As you can tell, I have decided to write one more blog post so that I could tell you about my experience of being locked down in South Africa. When I arrived in South Africa on March 13th there were very few cases of COVID in the country. The country was functioning normally.
Even though the country had not yet imposed any restrictions we decided that we were not comfortable being around others. We sought out places we could visit outside like the Union Buildings which is the seat of South African government and houses the office of the president of South Africa. You can see from the statue that Nelson Mandela is a beloved hero in this country (and the world).
The Union Buildings are surrounded by beautiful gardens that include these gorgeous Birds of Paradise flowers.
Several months before COVID one of the au pairs who had lived with the Chervenaks a few years ago, made plans to visit them in South Africa. Sophia and her boyfriend, Andrew, arrived from Germany a week before I did. They had anticipated spending another week in South Africa by visiting Cape Town. Unfortunately, they had to cancel their trip and then fly back to Germany instead. In this picture we are enjoying a bowl of ice cream as we listen to the president addressing the nation about COVID. President Ramaphosa is announcing that starting on March 26th the entire country will go into lock down. The lock down will prohibit people from leaving their homes unless they need to buy food, gasoline or need to get to a hospital. The lock down meant that we were not allowed to leave our property even to go for a walk, run or bike ride. 😦 Another restriction that was imposed starting March 26th was that the sale of tobacco products and alcohol was banned. Both of these restrictions are still in place as I write this blog post in August. The sale of tobacco and alcohol generates millions of rand (the South African currency) as tax revenue. Now, because of these restrictions, the government is not receiving this tax revenue causing even more hardship. Also, the black market is selling both alcohol and tobacco which has complicated everything.
Before the lock down started on the 26th of March the family went on as many walks…
…and bike rides…
…and puddle stomping expeditions as possible.
Now virtual learning has begun. Jacob is in third grade and Ella is in first. They attend an international school in Pretoria that went to all virtual learning on March 16th. The children spent about a half a day on daily assignments sent by their teachers. Their lessons often included large, small or individual Zoom meetings.
Both Jacob and Ella needed help from a parent with virtual lessons. Although both these pictures show Ben helping the kids, it was really Elizabeth who spent the most time with the kids on this. Ben was usually doing his work virtually in another part of the house and I was teaching my Albanian students virtually in still another part of the house. Elizabeth does have a part time job writing a twice monthly newsletter for the Embassy but thank goodness it does not require a lot of hours. Keeping up with Jacob and Ella’s schooling plus keeping tabs on the younger two children floating around the house was definitely a full time job. I am not sure how families with two parents working full time could handle it all. Plus I think being a single parent during this pandemic would be especially stressful.
Here Ben is heading off to work in the back of the house so he can attend a virtual meeting. 🙂
The family is headed outside to take a PE class with Ben. Don’t we look tough and ready to go?!?!
Meanwhile, back in the States, Josh is food shopping at Wegman’s and finds the bread aisle almost empty. This shortage only happened at the beginning of the pandemic.
Randy has spent much time during the pandemic making a waterwheel. He adores his workshop and can easily spend hours at a time making all kinds of things. He decided to make a waterwheel to go in a stream at our property (the Loop) which is about two hours south of Rochester. The property is quite rustic with no electricity or running water. Randy has decided to make this waterwheel to generate electricity for when he spends time at the Loop.
Josh spent much of his time during the pandemic digging up part of the backyard and planting a vegetable garden.
At the same time, David’s job was changing rapidly at NYU Languone Medical Center in Manhattan.
David sent these pictures to help us understand the difference between a healthy lung x-ray on the right and and a COVID infected lung x-ray on the left.
David spent some time walking around NYC and sent a few pics of the empty streets. He saw the USS Comfort docked in the harbor. The video is from Times Square, so sad. 😦
Back to Pretoria and the Chervs enjoying their pool. Since South Africa is in the southern hemisphere their seasons are opposite of ours. When I arrived in March it was a week away from the first day of fall. The fall and winter are quite mild in South Africa which means the Chervs use the pool year round.
Digging a hole in the yard looking for worms, playing shoe shop with Nana, playing house in the dog crate and simply being cute were all ways to pass the time when we were locked down during the pandemic.
Elizabeth and Ben are great cooks! Every meal I ate with them was delicious and almost always full of healthy ingredients. I never prepared a meal while visiting them but I was in charge of cleaning up each night. It was a routine that we fell into and it worked well.
I was so glad that I was able to be with Juliet to celebrate her third birthday on March 27th. Ben has a tradition of buying roses for his daughters on their birthdays. Juliet turned three so her daddy bought her three roses, very sweet!
I absolutely adore this picture! Francesca is an important and loved part of the Chervenak family. She is originally from Zimbabwe but has lived in South Africa for 20 years. She lives with the Chervs in her own apartment which is part of the house. Her responsibilities mostly center around housework but she also helps out with childcare at times. When the pandemic hit, Francesca had the choice of moving out to live with one of her adult children or staying put in quarantine with the Chervs. She chose to stay with the Chervs which I was glad for because it allowed me the time to get to know this lovely person.
Reading aloud to Juliet each night was a highlight of my time in lock down. Her sense of humor, enthusiasm and candidness made her such fun to be around.
Look at the text sent out in Albania in early April by the prime minister, Edi Rama. I thought South Africa had a tight lock down but it was mild compared to what was happening in Albania. No one was allowed to leave their home from 1:00PM Friday until 5:00AM Monday for several weeks. Also, you could not leave your home unless you had a pass that you applied for and then was issued to you via text. The very hard lock down kept the COVID numbers low for several weeks but then the economy was suffering so much that Albania opened back up. According to some of my friends that live there, very few people wear masks or social distance now. The number of COVID cases is going up significantly.
Spa Day!!! One of the many events that Elizabeth came up with to help keep the children entertained during quarantine was to have a Spa Day. Elizabeth gave manicures and pedicures, Ben gave massages and I gave facials. All of this with the backdrop of relaxing spa music. The kids loved it and so did we.
A few times while I was in South Africa, Ambassador Marks addressed the embassy community. Her remarks were usually brief and included an open chat line. There were often questions regarding rather the American employees of the embassy would be staying in South Africa or would they be evacuated. The decision to evacuate was contingent on the possibility of a problem in any of these three areas: a lack of hospital beds, a disruption to the food supply or the dangers of civil unrest. None of these were a significant concern while I was there. Some families did decide to leave South Africa (particularly if a family member had a health concern) but most families, including Elizabeth and Ben felt fine staying in SA.
The kids came up with the idea of having an indoor snowball fight with wads of paper. It was another popular way to pass the time. Can you hear Ella playing her violin in the background? 🙂
The older two children had Crazy Hair Day at school so all four kids got involved.
Albanian College had Crazy Hair Day the same week so here I am. 🙂
Juliet was in her Little Tykes Cozy Coupe when she got going too fast and was stopped by a gate at the end of the driveway. She was thrown out of the toy car and hit her head causing lots of blood to come from a cut. Anyways, Elizabeth and Ben took her to the emergency room were she had a few staples put in her scalp to close the wound. It was scary for everyone but the good news is that Juliet healed up fine within a few days.
For much of the time I was in SA we had weekly family Zoom meetings. Loved seeing and talking with everyone!
Ready to dye Easter eggs!
The Easter egg hunt is on!
Elizabeth prepared a gorgeous and delicious Easter Brunch for the family.
Back in Fairport, Randy has finished making the waterwheel and is trying it out in our backyard.
Josh has extended his garden onto the deck and has planted peas in the planters that I usually put flowers in. Looking good!
In April, David was assigned to an ICU unit to care for COVID patients. The picture on the left is what the ICU looks like normally. The picture on the right shows what the unit looks like when caring for COVID patients. Notice the rolling stand with the control center mounted on it outside of the patients’ rooms. That is so the healthcare personnel can monitor the patients’ vitals and ventilators without actually going in the room. They are trying to minimize their exposure to the virus. By early May, David had rotated back to his surgical placement.
When there was a shortage of PPE this was the bag David put his mask in so he could reuse it later.
Legos, Legos, Legos…
…ongoing Nerf gun wars…
…and walking on the driveway in the rain were all popular quarantine activities.
As part of a school fun day the children were to dress up like a book character. Juliet did not understand the concept of a book character but she definitely understood what it meant to dress up.
Look at the weather for a typical late fall, early winter week in South Africa!
But on occasion it was like this. Elizabeth and Ben live on a hill so sometimes the weather is a bit more exaggerated.
Ben got Elizabeth and I going on a Peloton cycling program called Power Zones. I definitely was not confident that I would like it but since I could no longer go for runs I decided I would try it. Elizabeth and I both really got into it. Elizabeth was even riding everyday while I rode every 2 or 3 days.
LOVE these pictures that Elizabeth took of her daughter. Juliet is wearing a dress that my mom made for Elizabeth when she was a little girl.
The kids loved riding their scooters around and around the garage and driveway.
I got in the habit of watching Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing. Although I don’t always agree with his politics I did find his briefings to be informative and comforting. He always had a plan and could explain the thinking behind the plan.
Mom made a cake and the kids get to lick the batter. Yum!
Having red hair is fun!!!
Dad gets a haircut during lockdown compliments of mom.
Just like thousands of brides around the world, my niece Kathryn, had her wedding postponed because of COVID. Elizabeth and I attended a virtual bridal shower for Kathryn and her fiancé, Calvin. Although it was not the way a traditional wedding shower would be, it certainly was still a very lovely affair. It was so nice to gather with family to celebrate Kathryn’s next step in life.
This Mother’s Day card was put together for me by my very thoughtful daughter. xoxo
Ella is taking after her mother because she came up with the idea that the family needed to have an International Day. Each of the four children was paired with an adult. Each pair chose one or two countries and then prepared food from those countries to share with the rest of the family. Loved it!
The children and I played cards, cards and more cards throughout the entire lockdown. It was fun for them and fun for me!
Celebrating Liberty and Chappy’s 3rd birthday! There was steak for dinner with any scraps going to the dogs plus the kids and Elizabeth baked some special dog treats. The Chervs adopted these two dogs about a year ago and they have been a wonderful addition to the family.
Elizabeth and I took a virtual yoga class twice a week throughout our lockdown. Our teacher was Susan from the same yoga studio that I go to in Fairport.
Yay, as of June 1st the lockdown went to Phase 4 which meant that we could go off our property for walks and scooter rides. Here we are on our first time out, so exciting!
Do you remember when I told you that Francesca was originally from Zimbabwe but has lived in SA for the last 20 years? Because of the pandemic the South African government gave money to all the Southern Africans to help them buy food for themselves. However, people like Francesca (and the people from her church) did not get any of this money since they were not born in SA. The pandemic makes it impossible for these people to work so they are constantly in need of food. Such a sad situation! Elizabeth and I decided that we would ask Francesca to go with us to shop for food and then deliver it to some families from Francesca’s church. The Chervenak children also donated some of their toys to these families. It was a humbling experience to see how appreciative these families were and to realize how very fortunate our family is that we are able to help these families in a small way.
If you know me well, you know that I do not care for cats primarily because I am allergic to them. The Chervs’ cat was quite insistent on laying on me even though we were trying hard to get the cat to stay away from me.
Bennett lost his first tooth during the lockdown.
The 2019-20 school year has come to a close for the Chervenak children.
As I said earlier, Elizabeth has a part time job writing a newsletter for the Embassy. With all the extra help from her children it can be a bit of challenge to get the newsletter written.
Every Friday throughout quarantine Ben made pizza for the family on Friday night. He made the crust from scratch and then offered lots of yummy ingredients for all of us to choose from. Friday Pizza Night also included a movie!
Look at the new vehicle the Chervs bought during quarantine. It is called a Defender and is a 2002 model that they plan to bring back to the States someday. It is a perfect vehicle for their family because it easily seats everyone plus there is plenty of room for the dogs.
Since school has ended the children were given the opportunity to enroll in virtual Winter School if they wanted to do so. Winter School is three weeks long and goes for three hours a day. The purpose of it was simply to have fun, no academics involved. Here the children are taking a fort building class.
Winter School also involved a family challenge of making an amusement park out of candy and…
…making a mini-museum. I am not sure who enjoyed the challenges more, the kids or Elizabeth. The pictures don’t adequately show how amazing these creations were.
With lots of coaching from my good friend Sarah K., Elizabeth and I figured out how to color my hair. I had my hair colored right before I left Tirana and I was not happy with ALL the gray that was showing up in my hair as quarantine continued. Ben does not know what to think of his mother-in-law. 🙂 I really do not know how anyone is able to color their hair by themselves. I could not have done it without Elizabeth.
Look at how sweet Bennet fell asleep one night. This is not a posed picture. He actually fell asleep with the lights on surrounded by all these books about places around the world.
I cannot tell you how many walks, scooter rides and bike rides we went on for the last two months I was in SA. It was a good way to get out of the house and a good way to help the kids burn off some energy. Up until I left in mid-July the kids and I rarely left the property except for outings like this. The number of COVID case continues to go up, up, up.
This Father’s Day card for Randy was put together for him by our very thoughtful daughter. xoxo
Elizabeth’s Father’s Day gift for Ben was a 30 minute consultation with Ben’s favorite Peloton instructor, Matt Wilpers. I love how excited Ben was about the gift.
Here we are celebrating Francesca’s 57th birthday. Don’t you just love her hat she wore to her birthday party?!? All the children love GoGo but I think she and Juliet have an extra special bond partially because Francesca spends more time taking care of Juliet than she does the older children. GoGo is what the children call Francesca and means grandmother.
It is the last day of school at Albanian College so I scheduled a virtual dance party with my students to celebrate. Of course, I invited my grandchildren to the dance party.
Jacob turned 10 on July 3rd. He was such a good sport about having to celebrate his birthday in lockdown. He could have complained about it but instead he planned the following activities for the day: a family bike ride, a family game of Minecraft, a Nerf gun war, hot dogs and chips for dinner followed by an ice cream cake and presents. Randy sent Jacob a huge bag of Wint-o-green mints which Jacob was super excited about.
Ella absolutely loves animals of all kinds and has said she wants to be a pet shop owner when she grows up. 🙂 She has also expressed interest in horseback riding. With COVID eliminating all of the kids’ activities Elizabeth and Ben decided to seek out horseback riding lessons for Ella. After going to class the first time it became apparent that Bennett and Juliet wanted to participate too. All three children are loving the experience!
Because of the lockdown no travel is allowed outside of each province. The Chervs live in the province of Gauteng which is the smallest province geographically but also the most densely populated because it includes the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Everyone was feeling fairly housebound so it was decided that a farmhouse an hour away would be a nice getaway for the weekend. Climbing trees was a favorite activity for the weekend.
The farmhouse included a hot tub which the children spent much time in. The other children in the picture are part of the Jain family. In early June Elizabeth and Ben decided to create a “double bubble” with another family. That meant that both families agreed to continue to isolate from other people and maintain a safe lockdown. By creating a “double bubble” the children, and adults too, could have a chance to socialize with a few others outside of the family circle.
Aren’t they darling?!? The kids LOVED being together for the weekend. The Jain family is absolutely delightful. The dad is from the UK and the mom is from Sweden. It is always SO enjoyable to get to know people from another culture.
Every Sunday at 3:30 in the afternoon the family attends a 45 minute virtual church service. When the Chervs lived in Virginia they attended a sweet, little church called St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. This is the same church they are attending virtually. The sermons given by Father Rob are timely and inspiring to listen to.
Now that the lockdown has moved to being less restrictive we are allowed to visit some of the nearby game preserves. This park is about 20 minutes from the Chervenak’s house.
This is the one mother/daughter outing we went on while I was in South Africa. We rented bikes and went on a 10K mountain bike ride. I have never done any mountain bike riding nor has Elizabeth. We found it to be more rigorous than we had anticipated but we still had fun. Nothing better than time with your grown kids! xoxo
Can you tell that Bennett likes dinosaurs? Once again, I was so glad to be in SA to celebrate another birthday. Bennett is a sweet, thoughtful, independent child who focuses and works hard to get what he wants. He will be starting kindergarten in August.
Earlier in the day Ella had introduced her brother to this song on Spotify. Here is Bennett belting it out until he discovers that his mom is taking video. 🙂
Even with the pandemic Randy continued to volunteer with the Egypt Fire Department. There were all kinds of safety and cleaning protocols put in place so he felt comfortable participating.
One thing the fire department did during quarantine was to do drive-bys for young children who had birthdays. There was only one fireman in each truck and it was common for a police car or ambulance to join the parade. Following the emergency vehicles friends and family members would drive by in their cars honking their horns and shouting birthday greetings out the window. It was a wonderful way to celebrate a young child’s birthday when no one could leave the house or come over.
Of course, the Fairport High School graduation was canceled so instead the graduates and their families drove through the parking lot of the high school as the fire department sprayed an arch of water overhead as the families drove by. All the teachers were social distanced around the parking lot to wave and cheer on the graduates. I am so proud of our community for making the best of a difficult situation.
The waterwheel has made it into the stream at the Loop!
David sent us these pictures and video of NYC clapping and cheering for the healthcare workers.
David participated in some of the peaceful protests after George Floyd was murdered. He said there were definitely some violent riots earlier on but that the protests he walked in were well organized and he felt safe participating.
Josh’s garden turned out to be a big success. Right now it is producing lots of tomatoes, peppers and pea pods with more to come. Yum!
Randy successfully made it back to America from Albania with all seven of our bags. He really is amazing! His trip included a canceled flight (that was quickly rebooked) but then the last leg of his trip from Newark to Rochester was messed up so he decided to rent a car and make the five hour drive home. He then spent 14 days in quarantine at the Loop, his favorite place in the world.
My flight back to the States did not leave until the evening which meant that we could all go on one more family bike ride before I left. My time with Elizabeth and her family was a gift I thought I would never experience. The pandemic has been a crisis on so many levels but the silver lining for me was spending all this time in South Africa. Because of the lockdown I feel like I really did not go to South Africa, I went to the Chervenak’s house. We did not visit all the attractions or the typical tourist spots. We stayed home and stayed safe and healthy. I LOVED my time with this precious family. They welcomed me with open arms and could not have done any more to help me feel comfortable and a part of their family. Of course, there were occasional up and downs as there are with all families but overall it was so, so good. I am proud of the way Elizabeth and Ben are raising their children. Parenting is not easy, especially under these conditions, but they handle it all with grace.
My 34 hour trip back to the US started at the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria. I was flying on KLM Airlines which is a Dutch airline. Since the flight was a repatriation flight the passengers are not allowed to go directly to the airport. We had to be at this meeting spot 6 hours before the flight. 😦 The line of people continued on for three blocks. Everyone was masked and did a decent job of social distancing. A few people have asked me what a repatriation flight is. It is a charter flight organized by governments to bring their citizens back to their country of origin. Since an inbound plane sent to pick up passengers for a repatriation flight has no passengers, customers on repatriation flights end up paying the equivalent to a round trip ticket. My repatriation flight was VERY expensive but I felt like I had no choice but to pay it because South Africa’s airport is not open for any other type of flight.
I was assigned to bus 13 for the 30 minute ride from the Dutch Embassy to the airport in Johannesburg.
The bus also provided good social distancing.
The caravan of 13 buses had a police escort with the police cars using lights and sirens. We also stopped at no stoplights because the police blocked the intersections. I am not sure why all that happened. It was interesting…
The Johannesburg airport was fairly empty with only one coffee shop open staffed by three employees wearing their masks on their chins. Look at the arrivals and departures monitor, blank. One more thing, I had my temperature taken when I entered the airport and before I boarded the plane.
This bag of snacks and drinks was on my seat when I boarded the flight. KLM also served one hot meal on the 11 hour flight to Amsterdam. The plane was about 60% full. I had a window seat with no one sitting next to me. Yay!
Good bye to South Africa! I am already looking forward to returning someday when the world is healthy again.
Arriving in Amsterdam…
I always find it interesting to look at the monitors in the airport just to see where all the flights are going. I am allowed to transit through Amsterdam but I would not be allowed to stay in Amsterdam or go to any of the EU cities listed above.
The Amsterdam airport was full of reminders about how to travel safely and to welcome travelers back. My temperature was taken when I arrived in Amsterdam.
I have now boarded my 9 hour flight to Atlanta. KLM code shares with Delta. Delta made the decision when they started flying again that they would not sell the middle seat on any of their flights to help with social distancing. I really like their decision and will keep it in mind when I book travel in the future. This flight was about 40% full as you can see by all the empty seats.
This was the bag of snacks in my seat for my Amsterdam to Atlanta flight.
Landing in Atlanta, back on American soil! Although our country has many ups and downs, I would not want to live permanently anywhere else in the world. I LOVED the opportunity to live and teach abroad but am glad to be back home.
Signs seen throughout the Atlanta airport.
It was sad to see so much of the Atlanta airport closed. 😦
Look at all the different masks I wore while traveling. David had suggested I try to wear a N95 mask as much as possible while actually on the plane. N95’s are really HARD to breathe through so I wore them when I boarded and deplaned and if I needed to use the bathroom. I had read that those are the most likely parts of a flight when germs are transmitted. I just could not handle wearing the N95 for the entire flight.
Getting ready to land in beautiful upstate New York. When I landed in ROC I filled out paperwork so the state could do contact tracing. The state texts me everyday to ask how I am feeling. I take my temperature a few times a day. Randy was at the Loop when I arrived so Josh picked me up. I sat in back, we both had on masks plus we had the windows down. I did not want to risk infecting our son after traveling for such a long time.
The quarantine shuttle…
Now I am on day 12 of a 14 day quarantine at the Homewood Suites. Randy stayed at Hilton properties when he traveled for work so we had lots of points. That means I am not having to pay for this 14 day stay. I could have stayed at home as long as I restricted myself to staying in one room but I could not figure out how to easily access the bathroom, television and the kitchen without having to constantly wipe up after myself. Also, I did not want to worry about infecting Josh with anything. Here, at the hotel, I have a bedroom, TV and small kitchen to use as needed. Josh has been bringing me food and it has worked out fine. I have kept myself busy by stitching, reading, talking on the phone to family and friends and taking several virtual classes through the Fairport Schools. There is a lot of prep involved in going back to teaching grade one special education especially when part of it will be virtual and part of it will be in person.
This is my last, and by far the longest, blog post probably because it covers four months. Kudos to you if you are still reading. 🙂 Thanks again for your many messages of support and interest over the last two years. If you ever have the opportunity or interest in writing a blog, you should go for it. It is a wonderful way to reflect on and capture your thoughts and experiences. When I started this blog I had no idea where I was going with it but now that I am finished with it, I think I will miss it, especially the opportunity to stay in touch with all of you.