Everyday Life in Bogota during Pandemic Times (part I)

After a week of quarantine simulacra wild Andean foxes have started to appear in the streets, parks and alleys of some of the Bogotanian neighborhoods located close to the eastern hills (Cerros Orientales). Although at first I thought these images of wild animals exploring urban space were part of the trend of sharing fake animal news that have spread in social media recently (eg. swans and fish in Venice canals; dears and dolphins in the Rio Bogota; drunk elephants in Yunnan) it turns out they are real news. The Andean wild foxes (zorro cangrejero – Cerdocyon thous) are in fact a species that inhabit the mountains that surround Bogota and that have been spotted before the lock-down.

In the middle of the pandemic crisis that nowadays affects the entire planet, people is imagining a world where animals and plants recolonize the spaces and environments created by human civilization. The fake animal news can certainly bring some hope in times of crisis, as we imagine the power and force of nature to be alive in the midst of massive human public health crisis. However, they can also create anxiety among the millions of citizens that are under quarantine, isolated at their homes, and connected through screens, social media and digital platforms. The amount of information circulating during these times is overwhelming. More and more people, now under forced lock-down and quarantine have turned to Facebook and Twitter to try to understand what is going on in their cities and countries, and to connect with others. Distinguishing from what is true and false has become even harder in a globalized world with a networked media ecosystem already plagued with misinformation and disinformation. The information disorder that we have lived in the past decade, is even harder to navigate during a pandemic. Some researchers have called this precise moment an infodemic.

Although for now, only wild foxes are started to roam some Bogotanian neighborhoods, it is quite possible that other wild life starts to re-colonize the urban spaces. As a matter of fact, the ecosystems that surround the city and that are in some of the urban wild reservoirs (marshlands, creeks, woods) start to explore the city environment. Andean owls, bears, dears, frogs, hummingbirds, native fish and birds, could eventually show up in Bogota. That could take perhaps several days, years. It is all speculation so far. In the middle of the uncertainty, we only know that the world, our societies and cities, our economy and modes of consumption would change after the pandemic. They are already changing, and we know and feel, even if it is just intuitively, that our planet is full of non-human beings that are also connected, networked, full of vitality and freedom.

In Bogota, we have just spent one week of voluntary lock-down after schools, universities, restaurants, bars, offices, and citizens, realizing the real danger of the pandemic, decided to cancel classes, events, and activities. The first cases of coronavirus in Colombia appeared the week of March 9, and by Friday March 13, we have 16. Although the national government was not able to take leadership on time to tackle the imminent outbreak, local governments started to take the public health policies into their hands. The Bogotanian government, particularly took the leadership trying to protect a 9 million population that is in high risk. The city is dense, and has massive public transportation system that is already overcrowded and toxic. Claudia Lopez. Bogota’s mayor, first announced the Alerta Amarilla (yellow alert) on March 12 and encourage all citizens to help flattening the curve of the outbreak. Following that, she requested a voluntary lock-down starting on Monday March 16. For the long weekend of March 20-23, she proposed a quarantine simulacra (Simulacro Vital) and took stronger lock-down measures among the population. Several local governments around the country followed these measures. On Friday March 20, after intense pressure, the national government decided to declare mandatory quarantine for al Colombians and also enforced the closure of all maritime, terrestrial, and aerial borders. As for today, there are 231 cases of Coronavirus in Colombia, most of them in Bogota.

In this entry I would like to share an account of my new everyday life in the middle of the pandemic disruption.

Yellow Alert starts in Bogota – Day 1 – March 12, Thursday

  • My research and teaching activities continued as normal. Meetings with colleagues at University occurred as planned
  • Transportation in the city was not affected. However, the traffic seemed to slowdown.
  • Went swimming to the Uniandes pool. During the past 14 years I have consistently swam 3-4 times a week. Although I researched about the risks of contagious in pools and found it was minimal, felt worried while doing my usual workout. Thought perhaps this was the last swimming practice I could have in several weeks.
  • Went to the supermarket and pharmacies and tried to by hand sanitizer, alcohol, toilet paper, face masks, and soap. These items were scarce and I was able to only buy soap.
  • News reported that people hoarded to by toilet paper and there was a local shortage of this product.

Day 2 – March 13, Friday

  • Attended academic meetings early in the morning. Taught a class in the afternoon with around 15 students from a group of 28. It was evident that several stayed at home. One student showed up wearing a mask and told me she had been sick. I told her she needed to go home and rest, and isolate. With the students who attended to the class we discussed the plan for going virtual. Although at this moment the Javeriana University had not made any official announcement of class cancellations and transition to online teaching, other universities had already done it following the trends in other parts of the world. During the class, a couple of students noticed that a case of woman with coronavirus has been reported in Bogota. The woman traveled from from Italy recently and the authorities confirmed she had the virus.
  • Went to a restaurant with my partner and walked the streets of the city under the rain. We discovered a great taco bar and restaurant that offered tacos al pastor and had the famous Mexico City trompo set-up for cooking this kind of dish.
  • Public transportation seemed packed during the evening and night, as the rain pushed some citizens to use it.
  • Attended a small concert of the cumbia sabanera legend Carmelo Torres at Matik Matik. After the performance of Carmelo Torred ended ran to my apartment and took a shower, thinking that perhaps some of the attendees could have the virus.

Day 3 – March 14, Saturday

  • Restaurants remained open and we had dinner at a Vietnamese dinner in our neighborhood.
  • Did groceries in the local supermarket. The market was packed and had scarce foods and drinks, and sanitary products.
  • Met with 2 friends in their house and ordered a pizza. After dinner we said goodbye and talked that perhaps we could not have another meeting in a while.

Day 4 – March 15, Sunday

  • Rainy Sunday.
  • Decided to not go out to the Ciclovia.
  • Colombian president announced cancelling all classes in public schools.
  • Universities announce transition to online learning, and cancellation of classes during a week for coordinating the move to virtual teaching and learning.
  • Cooked all meals at home.

Day 5 – March 16, Monday

  • The plan for virtualizing teaching and learning starts to be crafted with colleagues from universities.
  • At least 10 new whatsap groups are created from colleagues from Universities.
  • Email inbox is flooded with emails about how to go virtual and coordinate teleworking.
  • Traffic on streets slow down.
  • Tele-worked all day.
  • At the end of the afternoon decided to go out and walk the eastern mountain that is close to our apartment. Followed the pathways of the Quebrada la Vieja in the middle of solitude.
  • Thinking about the impact of the pandemic in Italy, listened to Ennio Morricone music. Found on my record collection a special edition of the film La Scorta soundtrack.

Day 6 – March 17, Tuesday

  • Tele-working continued with more meetings, emails, and chats.
  • Developed research activities at home: reading, writing, analyzing data.
  • Practiced yoga at home.
  • Went to a mini-market specialized in fruits and vegetables The clerk told us people have been buying things like crazy and that is why they are in shortage of several product. She said “one man bought 36 chickens.”
  • Spent time following news and updates on Twitter: images of wild life taking the streets, the halls, the canals, the fountains. Dolphins and gooses in Venice lagoon and canals. Wild boars in Italy. Elephants in India.
  • Walked the mountain and the creek at late afternoon. For the first time, and in the middle of the solitude silence, we crossed a tunnel under the circunvalar avenue following the curse of the creek Quebrada La Vieja.
  • We decided to have dinner at a small local restaurant. We were the only people eating there.
  • The videos of penguins walking freely through the spaces of a Chicago aquarium made me think about the Farsa de los Pingüinos Peripatéticos written by Leon de Greiff, a Colombian modernist poet, in 1930. Although I could not find a digital edition of this work, I found a PDF of the Libro de los Signos at BanRepublica. Re-reading the Pwnguins Farse I decided to make a digital edition of this long poem in the forthcoming future.

Day 6 – March 18, Wednesday

  • Started to loose notion of time as tele-working intensified.
  • Had three virtual meetings.
  • Realized my private and home life were packed with tele-work activities.
  • Practiced yoga at home.
  • At the end of the afternoon went to downtown, met an indigenous friend from Chorrera, Amazonas, and had a beer in a restaurant. We told to each other we wont be able to meet again until the pandemic ended. I bought him some Amazon foods he is commercializing in Bogota: farinha, tapioca, and macambo nuts. The streets, cafes, stores, and restaurants were empty.
  • Homeless people wandering downtown continued as normal. There were fewer informal vendors in a zone usually packed.
  • Contradictory messages between local and national governments increased creating confusion among the population.
  • Cooked all meals at home.

Day 7 – March 19 – Thursday

  • Tele-working intensified with more meetings and remote tasks.
  • Whatsapp groups collapsed as I was not able to follow the hundreds of messages and discussions.
  • Finished the plans for virtualizing the classes I teach.
  • At the end of the afternoon, I walked with my partner the eastern mountain again. Enjoyed discovering a couple of empty parks in the neighborhoods that are located in the mountain.
  • After the announcement of the quarantine simulacra in Bogota went out to buy foods and drinks. Supermarket was packed.
  • Went to pick up music gear at a friends apartment. Traffic was low. Radio stations were full of talk shows debating the need of strong political and economic policies to confront the pandemic.
  • Although our plan was to cook all meals at home, we decided to give a chance to a take-out hamburger restaurant in the neighborhood who was open. The restaurant, although it is regularly packed, had just a few people inside. We placed our order and brought dinner to home.

Day 8 – March 20, Friday – (Lockdown Quarentine begins in Bogota as a mandatory simulacrum)

  • Quarantine simulacra begins.
  • Silence on the streets facilitates working at home.
  • Tele-working intensified with 4 virtual meetings, and wiring deadlines.
  • Sent emails to students sharing the virtualization plan for our classes.
  • Practiced yoga in between a virtual meeting break.
  • Cooked all meals at home. While cooking lunch, watched La Scorta film on YouTube, in Italian. Thought about the beauty and musicality of the Italian language and about the tragic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak in that country .
  • At night, we had a two person dancing party and cocktails at home.

Day 9 – March 21, Saturday

  • Woke up late.
  • Watched the movie La la land in the morning.
  • Spent time on non-academic reading, with Julian Barnes’ book A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters. The first chapter, The Stowaway, tells an speculative story of Noah’s Ark from the perspective of woodworms who were stowaways during the voyage.
  • Read working papers and articles
  • Watched a documentary about the history of the Spaghetti Western genre in Italy.
  • Cooked all meals at home.

Day 10 – March 22, Sunday

  • It is a sunny Sunday.
  • The silence on the streets is pleasant.
  • Continued reading the History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters.
  • Practiced yoga with my partner.
  • Read the news, including an Byung-Chul Han article on the different ways western and eastern societies are handling the coronavirus crisis.
  • For lunch, we cooked shakshuka and pilaf rice with almonds, pecans, pumpking and sunflower seeds.
  • Read the short story “El Muñeco” (the doll) written by Colombian writer Marvel Moreno.
  • Finished writing this entry and published it.
  • Walked to another supermarket in the neighborhood, in an area around 63th street, where there are other small mini-markets, and a little park full of Rappi workers (delivery cyclists). Had to stand in a line to enter the supermarket, along with Rappi workers, who placed their big backpacks on the floor, next to their bikes.
  • For dinner ate a stew that had cooked the night before.
  • Watched David Fincher’s film The Girl with Dragon Tattoo.

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