COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 4

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April 11th 2020
Published: April 12th 2020
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The temptationThe temptationThe temptation

I can see this bench from where I sit in my new "home office." It's the bench I was sitting on when a neighbor scolded me for being outside last week. Quarantine regulations are getting stricter, with more enforcement by both police and military. I haven't tried to sit in the park for over a week now.
Sunday, 5 April, 2020

Even though I can only see a sliver of the park and street from my windows, that sliver includes two park benches. These past three weeks, I’ve only seen one person sit there. After last week’s scolding on Monday, I haven’t tried going to the park again. Also, after seeing the cops on my walk last Monday, I haven’t tried going on any walks and certainly not up to the Temple of the Moon.

I think that the first couple weeks I was partly in disbelief. I suspect that’s something a lot of people around the world are experiencing. The cops wouldn’t really arrest me for going on a walk, would they? It can't really be illegal for me to sit alone in the park, can it? Machu Picchu’s not really closed, is it? People aren’t really dying by the thousands in northern Italy, are they? Is this actually happening?

It’s not my daily (quick) check of global news every morning that makes me stay inside. Maybe that’s a little part of it, but mostly it’s the leadership of President Vizcarra and how seriously Peruvians are taking the quarantine. It’s also the numbers of

My windows face east, so I can't see the sunset, but I do watch the shadows creeping up this hillside every evening.
people being arrested for breaking curfew and other quarantine regulations. One of my neighbors was walking through an area closer to the touristic center of Cusco and said that she saw four Germans get arrested. Personally, I think anybody going out in a group of four is asking for it. Also, I’ve heard that when they arrest you during the day, they take you to the police station, make you wait for a couple hours, then give you a lecture for a couple hours to scare the crap out of you. It’s only if you break curfew will they actually take you to jail. I don’t know how true that is, but I’m not at all interested in trying to find out.

I’m functioning now with a lot less disbelief. A global pandemic really is creating apocalyptic situations in many countries around the world. People really are dying by the thousands in northern Italy and New York. Yesterday, at one point the death toll in New York was 3,565, according to the BBC. Today it’s almost 4,200, if we haven’t already gotten there in the past hour since the article I saw was published.

The police or military
The views from my windowsThe views from my windowsThe views from my windows

As I am getting better at not going outside, I am also finding ways to appreciate more what I can see from my windows. I can see sky, adobe walls, tile roofs, trees, birds and that sliver of the park.
really would arrest me for going on a walk by myself, no matter how far I am from any other human being.

Today I cleaned the kitchen and made an apple pie, managing to spend most of the day on my feet in the kitchen rather than on my butt on the couch. I never thought anything could make me a couch potato. Now I’m on the couch at least ten hours a day.

The past couple days I think the anxiety has been winning over the apathy. I’ve been having trouble breathing, although my symptoms more closely match those of panic attacks than COVID. I’ve still had no exposure that I know of and have been extremely careful the few times I have gone outside.

I did feel a lot better when I was making the apple pie today. Maybe I should pick some long complicated recipes, so I spend more time focusing on cooking, and less time staring out the window, wondering when I’ll get to go out again.

Monday, 6 April, 2020

21 days down, 7 to go

This morning, one of my many daily emails from the
Office petOffice petOffice pet

Every day I get at least one shot of the blue and yellow tanager that comes by every day. I'm starting to see him as my office pet, since I never noticed him before I was sitting all day on the couch. He's in the top of the pear tree, but hiding under the melon vine.
US Embassy in Lima included this:

"Peruvian security forces are strictly enforcing quarantine movement restrictions, including a gender-based rotation for limited routine business such as grocery shopping, pharmacy runs, and banking. Today, Wednesday, and Friday, only men can leave their residences for limited business, with women allowed to conduct limited business on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Peruvian security forces are instructed to respect the rights of transgender and non-gender binary individuals. "

Ten years ago did we instruct security forces in the US to respect the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals? Societal acceptance seems pretty recent to me. I know that in many parts of the US, bigotry and prejudice are easy to find. Peru is no different. We still have a lot of progress to make as a global society.

Still, I feel like I have to point out these moments when they happen. I want to highlight when we are making progress, regardless of the circumstances.

This morning I also heard from my boss, Saul, who had promised to pay me for March today. Now he says tomorrow. I’m normally paid on the last day of the month, so it’s already a week late.

So, it's not a pumpkin vine, but I still find the tendrils beautiful.
He also told me that in April I would be working half time and paid half time. I have savings, so I’m not too worried. My savings will certainly go a lot farther here than it would in Seattle.

A small part of me feels relieved. It did not feel good to know that I was still getting paid but that none of my coworkers were. Of course, I would rather we all get paid than our current reality. Still. I’m not as upset as I thought I would be. It’s almost a relief. Now I don’t have to worry about whether or not I will have a job in April and how much I’ll get paid.

A friend called this afternoon and we talked for over an hour about alternatives to the jobs we’ve been doing in Cusco. Specifically, alternatives to tourism. It’ll be a while before the tourists come back, and we may have to find something to do in the interim. I tried to sound out the idea of being a consultant to businesses here in Cusco. I think I could give cultural competency trainings to employees here. I know I can improve English versions
Closed hotelsClosed hotelsClosed hotels

On my walk to the bank and back, I passed over twenty hotels, all of them boarded up tight.
of websites. I’ll have to work on a list of what I could offer businesses in Cusco as a consultant. That could help keep me busy. I need to fill the second half of my days, since I’m only working mornings now. I think staying busy will be good for my sanity.

Working a full day was good for me in so many ways. It gave me a structure, a routine. I had to be “at work” on the couch by 9, even if I was still drinking my morning coffee. It forced me to get up early enough to workout and shower before work. Three weeks of that I think has set some good habits. I’m no longer going for walks at 5am, but I am still going to keep my morning routine the same and start work at 9:00.

Tuesday, 7 April, 2020

Over coffee this morning, my housemate from Venezuela told me that the police tried to arrest her when she took the trash out last night. I had actually heard of this happening before, so I wasn’t surprised, but certainly felt indignant. She said she was in her pajamas, with

This shot, with five police and two people with masks carrying groceries, is very representative of the ratio of police to civilians in the streets of Cusco, at the moment.
a black plastic garbage bag in one hand. The police were patrolling the neighborhood and turned their vehicle’s headlights on her as she put the bag on the corner where it gets picked up at 6am Tuesday mornings. She said that she argued with them and told them that she had the right to take the trash out. They said not after curfew, which is still 6pm. They told her several times they had to take her to the station, but she ran back to our door and slammed it in their faces. She says that she felt bad doing it and called out a friendly “buenas noches” after the door was closed. I’m just happy that she managed to get back inside and wasn’t actually arrested.

Today I finally got paid for March. It’s a week late, but at least I got my full March salary. I worked more than full time in March, trying to juggle everything from home. However, the work is starting to dry up. I’ve contacted or been contacted by just about everybody I need to talk to at this point. I can take care of everything in just four hours each day now.
Empty streetsEmpty streetsEmpty streets

Avenida del Sol is another major street in Cusco, normally full of traffic. The tourists have all left and many people have gone to live with family in smaller towns. With hotels and restaurants closed, there won't be many jobs here, even after quarantine.
Yes, I could spend another four hours each day editing the company websites. I will suggest that for May, if the work doesn’t pick back up by then. I will be getting paid 1,000 PEN for April, which is less than $300 USD. My rent is 650 PEN. I will need to be full time again in May.

My company's accountant, Yesi, spent over an hour waiting in line today to deposit my salary in my bank. The whole system is pretty stone age, so she called me when it was done so I could leave home to go to the ATM and get out enough to pay rent for this month. The bank is near work, so my trek to the ATM is almost exactly my commute to work.

It is beautifully scenic. I walk along the edge of Lucrepata, to the narrow and steep Chiwanpata, then along the bottom of Recoleta to Las Ruinas. Las Ruinas is a wide street, leading away from the Plaza de Armas. It has the Marriott El Convento and several other swank hotels. I turn right at the Santa Catalina convent and walk one more block to the eastern corner of
Dog daysDog daysDog days

The first week I saw dogs romping in the parks and chasing each other around. Now that we're on week four of quarantine, they seem bored with the situation.
the Plaza de Armas.

Most of my trek today, I was walking down the middle of the street. There are no cars and if I’m in the middle of the street, people are not forced to cross the street to get away from me like they would if they were faced with me on the same sidewalk. Remember, foreigners brought this to Peru and are therefore highly suspect. As I turned left, to walk along the southern side of the plaza, two cops ahead waved me over to the sidewalk. Really? I haven’t seen a vehicle since I checked on all the parked Volkswagens on my street. Why do I need to be on the sidewalk? I smiled at them when I went by, expecting them to ask me for ID and where I was going. Maybe they assumed I wouldn’t speak Spanish. Maybe they didn’t care. I’m out on the right day, at the right time. I was walking directly towards two pharmacies, which I pass on my way to the bank. Maybe that’s why they didn’t stop me?

The pharmacies were open, but empty. I passed a couple corner shops, both empty, except for the employees.
Where are they?Where are they?Where are they?

Most of the dogs I saw this week were sleeping on sidewalks, in the middle of streets and on doorsteps. Only this guy was standing by the fountain in the middle of the Plaza de Armas, as if waiting for the people to come back.
I had expected a long line at the bank, since I had heard in the morning there were two separate long lines, one for the bank and another just for the atm. Not only was there no line, but not one other person came to any of the four atms while I was there. I left, feeling a little disappointed I hadn’t managed to have any human interaction besides the cops telling me to get on the sidewalk.

I walked down Calle del Medio back to the plaza, stopping to take a photo of the only other person I saw: somebody in a full body white hazmat suit rolling a garbage can down the street. I took some photos of the empty plaza, a couple dogs, some pigeons and a cop pacing back and forth in front of the cathedral that’s on the northeast side of the plaza.

It felt so good to get outside and be able to walk. I am going to have to figure out which pharmacies I can walk to, maybe to buy a bar of soap one day, a bottle of shampoo the next. Is there a way to ethically work the system,
Plaza de ArmasPlaza de ArmasPlaza de Armas

At no time of day is this plaza normally empty. I have seen it at all hours of the day and night, including 5am. It is always full, especially on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Quarantine has changed that.
so that I’m following the rules but not immobilized?

Wednesday, 8 April, 2020

President Vizcarra announced this morning that the quarantine and closed borders will be continued to April 26th. That will be 42 days. That’s six weeks. My mind went blank when I read that. Yesterday and Monday I felt great. Is this going to derail that?

I’m trying to reassure myself, I can do six weeks. My recovery from a hysterectomy was six weeks and that was brutal. I had very limited mobility and was in terrible pain for weeks. This isn’t as bad as having a hysterectomy. I’m clearly grasping at something to comfort myself. Anything.

I try venting to a friend in the US, who counters with “we have a Shelter-in-Place order until June 10th.” Okay, but it’s not the same. You are allowed to go out any day, as long as it is for a necessity. Necessities include grocery stores and pharmacies, but you are also allowed to go for a jog or bike ride by yourself. You are not threatened with arrest for taking the garbage out after 6pm. You will not be arrested if you go
Plaza of JoyPlaza of JoyPlaza of Joy

The Plaza de Regocijo (which means joy) is the other plaza I walk through on my way to work. I miss the fountain and the people I see there in the mornings on the walk to work.
outside Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. It’s not really the same.

I try venting to a friend in Cusco. I whine that I just want to be able to go for a walk by myself. I tell him that my friend in Paris is allowed to go for a walk or jog or bike ride by herself. Why can’t they just recognize that exercise and fresh air are essential for both mental and physical health? Why can’t they just let us go outside as long as we are alone?

What I get from my friend is a gentle reminder that Peru is not Paris. Fair enough. It’s not. He reminds me that we don’t have the medical resources that France does and we can’t handle even a fraction of what they are dealing with. The numbers in France are way worse than Peru. Why would we look to anything they’re doing as something to emulate?

Also a very good point. As of 3pm today, Peru officially has 2,954 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 107 deaths. That’s less than the number of cases in the state of Missouri and just a couple more deaths than the state of

The person in the white hazmat suit in the street is the only person I saw after I passed the Plaza de Armas. There weren't even any police in the area where my bank is.
Maryland. When I look at the numbers for France, my idea of wanting the same freedoms as Parisians seems ludicrous. France has 82,048 cases and 10,869 deaths. Peru has half the population of France, but a hundredth the number of deaths.

Even more poignant, if you take the numbers in Paris and combine them with the infrastructure of Cusco, you would probably get Guyaquil, Ecuador. In Guyaquil, so many people have been dying at home that the city has been unable to keep up with collecting all the bodies. Families have had to leave their loved ones in the street because, with the tropical heat, you can’t keep them in the house. The government is now distributing cardboard coffins, so at least families don’t have to leave them in the street under just a blanket.

Neither of my housemates came upstairs all day, so I couldn’t commiserate with them. I think they’re either hibernating or have gone completely nocturnal.

Okay. Time to focus more on what I can do at home to keep busy and not go crazy: write this blog, work 4 hours a day, build my own website, cook three meals a day, exercise in
Guarding the cathedralGuarding the cathedralGuarding the cathedral

I stood back in a side street for a few minutes before I walked out to the Plaza de Armas. This cop was just pacing back and forth in front of the cathedral. There were only dogs and me anywhere near the plaza. I wonder what he was supposed to be protecting.
my home studio (bedroom), learn Quechua, do the Creative projects by artist Anna Brones, write to and talk with friends and family, take photos of birds out the windows and keep finding more things I can do while in quarantine.

Six weeks. Recovering from surgery is way worse. This is definitely not as bad as surgery. I clearly survived that. I can do this too. I just have to stay positive.

The most exciting news of the day is that I found what could be a watermelon growing in the pear tree about six feet off the ground. I’ve been watching what I thought was a pumpkin vine flower out of the top of the pear tree, waiting for there to be pumpkins growing up higher than the pears. Until today I hadn’t done a thorough inspection of the rest of the tree. I was down on the neighbor’s back patio this afternoon, moving my potted basil plant from one spot of sun to the next, just wanting to be outside for a few minutes, when I noticed something half hidden in the tangled branches. It doesn’t look like a pumpkin. I’ll ask my neighbor next time I see
Military on patrolMilitary on patrolMilitary on patrol

On my way home from the bank, heading back up Las Ruinas, three trucks full of military rolled by. Each one had four people inside and two standing in the back, armed with machine guns. Today only women are supposed to be out and even though about half the police I saw were men, every one of the military in those three trucks all looked like women to me.
him, but I really want to pick it and see if it’s a watermelon.

Last night the moon looked full and I got a few photos from my window, although it was cloudy most of the night. Hopefully tonight it will be clear and I’ll be able to get a better shot of the Super Pink Moon!

Thursday, 9 April, 2020

New countdown: this is day 25 of quarantine, with 17 days to go - unless it’s extended again.

Last night I got some really incredible shots of the moon. The sky was crystal clear and I am continually amazed at how little atmosphere interferes with photos at 11,000 feet. I went up on the roof last night and got some great shots. I don’t have a tripod, but I improvised with stray boards to balance my camera at just the right angle. I put on the timer so I didn’t move the camera when I depressed the shutter. I can hardly believe how clear each crater is in my photos.

I have taken some great photos out my windows and will have plenty of time to keep that up the next

This is one of my favorite shots of my resident hummingbird. I love how his head is tilted upside down, with his chin up, but his little feet are still below.
two weeks. Some offices have a resident cat or dog, I’m starting to think of my blue and yellow tanager as my office pet.

Today I finally got some clear shots of the hummingbird that visits the flowers outside my office windows. After 25 days of blurry images, I got some really great shots. It’s definitely a green violet-ear hummingbird. The white beak and face had me doubting the identification at first, until I realized it’s just pollen on his face. I got some good, sitting portraits, but my favorites are of him with his face in a flower, wings blurry and little feet perfectly in focus. I love little hummingbird feet. There’s my silver lining of quarantine for today.

Tonight one of my housemates and I had a movie night, complete with popcorn. It was so nice to sit on the couch with somebody and laugh at dumb jokes in the generic comedy we picked.

Friday, 10 April, 2020

Today is still a complete lockdown, with people only allowed to leave the house for emergency medical services. However, we did get some good news! Tomorrow is the last day with gender restrictions.
Pollen facePollen facePollen face

The white face was what first threw me off, when I was trying to identify this little guy. Then I realized that it's just pollen from the flowers on his beak and that he really is
It’s still a women-only day, but on Monday there will no longer be a gender restriction. Also, the president reduced the curfew from 5am to 6pm, to 4am to 6pm. I really don’t see that as any improvement or change at all. Maybe it will help sanitation workers get to work, since they generally start very early. Still, for the rest of us, that’s not going to make the slightest difference.

I also found out today that one of my friends in Cusco just got out of being in the hospital for three days for a miscarriage. Of all the tragedies to experience during a global crisis like this, I can’t even imagine what she’s going through. She didn’t have any health insurance and they had to pay cash. Her inlaws sent her food three times a day while she was in the hospital, and she says they have been very supportive.

Just as we have very little healthcare infrastructure here in Peru, very few people have any kind of health insurance. The most vulnerable in terms of pre-existing health conditions, high percentage of elderly people, lack of running water for proper hand washing, low income and high
Rose moonRose moonRose moon

The first night the moon looked full was so cloudy. I got very few decent photos of the moon, but this shot of the clouds turned out well. The moon itself never looked pink, but at least the clouds did.
unemployment are also those who live farthest from any kind of healthcare facility. True, most of these people live in small, isolated communities where it is unlikely that anybody from the outside could even get to under the current quarantine restrictions and travel bans. However, if we open up too soon and people from cities take the virus up to these mountain communities, it will be a complete disaster.

To cheer myself up, I spent the afternoon taking photos of birds out the windows. I added a lot to my portrait series of the blue and yellow tanager and started taking photos of the sparrows and pigeons.

Saturday, 11 April, 2020

Week four has actually gone pretty well, considering. I haven’t had as much trouble with anxiety and panic attacks as week three. Humans are infinitely adaptable and I think that I am actually adapting to this new reality.

Today I ventured out to deposit my rent at my landlord’s bank. I wasn’t able to get the cash out until last Tuesday afternoon, since I was paid for March that morning. By the time I left my bank, it was too late in
Super moonSuper moonSuper moon

Every time I take pictures of the moon here, it just blows me away how clear the air is. There is very little atmosphere at 11,000 feet to get in the way of seeing each crater on the moon. I stood out on the roof and took photos until I was too cold and had to go back in.
the afternoon (3pm) to make the deposit. Wednesday only men were allowed outside and Thursday and Friday nobody was allowed outside. Hence, getting my March pay on April 6 meant that I couldn’t pay rent until April 11. My landlord was grateful to get it, regardless of how late. I think she’s worried, since there’s no way to replace my housemate who went home to Switzerland. People are fleeing Cusco and moving in with family as it becomes more apparent that it will take a long time for tourists to come back.

My housemate from Venezuela may have to move in with her brother in Lima soon. The restaurant she worked for notified employees today that they will not open until September or October and that they are only paying employees through the end of April. There really are no job opportunities for her in Cusco, so she’s trying to figure out how and when she can get to Lima. Currently, there is no transportation of any kind. If quarantine actually ends or relaxes on April 27th, she will probably be able to leave Cusco by the end of the month and not have to pay any rent for

Another beautiful phenomenon spotted from my roof, I loved the reflection of the rainbow in the clouds on the right.
May. Of course, if she says here without paying, there is no way the landlord can evict her or make her pay.

I read on CNN today that a third of Americans did not pay rent, or did not pay rent on time, for April. I wonder what that statistic is for Peru. How many other people are not paying rent, or are not paying on time? It might not matter, since evicting a tenant is not on the list of essential business that we can conduct under quarantine. Grocery store and pharmacy to buy necessities, yes. Rental properties to evict people, no.

I’m honestly glad that tomorrow is not the last day of quarantine. I’m still not ready to go outside. As much as I have felt discouraged each time the quarantine has been extended, I’m also relieved that people aren’t out in the streets, blowing our chance to permanently keep our numbers low. Peru hasn’t had the same kinds of steep curves and spikes that the US and Europe are now dealing with. I just hope we can keep this curve flat.

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12th April 2020

Dear Heather,
We are following your day-to-day in Cusco, and hope you continue to be optimistic about the weeks to come. Cooking is certainly a good diversion--we've been enjoying cooking, too, and are surprised at the number of days we were actually eating out last month! Living a more isolated life has it's good side, I guess. Jim says hello, and sends his best to Ginger. Hugs from faraway, Jo Anne
15th April 2020

Just read your blog
Hi Heather, What an adventure you are having. I see Laura, David and Sarah so we have spoken fondly of you. Have you heard of Victor Frankel’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning? If you are interested I would be glad to copy it a few pages at a time for you to read. It is a short but profound book about his experiences in Nazi Germany in a concentration camp. He early on began watching what kind of people did well and what kind of people did poorly and from that developed his system called logotherapy. I think you might find it useful. I have been in contact with my family in the North. They have it a bit earlier because of having the property they can go out and work and the boys can play every day. Still it is very isolated. We are doing well at Offut Lake. A great place to be quarentined. Pete and I have been doing a lot of cooking for the homeless. They are really having a tough time with so many service organizations shutting down. It has been very heartwarming. Know that we are all thinking of you. Sending big hugs. Diane

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