Welcome to Howard Springs. Welcome home.
I’m sitting here writing this now, 9 months into 2021 and covid is still ruining the world. Thankfully the good thing to come out of this year has been the vaccines, which have saved countless lives and will eventually allow us to live again. ‘Fortress Australia’ has been shut since March of 2020, only allowing Australians and immediate family in; very few people are even allowed out, and only for business or extreme circumstances - no holidays or any sort of travel for pleasure. This was done to stop the virus getting into the country and doing what it does best – wreaking havoc. It more or less worked, and Australia was one of the few countries that battled the first outbreaks well, employing a hotel quarantine system for returning travellers. Near-normal life was enjoyed by Australians for the most part, occasional small outbreaks and lockdowns closed land borders, but generally things looked pretty good there. Delta changed that, and now Sydney and Melbourne are battling this new strain. Melbourne’s “Ring of Steel” of tough lockdowns, night curfews and serious restrictions didn’t work this time. Melbourne has suffered a lot during the pandemic, and is now the unwanted holder of the title of ‘longest city in lockdown,’ overtaking Buenos Aires with 245 days (and counting). I have done nearly 7 months in lockdown, in Spain and now Sydney, and also 14 days solo quarantine, and I wonder if that is a kind of record. The only way out of this shit is through vaccination. We needed this wave of Delta to give us the kick up the behind to put the jab into arms, and it’s finally working – the state of New South Wales, the most populous state and home to Sydney, will have reached 70% double vaccinations by October 11, and 80% in another week after that. Everyone felt safe behind the ‘big walls’ of the fortress, but Covid crept in nonetheless. Very soon the siege will be over, the gates will be flung open and we will learn to live the virus, and finally be able to enjoy our lives again. Let’s learn our lessons, but look to 2022 as being better than the last 2 years. It has to be.
Meanwhile, let’s go back to late last year when Covid was hitting Europe in the second wave after summer. Spain wasn’t in the greatest shape, and was just starting to recover from the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. However, when Covid came, it all went downhill quickly. I did some reading and discovered that 16% of Spain’s workforce are actually in poverty. This country has, for a long time, had a problem with bad contracts and low wages, and because of the pandemic, this would only get worse. I had always worked on a ‘partial’ contract, meaning I work from September to June, get my holiday pay, then don’t work until September again, not getting paid in the meantime. This was why I did summer camps in other countries; to get a holiday while I worked and then be able to eat in August. So losing my job in September hit me pretty hard, added to the fact that my girlfriend also lost her job as we worked at the same school. I didn’t see our situation getting any better here, especially not as teachers. With the closure, more than 300 teachers were out on the street and looking for work, many of whom had worked at the school for decades and have a lot of experience. How was I to compete against that? I did look for work, and was offered a handful of hours and crumbs for pay. The thought did cross my mind to accept whatever came my way, as my unemployment benefits weren’t enough to keep me going. Many teachers I knew did this, as they had mortgages and kids. It was about this time though that the idea of returning to Australia really started to find its way into my thoughts and stay there. I would have my family, my language, I could also start studying and afford it, while being able to work and earn more money than here. The situation here, especially in Barcelona, would only get worse, with the number of unemployed teachers, schools closing down and also a new wave of people trying to move to Barcelona and become teachers. This last one confused me, but everywhere on Facebook were people trying to make the move here, even during Covid and the crisis of teaching, and many of them had law degrees and masters, so why come and teach? With the foreseeable future not looking bright at all, I decided to leave my second home, and go home. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I was in a long-term relationship for one, but also because I knew that I may never come back. Before leaving, my partner and I decided to make the move together – I would go first, as only Australians could enter the country, but she would follow when we got the visa. Not an easy decision, but the best option I could think of, and maybe the only viable one for our future.