Life in Medellin, Colombia During Lockdown

In June 2020, Lamon and I were in our own separate spaces lounging a responsible six feet apart as he told me about his latest single Spotlight and finca life in Envigado, Colombia. Well, fast forward to September and Lamon has more to share. After the release of his latest single, he has been busy again working on a new track that he’s excited to promote. I also found out that not only does he have a background in teaching but he is an entrepreneur. He and his four business partners make up a company called Primeros Cinco. During lockdown, he’s been working on some promising opportunities using Medellin, Colombia as his home base. 

The last time we spoke, Lamon had me in tears with his Lamonda story. I needed a good laugh and, oh, how we laughed. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. If you’ve lived abroad or speak more than one language — it’s a story you will find funny too. 

Our recent catch-up call was more about — how are you? What’s going on down there? Are you ok? Most of us are feeling the same way at this point. It’s been six months of living with cabin fever and well, we’re just not feeling like ourselves. Let’s face it, the world is fighting a pandemic and we are all trying to survive and manage. Lamon, well, he’s making music and chillin’. Find out how he is doing with the most recent update from his apartment in Medellin, Colombia: 

Where have you been living? Tell us about your living situation in Medellin, Colombia.

The last time we spoke, I was staying at a finca in Envigado. It was great during the first two months of the lockdown. Now, I’m back in my apartment in Medellin, Colombia, which has its pros and cons. During my stay at the finca, I didn’t see anyone for two months with the exception of the staff and chef. Every day, I was able to exercise outdoors and enjoy fresh air and nature. Here in Medellin, I see more people. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of exercising outside or going on nature walks; that’s been a difficult adjustment.

A picture of Lamon wearing a mask and large headphones in Medellin, Colombia

What have you been doing to keep yourself occupied? Work? Exploring? Exercise?

I’m a strong believer that there is always opportunity in chaos. Since the start of the lockdown, I’ve focused a lot on mind development. Every day I read for 30 minutes when I wake up. Following that, I exercise. Right now, I’m committing a lot of time to flexibility and mobility workouts. I signed up for Portuguese classes via italki and released a new song called Kiz Kiz, which is available on all digital platforms.

Do you interact with friends or are you not allowed?

I speak with my friends/business partners often via Google Meet; we still have a number of businesses to manage and are working on new projects. Because we are on complete lockdown, it’s somewhat difficult to catch up with each other in person. We are allowed to go out once a week for groceries, banking, and other necessary errands, which can easily take up your entire day. Trying to visit friends on those days is difficult.

What is the COVID-19 situation like in Medellin, Colombia?

I’m always amazed as to how the situation is being handled here versus the States. For example, every two weeks we receive a notice informing us which days we are allowed to go out. The system is based on the last number of your local ID/passport. For example, if the last number of your local ID/passport is 6, officials will inform you that you can leave your home on Wednesday. 

Going to the supermarket or mall in Medellin is like checking in at the airport. When you arrive at a supermarket or mall, they first take your temperature to see if you have a fever; before you’re allowed to enter, you must disinfect your shoes and hands. Then, your ID is checked to determine if you have permission to be outside that day. If you have approval, your ID is then registered. Upon exiting, you must register once more that you are leaving the premises.

A picture of Lamon wearing a face shield and mask in Medellin, Colombia.

What has helped you stay optimistic about the situation?

With the exception of not being able to perform at night and clubs being closed, nothing has really changed. My daily routine and life have stayed the same. I work from home and have a home base. During the day, I work out and always have used exercise to stay positive. This keeps me focused and helps me stay optimistic about my life’s goals.

Do you have any news on when you can come home?

Medellin, Colombia is home (hahaha). At the moment, I don’t have any plans of traveling to the US. From what I’ve seen on the news and conversations with friends and family, it’s best to camp out here for a while. The reason being is to stay healthy. I feel safer in Medellin than I do stateside.  

Are there options to come back to the USA now? I have heard that repatriation flights can be extremely expensive from South America. Is this true?

Two months ago, humanitarian flights were expensive. However, I believe the prices have stabilized a bit. According to recent news, domestic flights will reopen in September and international flights will reopen in November. We’ll have to see what happens, but I’m in no rush to travel.

A picture of Lamon in Medellin, Colombia

How are the locals in Medellin, Colombia coping with COVID-19?

For the most part, locals are doing their best to cope with the situation and the majority are following protocol. Of course, there are certain neighborhoods that are not complying with all of the protocols, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t heard of any locals not wanting to wear face masks or protesting, which has been rather common in the US.

How has your family dealt with this situation?

My mom lives in Georgia. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three months; including three weeks in a coma. Naturally, my family had a difficult time dealing with the situation. Fortunately, she was able to pull through and is in recovery.

Lamon's mom, a coronavirus survivor.

Can you share any memorable situations? 

To help people deal with home confinement, sometimes the local police and/or local musicians have gone to different neighborhoods/apartment buildings and played music outside. Julio plays for an hour and a half. Check out the video at the end to see one of these performers. 

How has living in Medellin, Colombia changed any future plans that you might have?

The situation has presented some new business opportunities that I’ll be happy to share with you once we launch. 

Each time I speak with Lamon, I feel more and more excited to see where his journey will take him. I feel this same sense with many of our contributors. Nonetheless, with Lamon, I feel like he is about to take off. I met Lamon in 2015 and saw a man who was incredibly dedicated to working hard in his classroom. Today, I see a man with even more of a vision and a dream. Let’s see where Lamon will take us next.

By Leesa Truesdell

Quarantined and Teaching from Home

by Stephanie Best

Typically, those closest to me would describe me as adventurous, spontaneous, adaptable, and tenacious. However, the past few years (and particularly the past few months in quarantine) have deeply humbled me to realize my limits. I have somehow found myself going from fearlessly backpacking foreign countries solo to ordering groceries online because I am hesitant to even go to the grocery store. The sudden change has been deeply unsettling. 

Suddenly, I have gone from constantly being surrounded by students and friends, to teaching online and being quarantined alone. I have never been one to spend much time at home. I would much rather go to the gym or study from a coffee shop than work from home. However, I have had to figure out how to make things work from home. Even as things start to slowly open up, I am trying to only be in physical proximity with the few people that I have seen since the lockdown began. Still, I have found it important to keep connections. 

teaching from home

Finding Sanity Mid-Quarantine

Here are a few of the things that have helped me keep relatively sane during this unprecedented time: 

  1. Video chat: As often as possible, I have tried to be in contact with friends and family via Facetime or other video chat sources. Although maintaining physical distancing has been difficult, this makes it a little easier to feel a sense of connectedness. 
  2. Workout from home: I used to go to the gym most days, but now I have been working out from home. Although it’s much harder to find a routine that works, I have found that having an app or video to follow has been helpful in working out more efficiently than if I just worked out without guidance.
  3. Find a good book or show to watch: I have never been one for TV, but being in quarantine, it has been nice to find something to occupy my mind when things get too quiet. I’ve also enjoyed catching up on reading.
  4. Routine: I’m not best at this, but it’s definitely helpful. Waking up early and making a to-do list has certainly made my days more bearable. 

As soon as quarantine is over, I will be the first to be planning my next adventure. However, until then, I am trying to make the most out of a difficult situation. Perhaps when the dust settles, we will have a newfound appreciation for things that were once taken for granted. 

Teaching from Home

For many students, teachers, and parents, the move to online instruction has been a challenge. Although I have been using instructional technology in my practice from the beginning of my teaching career, the sudden change has been difficult for students and teachers alike. Even before the outbreak, I was already using Blackboard to supplement in-person instruction. However, I had to quickly adapt my courses to be entirely online. It looks as though instruction will continue this way through at least the summer semester and potentially into the fall. Here’s some advice for teachers, students, and parents alike during this time:

Teachers:

  1. Be Empathetic: Regardless of what age/subject you are teaching from home, all of our students are going through rough times. Perhaps your students have new roles and responsibilities or are otherwise struggling. They may not have access to proper technology or wi-fi. They may be experiencing financial struggles, or health issues. Accept late work, and ask your students how they’re doing — how they’re really doing. Be flexible in getting them through the semester.
  2. Collaborate: My experience has been that teachers are good at sharing and working together. Share with your colleagues. We’re all better when we work together. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 
  3. Be Flexible: Pencil in plans, but don’t be too attached to anything. Things are changing constantly, and adaptability and flexibility are key.

Parents (K-12):

  1. Try to create space at home dedicated to virtual learning. Students focus better if they’re not near their TV, video games, toys, bed, etc. You don’t need to have a separate room. A learning station at the kitchen table can work.
  2. Communicate with your child about their work, but don’t be too involved. This may be a hard line to draw and is an exercise in balancing needs and support. The bottom line is that it does children no favors to do things or assignments for them that they’re able to do it themselves. While it can be helpful to talk through homework, do not do it for them. 
  3. Encourage your children to complete their assignments, but don’t stress them out unnecessarily. Mental and physical health must take priority at this point. We’re all living in unprecedented and highly stressful times. 

woman and girl using ipad

Students:

  1. Make a list each day of the things that must get done. Cross them off as you complete them. It will help you to stay organized and feel a sense of accomplishment. 
  2. Communicate openly with your teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your teachers are learning as they’re going along much as you, and most teachers take student feedback into consideration.
  3. Pay attention to all instructions. Don’t just skip to the end to try to get through quicker. Listen to the instruction on your modules or the Zoom/Blackboard Collaborate lecture. Most likely, the answers to your questions are there.

kids learning on computers

Quarantined and Teaching from Home

It will be interesting to see how this situation changes education. Perhaps this time will allow us to hone effective use of instructional technology and continue to effectively incorporate it when we are able to return to in-person instruction. 

Surviving and Recovering During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Edmond Gagnon

During our last trip to Italy, Cathryn and I booked a food tour during our stay in Venice. It was an amazing experience made possible by the tour operators, Adam and Maya, who were American Expats we became friends with. They moved from California to Venice to start a new business and live abroad. By staying in touch with this couple, I learned first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged their city and country. In a letter from Adam, he told us about their experience:

A Letter from Adam and Maya from Venice Bites Food Tours

Maya & Adam Venice Bites Food Tours“Beginning with the New Year in 2020, we were full of hope and excitement because our company, Venice Bites Food Tours, had just been recommended in the 16th edition of the Rick Steves Venice Guide Book.  We knew we had reached the pinnacle — receiving a Rick Steves recommendation is akin to winning an Oscar award for ‘best food tour’.

A Rocky Start Before the Pandemic

We had a tough end-of-season in 2019, because Venice experienced the second-worst flooding event in recorded history during early November. Tourists canceled their holiday plans to Venice out of fear that the city was completely underwater. Most businesses reopened by the end of the first week, but US news outlets reported that Venice looked like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and we were forced to close for the rest of the season.

Come February of 2020, it appeared that Venice was bouncing back. Carnevale had arrived, and hotels, while not full by normal standards, were still booked with tourists and residents alike, enjoying and participating in the annual celebrations. Things were looking up.  

But then we started getting reports about a virus that was already in full swing in China, and how it had found its way to northern Italy. The City of Venice made the difficult decision to close down the rest of Carnevale on February 23rd, and canceled all festivities leading up to Fat Tuesday, two days later.

At first, the government defined specific areas in northern Italy as “red zones”;  town officials closed off a catchment area of around 50,000 people. Then, within days, the red zone areas were widened. Soon, Venice was quarantined from the world.

The Pandemic News Worsens

Every day we would wake up to new news and new restrictions on our movement within Italy, our province, and the city itself. Venice and the Veneto, along with the neighboring Lombardy region, became a cautionary tale. People around the world watched as things became worse and worse here, with so many cases and deaths. The numbers seemed to grow exponentially with each passing day, as did our sense of dread and fear.

The Italian government, both city and regional, did their best to contain the situation in the midst of the pandemic. Restaurants and bars could be opened but had to close at 6:00 pm. They told them that they must keep diners one meter apart. This meant they were only able to fill every other table. It was the death knell for our eateries. With the restrictions, they could see no way to stay open.

Finally, they put a stay-at-home order in place. Only essential workers could leave their home unless shopping for food and supplies or to visit a doctor or pharmacist.  If you find yourself outside your home, you must wear a mask and gloves. You must also carry a self-verification form stating your home address, where you are going, and a testament that you will return directly back home.  

Predicting the Future of Travel

Adam & MayaTravel experts issued a four-phase recovery chart that contains both optimistic and pessimistic views on how long it might take for tourism to recover. The phases are lockdown, easing, returning, and recovery.  Their estimate for how long the lockdown will be 2-4 months. We are currently in month two of lockdown.  

Experts estimate the easing phase to take 4-9 months, which begins right at the end of lockdown. Travel restrictions will begin to let up and gradually return to normal. If Lockdown is over in four months (say, the end of June on the pessimistic side), and the easing phase begins in early July, this phase could potentially last until the end of July, 2021.

The returning phase is when travel demand grows and the economy recovers. They estimated this phase to take another 6-12 months. So again, pessimistically, that’s another year of waiting. Experts project that travel demand will be 40-70% of the 2019 numbers. That takes us to the beginning of August, 2022 before we can expect to be ‘back to normal.’

Finally, in the recovery phase, travel demand will approach pre-COVID levels. Experts expect another 12-18 months of this phase, with a pessimistic end date of February 2024. That’s a very long time for people like us in the travel industry, who have no other means of income. After learning of these estimates, real fear set in. 

What Will Venice Look Like?

Empty Italy StreetsWe also have to wonder about Venice and what this city will look like throughout these phases. How many Venetian-owned-and-operated restaurants will make it? How many Venetians will stay in Venice, hoping to ride this out?

As far as coping, it has been incredibly stressful. Maya contracted pneumonia and Bell’s Palsy, and was admitted to the hospital on April 1st. They immediately tested her for the virus and quarantined her in the hospital for 48 hours. Thankfully, the test returned negative. She continues to battle the aftermath of pneumonia but recovered 95% of the way. To add to the stress of all of this, we feel constantly worried about our families and loved ones, especially our parents. We are 6,700 miles away, with a nine-hour time difference. 

We also feel immense pressure due to money. Since the November flood, we have given only a handful of tours. We have savings, but it’s a race against time trying to anticipate when our money will run out. At what point do we pull the trigger and execute our exit plan? It will come at great financial, emotional, and mental costs.

Facing ‘Recovery’ After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maya in Hospital during the PandemicOur hopes were so high for 2020 and beyond. After the recommendation from Rick Steves, we thought we’d be able to grow our business, hire a few guides, and add more tours. Now, we are stuck in limbo for the foreseeable future, not knowing how this thing is going to play out. 

We will be home without work for at least twelve months and are coping in different ways. Those ways change daily. There are good days and bad. I do projects around the house and fetch groceries for seniors in our building. Maya is trying to learn guitar. These are small things that help keep our minds and hands busy.

We fear that the money will run out or that we won’t execute the correct plan at the right time because of the pandemic. We are in a vacuum and have no idea how long we will sit in it. Also, we worry for the rest of the world, as we know we are not alone in this fight.”

Wrap Up — The Exit Strategy

After reading this letter, I asked Adam if he could expand on their exit strategy.

“We still own rental property in California (my former home). We hope that the real estate market allows us to sell it at a profit if it comes to it. If we have to leave Venice, we’d use that profit to buy land in Ireland, where we’d begin the next chapter of our lives, and maybe start another business or two.” 

I’ve never met another couple with such resilience and an optimistic long-term game plan. They tackled all obstacles that life’s thrown at them. Cathryn and I wish them health and the best of luck. If you plan a trip to Italy in the near future, please check out ‘Venice Bites’. We, along with Rick Steves, highly recommend them as the best food tour in Venice.  

Edmond Gagnon is a storyteller, author of fiction novels and traveler. He resides in the City of Windsor, in Ontario, Canada with his wife Cathryn.