Living Abroad During Covid - The Euro Covid Life

  
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What it has been like to live in Europe during the Covid times and my journey through this mess.

This episode starts with me in Belgrade, Serbia, where I had my first lock-down and then continues on down to Albania, where I am now.

(This week, I wanted to interview a local about Albanian culture and viewpoints, but, sadly, she is very ill with "flu-like" symptoms and so can't make it - hopefully, in a couple weeks, I can start to interview locals to get their perspectives on life and culture.)

Transcript

Hello. Hello and welcome back to no fairytale travels. Well, this week, actually things are a little bit screwed up because I thought I would change it up a bit and give you guys an interview because I am currently abroad and I have been for quite a while. And how about just take advantage of that and talk to people where I am, which is currently Albania. However, my friend has, as of a few days ago, come down with flu like symptoms and she is very, very sick, so that's not going to happen. So what do we do here? I really don't know, but I figure if COVID is going to screw up my interview today and it screwed up my whole life for the last year and a half and the life of every single one of my friends, then I might as well talk about that.

If you have any questions or comments, by the way, go to no fairy tale travels dot sub stack.com. Find the post for this podcast and leave a message there and I'll try and respond, but all right, let's get into it. I don't really know where I'm going to go in this discussion, but I'm going to tell you how things began for me. And COVID our lovely little COVID relationship and how I became a COVID refugee, granted a COVID refugee by choice. So let me take you back to where it began for me in COVID I'm in Serbia at the time, and it's February of 2020, and I'm getting ready to hire people to start a travel app and app, which I hope is going to be amazing, a great way for people to share their experiences and meet other people while abroad and have genuine, awesome fun experiences. I'd been working on it for over a year, and I got to the point where I needed to hire people so that I could go to the next level and then hopefully be released in beta version. That summer things are going good. Life's going good. I've already got some people on the team and then COVID strikes.

Now

I know that life has been much worse for a lot of people. Okay. So I don't want any sympathy, but I'm still going to tell you what happened with me. So COVID strikes I'm in Serbia and an apartment, and then everything begins to close and a lot, I'd say 75% of my friends at that point left. So there are a few of us there. All of the hostels are closed. If you've listened to my previous podcasts, you know how much I value hostels, the social connection is you just can't replicate it. And it's also part of the reason why I wanted to create this travel app so that you could try and replicate the culture exchange and the experience exchange that you get from hostels. So I spend a lot of time in hostels, all the hostels close, a couple of them stay open, just so I just said, all of them close.

Most of them close, a few stay open to how's the kind of COVID refugees that are there. I'm in an apartment and life just goes to a complete halt. People are trying to get home. People are trying to go and stay with their families. It's really just a big mess. You can't go out and do anything. You can't socialize. Stress levels are off the charts. And no one knows how long it's going to last. They say, oh, we're just going to close down until April. And then in April, life will be good. Everyone starts washing their groceries or okay. Maybe not everyone, but I certainly started washing my groceries.

It was, uh, uh,

I became like, um, I dunno, is it rain man? Is that the guy that washed everything or Jack Nicholson in that one movie anyway, I don't recall. But anyway, and people are freaking out trying to get flights home. The ones that didn't go home when they had the chance. I do have to say that as an American citizen, I was just so happy with how my government handled it. They offered us two flights to go home. And by us, I mean every American citizen that was in Serbia and you just sign up on a little form and they actually get back to you. They actually email you and we'll call you. And they booked me on a flight out of Serbia for free direct to America. No issues. All you have to do is get to the airport. And many of my friends who are stuck around the world and or all of them who were stuck around the world and wanted to go back to their host countries had to pay thousands. And thousands of euros, one girl was in Bali. She had to pay 1800 euros to get back to Sweden. You don't even want to know how much the Australians had to pay to get home. And they had to wait months and months to get there. And I think they just didn't new lockdown recently. So that two week lockdown is really lasting a long time. And so it was a big cluster mess.

And I have to say that it was actually rather terrifying initially, because no one knew how severe the disease would be. Um, and you think, okay, I'm in a foreign country. I don't know the health system. I don't know how things are going to work. I don't speak the language. My friends are gone. The people that I know at the hostels, which are close to me are closed down, which means people that have worked there went to their smaller towns outside the big cities, or just aren't around at all. So your entire support system has just been ripped out from underneath you. So not just can you no longer start your company. Although at the time I thought it's just going to be on pause for a couple months, but not only can use your life on pause it's you don't know how your life is going to be, or if you need something, what are you going to do? So I had that choice. Do I take the evacuation flights back to America, free of charge, but direct to America and then go home? Or do I stay in my very comfortable apartment in Belgrade, Serbia by myself.

It's really, and I think about it. Let me have a little drink. When I think about it like that, it's kind of funny, which prison do you choose? You're an adult living abroad. You don't have a home in America anymore, and you haven't had a home there for years, so you don't have anywhere to really go back to. So your option is to go home and live in your parents' basement or stay abroad, be independent on your own, but to completely 100% alone with no support system. So you get an Uber support system or no support system. It sounds obvious, right? Just go home. But what's the catch 22, you know, there's a special kind of arguing that comes with true love.

Okay. There really, really is. And going home to stay with your family. Yeah. As an independent adult, that just, if you've never done that, just do it your last two weeks. That's how long you get, you get a two-week grace period. Before you get asked all of the questions that you never wanted to be asked. God forbid, you're a girl going home to a traditional family and grandma's around and you don't have children. You will just, after your two week, grace period have stress on top of stress on top of stress on top of stress. So that's the prison that you enter when you go home, a love induced stress, because when people love you, they keep telling you all the things that they wish you had done to better your life.

Or at least

That's kind of what happens in my case. It's actually not as bad as I'm making it seem. I think I'm, I probably annoy them more than they annoy me. And they did ask me to go home, uh, many, many times. And I have to say there is really nothing like mother's cooking. Absolutely nothing. It's just impossible to replicate. But I said, listen, I'm going to go crazy back at home, or I'm going to go crazy over here. I've got a nice apartment. I'm comfortable in Belgrade. I might as well go crazy over here. How bad can it get? It's just going to be a couple of months. I can wash all my groceries. I can stay inside. Yeah. Okay. Okay. Year and a half.

Okay. So anyway, Washington groceries wasn't that bad, but when they started doing things like you can't go outside your apartment for the weekend, that became a little bit bad. It didn't happen all the time, but sometimes it'd be two days, sometimes three days. And a couple times, I think it was four days where you're not allowed to leave your apartment. And by this point, so the two months had passed. Everything is way worse than they expected my friends. Eventually we're all able to leave Belgrade Serbia. I'm the only one there, everything that I ever used to do during the day as an go out to eat or go out, go out to meet friends for drinks or go to the hostel and hang out with people or just travel around regionally. All of those things done closed. Can't do just completely shut down. What can you do?

Stay in your apartment, wash your groceries, go a little bit crazy. Make some imaginary friends. That's what you get to do. I think I lost my train of thought a little bit there, but the point is that it got precipitously worse. It got worse and worse and worse. No one knew what was going on. And the case numbers magically started going down. But let's just say that the numbers went very, very low before the election then magically after the election, they spiked again, this was a recurring theme through the Balkans, by the way, it happened all over the place. And it was kind of interesting to watch from country to country, to country, to country. This would happen. It was, you know, at this point, some of my friends from the west would start complaining to me about how their countries were handling this. And I just politely said, listen, just think about who you're talking to compare your situation to mine.

Compare your country to mine. Apparently all of the good Serbian doctors or at least most of the Serbian doctors and nursing staff and everything related to hospitals had gone to Germany years ago because that's where the money is. And that's where the real opportunities are. So you can make a few hundred euros per month in Serbia, or you can make thousands of euros per month in Germany. So they all left. So you're stuck in countries with no doctors where they all went to Germany. And then you're having a German complained to you about how things are being handled and the healthcare system isn't that rich, isn't that rich. And you'll wonder why people think the Germans won world war II, not then, but decades later, slowly and economically you'll wonder why

We'll go and live in one of these countries where all of the hard working smart people have left, where they've all had a

Brain drain to Germany and it starts to make a little bit of sense. There are so many disaffected

And you know, what, how has the EU

Even still together, it's really just pieced together with floss and string and gum and probably a little shitload of blackmail and bribes and incentives. Why is Greece even in the EU, by the way, have you ever been to Greece? Have you ever driven to Greece? Tell me what it's like on either side of the border from Greece to Albania or Greece to Northern Macedonia. Why is Northern Macedonia called Northern Macedonia instead of just Macedonia? That's where Nikki's in Greece.

I mean, orders

And cultures are very, very interesting abroad because the borders are usually and the history goes back so far in south Albania. They speak Greek or even better if they speak Albanian with a Greek accent. Okay. Okay. Um, how many tangents off am I? So I'm in Serbia. They don't have any doctors or nursing staff because all the good ones have left and you have no support system. And the two month lockdown has extended over and over again. And sometimes you can't leave your apartment for days on end. You now have no friends. There, there are no more repatriation flights home, which is, which is okay. I made my decision. I was going to live with my decision. Stay there, wash my groceries, make some more imaginary friends, life goes on, but maybe the most enduring feeling from this moment is this feeling of uncertainty.

So I had to apply for a visa to stay in Serbia and I was able to get that visa actually, but then oddly enough, they wouldn't renew it for a second time. So I eventually had to leave Serbia, make an emergency stop, stopping Croatia, pick up my friend, and then come back through Serbia. The advice given by the border control was very, very interesting. So I followed their advice. That's all I have to say. Go back through Serbia. And then from there, come to Albania. I love Zagreb by the way. Oh my gosh. Love, love. Love it. And I cannot wait to go back. It's just, oh, it's great. Yeah. It's like a bigger, more fun version of logistical. Gianna of Louisiana. I love Zagreb. I love both of those places, but Zagreb is where I have. I have definitely considered moving there for the longterm.

And if COVID, wasn't such a big baby, I'm trying not to curse. Okay. Then I would already be back in Zagreb evaluating that for long-term stays, but anyway, or just moving there. But anyway, let's move on. And on the way we a stop in Pristina Kosovo, a place which has been insanely ravaged by Corona virus, by the way, sometimes it's hard for a man aircons to understand why it may hit certain places more than others. And there's no scientific evidence behind what I'm about to say. I'm just going to explain the difference in the way that people live. And maybe that will explain it. So when people say, what does it like to live in America? There are so many stereotypical things that you could say. It's fun to talk about Cowboys and hot dogs and all of those things and barbecue, usually sports teams.

So the first things that people bring up, you'd be surprised how many people have told me every single professional basketball team and football team, American football in my country, where they are and who the main people on all the teams are. And I'm like, dude, I only know the ones where I've lived. So those are kind of one of the things that they think about when they think of American culture. And of course a rap videos, rap is really poisoned. Uh, the world's uh, well, I don't want to talk about that now because it's, it's a very interesting discussion, but it's poisoned the world's opinion, uh, in a few different areas. But what I always tell them is I say, listen in my city where I'm from, it doesn't matter if you're poor middle-class or rich. Everybody has a home and they have grass in front, behind and on both sides of the house.

And that is largely true for the vast majority of America. There are some exceptions. You have New York, you have Chicago, you have some of the bigger cities. You have Miami, Los Angeles that hellscape, I don't even know if lower class, not lower class, lower income or middle income. People can even afford to live there anymore. Last time I was there, it was completely unaffordable and a bit of a hellscape, but most of America people have homes and that's the important distinction, homes, homes, homes, homes, homes. We have homes. We have space in Europe. It is not like that. Gosh, have you ever been to a million dollar apartment in Paris and seen the kitchen? And I don't mean an apartment that's been renovated to be some sort of beautiful magazine cover apartment. I mean a regular, just million dollar apartment in Paris.

The kitchens

Are this, the saddest excuse for a, for a, uh, a cooking section that could ever exist. You know, we have, we have just completely different standards of living in America. And obviously you shouldn't compare Paris to another place like that. You should compare it to New York, you know, where you also have very expensive places. But the point is that it's different. They have less space and people live really crammed together. And now we're talking about Kosovo, I'm going to get back to that, but it doesn't really matter where you go in a lot of European cities, unless you go to villages. People don't have space. They are crammed together and buildings and tiny little apartments. And a lot of people in them and Kosovo is especially like that. And Pristina you just have these massive, massive apartment complexes filled with people and they have nicer kitchens in the apartments in Paris usually. But the point is you just have people on top of people on top of people, on top of people, on top of people. And COVID a ravaged to that city. I just learned recently that some guy in his twenties lost vision in one of his eyes after he got COVID a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, I don't think I'm going to be going back there anytime soon.

Oh my gosh. So make it to Albania. And the first thing that I noticed when we get to Albania is there are no the rules, no masks, no limits on people, crowding into places. They're probably actually were both of those, but as I would learn that just nobody followed them. And, uh, life was completely normal, completely normal for a few months until it got really, really, really, really, really bad. But upon arrival, it was completely normal. And I have to tell you, you go from a state of what you later realize is a depressive state. I don't know if it's depression, but it's definitely a depressive when your whole life gets just stopped. And you don't know when it's going to get restarted. And then you come to another country where they say welcome to freedom and you can go out, spend time with your friends, socialize, hug.

People have a great time. And you forget about the virus. Yeah. You actually forget about the virus you make, what some west would say mistakes. How could you hug a stranger, man, you've been locked in home for six months having zero physical contact with anybody. I met someone the other day. Two of her friends committed suicide during those lockdowns. One of my very good friends almost did. Yeah. And then you get to freedom. God, it was beautiful. It was beautiful. But sadly it was short-lived and then winter came and more restrictions. And then we could go out only before 10 o'clock at night, then eight o'clock, then six o'clock. And then I had to work the night shift for some reason online. So seeing sun was not something that happened for most of the winter. You don't realize how much you value sun until you don't get it for months and months and months, at least in Serbia, I got sun and I had a really nice apartment that had a really good view where the sun would shine in and I could get some beautiful sun standing in the open windows. It was great, but in how mania and the winter, no sun for months staying up at night, everybody left once again, the only,

The only two people who

Ended up staying here for the winter time, because my friend was sequestered in another city, dealing with his own difficult times.

The only two people

Who stayed here was a guy who was eating cat food occasionally, and a guy who ended up crapping in plastic bags in his room. Yeah. So I had a really, really great social circle full of life and vigor and uh, yeah, I'm not making up what I just said there, Mr. Cat food and Mr. Craps and bags.

Okay. It was, it was

God, it was a horrible winter. Oh my gosh.

And all the plants in my apartment died. Yeah. I don't know why the guy thought I was capable of taking care of plants, but oh my gosh. Thankfully I didn't live with those two guys, but yeah, let's never repeat that winter again, please. Never, never, never. And it was also another very, very, very difficult time for all of my friends. There's, there's a group of people it's like between 25 and 40, where it almost feels like we're a lost generation and it goes a little bit above 40 as well and a little bit below twenty-five as well. But definitely within that age range, we're, we're just like a lost group of people. And COVID just helped to bring that truth out. That was already kind of, there, we are the people that are in the middle of this digital transformation. We grew up before all of it and then lived during it.

And a lot of us felt like we were in some regards floating around before this. I actually was not at the time until COVID came, but then COVID just kind of pushed it over the edge. And so my whole group of friends, basically during the last year and a half has just been floating around not knowing what they're going to do or what's going to happen unless you work a big corporate job or a government job where they aren't going to fire you. So basically the privileged people, but those of you who work with those of us who work for ourselves, you have nothing really. And, uh, yeah. Yeah, you do a lot of soul searching over a time like that winter. So let us never, ever do that again. How about that, Mr. Cat food and Mr. Craps and bags. Wow.

I'd like to forget those memories. So after winter I made it to a beach and I got some sun and I had beautiful sun all the time and it was amazing. It was an amazing transition coming out of the darkness and into the sun and into the light. It was beautiful. Things started to look a little bit better. I rented a car, my friend and I had many, many adventures throughout Albania. And, uh, things started to seem like they were getting better. But as you now know, COVID, doesn't really getting better. It's just getting weirder and no one is giving vaccines to foreigners. So we are just this weird group of un-vaccinated COVID refugees who knows what we're going to do. My friend was stuck in Nepal for a whole year. Actually. She only got out two days ago. That is an interesting story. And I would love to interview her and have her talk about that because the way things happened over there. Oh my gosh. You guys have no idea. You have no idea. Yeah.

You learn about how the world works. The harder it is to listen to someone in the west to complain about things. Let's just put it that way. So unfortunately COVID is still here and it has most likely affected my friend, which is why I was unable to give the interview to interview her today. Unfortunately, um, I think that she is going to be okay. She's very young and very healthy and very they fit, but it's still there. COVID is still just causing trouble. And hopefully in a couple of weeks, I'll be able to bring her on and we can talk about the really interesting aspects of Albania, because there are so many really interesting things here. I mean, in the south, they're speaking Greek and their Greek Orthodox in the north, you've got Roman Catholics and Franciscans. You have in the middle of the country, you have many Muslims, but are they Muslim or Muslim in name only?

It's very interesting given their history. The country has so many interesting things, things going on within interesting cultural aspects. So I do very much hope that I can bring her on and we can have a lovely discussion about what's going on. She's uh, she has a lot of opinions, so it would be very nice to, uh, talk about that. And I believe that that's about all I've got to say here. So I'm going to cut it short before I continue rambling on and on and on. I hope that everyone out there is staying safe and as safe as you can. And I'm not going too crazy, not too many imaginary friends that you get some sunlight and some happiness, and, um, that you are able to maintain social connections throughout this. And if you have any questions, comments, or thoughts, please go to no fairy tale travels dot sub stack.com. Find the post for this and leave a comment there. And that's it for this episode of no fairy tale travels. See you guys next time.