We Had the Choice to Leave, but We’re Staying in Algiers

So things have changed a bit since my last post on the Coronavirus situation in Algeria. The number of detected Coronavirus in the country cases keeps rising – it’s currently at about 700 — and the mood feels different. Way fewer people on the streets, and about one-third of those I see are wearing face masks. But the biggest change for us: U.S. Embassies throughout the world are now on what’s called “authorized departure” which means most American employees can go back to the U.S. to ride out the pandemic if they want. The last scheduled plane from Algiers to America departed on March 30. We weren’t on it, although some of our colleagues and their families were, as well as other American citizens who were living or visiting Algeria and wanted to return to the U.S.

For us, it wasn’t a difficult decision to stay. We have a lovely and cozy house here in Algiers, and it’s filled with all of our worldly possessions. Which includes our cats. If we left, who would watch Gus and Boj? The thought of those dear fatties roaming an empty house with only an occasional check-in for maybe a few months was too much. And where would we go in the United States? I doubt my parents in Michigan (which is the third most affected U.S. state right now, btw) or Adam’s parents in Washington DC really want us in their homes after traveling for 20 hours being exposed to hundreds of people, presumably some of which are infected with the virus. As good as being with family and friends sounds right now, we probably wouldn’t get to physically be in the same room as our loved ones anyway. So maybe we’d rent an apartment somewhere? Like in DC, where we’d drop thousands of dollars a month to live in a little place, with no indication of when we’d be allowed back in to Algeria? Also, the situation seems so much worse in the U.S. right now…

So, yeah, going back to America doesn’t make much sense for us. The biggest risk of staying here is that if we contract the virus and get really sick, the healthcare options here are not what they are in America. So that could be bad, even fatal. We’re hoping that because we’re young and healthy that if we get the virus, it won’t be bad.

So we’re staying and it’s been mostly okay. Or it was until I started feeling sick about a week ago. I’d tell you what day specifically, but do we even call the days of the week by names any more? It was some time last week, and I felt like I had a low fever. I was convinced I had Coronavirus. Ironic I got it here, I thought, when there are so many fewer (reported) cases than in the U.S. Although I felt lethargic and on and off fever-y for a few days, it never progressed to a sore throat or a cough, but it really sucked to be mopey and blah for three days, and those three days coincided with some of the coldest and rainiest days I’ve ever seen in Algiers, which has truly great weather most of the time. I watched the new “Emma,” every episode of a show from a decade ago called “Party Down,” many episodes of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which is even more clever than I remembered, finished “Silicon Valley,” started a hilarious show about the rapper Lil Dicky called “Dave,” and started the new David Simon show “A Plot Against America.” Oh, and started and finished a Netflix show called “Unorthodox” that definitely brought back some Jerusalem memories.

In all the shows, people are going to cozy bars and restaurants and it made me nostalgic. Life would be so much less nice without getting dressed up and going to a restaurant. I do hope all the places we love and that make us feel human and connected to other people will weather this pandemic and subsequent economic depression.

Adam is mostly unaffected by it all. He’s doing a ton of good work from home, and doing hours of language lessons daily. He also was at the airport the other day, helping to get Americans on the plane and back to the U.S., which was a heavy lift! Really he’s the heartiest person I know.

I am not as hearty. But now that I’m feeling better, I’m putting in more energy to my job (remember I started a job at the U.S. Embassy? Worked for two weeks and then blam, back to the pajama land of the days of yore.), exercising, and feeling some creative juices flow. Well, if not flow, at least dribble. In a spurt the other day, I decided to rearrange some things in our perpetually unused guest bedroom to make the white walls feel less spare, I hosted a Zoom session for Algerians on poetry (ha, with a whopping three participants!), and I’m planning a virtual book club on Albert Camus’ The Plague, which is ridiculously relevant and also very, very well written and thought-provoking.

So it’s been a little difficult mentally, but it’s been especially difficult physically. Algiers is not a walking city to begin with, and with the closure of the few public “outdoors” spaces – the downtown park, the esplanade along the Mediterranean, and the park with dirt hiking trials by the one big gym (also closed) – it’s hard to figure out a consistent way to get the body moving. I’ve walked from my house to the embassy a few times, and around the Ambassador’s gorgeous and lush residence, which made me feel a little better.

But a spot of yoga here and there and a few workouts from my Jillian Michaels app, is just not enough to offset the pesto gnocchi; toasted french bread slathered with cream cheese, Everything but the Bagel seasoning, capers and red onions; eggplant parm; and lo mein noodles that we’ve been turning to night after night. After losing seven pounds in the last two months, I’m worried about gaining it back, but that worry is of a lower order than the other constant worry and anxiety I have about the new state of the world. So in other words, I don’t really care and I’m eating what I want.

I’m also cooking tons, although this is nothing new. The difference is, I can’t ever take a break from cooking to order from the really good Indian restaurant, or to go to the superb yet strange Chinese restaurant. It’s just cooking, dishes, cooking, dishes, repeat for infinity.

But of course nothing is all bad. I am delighted by the connectedness of all humans in this time. I’m taking advantage of online yoga classes, moving in unison with folks in Washington DC (my spiritual hometown) who are feeling similar worries that I’m feeling now. Also, we’re catching up with friends whom we haven’t talked to in a while because everyone has realized the importance of staying connected to loved ones as a way to avoid the total disconnection that could one could easily succumb by not ever leaving home. Also, I’m enjoying our nice patio and yard at those increasingly rare times when the sun peeks through fruiting loquat trees.

Stay sane and safe, people.

Emily

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