As the pandemic unfolded last year, former Kansas City Chiefs assistant and Washington native Brock Olivo moved into his Italian girlfriend’s mom’s house in Rome to spend lockdown, where they were only allowed to leave the house for trips to the pharmacy, doctor’s office or grocery store.

Washington native Esther Hillermann faced similar restrictions in her home of eight years, Barcelona. In Dubai, incoming East Central College student Osa El Shrouf had a strict 8 p.m. curfew when the nightlong city cleaning began.

Olivo, Hillermann, El Shrouf and others with ties to both Franklin County and the international community recently shared their pandemic experiences with The Missourian.

At its height

When Olivo moved to Italy Feb. 13, 2020, he had planned to house hunt with his girlfriend and spend time with his daughter around the city where the outdoor life would “buzz,” he said. “You would hear the sounds of the espresso cups and spoons clanging, people chatting in Italian, the old-timers meeting, congregating around the benches, smoking their old-school cigars with their coppola hats on.

“At a certain point that was just gone,” he said. “It was apocalyptic because it happened so fast and so extremely.”

It was a similar story in Spain, Hillermann said. “They totally locked down exercise as well, so you’d see people out that were obviously exercising, like, carrying baguettes or milk,” she said. 

In Dubai, not a car would be on the road past curfew during the pandemic’s spring 2020 peak, El Shrouf said. If people had to leave their homes at night, they were required to download an app and explain their need. Once they had permission to leave, they had to verify the legality of their trip to the police if stopped.

In the pandemic, years go by

The restrictions have gone up and down throughout the pandemic, and Dubai’s curfew is no more. However, after loosened protocols and a recent COVID-19 outbreak, fellow United Emirates city Abu Dhabi entered a similar lockdown July 19 for its nightly city cleanings, El Shrouf said.

Residents of Nova Scotia, Canada, have received regular updates from the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said former Labadie resident Jen Greene, who is now living in Halifax.

“It was almost back to normal, just wearing masks, and you could operate nearly as normal,” she said. “And then we had a spike, and then it was back to ‘We’re going to go two weeks of complete lockdown again.’ ”

Italy, too, has had fluctuating restrictions, Olivo said. Although dancing currently is prohibited, the discotheques are open again after long closures, and other businesses are back in operation, though they are scattered among the many empty storefronts that didn’t survive COVID-19. Olivo said he doubts Italy’s mask mandate will be lifted anytime soon because of the delta variant.

Even with the changing restrictions, people tend to listen to the government’s orders in Dubai, El Shrouf said, as well as in Halifax, according to Greene. There were the occasional deviants — mostly children — and the occasional complaints, but overall, people followed their government’s requirements.

“For the most part, citizens here listened, and I felt like that was a pride point for Nova Scotia, specifically,” Greene said. “Our small province was always leading the way in low cases and people recovering.”

In Spain, many citizens were upset about the mandates, Hillermann said, but the rules continued on.

Cultural differences

People in different countries have varying customs and norms, and therefore cultural responses, to the pandemic, so Dr. Parvadha Govindaswamy, science and engineering chair and associate professor of biology and environmental science at East Central College, was concerned for her parents and siblings living in Chennai, a city in India’s southern state Tamil Nadu. She referred to the household culture as “a revolving door.”

People visit each other frequently in Chennai, and it is often rude to deny a guest or show discomfort with their physical proximity, she said.

“That’s just bad manners, turning people away,” Govindaswamy said, but luckily her parents understood the necessity for social distancing. “Mom’s a retired nurse, so she put down the law, so I was happy.”

In Italy and Spain, people typically greet each other with a kiss on either cheek. “Men, women, children — everybody does it,” Olivo said. The customary habit was difficult to stop. Despite the government recommending against it, Hillermann said, she would see people greeting each other with the double kiss on the street, with their masks on.

The greeting is returning more and more, Olivo said, “which is good to see.” 

Families under travel bans

The former Franklin County residents abroad also faced a unique challenge: being separated from their loved ones by an ocean and, particularly in Greene’s case, international borders.

Greene’s father lives in Vermont and her brother in Massachusetts, so they are within half a day’s drive from her Halifax home — but until Aug. 9, they were not allowed entry into Canada.

“It’s been disappointing to not be able to visit my family,” Greene said. “I haven’t seen them for, well, now it’ll be about two years.”

Technology has played a key role in keeping everyone connected. Video and phone calls have become a norm; Govindaswamy, for example, communicates with her family over Facetime messenger regularly.

El Shrouf and ECC 2021 graduate Guy Baskerville, from London, had a different problem: Like many international students, they had been expecting to live on campus when the pandemic paused their plans. El Shrouf, 17, stayed in Dubai instead of enrolling in his first semester in fall 2021. Baskerville, 21, had to return to England mid-school year and live with his family, where he found himself unable to leave.

“The U.K. was banned at the time from any travel coming to the U.S., so I was really stressed about it because I really wanted to come back,” Baskerville said.

He received an email saying students could return around the end of summer. He has been in the U.S. since.

Govindaswamy said people can learn from the other countries’ responses and health state, especially as the delta variant spreads. 

“I think we are getting to the point where India was a few weeks ago with the delta variant, I’m afraid to say,” she said.