Krishna moved to Lisbon, Portugal three years ago but the COVID-19 pandemic has made getting settled in her new home challenging.
Lisbon (Brussels Morning) Living in the beating heart of Lisbon, Portugal, really fits my personality. I’ve always been sociable, outgoing and love to be around people. Castelo in the old city is always lively, next to the famous Alfama district where music and after-hours gatherings spill out on to the streets until the early hours of the morning.
I had fallen in love with this place when I moved here three years ago to work and be closer to my Irish partner. It makes up for leaving my family of five siblings, who I am super close to, around 7,500 miles away in Manila, Philippines.
I was working at a restaurant when COVID-19 started encroaching into Europe. Italy was announcing its lockdown and the news really terrified me. Not just health-wise but the restaurant business really relies on tourism, and with cases eventually coming into Portugal, business was bound to suffer.
A national lockdown did arrive in the country after the president announced a state of emergency in March 2020.
Luckily, during the lockdown I found a job working for a global tech company, in their payments department.
Ordinarily, I would revel in the fact I would be working as part of a team again but working in isolation in my then new job is all I’ve known now.
This pandemic is probably the only time I have ever spent so much time alone. My partner used to visit me every two months but with travel restrictions that was out of the question.
Like everyone, I took comfort in box-sets and wiling away my free time eating, drinking and cooking, waiting for some change in circumstance.
Life on pause
But the year has just been on pause. I haven’t seen my family since I moved to Lisbon, and the plan was to visit last year. I’ve never spent so much time away from them and I don’t even know when I’ll see them again.
I cherish the Zoom calls and WhatsApp messages even though they wake me up in the middle of the night — mostly because of the time difference — but I’m missing my nephews and nieces growing up. They were young kids when I saw them last and now they’re teenagers.
I was also supposed to move further out of the city for a bit more room too. My apartment, in an old castle, is beautiful but it is a shoe box that I spend my whole day in. Most of the other apartments are empty as real estate in this part of Lisbon is dominated by Airbnb rentals. Now that my partner can visit, we’re stuck in this studio, only able to go out for walks as this once vibrant city is virtually a ghost town.
At the start of the pandemic there were some efforts to keep spirits up with some music outside but I think people have given up. With cases now surging again and another lockdown, there is a crackdown on people meeting outside and you can’t even buy takeaway coffee anymore.
The whole thing puts a strain on my relationship with my partner, perhaps choosing to bicker when there isn’t much else to talk about or do. He worries about me though and now comes to see me every two weeks when allowed so that I’m not alone.
A foreigner in the city
To be honest, I already feel like a foreigner in this city, even though I have been here three years and love it. Learning Portuguese has been hard and I don’t have that solid friendship circle here yet. I just feel even more isolated now.
My own mental health is not something I really worried about before but the anxiety about the virus and frustration of the ongoing uncertainty is now taking its toll.
It’s not something I thought I’d ever say but I am thankful for work. Even though my team is, for now, in a virtual space, it still feels good to be part of something bigger. Working from home is likely to be the thing for a while even when cases drop, and I think after the pandemic there will be a huge workplace shift with more distancing, ventilation and sanitary standards. I think there may even be routine working from home.
And I do think there is light at the end of the tunnel with these vaccines now available but I also can’t help being cynical. It feels like no one has a good grip on how to handle the pandemic and the advice changes at every turn and reports conflict.
My trust in politicians and the media is at a low, growing up in a country where corruption is rampant maybe did that to me.
I choose not to read the news too much and I don’t know what Portugal’s government will do to help exit this pandemic, or if it will work.
For now, I’m grateful I can connect to others online and look forward to enjoying the little things again — coffee in a Lisboan cafe and maybe getting to know more people in the city.
I can’t wait for the day I get to see my family again in real life instead of through a camera screen. Maybe I’ll even be able to give them a hug.