PREPARING FOR COVID19 IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
Do I stay or do I go?
That is the question that has been on so many expats' minds these days. Do we leave what has become our home (and with it many friends and surrogate family) to be closer to family and our passport home? There is no right answer that is best for everyone, but here is why we chose to stay and prepare.
Up until the beginning of March, I was seriously debating flying back to the US to visit family on this extended break from school. Students have been off of school here in Hanoi since end of January, and the teachers have mostly been working from home. We were waiting on our residence cards to be finalized and then I was ready to be outta here!
But then the numbers in the US started increasing, and from what we were hearing, they weren't handling it as strictly as the Vietnamese government. We had been experiencing school closures for 6 weeks and counting, and when the newest cases came into Vietnam on flights, the government tracked down the passengers to quarantine them and shut whole streets down where those positive cases had been or lived.
Initially, it seemed extreme to us, and maybe even a bit scary - the thought of possible quarantine. But then we spoke to family members in the US and our fears quickly turned to thankfulness and peace.
My sister explained that there were confirmed cases of Covid19 in her city, and the only thing they were doing was recommending that those people stay home and self-quarantine. Well, we had seen here how some people in quarantine had escaped to go to weddings and ended up infecting others, so we were skeptical that all US citizens would be diligent to self-quarantine if they were infected.
Then, in a conversation with my mother, I found out there had been a person that got tested for Covid19 and flew from New York to Florida while awaiting test results. The positive test result came while they were in the air, and it seems that no one did much about it during the flight nor after landing. This lack of self-quarantine, on top of the high costs for the coronavirus tests and limited availability, solidified our decision to stay put. We were happy with how serious the Vietnamese government was taking this global health threat.
During the first week of March, we began to slowly stock up on some staple pantry items - just in case we would have to be quarantined in our apartment. Our apartment building had a bit of a scare - someone who had been in contact with a Covid19 patient, but they tested negative and our apartment building breathed a sigh of relief. However, after that, our building made the rule that everyone must wear a mask in the elevators - a rule that soon became citywide. Mask wearing was and still is a much debated topic, but we happily complied and started limiting our gatherings in public places.
Slowly, some restaurants and tourist sites began to close, and our church moved to an online service. The streets were a bit quieter, the shops were fairly empty, and the dreary weather helped encourage people to stay inside and flatten the curve through social distancing.
At the moment, we still try to get out for a hike or ice skating or some sort of physical exercise a few times a week - weather and government regulations permitting. Our eating out has turned more to ordering delivery or cooking at home. And at least one of us goes out to the market about once a day. A few weeks ago, my son would talk a lot about his school friends. Now, he has become used to being inside and doesn't like going out much because then he has to wear a mask.
Our dining room table has turned into a work table, with two laptops and my son's phonics "homework". Our coffee table has turned into our eating table. It's funny...a couple of months ago, I was wishing we could have more family dinners together...now, we have every meal together.
It has been a strange but sweet time together. A time to slow down, take on new hobbies or renew old ones. A time to reconnect with friends and family across the globe. A time for me to try out new recipes. A time to de-stress from the fast-paced life, working full-time in a big city.
This emotional roller-coaster hasn't ended yet, but we are feeling prepared and safe here in Vietnam as we pray for our friends and family across the globe.