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Published: April 19th 2020
Face masks before they were coolSunday, 12 April, 2020
My parents sent me this photo to show me how ahead of the curve I was, back when curves weren't for flattening.
28 days of quarantine down, 14 more to go
Like every Sunday in the new world of Peru under quarantine, nobody is allowed to leave their homes today, except for emergency medical services. All grocery stores, pharmacies and banks are closed on Sundays. No other businesses have been open for a month.
I got back to my workout routine today, after skipping yesterday. I had been on an 11 day streak. I need this part of my morning routine. Staying healthy is obviously important when any trip to buy food could expose me to contact with the COVID virus. Having a routine and making myself get up every morning is really good for my mental health. Also, I get to burn off some of the frustration of not being allowed to go outside, to read a book in the park, or to go for a walk in the hills above town.
The hills around Cusco are what made me first fall in love with the city, seven years ago. They look a lot like the foothills above Boise, where my parents live, which made Cusco feel so comforting at a time when I
Tanager with pear
My office pet is about halfway through this pear. I've been watching him for five weeks now and he definitely waited until the pear was ripe before going for it.
was living in Bangladesh. I love living here and want so desperately to see Cusco back to its normal self, the normal self that made me want to move here seven years ago. Like my struggles with anxiety and apathy, I suspect that my desperation for anything that seems normal is probably a common feeling around the world these days.
Sunday is the only day I don’t work from 9am to 1pm, so I filled the morning with FaceTime with friends and baking an apple pie. I went up to the roof a couple times, just to see the sky and look across the valley to the hills that are even more comforting and familiar than they were seven years ago. When you land in Cusco, the planes fly so low over those hills. The few flights that arrive now are cargo from Lima. There were a few embassies who organized evacuation flights a couple weeks ago from Cusco, but since then repatriation flights have been only from the military base in Lima.
I am sure that those who live near the airport appreciate the silence. Their windows don’t rattle anymore as planes fly close overhead and they’re
I've found that baking is a great way to keep busy. I peel the apples as slowly and lovingly as I can, taking my time to roll our the pie crust with a round glass in lieu of a rolling pin. It kills time, makes the house smell wonderful and my housemates enjoy the result just as much as I do.
no longer breathing in the toxic exhaust of jet fuel from flights taking off. I know that the dramatic decrease in air and water pollution, sound and light pollution and even the stop in vibration from all our millions of vehicles around the world has had a wonderful impact on our planet. I just want to be able to go out and appreciate it. I don’t want to drive a car or fly anywhere, I just want to walk alone in the hills that I love even more now that I can just see them from my rooftop, but can’t get any closer.
Monday, 13 April, 2020
Sitting in my home office this morning, looking out the windows that look into my neighbor’s pear tree on the south side and towards the street and park on the east side, I heard a loudspeaker. It was a police vehicle, driving through the neighborhood with a loudspeaker blaring. At first, I could only hear Quechua, then I heard the message repeated in Spanish: Stay home. Do not go outside. I smiled, thinking of this as the Quechua and Spanish translation of Samuel L. Jackson’s new Youtube hit:
This is one of those little details that I used to walk by four times a day, but never noticed before. Having a pair of bulls on the roof is a tradition imported to Cusco from Puno. Supposedly, they bring good luck and fertility. That second bit makes absolutely no sense to me, because you really need a cow for fertility.
Stay the Fuck Home. If you haven’t heard it yet, do a quick search online and listen to him read what looks like a kids’ book. It’s hilarious! If I’m going to get through quarantine without going crazy, I’ll need all the humor I can find.
I did have to think twice about what day of the week it was this morning. We are allowed outside on Monday, right? Last week had an awkward gender rotation, which allowed men outside on only Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But last Friday Presiden Vizcarra called that off, saying that the new restriction was only one person per household could leave per day. Basically, you can only be out in the streets alone, and still only for essential errands. Maybe the loudspeaker warning to stay home is a new strategy, much as the police rolling through the streets with sirens blaring at 6pm was the strategy the first few days that our curfew dropped from 8:00 to 6:00. I guess I’ll find out if that is something to expect every morning.
After work, I made lunch and took a chair outside to eat sitting on my neighbor’s back patio, under the pear
Every time I have to leave the house, every hotel I pass is closed. This one has my favorite mural in town and is a great play on the verb contar, which can be to count and to tell a story.
tree. The tree looks like it has never been pruned and the few pears it produces are high up, on very thin branches. What is out of reach for me is perfectly safe for the birds. After lunch I watch the birds above me and read a few more chapters of my book. By 3pm the shadows on the patio are chilly and I moved up to the rooftop. It’s a beautiful view and the sun feels so good on my back.
I finished my book, which was heading towards a beautifully happy ending, until the last page. Maybe it was predictable, but I didn’t see it coming. I underestimated the author, figuring that a book published in 1889 wouldn’t have a crazy twist at the end. It was so frustrating to have this book end so tragically, when I really needed a happy ending today. Nevertheless, if you are looking for classic literature from Cusco, I highly recommend Clorinda Matto de Turner’s book Aves Sin Nido.
At 5:45 one of my housemates came upstairs to the kitchen in her pajamas to take out the trash. Last week she was threatened with arrest by police patrolling the neighborhood
The dogs of Cusco
Even though the hotels are closed, somebody is there caretaking the place and keeping the dog bowls full. One of the most endearing things about Cusco is how much people here love street dogs, as well as their own dogs.
when she took out the trash. They actually told her that they had to take her to the station for going out past curfew, though she was only taking a bag of trash across the street to where it is picked up in the morning.
Today she couldn’t get our door to the street open. She came back to the house to ask me to help. I couldn’t get it open either and we joked about the police blocking people’s doors as a new strategy to keep us inside. Eventually our third housemate came out and managed to get it open. We both watched to make sure the police weren’t around, since it was now after 6pm. Somehow the metal latch has gotten bent and now you have to lift the door as you open it. It really seems like everything is conspiring to keep us home.
Tonight my weekly tradition of listening to El Sonido on KEXP was the comfort I needed to steel myself for another week feeling like I’m under house arrest.
Tuesday, 14 April, 2020
I woke up this morning with one of the songs Chilly played last night
This is one of those picturesque little alleyways that is usually so full of people I can't get a good shot of it. That has not been a problem the past five weeks.
on El Sonido still stuck in my head. My family in Seattle is hunkered down for the long haul, as Seattle was one of the first cities in the US to be hard hit by COVID. My former colleagues there have been teaching online for over a month now. While everybody in my family has stayed healthy, the school I used to teach at has been hurt by the loss of a spouse of one of the teachers to COVID and a few other people who were sick but are now among those recovered from the virus.
The past few weeks I’ve marveled at my (terrible) timing of leaving the security of education for an industry that is currently dead. The teachers I have worked with around the world are all teaching online, or preparing for the possibility of teaching in the summer, when conditions allow. All of them still have their normal paycheck every month. I spoke with my mom about this a few days ago and she pointed out that I will be in a unique position to be part of rebuilding an entire industry. That’s true. I have no plans to leave Cusco and will be
This is another spot in town that I haven't been able to get a good shot of before, because there are usually so many people and cars in the way. This homage to the Incan founders of Cusco is on my way to the pharmacy - one of the two permissible reasons to leave the house.
here to watch and hopefully help as Cusco rebuilds. Tour agencies, hotels and restaurants will be coming out of hibernation at some point. We still have Machu Picchu. The tourists will come back, eventually.
Working through the accumulated work emails this morning I found a $200 donation for the porters from a guest who did the Inca Trail with us last October. I had helped him to connect with his guide a couple weeks ago, since he wanted to send some financial help directly to his guide. Now he has also donated to our porters. I thanked him profusely and am really looking forward to taking food and supplies up to the village that our porters live in. I’ve only been there once, when we went to paint a new part of the school and donate books the first week of March. I was in Chile last December when the office staff and some guides took gifts and food for Christmas. It will feel so good to be able to take them something as soon as we are allowed to leave our homes. I need to feel like I’m doing something to help.
Himno al Cusco
Since there are usually busses and trucks obscuring the view of this side of the monument, I never before realized that there is a song about Cusco here. If I can find anybody who knows the melody, learning that song would be a good thing to keep me busy during quarantine.
31 days down, 11 day to go
I heard from my parents today that the “stay home” order for Idaho was extended to April 30th. They have been isolating at home since March 11, after the primary election. I feel pretty confident that they’re safe and will be able to keep from getting COVID. I just hope they can hang on until there is a vaccine, which could be a year or two, at best. I know that vaccines are being tested much sooner than normal. That’s good, but also means that they’re skipping steps. I’ve listened to Melinda Gates talk about the two vaccines that she thinks are promising enough that the Gates Foundation is funding trials already. Still, even if they get lucky on the first try, it is going to take a long time to be able to mass produce any vaccine.
Today I ventured out to both the market for food and a pharmacy for soap. I haven’t actually been to a pharmacy for over a month, but there are some things that you just can’t buy at the market. One convenience item I’m used to buying at the market are
Deja de hablar
Just downhill from the San Blas market, is one of my favorite graffiti spots in town: Stop talking and start doing. Funny how that has been turned upside down during this quarantine. We should stay home and stop doing things, but spend more time talking with our friends and family. I hardly go anywhere and I do very little, but I've spent a lot of time talking these past five weeks.
little bags of freshly shelled peas and fava beans. Normally, the women at the market are there all day and between shoppers have time to shell peas and beans. So many of the usual vendors are closed for the duration of the quarantine, that the ones who are left are constantly busy. Plus, all shopping is now compressed into a few hours in the morning. Result: I have to shell my own fava beans and peas. I shouldn’t complain, because anything that can keep me busy is a good thing.
Shelling peas always reminds me of Anne Frank. Of all the parts of the book that really stuck with me, somehow her complaining about shelling peas was really memorable. It seems funny that I’m at home, shelling peas, afraid to go outside. Obviously, COVID is not remotely similar to the Gestapo and catching it is not remotely like a concentration camp. Still, I doubt I’m the first person in the world to think of her as we are stuck at home.
One thing that really struck me about Anne Frank’s diary, when I first read it, in elementary school, was how well she adapted. She got used to
These potatoes, in a narrow strip of green in the middle of town, must belong to somebody. Potatoes are from this region of the Andes and I suppose they can grow wild here, although I always assume that they are a purposefully planted crop.
living in such a tiny space with so many people. She didn’t like it and it wasn't fun, but she definitely adapted.
Halfway through week 5, I think I’m doing pretty well at adapting. I don’t like it and it’s not fun, but it’s easier than it was a month ago.
Thursday, 16 April, 2020
This morning I got a response to an email I sent a couple weeks ago, checking on a couple guests who had been in Cusco when the quarantine was announced and borders closed. They’re from the Netherlands and judging by the evacuation flights organized by the US and Swiss governments that I knew about, I assumed that the embassy for the Netherlands would be doing the same.
Today they replied, they’re still stuck in Cusco. Their hotel, the Pariwana, is one of the ones completely closed off after a Mexican tourist died of COVID there. I had heard that the guests and staff were all quarantined in the hotel and that nobody was allowed to leave. That was March 29. I had naively assumed that by now, surely, everybody would be allowed to go home. I feel so
The Current Situation
This is where the numbers stand for Peru at the end of week 5 of quarantine. The whole country has been in a very strict lockdown for five weeks: nobody can drive their own car, transportation between all towns has stopped, police and military are in the streets enforcing that we only leave home for necessities and that we respect the curfew. It's been very thorough. So how are we still getting new cases? Between Thursday and Friday this week, we got over a thousand new cases.
helpless. There’s nothing I can do for them. They wrote that their embassy has been unable to help them either. How tragic is it to be trapped in a hotel for six weeks, so far from home? Even more tragic is the Mexican tourist who died here. I hope that his embassy was able to repatriate his body to be buried at home, but was he alone when he died? Was his family with him on vacation here? I’ll probably never know, but I just hope he wasn’t alone. I’ve seen too many sad stories on the news about people dying alone in Italy and New York.
Searching the news for anything to cheer me up, I go back to stories about the environment. The photos of the canals in Venice are uplifting, as are the images of air pollution on the west coast from last year compared with this year. Los Angeles and Seattle have the most obvious differences. I look at the videos of penguins walking through the Shedd Aquarium from three weeks ago. The best article I found today has photos of a pride of lions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. They were all laying
The green space at home
Since I only left the house once this week, I'm still trying to appreciate what little green space I do have access to. My neighbor's back patio has some beautiful flowers, including lots of geraniums.
out on the asphalt road, napping in the sun. Obviously, there are no vehicles in the national parks these days, and the cats are laying out on the roads, just like the dogs here in Cusco.
Friday, 17 April, 2020
This morning I woke up with a sore throat and a stuffy nose. Granted, these are more likely cold symptoms than the dreaded COVID symptoms. Still, this has me worried. After five weeks or quarantine, anything that I have was caught while I have been out buying food. I have been so careful with my handwashing before and after entering any shop. They make me wash my hands on the way in, I put on hand sanitizer on the way out. I wash my hands after every time that I handle money. Where was the weak link? Was it the packaging on the chocolate bars? The woman at the market that I buy coffee and chocolate from has all the chocolate bars sitting out where anybody could touch them, then decide to not buy them. But everybody entering the market has to wash their hands and wear a mask. It’s not a foolproof system, since
Brightly colored tanagers aren't the only birds keeping me company here. The sparrows and pigeons are just as entertaining, even if they're not as photogenic.
of course people can still touch their face after they wash their hands.
What really worries me, is that the most infectious thing out there is the COVID virus. Sure, there are still regular colds and flus going around, but with all of the precautions, surely those are not infectious enough for me to actually catch them.
It’s hard for me to judge the actual risk in Cusco. I’m looking at statistics from sources in both English and Spanish. However, few of them specify if their number is for the Cusco region, or city. Just like citing statistics for New York City is not the same as New York state, the Cusco region and city are not the same. One article in English says that the number for Cusco is 109 but the Peruvian Canal N cites 60 cases in Cusco. Is that 109 in the region and 60 in the city? Or are they getting their numbers from different sources? Both claim to be updated today.
Canal N reports that yesterday there were 12,491 cases in Peru and today it’s up to 13,489. That’s a huge jump for one day. Is that because we have more
Of all the things that 2020 will be remembered for, I expect that everything else will pale in comparison to the global pandemic of COVID. What will the history books say about this in forty or fifty years?
testing available recently and more people are being tested? Are we really spreading it that quickly even during quarantine? Yesterday Canal N reported 274 deaths, total for the whole country. Today there are 300 counted dead and 1219 people in the hospital for COVID, with 137 on ventilators. The vast majority of these cases are in Lima.
This reminds me of when I lived in Morocco and there were terrorist attacks. The police who were assigned to keep an eye on me would call me whenever there was a bombing to check that I wasn’t in Casablanca. The danger then was in Casablanca, like now it’s in Lima. That doesn’t mean that Cusco is totally safe, but at least I’m not in Lima.
Saturday, 18 April, 2020
Today I woke up so relieved that the sore throat is already gone. I felt sick for less than 24 hours. Maybe it was all the mugs of hot water with lime juice, honey and slices of fresh ginger that I downed yesterday. Maybe it was getting 10 hours of sleep. Maybe I’m healthy enough that I fought off whatever that was. Maybe it was just a
The home office
This is where I spend twelve to fourteen hours a day. If quarantine really is over after six weeks, that will be well over 500 hours, sitting on the couch, typing on the computer and watching the birds.
little bug that wouldn’t have lasted more than a day in anybody. Whatever the reason, I’m so happy to feel good again.
Yesterday, the sore throat was only half of what made me feel bad. The other half was the panic and worry about what it could be and how I could have gotten it and if there is any way that I could have COVID.
Like yesterday, it rained most of the day today. I avoided reading the news or looking to see how many people died of COVID in Peru since yesterday. I watched the British cooking show The Big Family Cooking Showdown. It’s entertaining, I don’t have to think or try to follow a plot, and I am getting some ideas about what I can cook for myself, since I’m stuck with my own cooking every day. I haven’t eaten at a restaurant in over five weeks. It’s great for the budget but I really just want somebody else to do the dishes for me.
In theory, there is one week of quarantine left. One more week of sitting on the couch most of the day. One more week of my own cooking every day. One more week watching the birds come and go as they please, while I’m too afraid of the police to leave the house. One more week of wondering if I’ll actually get to leave the house on April 27th.
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