could do other than staying in my bedroom all day, hoping my symptoms came from a normal flu.

I own a business which fortunately can subsist online for now, so in terms of work I’m not really having trouble. I’ve been working from home office since I started this company 1 year ago; nothing much changes, I still work from my computer and that’s fine for me.

In terms of the daily life during the pandemic, I have been accompanied, I still live with my parents and one of my brothers. The difference is that they are usually outside of the house working from the offices of the company each one works; now they are all making the home office, having us all together in the house. Little more laughs and noise than usual, nothing bad.

Mexico was one of the latest places with coronavirus cases, so we could have a bit of time to “prepare” ourselves before it started in here. When it comes to Mexico, because of the huge difference on the economical situations of the different families, we need to speak about 2 different realities.

There are the ones with high or medium socioeconomic level who have the possibility to go buy lots of food and equipment needed to be able to stay home for a while. Those families are fine, Mexico is a really familiar culture so a very common quarantine situation is having families together playing and being in union, making home office and chilling on their rooms with a full refrigerator.

But then there’s the other part of Mexican people who live per day, working daily to use the same money they earned to eat and pay the rent. The problem is since people are not on the streets as normally, these workers are really having economical issues which is really really sad. Actually it’s starting to circulate the proposal that the ones that have the possibility, should start giving food and daily supplies to those who can’t.

In medical conditions, we knew since the beginning that our medical system wasn’t prepared for a pandemic situation; we are not even close to have the amount of beds, nurses, respirators, or medicines to take care of sick people. That’s why the society for themselves, without the government helping, decided to stay home since 2 weeks ago. It was our decision, taken after lots of proposals on social media. The government never told us to, actually our president said publicly that we shouldn’t panic nor be that careful; that we should kiss and hug and shake hands… He’s not really intelligent, as you can all notice.

But now, yesterday, the government said we should voluntarily stay home (we have been home for 15 days now, but thanks for the idea). I need to say I’m very very lucky to be on the position I am, isolated with my family and lots of food, being able to run my business from my room.

I’m very thankful; we have a big garden with trees and beautiful flowers where we can feel fresh and play. Of course I miss my people and I really wish I could go out as normally, but the truth is I can’t complain right now.

Also, the internet has been super useful to feel connected. At the beginning it was really overwhelming to read and watch coronavirus news and opinions all day. But as time passes, people have been feeling tired speaking just about it and started sharing other stuff which I find much more useful, like meditations, exercises, or even memes.

I think its great how human being (especially Latin Americans I need to say), have the ability to find humor everywhere even on the complex and more chaotic situations. And with it I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t take seriously the pandemic, but at least have the resilience to know things are just as they are now for an undefined time. And we could rather be mad about it, or just accept it and be ok with helping with what we can and enjoying what’s left.

Isabella (Mexico)

Because of the pandemic, I had to close my small shop and stop going outside like everyone else. I’m isolating completely, except that I live with my family, and my mother has to attend to work physically at least twice a week. Her work can be done at home, but not completely. My work can be done at home as well, but since my store sells clothes and this is not an essential item, I choose to stop completely.

My days are stressful because of the political situation of my country, combined with this worldwide pandemic. I’m staying at home, but this is not enough, since there are still, a lot of people on the streets because they don’t take the situation seriously, or because they don’t have another option. I can say that at the current time, I feel paralyzed by the situation.

My country is struggling a lot with the situation because of the poor Bolsonaro’s performance as a president. He doesn’t take the disease seriously, and is frequently doing public speeches encouraging Brazilians to return to their work daily routine. He claims that Coronavirus it’s just small flu, and we should isolate only elderly people. Clearly, an extremely irresponsible suggestion at this point. The press is doing a huge job contradicting the president and reassuring people that they must stay home no matter what. But since Brazilians are losing their rights as working-class every day since bolsonaro was elected in 2018, they keep going outside to work since they could be fired, evicted of their houses, etc. Luckily, this situation is improving week by week, since the states of Brazil are working to contain the virus with independent actions, contradicting the federal government. This week, it was approved a monthly amount of money provided by the government to people, to encourage them to stay at home and guarantee that they will be able to eat and keep with their basic needs.

Sometimes I feel okay, sometimes I feel terrible, especially because of the reasons I mentioned previously. The bad leadership we have as a country makes us Brazilians extremely anxious and angry. I’m trying to cope with the situation, speaking with my friends and getting to know new people around Brazil and around the world through the internet. It’s not easy to feel calm in such difficult situation when it’s about work and money. But I’m grateful because I have what I need right now. And I’m also not thinking too much about my career as a fashion designer at the moment, even though I know that the economic crisis will change everything and clothes are not an essential item. I read about COVID-19 often, but now that I know enough about it, I’m avoiding this subject so I can spend my days less anxious.

This article is part of the Newscoop series #QuarantineStories which asks people from all over the world about how they are coping with COVID-19 and quarantine.

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