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Forced to stay put in Denmark, international academics have made compromises on travelling, home life and jobs. And learned some life lessons.
Copenhageners are now emerging from apartments after months of stay-at-home office work, restricted travel, and physical isolation. The same goes for its international scientists and their families. They, however, have also had to cope with the practicalities of living and surviving in a foreign country, and the forced separation from families at home.
Our impression was that too many people here, luckily not the public authorities, took things a bit too lightly for our comfort
Georgio Tomasi, Associate Professor
Sandra Almeyda Zambrano and her husband Scott Ford were more ready for the corona crisis than most. They had voluntarily spent a year, isolated and with contact restrictions, in a sparsely-supplied wildlife conservation camp in the Amazon jungle.
With no hairdressers, bakers or washing machines out in camp, the couple, have learnt to appreciate making do with no outside services, even as many of the services become available again in Copenhagen after lockdown.
As we talk over Zoom, they sit in a sun-drenched park in Frederiksberg, their baby Amaru fast asleep in a pram, and reminisce about the Ecuadorian rain forest.
»It is a simple life out there. And we have continued with this simple life in Copenhagen since the corona crisis,« says Sandra Almeyda Zambrano, who is an environmental sciences and conservation graduate who grew up in rural Peru.
»We bake our own bread and cook creatively with what we have at hand. And in the jungle there were no hairdressers, so we cut each other’s hair. We will most likely continue to do so.«
She is currently unemployed, and is looking for jobs related to her field – something that will be difficult at the moment, with thousands of other unemployed in Denmark as a result of the pandemic. Her Danish language lessons have also been cancelled.
At home, the couple has worked out a routine with Scott Ford’s first work shift from 6 am to 9 am in another room.
Almeyda Zambrano and Scott Ford first met each other while studying for their master’s in the US state of Alabama. It was after this that they spent a year in a protected area for biodiversity conservation in the Eastern part of Ecuador, rehabilitating animals that had been traded illegally for release back into the wild.
In many ways, the obsessive handwashing and cleaning that most people first got to know during the corona crisis, had already become second nature for them in the wildlife rescue camp, according to Scott Ford, who is now a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen.
My brother is an army officer, and we are always thinking about him, as he is forced to be out on the streets
Sandra Almeyda Zambrano, wildlife conservationist
»Because of the nature of our work, we were always worried about transmitting parasites and diseases, and we were cleaning everything, like animal enclosures, food prep stations, and cleaning equipment, every day. This, along with limiting animal exposure to humans, prevents parasites from spreading throughout the rescue center and diseases from being spread to wild populations,« he says.
Biggest worry for Sandra Almeyda Zambrano, right now, is the family back home in urban Peru.
»My family is mostly well and keeping home, but my brother is an army officer, and we are always thinking about him, as he is forced to be out on the streets.«
Silvia Foresta, who works for a video surveillance software company, and her boyfriend Giorgio Tomasi, an associate professor in environmental chemometrics at the University of Copenhagen, are both from the north of Italy. They have also been concerned about parents and family back home.
»We have older parents and extended family in Italy, and we had plans to visit them, and all that has been cancelled,« says Silvia Foresta who is on maternity leave and expecting a baby soon.
By the time they arrived, my parents had already got masks
Fuyang Liu, software engineer, after ordering online for his parents in China
Giorgio Tomasi now supervises his students over the internet, but is looking forward to getting back to a real office.
»Our self-isolation started two weeks earlier than everyone else. I went to Milan to visit my mother on 2 March, the following day people were told to stay at home if you just came from Italy. Then the lockdown came.«
Silvia Foresta and Giorgio Tomasi are upholding stricter, Italian-style, lockdown behaviour even though they are in Copenhagen, where Danes have been more relaxed about restrictions.
»Our impression was that too many people here, luckily not the public authorities, took things a bit too lightly for our comfort. On a personal level we have friends who work in hospitals in Italy, and friends who have contracted the illness. So we are observant! We stick to all the rules,« Giorgio Tomasi says.
It is not that tough! Our problems are the same as for anyone locked down and expecting a baby
Silvia Foresta, sales coordinator in Copenhagen
Luckily for the couple, both sets of parents use video conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangout.
»For now we are forced to stay here. If any of our parents get sick, it would be very difficult,« he says.
Silvia Foresta is grateful that the couple has a good network of friends in Copenhagen, and she is not worried about having no parents to help out with the stress of a newborn.
»It is not that tough! Our problems are the same as for anyone locked down and expecting a baby. And we will find a solution,« she says.
Jing Ai is doing postdoctoral work in environmental chemistry at the University of Copenhagen. As lockdown eased, labs have reopened. So Jing and her colleagues take shifts to uphold social distance, and they disinfect everything between work shifts.
We tried [having masks on for grocery shopping] at the beginning. But due to social pressure we stopped again
Jing Ai, postdoc at University of Copenhagen
Jing Ai is sometimes at the laboratory at 6 am in the morning, but apart from this, »doesn’t think that her life has changed a lot,« she says.
Her boyfriend Fuyang Liu, a software engineer, works for the music streaming service Spotify in Stockholm. For the duration of the lockdown, he has been working from home and staying with Jing in Copenhagen.
»I originally came to Copenhagen five years ago. And Jing and I met each other three years ago at a barbecue event in the Chinese engineers association in Copenhagen,« he says.
As the virus situation in China got worse at the beginning of 2020, Fuyang tried to buy masks to ship them to his family in China. But the local store in Stockholm had run out, and so he ordered a set of masks online. »But by the time they arrived, my parents had already got masks,« he says.
Jing Ai and Fuyang Liu, just like the Italian couple, are from a country that was hit hard and early by Corona. They have tried to uphold a stricter set of guidelines than the surrounding community in Denmark, donning masks early on for grocery shopping.
»We tried at the beginning. But due to social pressure we stopped again,« Jing Ai explains.
»In China when you go out shopping you meet 100 people. Here I meet five or six people so the probability is lower.« Yet the couple still avoids the local park in Frederiksberg if it is packed on sunny days.
They are not making any travel plans right now. And going back to China to visit parents is, so far, out of the question, as they would have to go through a quarantine.
In the meantime Fuyang Liu, and Jing Ai, can indulge in Fuyang’s astronomy interest. He has invested in a telescope, and on clear evenings, he can identify stars and planets from the couple’s flat.
The couple laughs and moves to each side so I can get the telescope in on the photo through Zoom. Fuyang Liu doesn’t disguise his enthusiasm.
»The telescope, and in conjunction with the camera, can get me good shots of Venus!«
Humans don’t have the right to live a comfortable life all of the time, you can either accept this and make the best of it, or waste your time complaining
Scott Ford, PhD student and conservationist
Meanwhile, back out in the park, the wildlife conservationist couple Sandra Almeyda Zambrano and Scott Ford are taking the corona crisis in their stride. Nothing that the urban jungle can throw at them will tip them off balance:
In jungle camp, »one day of the month you have a swarm of flying ants coming in, and other days the electricity fails. So living in a city you learn to deal with minor discomforts,« says Scott Ford.
He pauses, and then offers a life lesson from the couples’ jungle experiences:
»Humans don’t have the right to live a comfortable life all of the time, you can either accept this and make the best of it, or waste your time complaining.«