Where were you when Covid first changed your life? As an American, there are moments burned into our common psyche – like the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, 9/11, and now Covid.
My Covid moment actually happened in Praia da Luz. I had heard there were cases of this new virus in Lisbon and Porto, but very few here. My tribe of close friends from America were about to take me for a fabulous jaunt to Morocco, complete with camel safari and souk adventure.
My friend Maria came early to help me get ready for the gang. Thanks to Primark, everyone had their own robe, slippers, beauty products and a candle lovingly displayed on each bed. We bought lots of wine for the arrival.
Twelve hours before they were getting on a plane, I got a text in the middle of our night here that said: “Urgent – call when you wake up.” Not a fun wake-up call.
I will never forget standing on the balcony that morning with Maria and our other friends on speakerphone. The American government had just announced that anyone leaving the country probably wouldn’t get back in. We were hugely disappointed, but they just couldn’t risk getting marooned here, understandably. Maria and I looked at each other … what about us?
My first instinct was to stay. I reached out to my rental company to extend my stay for another month. Covid would be over by then, right? I invited Maria to stay with me, but she felt we needed to get out right away and I saw her point.
While Maria tackled getting flights out, I ran around like a lunatic trying to get everything wrapped up in a day and make the flight out.
First, prescriptions. I called Dr. Jo at Luzdoc and she gave me a three-month supply, no problem.
I went to the pharmacy and the line was around the block outside. Everyone was standing apart, in what we would soon start calling “social distance”. An elderly lady on a walker came struggling up and looked at the line with horror. A kindly Portuguese gentleman in the front of the line invited her to get in front of him. This would not have happened in the States. Even if a kind person let someone in line, other people would start screaming and making a scene. I was amazed.
When I got in the pharmacy, I explained that I was getting on a plane the next day and the lovely pharmacist went in the back and got me their last box of rubber gloves and one of their last bottles of hand disinfectant. How kind of her!
My next frantic errand was to my storage place, U-Store, just outside of Lagos. I caught the manager closing, but when I told her my tale of woe, she said that she would wait for me to go back home, pack up my boxes and come back. This wonderful person would take time away from her family when people were starting to get scared about Covid. All to help a foreign stranger!
Next stop, the grocery store. My friends said that people in the US were fighting over toilet paper. A nice guy at the door sprayed our hands, and inside calm people were buying what they needed. No fights over anything, just people being nice to each other. I packed most of my clothes in the boxes for U-Store and filled my suitcase with toilet paper and food.
Our last project was to make a face covering. I used a sleeping mask. Maria ingeniously took her fanny pack and converted it to fit across her face. I will never forget the security guard at the airport asking Maria why there were zippers on her face. If only I had gotten a picture of her unzipping this fanny pack on her face while this burly guard leaned over to check the pockets out!
In the airport, people had all sorts of strange things tied around their faces, and it was weirdly silent. Frankly, it was starting to feel like the apocalypse.
I made it back to Florida, where I had recently moved to be near my son. The Uber driver told me that I should be grateful he was working during this virus, and I should give him a big tip. My son had taken a new job in California, leaving me in a city where I knew no one.
After my quarantine, I went to Costco, a big warehouse store in the US. Suddenly, a crowd of people went running towards the back of the store. The rumor spread that there was toilet paper available. When I got there, people were pushing and shoving, the store worker looked scared to death, and two guys started screaming at each other.
At the fabric store to make masks, I found the shelves almost empty. A rude saleswoman told me I should be grateful they had anything.
I sat in my apartment for months, thanking God I had a balcony on the river. On the riverwalk in front of me, I saw many people ignoring the rules of masks and distancing. It was so upsetting. I measured out 6 feet on my balcony and made a sign asking people to keep their social distance.
During a fireworks event, the unmasked crowd was yelling obscenities at me for my sign. That event caused Covid to run rampant in the city. I was done.
I will never forget the difference between how I was treated in the Algarve, a stranger and a foreigner, with kindness and offers of help. Compare that to the indifference and outright rudeness of my own countrymen.
Up until Covid, I had planned to make Portugal my winter home, but my two Covid experiences convinced me to move here permanently. I have yet to see a fight over toilet paper at Continente.
By Glenda Cole
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Glenda Cole is a retired American executive loving her storybook life in the Algarve with her boyfriend, Glenn Ellison. Check out their vlog on You Tube: The Glenn and Glenda Show about their move to Portugal