We have all heard this phrase before: life doesn’t flow like a long, tranquil river. Life holds many surprises; some good, some bad. In my view, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic represents a bit of both.
Arriving in Vancouver in October 2019, I planned to stay for the duration of my working holiday permit, up to a total duration of two years. I arrived with a career and life goal in this vast country and was well settled within the first months. Thanks to Vancouver being a real cultural mosaic, I appreciated my new Canadian life more and more each day. A journalist by training, I cultivate curiosity as an art of living. Eager for new experiences, discoveries, meetings, I was soaking up the culture, my mind open to receiving a wealth of new information. At the beginning of March, we all witnessed the worrying progression of this new virus, especially in Europe. My roots are in eastern France and I was obviously concerned for all my relatives living in Alsace. My home town of Mulhouse is a city that ultimately became the heart of French and even world news. It was the first centre of contagion in that country, and originated at a religious gathering. I thus witnessed, from far away, the progression of COVID in my native region, torn between two feelings to see it as a simple nightmare or as a very sad reality.
The unknown as a horizon
My new Vancouver life has in fact taken a most unexpected turn. I was settled into a Canadian reality in British Columbia, where the virus was ultimately not as destructive, while dealing with the tragic news coming from France which was impacted with full force by this unknown disease. This unprecedented situation has plunged many in Vancouver into an ambivalent state of mind, from escalating stress to latent serenity.
Of course I had been in almost daily communication with family and friends. Some were beginning to take stock of what was going on in hospitals, while others were concerned for me about the disturbing progress of COVID among our American neighbours. The wave of the virus became very real for everyone after several months of feeling untouchable. We thought, oh a little flu here and there, a virus that kills a little more than usual and only attacks old people.” People didn’t take stock of the phenomenon right away.
The eye of the storm
At the beginning of March, things accelerated here in Vancouver. Living in a shared flat with another Frenchwoman, we felt the city slow down and the first layoffs arrived. My roommate knew that she would lose her job at the end of March; notice had been given in advance by her employer. Non-essential shops closed one after the other, whereas the main attractions closed as early as the first half of March. I also had a job interview to raise a few dollars in the meantime. I never made it there in the end.
March break is when Vancouver really hit the pause button. Students did not return to school as planned afterwards and we saw more non-mandatory containment measures announced. In Mulhouse, where my attention was focused, even from afar, the situation seemed catastrophic: the number of people being hospitalized and deaths continued to grow day by day. The area had become dangerous, and was still the hottest area in the “Blue, White, Red” (French flag) territory.
Canada’s advantage in March was that it was able to observe in advance what was happening, particularly in Europe. The use of masks and social distancing appeared very early, limiting, in my opinion, the number of cases in the Vancouver area. I also saw that public transport was nearly empty as I commuted to my job as a French tutor. This was a luxury for me at that time, no crowds and I was able to move around without any real danger. The deserted streets in the city centre have left their mark. Unprecedented sights became common everywhere on the planet, putting man behind the scenes.
The end of March was a time of loneliness for me as I began to think about the future. My roommate had returned to France, and I went through the pros and cons. Stay, but at what price? Finally I chose to return home to be close to my family and friends while waiting for the crisis to pass. I intend to return to Vancouver as soon as the wind turns.
Let us hope that this planetary break can find a more human outcome.
I will finish with another saying which I hope proves to be true: it’s an ill wind that blows no good.
Translation by Barry Brisebois