Quarantine Diaries Bogota
Graphic via Desirée Tapias for The Americano

The flip side of being an only child in the coronavirus lockdown in Bogota: a crash course in becoming a caretaker of divorced, aging parents.

Quarantine measures began in Bogota on March 20, with what Mayor Claudia Lopez called an “isolation drill.” This was two weeks after the first case of coronavirus was detected in Colombia, and it was supposed to only last for a long weekend. The idea was to allow the city’s government and residents to prepare for when a longer quarantine might be decreed. At this point the outlook seemed positive: only 158 cases had been detected and no deaths from the virus had been reported yet.

But the weekend hadn’t even started when President Ivan Duque announced that a nationwide quarantine would begin immediately after the drill ended and that it would last for 19 days. I don’t think by now anyone still believes that the Monday after Easter break, when the official quarantine is supposed to end, everything will go back to anything resembling normalcy. 

I’m spending the quarantine with my mother — 67 and chronically ill,– her caretaker and our two dogs. Yes, I’m the kind of millennial who had to go back to their childhood home after graduate school because they were drowning in student loans. On the other hand, by living at home I’m able to afford help for taking care of my mother.

Being an only child means I’ve heard every iteration of the idea that I must be spoiled, pampered and a selfish brat (that’s a link to an article saying that the stereotypes aren’t true). But my parent’s old age has shown me the flip side of being an only child, which is being the caretaker of both parents. Now on turbo-powered mode thanks to the coronavirus lockdown.

My father is 74 and lives alone. He has mobility issues and quite a few chronic illnesses including the sequels of having been a pack-a-day smoker for 45 years. So he’s definitely part of the at-risk population. He’s reluctantly following the president’s order that everyone over 70 years old must stay home until the end of May, although resenting the president’s infantilizing tone in his calls for “protecting our abuelitos.” 

The lockdown in Bogota doesn’t have a curfew. My father lives walking distance from me so I’ve been over about three times a week after work hours (I’ve been asked to keep an eight to five work schedule even though I’m working from home) to bring groceries and help out around the house — especially with computer-related problems. My father works from home and has the most basic skills using a word processor, internet browser and email account, but now needs extra help scanning documents that now need to be sent electronically, and paying bills online that he used to pay directly.

My aunts keep checking up on me to see if I’m taking care of my father properly. They send videos about using bleach to disinfect the tangerines I buy at the market and get annoyed if I point out the chances of getting the virus from fruit are slim (and, either way, eating bleach is very bad for you).

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But moving around town these days has been exhausting. I put sanitizing gel on my hands after leaving my apartment and walk down the street as the only person not wearing a face mask, but wondering if I should even though the OMS has advised against it. Then I take off my shoes when I get to my father’s home and again ask myself if it’s an unnecessary precaution. Even if I drag virus with the soles of my shoes, wouldn’t my father need to touch the floor and then his face to get infected? Then I wash my hands thoroughly and sing a little song (usually feminist chants about the end of patriarchy or children’s songs about toys washing their hands) to make sure I do it long enough. 

Every action comes from fear and that’s what makes it draining. I imagine my father’s apartment as an untainted environment I might be defiling every time I enter it. But then I have to repeat everything on the way back home to my mother’s, with the added catch that night has fallen, the streets are empty, and another concern is added to the mix: I might get robbed. So I take a cab if it’s after eight, and worry about the (increased?) chances of bringing the virus from the cab into my mother’s also protected environment.

The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns have put everything upside down. Parents are the ones at risk and they need to be coddled and protected. And only children like me are no longer kings of their households but sole caretakers of their parents.

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