I wrote this post when we were about one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, but somehow forgot to hit “publish” and just found this in my folder of drafts. By now, the situation in Quito has only become worse. We are now not allowed to go out on the weekend and have curfew from Friday 8pm to Monday 5am. Essentially, people are allowed to work during the week and even take public transportation, but on the weekend we all have to stay in. Not only does this make the logistics of groceries etc. rather complicated, but it also means that we are not allowed to go out into the mountains on the weekends – and that’s for me the most difficult part at the moment. It feels as if I’m only working and working, and when the weekend is there, we are just locked up completely.
March 12th 2020 was a regular day for me. I went to Quito to sign a document, and heard in the cab that schools would be temporarily closed the next day. I took my daughter for her entrance exam at one of the schools she was applying to (in Ecuador, 2-year-old kids have to “apply” for their spot in school…). Looking back on my calendar, I also see that I had a 7am call with one of my PhD candidates in the Netherlands, met the exchange PhD candidate who was visiting me, met my BSc thesis students, worked on the analysis of experiments that my colleagues had done in the lab in Delft, and worked on a chapter for a document of an ACI committee. It was a Thursday, so my sister-in-law picked up my daughter at 4pm from home (we had a nanny covering 7am – 4pm at that time) to have some auntie-time, and I went home after 6pm.
March 13th 2020 came the decision that USFQ would close for students, but that staff (except for those 60+) would be required to work in the office. I had 3 videoconferences that day, did some more experimental analysis, replied emails, planned the next week, and left my office by 3:45pm. In the evening, my husband and I went to eat in one of our favorite restaurants after putting the toddler to sleep while my mother-in-law stayed as babysitter.
March 15th 2020 came a notification that USFQ would also close for faculty. I was working on my laptop at the moment the email came in, and I rushed to campus with my backup to pick up my teaching material and some of my research notebooks.
Since March 15th, I have been once in my office in May to pick up more books, my ink, some more notebooks, and random things like my rulers. I had to make an appointment and could just dash in for a few minutes to grab my things.
So, since March 16th 2020, I’ve been working from home. I’ve had contact with 6 people (including my husband and daughter) in this time and talked at distance and masked to a few more relatives and three of my neighbors. While I am in a different position than those who live alone, or live far away from all of their family and friends, I’ve been living a secluded life for all this time. There’s been times that I’ve enjoyed the simplicity of it. I’ve felt rage and frustration over the overall poor management of the crisis globally (and have become more pessimistic about mankind’s ability to survive in a changing climate). I’ve deeply missed my friends and family in Europe. In my husband’s side of the family, there has been grief and loss, without the ability to say goodbye properly. In my family, there’s been illness, and worry on my part for my relatives far away.
In the first months of the pandemic, I worked from home while watching my daughter. After two months, we asked my mother-in-law to help us out. After five months, we ended up laying off our nanny, as she had not been able to come to us since March and we didn’t see any chance for her to rejoin us soon. The long trip to Europe we planned for the summer was cancelled, as well as a trip we had planned to go to Banos in Ecuador.
I miss working from my office. I miss my large table on which I can spread out bridge drawings, my notes, and everything. I miss the clear distinction between being at work and being home. I miss the random conversations in the hallway. I miss the light in my office. I miss the quite of my office. I miss the interaction with my students. I miss the ability to “feel” my students and the atmosphere in class. I miss being able to print and scan things. I miss wearing heels. I miss the ability of staying longer to finish things on Thursdays. I miss traveling to go see my friends and family and to go see my students in Delft. I miss my walk to and from work. I miss my wall-long whiteboard for sketching out ideas and writing down my weekly goals.
I don’t miss the random interruptions in my office. I don’t miss the hurried Tupperware lunches over emails. I don’t miss the constant rush of traveling to conferences and the associated childcare conundrum. I don’t miss the ambiguity of some long-drawn-out meetings. I don’t miss gazing around in a meeting room, waiting for people who arrived too late. I don’t miss the afternoon rush in the car to take my daughter to all her activities. I don’t miss being the only person who uses videoconferencing tools a lot. I don’t miss the random calls to my landline. I don’t miss the admin tasks that required a blue-ink signature and personal drop-off at a different office, sometimes including a long time waiting in line. I don’t miss having the sign off my grade lists at the end of the semester and waiting in line at the registrar’s office. I don’t miss people staring into my office, and walking in with random questions because they assume I’m a secretary.
There are lessons I learned this year that I will take forward when this pandemic will be over. There are online teaching tools I will keep using. There are good habits I hope to keep up, such as my daily meditation, my walking breaks, and drinking less coffee. But, all in all, I’m very much looking forward to the day I can see my students again.