Self-quarantine has prevented me from doing everything I love. It’s depressing, but if the city didn’t take measures, I had to.
On Sunday, I heard the typical sounds of the Colonia Portales, the southern Mexico City neighborhood where I live: the deafening ring of the garbage collectors’ bells; the voice of a girl — booming out of a scrap metal collectors truck — promising to buy mattresses, refrigerators, stoves, and pieces of iron.
From my window, I could also see the spring season’s best gift: Jacaranda trees, with their bright violet blossoms. It was 9:15 a.m. and everything seemed normal.
But things have changed in this city in a very short time. April 5 will mark two weeks since my girlfriend and I decided to self-quarantine, voluntarily. I highlight the ‘voluntarily’ because, unlike other Latin American countries — like Colombia or Bolivia — authorities in Mexico haven’t yet decreed mandatory social isolation, but instead make daily recommendations about staying at home and only going out when necessary.
On Sunday March 22, when we started voluntary quarantine, there were 292,142 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12,784 deaths from the virus worldwide. Meanwhile Mexico had only 316 positive cases and just two deaths (now, there are 1215 cases and 27 deaths). Considering we were in an early stage of the epidemic, I decided it was the perfect moment to heed the advice of scientists and health professionals about the impact and meaning of this epidemic. I suggested to my parents to do the same. As strange as it may seem, the old folks weren’t afraid of this virus. But they reluctantly accepted my advice and self-isolated.
Quarantine has made me anxious. It has prevented me from walking in the nearby park or going to a cafe in the mornings, an old routine that used to encourage me to read, write or listen to a new podcast. It has also affected my work as a journalist, preventing me from going out to get the story. Without the interviews, the best job in the world, as Gabriel García Márquez used to describe it, makes no sense at all.
I am a privileged person, like my friends and family, most of whom have also self-isolated. Some have faced pay cuts because of the health crisis while others have businesses that are struggling. But we can still work at home, a luxury many millions of Mexicans do not have. Almost half of the population lives in poverty, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy. Many families rely on the informal economy to survive.
Last Thursday, I was on my way to the supermarket when I stopped at a taco stand run by a 59-year-old woman called Nancy. There were no customers at the usually bustling stand and a handwritten sign declared that food was only available for takeout. I asked Nancy how her business was coping and she immediately said that sales were down. When I asked her if she wasn’t worried about coronavirus, she told me: “With my salary, I live day by day, so I cannot stay at home even if I wanted to.”
As I was about to leave, I asked her if she was afraid of catching the virus. She turned around and said, “I put my trust in God and I know that we are all going to die, but not now and not because of this (coronavirus).” I left the stall hoping that Nancy would be all right, that her sales would recover and that we can walk the streets covered with beautiful violet flowers again soon.