Who are you?
Claudia, 37 years old. I am from Austria but have been living in Canada for four years.
Where and how do you live?
With my partner and two cats, I live in a small, remote town in northern Manitoba – Churchill. Churchill is nicknamed „Polar Bear Capital of the World“ and is only accessible by train or plane. As most people here, we live in government-owned housing. Even though Churchill is called a „town“, it only has about 800 residents. However, there is a lot of infrastructure that you (Europeans probably) wouldn’t expect in such a small place. There is a health centre, hockey arena, K-12 school, a train station, an airport, several hotels and restaurants etc. Broadly speaking, I work in Community Development; more specifically, I work on creating skill development opportunities, provide career coaching, develop training programs and work with local, regional and national stakeholders on those topics.
How bad is Corona, how strict are the regulations where you are?
There are no known cases of Covid-19 in my town. However, the same restrictions as elsewhere in the province apply. The school has been closed for 1 month now (since March 17th) and the community centre, where my office is located, as well. For me, working from home is possible as a lot of it is done online, per email or phone anyway. My partner is an electrician and on-call; we are both lucky as we are still getting our regular paycheques.
Non-essential businesses had to close at the beginning of April (however, in such a small town, there are mostly essential businesses only). Schooling is done through distance learning indefinitely, possibly until June. Public gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed, access to the two local grocery stores is limited to 15 and 2 customers at a time respectively. The restaurants only do take out. Air traffic has been limited to 2 flights per week (before there was at least one flight a day). The whole province is under a state of emergency (I think most provinces and territories are; on the federal level, a state of emergency is being discussed but has not been evoked).
Canada has closed its borders to tourists until (at least) the end of June. Anyone returning from abroad must quarantine, if not, people can face high fines or even jail. However, we are not on lock down, can still go outside (keeping 2 meters distance from others, and with people from the same household), but social life is drastically reduced. In a small town like ours this might be less noticeable though as there are no coffee shops or malls or similar places. Many events had to be cancelled and the beginning of the crisis coincided with the end of the winter tourism season. Some tourists were stuck here for a while as the local air carrier would only transport people who hadn’t been abroad for at least 14 days but that didn’t apply to most tourists. Some locals want the town to shut its “borders” and not allow anyone in, but I think this is not really doable (legally, mostly).
If the virus makes it to Churchill it will be most likely be devastating – there are a lot of old people, a lot of people with chronic illnesses and the local health centre has limited capacities. Even for some standard medical issues, residents often have to be flown out to the province’s capital (about 1,000 kilometres away). On top of that, the local residence for seniors is within the health centre.
There are new rules at least every week and things are very fluid right now. There are no plans to ease any restrictions or slowly go “back to normal” yet. The governments, both federal and provincial, are providing daily news conferences and updates on new measures, supports and cases/deaths. As of April 14th, in Manitoba there are 246 cases and 4 deaths; in Canada there are 27,063 cases and 903 deaths. The numbers in MB are quite a bit lower than in other provinces and it’s not for me to say why, but to give you a perspective: the province is approximately twice as big as Germany and has only 1.4 million residents.
How does Corona affect your daily life?
The memes floating around the internet saying something along the lines of “it turns out that my way of life is called social distancing” are somewhat true for me :) We are isolating, the only place I go is the grocery store or for a walk. I set up a home office and while I can’t do as much as I would do if I could be in my actual office, I get things done. It took me a bit but I found a routine that works for me. I have my dedicated desk time but also down time.
How do you organize your days (in isolation/ quarantine)?
In addition to my work, I try to get outside often, to get on my yoga/exercise mat daily (even if it’s just a five-minute stretch) and to focus on the good things. I’m an optimist by nature and am lucky to be able to see the opportunities instead of focusing on what is lacking. Like many others around the world, I cook and bake, start (or finally finish) craft projects, chat with my family back home and am happy that I have access to Netflix. On some days, I take our cats as a role model – nap, eat, nap, relax and eat more. I think there’s no one way of handling this, but the important thing is to listen to yourself (your soul and your body) and do what you need (as much as you can). If you need to feel productive, create something, if you feel like resting or simply overwhelmed, acknowledge that. I’m not sure what terminology is used elsewhere, but in Canada, officials are focusing on physical distancing while emphasizing that social connections are very important. I try to live by that. For me, routine is important, sunshine, fresh air and not having too many expectations. I realize that not having kids and not having lost income, living in a comfy and safe home, makes all that much much easier than it is for many others.
One thing I’m doing (not sure if it counts as creative) is that I write down at the end of the day what I did. So instead of a “to do” list, I have an “today I accomplished” list – and anything from doing dishes, cooking a full meal, washing my hair and going for a walk goes on there. That way I can look back and see how many tiny things add up and I still have done ‘something’ even if it was a low-key, slow or lazy day. It also shows me that I have to slow down sometimes.
What do you miss the most?
Since my family is thousands of kilometers away anyway, I mostly miss my friends but also the small town perk of running into familiar people everywhere and stop for a casual chat. Living so remotely, I buy most things in bulk when I’m in the city, so I’m not worried about toilet paper, flour or other dry goods. Also, the remoteness has us used to not having certain goods in the grocery store – if a train or plane can’t make it, it’s not uncommon to have no bananas or bread or milk (or other popular items) in town. That’s life here. I feel living in a small, remote, northern town prepares you well for pandemics ;-) (as far as that is even possible)
What are you afraid of?
As mentioned, I’m an optimist, but the worst Corona-related issue I can imagine for me personally is not being able to travel home to Austria in the fall to meet my new baby niece who will be born in August. For the community, I’m concerned about what happens if/when the virus makes its way north and what the current global situation will do to the economy. Tourism is very big here and people will definitely notice changes for a long time.
Any other topics right now besides Corona (political, general or personal)?
I guess I’m still interested in the same issues and try to do my life as usual as possible. Right now that is: starting seeds to grow food and medicine in my little container garden, trying to be mindful and conscious about what I do, say, buy etc., spend time with my partner, grow and make plans (currently, that is building a cabin in the woods that we can access by snowmobile in the winter and by canoe in the summer).
Any positive outcomes or effects you see in the Corona crisis?
Not really other than, once again, realizing my privilege and being very grateful to be where I am, both physically, as a person, and professionally. Also, that a lot can be done if people and their leaders want to. It makes me a bit more hopeful that other pressing issues might be solved one day.
What are you looking forward to the most after Corona? What's your biggest hope / wish?
I’m mostly looking forward to being able to see my friends again, going snowshoeing, doing yoga or having dinner together. My wish is that we (as a global community but also as individuals) do NOT go “back to normal” but find other, more sustainable, socially just and mindful ways of organizing our lives and communities.
Churchill and polar bears in Northern Canada are sooo high up on my bucket list - thanks Claudia, stay safe up North!! And good luck for the cabin!