Covid Fallout- Will We Ever See Our Kids Again?

As Covid rises around the globe, and holiday plans are derailed again, we wonder when we will be reunited with loved ones, but for expats living abroad, the pain of separation is magnified by distance. I ache to be with my family so much it feels like a limb is missing.

When the French talk about missing people, they say “Il me manque”, which means, “I miss him”. But literally translated, it’s “he is missing to me”, as though a crucial part of you has been removed. It has.

When my Norwegian ancestors left their fjords to sail across the seas in search of a better life in America, they knew they would never see their families again. As a young girl, my mom’s father always promised her he would take her back to the fjords when she was an adult. Unfortunately, they never made the trip. He died suddenly of cancer when she was only 18.

I have been lucky. I made countless flights across the Pond between Europe and USA to keep my American ties strong not only for me but also for my children. Yet when I first stepped on that Air France flight 40 years ago, my biggest anxiety was not  about playing basketball in France, a country where I knew no one and spoke not a word of the language, but the fear that I might not be able to come back to the US and see my loved ones again.

I have always been able to make the trip home until now when a global pandemic changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Now my adult children live there; we are stuck here.
Our situation is not unique.

When I saw my Swiss neighbor, she lamented, -“I don’t know when we will see our kids again. Our son is in Thailand, one daughter is in Canada, her twin in Paris. Their younger brother was expecting his first child this summer and they were all coming to Switzerland to celebrate the event – that reunion is postponed indefinitely.

My German friend Maria, who lives just across the border in France, has one daughter in Belgium, another in Scotland, a son in England and husband in Somaliland. They are separated by Covid between continents.

Even families living in the same country are unable to plan reunions due to risks.
Parents are separated from kids, grandparents from grandchildren, siblings from siblings. My best friend, a former xpat moved back to North Carolina, but her 3 daughters live in Minnesota, Massachusetts and South Carolina. She talks to me about renting an RV, so she could go see them keeping a safe distance in separate living quarters.

My former student, now teaching at the International school of Geneva, has a brother living in Canada, a sister in Australia and her mom in South Africa. Home was whatever continent she and her family could meet up on their destination holidays.

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As expats the world is our world, but today that kind of global gathering is out of the question.

Rules between and within countries regarding Covid change daily. In the summer no flights from Europe were allowed to land on US soil. For the moment, we can land, but there are no direct flights. There are few options available and each one has constraints. On our usual Delta/KLM flight there is a risk for a 10 day quarantine in Amsterdam. As a U.S. citizen I would be allowed in the country, but my French husband would require a special visa. And then we aren’t sure if or when we could get back to Switzerland.

When will be able to plan trips again?

We wait and wonder and worry as the number of cases of infection reach alarming rates across Europe and the U.S. Our hearts ache with longing for things we once took for granted…sharing a meal, sitting around reminiscing, embracing in a hug.

In the meantime“Ils me manquent.”They are missing to me.” Pieces of my soul vanished.

I am grieving the loss.

Removing Tons of Litter from Lake Geneva on Global Clean Up Day

From a childhood growing up in a river town, to summers spent on a Wisconsin lake, to weekends of young adulthood walking Normand beaches to raising a family in a Switzerland with a view of Lake Geneva, no matter where I have lived, water has been my solace bringing comfort, inspiration and peace.

When you are lucky enough to grow up near water you learn to never take it for granted. We were raised with an appreciation of our lakes, rivers and seas. Even as kids we walked around Summit Lake picking up discarded beer cans to take to the local dump.

Now every morning when I see my jaw dropping view of Lake Geneva surrounded by snow capped Mt Blanc, I feel blessed. Lake Geneva, on the north side of Alps nestled between France and Switzerland, is the largest lake on the Rhone River and one of the largest lake in western Europe (It’s northern shore is 95 km (59 mi), the southern shore 72 km (45 mi) in length)

A pearl of the region, Lake Geneva is of indescribable beauty, so for me it is hard to imagine why anyone would carelessly pollute this national treasure.

As part of Global Day of garbage clean up, my husband volunteered to join Aqua Diving’s club in their 28th year of cleaning only a mile long shoreline in Geneva. This year, due to the pandemic, participation was limited to 150 people in each region ,but over 1000 people helped out across the nation.

Wearing masks and gloves volunteers lined the shore of Lake Geneva’s right bank. Divers hauled mesh bags filled with champagne bottles, beer cans, plastic waste and handed them to strong workers like my husband who dragged them up on shore and sorted them into categories of waste.

“How was it?” I asked when he came home six hours later.

“Exhausting,” he said as he collapsed on the couch, “and disgusting”. Divers found discarded bikes, tires, wagons, weapons and even an entire grill. Last year they hauled 1.5 tons; this year we collected twice the amount.”

In the 1980s the lake was too polluted with waste and chemicals to swim in, so a French- Swiss transnational effort was implemented. Today water-treatment plants recycle waste water around the lake; now the water is almost too clean because there is not enough nutrients going into the lake for the fish to grow. That hasn’t stopped human littering.

Yet even in Switzerland, a pristine country where citizens value cleanliness, people still discard trash everywhere including into lakes and rivers.

I grew up appreciating our natural resources and water is one of the most precious ones.

How can anyone spoil water that we are so lucky to have access to? I love the taste of water, the feel of water, the sound of water rushing over rocks and ocean tides lapping on the shores. I adore the sight of water reflecting in the shimmering sun and changing colors with the winds.

“Every piece of litter discarded carelessly” Gerald laments “eventually ends up in our rivers, lakes and seas.”

What can you do to tidy up the bodies of water near you?








4th of July 2020 – A Time of Reflection

4th of July 2020 - A Time of ReflectionOn our nation’s birthday I want to wish everyone a Happy 4th of July, but I don’t feel happy. I am deeply troubled about our future.

This is the first 4th of July since I moved to Europe 4 decades ago that I am not in my homeland celebrating the American holiday with family. Due to the present situation, I am not welcome there nor is my French husband or anyone else from Europe. No planes from abroad are allowed to land on American soil due to the Covid epidemic, but the great irony is that European leaders have done a much better job of handling the crisis than. Trump. The pandemic is under control here especially where we live in Switzerland.

The US has the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

Americans are not allowed in Europe either, which is sad for European business.

“In 2019 around 18 billion Americans came to Europe spending 70 billion Euros (about 78 $billion dollars), “says Tom Jenkins CEO of the European Tourism Association.““

Europe’s borders have reopened to Europeans and 14 other countries – no one knows for how long— but they won’t be open to Americans anytime soon. Long haul flights and exchanges between Europeans and Americans look even more doubtful.

The financial fall out from lack of international trade between Europe and the US is massive; the emotional toll on families even greater.

I don’t know when I will see my children in the States again. My British daughter- in- law does not know when her family will be allowed to visit. My niece’s Chinese boyfriend has no idea when he will see his parents. And my eldest niece, who will be a new mother in two months, wonders what kind of a world awaits her baby.

Like most Americans living abroad, I am ashamed of our country’s leadership. I am alarmed by our President’s incompetence, his total lack of diplomacy, compassion and integrity.

I am worried for my daughter and niece who work in the medical health field in the States at a time when people show lack of respect for human life, refusing to do something as simple and innocuous as wearing a mask.

I am troubled by social unrest created from years of blatant inequality and lack of tolerance

I am horrified by the anti woman, anti gay, anti black, anti European rhetoric that fuels hatred and gives free license to bigotry.

Families may not be as international as mine, but so many of us can trace our ancestry to other parts of the world and so much of our nation was built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. To ignore the role of the African Americans, Asians and Europeans in the making of our country is a travesty, to sever the ties to our motherlands is a crime.

But I hope there are still pockets of America where the old values I grew up with still remain. Places like Summit Lake where time stands still, where hope runs eternal ,where nature heals our broken hearts. A place where the 4th of July is a celebration of a forgotten way of life of what is good about Americans, their childlike optimism and joie de vivre.

4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

 

A place remarkable in its simplicity. Every 4th of July people dressed in costumes ride in decorated pontoon boats that circle the lake waving flags and throwing out candy and icees to people sitting on their docks. Later in the evening fire works explode from the public beach across the lake rivals any big city display. On the dock, wrapped in blankets, we swat mosquitoes while admiring the burst of sparkly colors illuminating the black waters and believe in childhood dreams again.
4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

This year though I am sad for my country, I am thinking of happier 4th of July memories. Still my heart aches for family, for the lake and for a simpler time when we weren’t isolated and separated by a pandemic.

Europe Under Siege Our New Normal?

After enduring winter’s fog obscuring our mountains, I rejoiced to see the sun rise over the Alps and Lake Geneva. Though daffodils dance with the promise of spring, people remain oppressed.

Our resplendent view clashes with the darkness in our hearts, as we face a relentless enemy. As if it blew in overnight, coronavirus swept across the land leaving silence in its wake. No birds chirp in the gardens, no planes fly overhead, no cars rumble in the distance.

We live in a bucolic village outside Geneva Switzerland at the crossroads of the globe only 2 minutes from France, an hours drive from Germany, 3 to Italy. But right now no one travels beyond the block.

How could we not see what was happening?

When the coronavirus invaded our neighbor Italy, we continued daily routines. We didn’t know anyone who was sick. Weren’t symptoms mild? Weren’t only the elderly and infirm at risk? We lied to ourselves “I am healthy, I am robust, I am not that old.”

Meanwhile coronavirus crept into our communities.

Ten days ago, President Macron rang alarm bells urging French people to stay home to protect our most vulnerable.

Champs-Elysées, Paris, March 20th 2020

The following day, Swiss authorities enforced the same protocol. One by one European countries followed suite closing borders, shutting schools, and urging employees to work from home.

Like vultures swooping down on prey, people ravaged grocery shelves stocking up for the siege and stormed pharmacy stock for hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, pain killers. Worse yet, medical staff faced shortages.

Even so, many others still ignored warnings and continued to party in crowds at parks, cafes, night clubs spreading disease with every encounter.

So governments mandated more restrictions. Overnight, France turned into police state. Officers fined citizens 135 euros ($150) for leaving their homes without a warrant.

For first time since WWII, Switzerland deployed troops to help transport supplies and patients from overflowing hospitals. In Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, no beds remained. ICU patients in Alsace region had to be airlifted to other parts of France.

Europe Under Siege Our New Normal

Warning signs in Swiss train station

Infections doubled daily, death rates climbed.

Did we do too little too late?

Citizens learned a new vocabulary – Covid-19, containment, mitigation, social distancing, flatten the curve.

And changed cultural customs. No hand shaking, cheek kissing, bear hugging. No funerals, no weddings, no family gatherings. Grandparents can no longer babysit children. Family members not living in the same house can’t meet up. With no entertainment, no social gatherings, no sporting events, we grumbled about the very restrictions that may safe keep our lives.

As free floating anxiety reigned across the land, our lives are stripped to bare necessities — food, water, air.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Italians cried, “Heed our warnings!”

Are we listening?

Who will be next?

Is this the new normal?

Instead of turning inward in self-pity, we need to look outward.

How can we support the overworked medical personnel?

What can we do to help the poor and homeless survive?

How can we reach out to struggling neighbors?

Who can we do to lift someone up today?

Show Solidarity Fighting Coronavirus

As if sucking air through a straw, I gasp, my trachea burns, my lungs compress and I can’t breathe.

But don’t worry about me, focus on your fellow man.

I am not sick now, but the way coronavirus reacts in the body seems eerily similar to the way my body reacts when exposed to environmental toxins.

If you have never suffered from a severe asthma attack or respiratory illness, it’s hard to understand what it feels like to struggle to breathe. I do!

Don’t underestimate COVID-19. Show solidarity even if you are not infected other people will be.

flatten the curve

The Conversation – Social distancing March 13, 2020

With its easy transmission, lack of a treatment and invisible asymptomatic carriers living among us, this disease becomes a formidable foe.

We are past containment. Our best hope: “flatten the curve” which means slowing the acceleration enough that national health care systems can cope without collapsing.

Most cold viruses, infect the nose and throat. COVID-19 spreads directly to the airways and lungs without warning setting off a war between the virus and immune system

“The virus hijacks the cell and reprograms it genetically to make more copies of virus,” said Dr. Otto Yang, a UCLA expert on infectious disease.

First it strikes the lungs and impairs breathing.

The body fights back causing more inflammation. This damages blood vessels, which can leak fluid into lung tissues, clogging the tiny air sacs. Pneumonia results limiting one’s ability to deliver oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide.

Next it attacks the kidneys, which can no longer remove waste from the body fast enough.
If the disease progresses, cell damage occurs throughout the body. Organs fail from the virus’ attack or because of septic shock.

No country has enough resources (intensive care units, isolation rooms, ventilators) and medical staff to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time.

That’s the crisis happening in Italy right now in a wealthy region with one of the best health systems in the world.

“In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don’t have enough beds. In the hallway, there are another 15 people waiting who are hardly breathing and need oxygen.”

Our too little testing, too late policy failed. Misinformation and lack of testing accelerated the spread of the illness by delaying our reaction. We are ground zero. In France, in Switzerland, in the USA.

Social restrictions are enforced. Countries shut down. Everyone must comply in a united effort to slow the progression.

Stop pointing fingers and blaming others — the Chinese, the Italians, the French, the Democrats, the EU.
Don’t think that this doesn’t concern you.

You may not fall into the vulnerable elderly age bracket or high risk category, but someone you know does. Dialysis machines, insulin pumps, pace makers, and other medical equipment and modern drugs keep many of us ticking. If infected with COVID-19, thousands more will need access to artificial ventilation and the best medical technology available to beat this disease.

Heed the medical advice. Wash hands. Stay home. Stop complaining.

Overreacting? Don’t think so.

With every breath you take

Remember this caveat.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Human beings everywhere

Share the same air.

Without breath

There is no life.

As Coronavirus Sweeps Europe Public Heeds Medical Experts

coronavirus outbreakIn Switzerland when we first heard reports of the coronavirus in China, we only half listened, but when our neighbor Italy announced outbreaks, we were all ears.

The close proximity and community spread of a life threatening virus has Europeans on edge. Most citizens held their fears in check until the Italian outbreak, then within hours illness knocked on our doorstep. Our anxiety stepped up a notch.

coronavirus outbreak

figures valid as March 6, 2020

Surrounded by Italy, Austria, Germany, and France, hundreds of thousands of people cross our borders daily to work in Switzerland. At my former work place, the International School of Geneva, 140 different nations are represented, many of whom live across the French border. Exposure is inevitable.

Suddenly news flashed across Europe in different languages as nations grappled with how to best handle the crisis and contain outbreaks. For the first time ever, Switzerland immediately cancelled its world famous Geneva International Motor Show and forbid public events of more than 1000 spectators including popular soccer and hockey games. France limited gatherings to less than 5000. Both countries immediately shut down schools and shops where clusters of coronavirus broke out. Leaders of European countries reacted quickly, calmly and sensibly.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Trump’s initial reaction was to minimize its impact. At his campaign rally in South Carolina, he proclaimed that the coronavirus was the new “Democratic hoax”. By promoting “fake news,” he only added to public confusion and mistrust.

COVID 19 is so new, much remains unknown: incubation period is uncertain and asymptomatic patients become silent carriers. Countries close borders, quarantine citizens, and try to curb public panic.

Medical experts have trouble understanding and predicting outcomes. Even so, international researchers are moving forward so quickly that vaccine might be possible within 12 to 18 months instead of 10 to15 years.

With medical personnel overworked in every country and the public’s anxiety rising, we need to get the facts straight. Worldwide public health and safety should be paramount on any leader’s agenda especially a leader as powerful as the US President.

Fortunately the highly respected Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is now serving as a member of the White House coronavirus task force to provide facts and clarify misconceptions.

Global health experts like our friend, Dr. Jonathan Quick, former chair of Global Health Council and long term collaborator of theWorld Health Organization (WHO) have been solicited by news agencies around the world such as ABC .

In The Guardian, he offers valuable insights, proposes feasible solutions and provides hope for the future.

The End of EpidemicsHis book, The End of Epidemics published in 2018, predicted the present day scenario.

“Jonathan Quick offers a compelling plan to prevent worldwide infectious outbreaks. The End of Epidemics and is essential reading for those who might be affected by a future pandemic―that is, just about everyone.”―Sandeep Jauhar, bestselling author of Heart: A History

As the WHO scrambles to predict outcomes, produce tests and develop vaccines, we need to listen to the voices of those who know best.

For a world leader to put a personal spin on such a deadly and disruptive global crisis for political leverage is dangerous. Political differences must be put aside, scientific knowledge must be shared and transparency between countries must prevail to contain a world epidemic with such dire consequences.

Regardless if we live in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East or Australia it behooves us all to remember pandemics don’t discriminate.

It is in humanity’s best interest to adhere to the collective advice of the world’s best scientific minds.

no borders for coronavirus