Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 9)

Tags

, , , , , ,


I never expected to get to part 9, but here we are, still stuck in Argentina.

We now live out of our suitcase. If they call us, the embassy, we only need to put our pijamas in the suitcase, lock the house and go. We now shower before we have our coffee, we don’t leave the dishes for later, we swipe the floor immediately after a meal, we clean the bathroom after each use. You never know when they call.

We could paint the house -we have all the material- but we daren’t. What if they call when we are in the middle of a wall? We need to be ready to jump into the car and drive to the airport in no time.

But we do need to eat. My husband ventures into town to get some food from the fiambreria, the butcher and the bakery. The food from the local almacén is just horrible, with half rotten tomatoes, plastic tasting cheese, and rubber sandwiches. We didn’t even dare and order meat there.

He sets off. He got stopped at the edge of town where he said his usual opening phrase ‘soy belga’, but this time it didn’t work. They asked for his passport, checked the entry date (check!), but said that as a foreigner he has to stay in his house (quarantaine) and can’t go out, not even to buy food or go the pharmacy. He has to order at the local almacén, they say. When he told him he must go the bank, they decided to call the police….

The police then escorted him to the bank, and then back home, as if he were a criminal, or more like a celebraty. No way he could do something else. No butcher and no fiambreria. And apparently he was lucky his car wasn’t confiscated.

The thought of having to eat the junk from the almacén for a couple of weeks isn’t a pleasant one. Especially knowing that there are such great delicacies for sale close by in the center, but out of reach because we are foreigners! Not being able to chose your own fruit and vegetables. I know, we are too spoiled, but a Belgian and his food!!??

But help is close by. Literally! We have some great new neighbors, who also prefer the food from town and don’t mind helping us out and who, being Argentines, can leave their house to go shopping! They are not afraid of us and from the beginning we have been in close contact. They too are stuck here, their main house being in Capital.

So now that we have food, I can dedicate myself completely to boredom. And bored to death I am. Hardly any internet, we can’t download movies, no video talks. Nothing we can do around the house. Bored.

But then I like to leave the excitement for last.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, I receive an email from the embassy stating that we can book a flight on the French repatriation flight of Sunday. In just a second I kick boredom off and I go into total stress, opening laptop, trying to connect to the internet, going to AF website… trying to book online while my husband calls AF. It takes ages. Really ages. The website constantly blocks, gives errors., time and time again, but on the phone HB had more succes.

A couple of hours later it is official. We leave on Sunday with a special repatriation flight of AF. So until further notice, this is the last part of life as a pariah. These are the last few days as a pariah, more then ready to go into quarantine in Belgium…. I can’t wait to get to work, I have loads of things to do, catch up. I can’t wait to be locked up in my office. Knowing my family is close by.

Thanks to you all for your support and your messages!!

Ps. According to the ambassador it’s not correct that foreigners have to stay in their house. He is checking and doing the necessary to solve that.

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 8)

Tags

, , , , , ,

We leave the airport and look for a taxi. There are none. The airport is closed. We go the other terminal where there is a ‘cascos blancos’ team (whatever that is) who shout as the see us, that my husband and I need keep a distance between us of 1,5 meter. I jokingly tell them we sleep together so there is not much use to that. They don’t think it’s funny.

They also tell us we must go 2 weeks into quarantine as we have left our house. We go into discussion, tell them we don’t come from abroad but have just spend some time in the airport. She gets mad and says we will be detained when we don’t comply. Meanwhile a transfer was offered to us which we accepted, not that we had much choice, and get out of there as fast as we can.

We got into the car. We decided to get back to our weekend house after a phone call with the embassy (they had called me after they heard of our adventures and troubles). They tell us that first 2 weeks probably nothing will happen so we are best there. It feels good to finally hear that they are there and trying to work things out. It feels like there is (again) some light at the end of the tunnel.

But first we had to go back to the appartement where we had left our rental car key. The car was parked in the street. The taxi driver had some special permission and we were asked nothing at the check points. We picked up the key and loaded our stuff straight in the car and got out of the city. Waze made us evade the check points, which was necessary as our permission to be on the road (canceled flight) could not have led us into the city center. Had we been caught it could have resulted in confiscating the car and having us detained.

I find this hard, the only law I regularly break is speeding on the highway, so the probability to be detained and our car confiscated because we got to our rental car in order to get to our house is freaking me out. It sounds like over the top, but I know they must do something to keep the stubborn argentines at home. They have to contain this virus.

We get to our first and only checkpoint on the highway. We start with our usual sentence ‘somos Belgas’, we are Belgians. The guy immediately shouts to the others that we are foreigners. We have to pull over and they first check our passport to see if have to be in quarantine. Check! Then the letter of the embassy saying we can go to the airport. Check! Then we say the flight is canceled and before I can show the picture he says yes, the airport is closed! He smiles and adds that we are good to go, and that Belgium isn’t one of the affected countries anyway! We gladly say yes! and move on.

We arrived safely at the house, and will be living out of our suitcase, ready to drive to the airport once we are called. When we are called. If we are called.

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 7)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Its grey and gloomy when we drive out of the city towards the airport. The roads are as good as empty, here and there a lost metro-bus, some cars. It seems particularly eerie if you know the situation. The country is in lock down, people are stuck in their houses, this in trying to contain a dangerous virus that can destroy life as we know it. It feels like I am moving into a war movie. There are roadblocks everywhere. The majority of the access roads to Capital are closed off. On several points in town and on the highway there are check points, where your permission to move is checked. If you fail to show one, they just confiscate your car.

We get to the airport with a ticket of Ethiopian Airlines tonight, but we first wanted to try and get on the Air France flight to Paris. With the situation as it is, where people are stuck all over the country, we were hoping in ‘no shows’ and get on the waiting list. Air France flight is only 13h, and when we’re on it we’re on it. Where as Ethiopian airlines will be 16h plus 7h in the plane and take off isn’t certain until it has actually taken off…. so we decide to spend all day in the airport.

The airport is closed. People from the French embassy are organizing things. We wait hours outside in the cold, until we get confirmation that it won’t be possible.

So we check in to our Ethiopian Airlines flight online. Here on the tv screens the flight does not show. There is nobody we can ask. There is nobody. We call Ethiopian airlines in Buenos Aires, in Sao Paolo, in Belgium. They all say everything is normal and the plane will come.

We meet some people that are on top of the waiting list of Air France. One of the 4 can go. Then Air France decides it’s not him but another one of the group who must go. The first guy must get back off the plane, his luggage must stay in the plane ‘for sanitary reasons’ and when he gets back into the airport they say he must go into 2 weeks quarantine. These are crazy times. They hope their embassy can help them out.

We come across a guy who works in the airport and ask him about the Ethiopian flight. He says not to worry, it’s coming. Bit by bit I start breathing again. I won’t be happy until I see the plane take off in São Paulo ánd is on its way here.

We wait hours and hours, regularly checking the internet. The Ethiopian airlines website, the website of the airports of Sao Paolo and BA. Until the news comes. According to the airport in SP the flight is canceled. It confirms the rumors that commercial flights are no longer allowed to land here. The 2 other companies that were scheduled today, air canada and Qatar airways, were also canceled. Only repatriation flights, chartered by the governments can land. Ethiopian airlines on the other hand, still say the flight is operating as normal.

We must now wait an official ‘cancel’ message, or we can’t get back into the city. I wonder if the magical letter from the embassy will still do it’s wonders….

So what is next? We don’t know. Only repatriation is possible now. What a pity we are Belgian and not French or Dutch. They seem to have several flights coming. But no, we are Belgian, I check my passport again, and yes. We are Belgian.

Slowly but surely desesperation and frustration are taking its toll.

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 6)

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

We are on our way to Capital. You can only drive if you have a special permission. Like us, we have a flight confirmation, and a ‘laissez passer’ letter from the Belgian embassy. We have also received a link of the law saying we can go, in case they don’t believe us.

I feel like I am in an apocalyptic horror movie. To me, apocalyptic is horror, and I never watch such movies. So the feeling I now have solely comes from movie trailers.

The road is empty. We went to fill up the car at the gas station on the highway. Normally this is full of people, now it’s just us, and 1 man serving us. The shop is closed and has a big red ‘No entrance’ sign. The guy keeps a safe distance and wears gloves. He tells us they are going to close down completely.

He tells us the robberies in town have started. With this total lock down people can’t work, and many have no money and a family to feed. Argentines have lived through many crises, but this one is particular : the poor can’t even go outside to beg, as there are no people on the streets to beg from.

The highway is as good as empty. The peaje is closed, or rather, open. You can drive through without paying. The animals are already taking over. We have to break for a big bird on the road. Oof. Just in time he flies off.

At the next peaje there is a well organized check up. We are pushed into lanes where several police officers are doing check ups. There is also press, cameras, TV vans with satellite dishes.

We start by saying ‘Somos Belgas’, we are Belgians, and immediately the cop backs off. He asks our documents and takes my phone in his gloved hand. He reads the Embassy letter attentively and checks the flight time. We are good to go.

The 2nd check point is in Capital, what are you doing here? (The airport is the other direction), but they believed our story that we need to hand in our rental car. No proof needed for that. She warned us that we should call the airport first as there have been cancelations. We know all about that. Our flight is indeed canceled. We knew that all along.

We are now waiting on a phone call by the embassy, that some european flight has 2 free seats. That’s how one travels out of here nowadays. At least when he’s Belgian. We depend on the goodwill of other countries to take us along on their planes.

Meanwhile we wait in this little Airbnb appartement in Capital… patiently.

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 5)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Slowly but surely this whole adventure is turning into a complete nightmare. Or rather, a complete joke.

Just recapitulate. I’m sure you already lost me a long time ago.

1. We had an Air France flight leaving on the 31st from BA. It was canceled after Argentina refused planes from countries affected by the virus.

2. We rebooked AF on the same date via Sao Paolo. It was canceled as AF decided to stop flying after the 23th.

3. We rebooked a flight leaving on the 23th. It was canceled because the first part (GOL) was canceled.

4. We were rebooked on the 24th, first part with LATAM. The first flight got canceled.

5. We got rebooked on the same day, earlier flight. Later that was canceled too.

6. We got rebooked on the 27th, first part with GOL. A few hours later that was canceled.

7. Eeeehhmmm. What happens now? Should we still trust Air France and believe they will bring us back? I have certainly lost faith. They just book you on whatever flight not checking if it is still flying.

We have been on the phone and texting to different airline companies and official institutions all afternoon and evening, but to no avail. We even considered a flight through Addis Ababa but thought 5000 usd a bit over our budget.

We are especially dissapointed that our embassy and government is letting us down.

Tomorrow we will yet have another day of calling and searching for a flight. Or maybe we should just start to accept that we will be here for a few weeks or months. Doing nothing. Waiting….

Addendum on Tuesday 24/3

8. I am rebooked by Air France leaving on Thursday EZE-GRU (operated by aerolineas) GRU-CDG. My husband can go on Saturday : EZE-GRU-LONDON-PARIS operated by British airways.

9. Within 12 hours both flights were canceled.

Addendum on 25/3

10. We booked a flight on Ethiopian airlines, EZE-GRU-ADD-BRU we checked in, went to the airport on the 25th. We first tried to get on an AF repatriation flight (failed), later that day the flight of Ethiopian got canceled.

11. Our Air France flight was rebooked. Mine was leaving on the 27th EZE-GRU (by aerolineas) GRU-CDG (AF) and husband on Saturday through British airways. We called AF, they confirm what we already knew : there are no flights to GRU, and they can’t get into the ‘system’. He confirmed that both flights are canceled. We rebooked them on the 1st available flight after the airport reopens. That is May 5th

Addendum 26th of March

12. We are offered to book on a repatriation flight of AF, EZE-CDG on the 29th. We rebooked our flights of May 5 to this weekend.

Life of a pariah in Argentina (part 4)

Tags

,

It feels like our last day, but it isn’t. Probably because it seems like nothing more can happen to us.

We have a new flight. Again. The borders are not closed (at least not for flights to Brazil), and with the necessary documents (boarding pass or ticket) we can leave our house and drive to airport. Borders in Europe are closed (but as a citizen you can always enter.) We have a drop off point for our rental car…

So things are looking good. Right?

We are joking about our life as a pariah. It’s understandable that people are suspicious, but the people around here know us, and should also know that we have been here long enough to not have brought the virus.

We are not allowed into the small town nearby, but we have a small almacén (grocery store) nearby. We asked if it’s still open and they told us it isn’t, but we can order by phone and they get it for us. Convenient right?

Later on we heard that it’s only closed for us. Other people -non Europeans- can go without any problem.

But it seems that other pariahs aren’t so lucky. Some Dutch tourists had stones thrown at them, French were pestered. We are doing well, so far.

We check our flight regularly, and I panic when I see on my phone that our AF flight is canceled again, how many more cancelations can we get? We have had 3 so far! But when I log in on my computer all seems fine.

Our leaving is getting so close that we are starting to live on edge, we would be really disappointed if it went down again. Meanwhile we are getting ready. Cleaning, washing, packing… if they tell us to leave early : we are ready!!

Life of a pariah in Argentina (part 3)

In times of Corona, nothing is sure. Changes are made by the hour, people hardly get time to adapt. Even in Argentina, where today there are (only) 79 cases and (only) 2 people died.

The Argentine government came together to discuss a total lock down. That it would come was already certain. Even what it would like was already published in the paper. What had to be discussed is when it would start. Would it start now, or after the extended holiday weekend?

Probably the traffic jam of today in Pinamar (a popular beach city) caused by Porteños (inhabitants of the capital city of Buenos Aires) who wanted to evade the prohibition to travel over the weekend (in order to contain the virus and not spread it all over the country), this by leaving 2 days early, had something to do with it.

The lock down was to start now. As in a few hours. And is going to last until the 31st of March at least. (Friday morning 0h)

The papers were full of it, with all the details, but -according to our neighbor- suppositions : and as long as the president does not speak to the people, nothing is sure.

And of course, the president only spoke to the Argentines and not to the Europeans who wanted to get out of the country, so we were totally left in the dark.

Meanwhile the Belgian Embassy was keeping busy and let us know that we should not leave our houses ánd that Air France is putting on 3 extra flights to get us home. Stay in our house, ánd take a plane? Eehhhhh? Is it one, or the other?

In all this confusion all I did was take my camera out and go shooting the stars -again- and wait to see what the morning brings.

We aren’t home yet!

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 2)

We kept an eye on our rescheduled flight to Belgium, (our original flight was canceled and rescheduled through Brazil), it wasn’t canceled, yet, but the situation was getting dire, especially in Europe, where not only Italy and Spain, but also Belgium and France had gone into lock down. The Schengen borders were closed and so was the French-Belgian border. We could but wait and see what happened.

Meanwhile I was keeping busy. Shooting the stars and the Milky Way, shooting the clouds. And again some clouds. How many clouds can one shoot? But the scenery is always the same. If I had brought my big tele I would probably have started shooting birds. Imagine!

And we waited. We kept in touch with our friends here over the phone, as we all practiced social distancing. And with friends and family back home. We regularly received an email of the Belgian embassy.

Until the day that Air France let us know they were canceling all flights after the 23th, including ours… again. We immediately rebooked it for the first available date, the 22nd, but this time to Paris instead of Brussels, as there are no longer TGV trains riding between both cities. Our son would have to pick us up in Paris by car.

But wait? Is that even possible? The borders are closed between Belgium and France, ánd it is forbidden to be with more than 2 in one car. Will he be able cross the Belgian/French border, and can he take us both together or does he have to ride twice?

It’s an interesting question, because however much the press writes about what can and what cannot, nobody seems to have a clue on how nationals can (or can’t) go home.

(Eventually a friendly lady at the diplomatie.belgie Call center gave us the green light so we can start packing!)

So it’s time for a final grocery run to town. But guess what? We are told we can not enter the town to where the shops are. Only people who actually live there (and prove it) can go in. A good thing we are leaving! I make a turn before they stop me. I don’t want them to freak out when they see my passport. They will be worried to death that they’ll die of Corona now that they held my passport. I want to spare them. My shopping isn’t that urgent.

So I go back. To pack.

But in this world, this world where we are at war against a virus, nothing, absolutely nothing is certain.

Life of a pariah in Argentina (part 1)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

It was already some time ago that I decided to come back to Argentina for one month to do a photographic project on the city. I already have hundreds, maybe thousands of photos of the Buenos Aires, but all of them quite old and none as I would want them in the style I make them now. So let’s go!!

March it would be! It’s when (as far as I remembered) there are lots of thunderstorms, and the heat is slowing down a bit. So off I went!

I rented a small airbnb apartment close to where we used to live, and last minute, my husband (completely jealous of my new project), decided to come with me. Me, on a photographic project, him, getting our weekend house back in shape.

It were restless times, the end of February. China was still in full Corona virus crisis, and Italy was just rolling in. Belgium just had its 2nd case, (the first being a Belgian coming from China, the 2nd, from Italy.) Argentina still had to get their first case. There were some signs of a disaster coming but nothing was quite clear, yet!

So there I was, in my adopted home. Many Argentines have Italian or Spanish roots, so they follow close what is happening over there. It was still very far away, and even though they looked at it all with horror, they didn’t seem to think it would ever come here. Not in Argentina, not in this country where they all kiss and hug each other, and, where they drink mate. Quite a typical ceremony-like drinking of some tea-like herb, called mate. Basically they pass a kind of cup, also called mate, with a straw, called bombilla, and every one drinks from the same straw. Imagine they would have to go into a ‘no greeting’ and ‘no drinking mate’ period?? No way!!!

And then day 13 of our stay, all of a sudden, they woke up. The government decided that all flights from affected countries (EU, USA, Chine?…) were cancelled for 30 days, and (among other measures) foreigners and Argentines coming from an affected area needed to go into a 14 day quarantine…

We were in day 13, still one to go. The fact that when we arrived here there were only 2 cases in Belgium didn’t matter. We left for our weekend house where we stayed low until day 14 passed.

The government was quite strict, people were checked upon, tourists that didn’t comply were put on the first plane out, locals were detained.

That is the day when we changed into pariahs.

We are European, we are evil, we not only brought the virus here, we are the cause of all the trouble coming at them. As ever friendly they were until day 13, they turned against us at once. Our doorman looked at us suspiciously. The guys at the entrance of our weekend house asked if we had done our 14 days, people hearing our foreign accent gave us the eye!

By then the country had gone into a de facto lock down. Nothing was closed yet, apart from schools, public buildings like museums, the library, tourist attractions… Restaurants and even the movie theatre were still open, even though in the last, the seats next to you on both sides had to remain empty. But people stopped going out, just like that. One day restaurants were full, the next day they were empty. One day there were still traffic jams all over town, the next streets were empty.

When my shoots were canceled we thought it time to leave the city and go to the quiet countryside. The days of taking the bus all over town were over, restaurants were considered unsafe, and me, a European, was looked at in the same way as that one boy on the bus who was coughing.

My Buenos Aires project was put on hold…

Amazing Albania

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Ploshtan

I feel like I am a real globetrotter right now, and after one amazing adventure I dive into the next. Another, equally amazing.

From Ethiopia, Africa, straight to Albania, Europe.

Tirana

In a way, both countries are alike, and then they are also totally different. Ethiopia has never been under European influence. Albania has been closed off from the world (and Europe) for decades. As a communist country they weren’t even part of the Warsaw Pact. Before that they have been part of the Ottoman Empire for a very, very long time. Even though they are geographically part of Europe, they couldn’t be more different than us. One would think.

A series of people on a car event in Tirana

I couldn’t be more wrong. How different everything seemed at first sight, it immediately felt like home. Their housing is different, old, in need of restoration. We would say ‘poor’. But they have the same habits as we do, go to modern coffeeshop and restaurants that could have been in any European city. They even look like us.

City of Pogradec

It is on the first day already, in Tirana, that I lost my heart. My favourite photographic subject is cities with ‘character’, with a soul, that do not look like postcards, where I love to make beautiful what others call ugly. Buenos Aires is top of my list, well Tirana took its (well deserved) place in my list. If you want to go shopping, well, don’t go there, but just to walk around in the alleys, between the buildings, through the buildings, through markets, enjoy, watch people, Tirana is perfect. It’s a city that lives, its vibrant, it’s fun!

Pogradec

From Tirana we drove inland, through villages, small towns, over spectacular mountain roads with amazing views. This is how you get to know the real Albania. Small towns that look like mini Tiranas, villages where everyone comes outside to talk and chat and everyone seems to know everyone. Little hamlets that are dying out because also here, people move to the cities. Old communist era factory towns half in ruins. Driving around is easy, roads are good and distances not too long.

road to Ploshtan

But the most striking is the Albanian people, no matter what their reputation abroad might be (don’t they always play the bad guy in movies?), they are extremely friendly and hospitable, and the country is perfectly safe. They just can’t wait to help you, and when they do, they give you all the time you need. At times ‘help’ is something that comes in handy ; if you want to do something and have no idea how to get it arranged. There is few accommodation for tourists, which does not mean there are no possibilities. ‘Everything is possible in Albania’ is the slogan we used all that time, and that is thanks to its people.

Korab, the highest mountain

Imagine you want dessert after dinner, it’s late, and the restaurant doesn’t have any. Well, they go to the bakery in town, go and take pictures of what they have, let us chose, then go back to buy it!

They can tag along all day, planning, arranging, guiding, and don’t want one LEK for it.

Reading this, it probably does not surprise you that Albania is a perfectly safe country. With a bit of luck you meet people that speak one of the languages you speak. Many have lived abroad and speak fluent Italian, French, English or Greek. And if they don’t, Google translate is always a good friend!

If you want to read the full report of my trip, check out my travel blog