My quarantine in Colombia sheds light on moments of humanity


We’re all going through the same thing: peaks and troughs. Some are adapting well to quarantine, others itching to get out and about to bring back some normality to their lives. But what we all have in common is that we are currently obliged to stay inside in order to benefit society as a whole. So it’s unsurprising that little moments that we ordinarily wouldn’t have thought twice about are meaning so much more to us right now. Banal parts of daily life that before weren’t noteworthy are now the moments that are bringing us some relief and a sense of appreciation during these trying times.

As I’m sure other city-dwellers have experienced during the lockdown, one afternoon we heard the faint sounds of a man singing and ventured out into our residence’s garden to nosily search for where this was coming from. To our delight, we saw that the source of song was a man with a guitar serenading an elderly couple who were sat at their window enjoying a personal performance. The wife elatedly proclaimed that it was their 70th wedding anniversary and was jovially clapping and singing along while her husband stared out in what seemed to be a combination of bewilderment and awe. To witness this scene of enduring love were several other residents who’d come out into the garden. We all joined in applauding the performer from various points around the garden and basked in the happiness of the couple celebrating their milestone anniversary.

Another memorable quarantine moment came about when I was sat on a garden bench reading. On the bench next to me was a woman engrossed in her cross-stitching. Since neither of us recognized the other, despite us living in the same unidad, we got chatting and introduced ourselves. We discussed our thoughts and feelings about the quarantine situation and how we were both turning to arts, culture and crafts to get us through. We spoke of our family members living far away; her daughter in Buenos Aires and my family in the UK and scattered around the world.

When her husband arrived at the benches, she introduced us and explained that he was an independent filmmaker. He generously offered to email me some of his work and other recommendations for films and documentaries that he thought I’d appreciate. We then continued our conversation whilst ambling around the garden and Marcela, my new acquaintance, showed me some oregano she’d planted and kindly encouraged me to pick some of the fresh leaves to take with me. That evening, back in my apartment, I discovered that this filmmaker neighbor of mine was none other than the renowned Colombian film director, Victor Gaviria, and like an ignorant fool I’d had no idea. I felt grateful for every detail of humanity from that interaction; chatting to neighbors I didn’t previously know, sharing some moments of relatability and our interest in the arts, being offered freshly grown herbs and discovering a new artist whose work I’m now exploring. All this came from within the confines of my residence’s garden.

From these more impressive coincidences to other less notable moments, I find myself appreciating and taking stock of almost every mundane occurrence. Exchanging a smile with a portero as I walk to the supermarket, secretly enjoying the now calmer shopping experience as supermarkets are emptier, and each shopper being considerate in how they weave through the aisles to avoid coming into contact with others. I was even uplifted when the cashier and I simultaneously pulled our protective masks slightly away from our mouths simply to breathe in some air, with him exclaiming “Qué calor!” and me chuckling in agreement, adding that the masks somewhat prevented us from breathing properly.

There are several small moments and interactions on a daily basis that provide some respite from our frustrations during the pandemic. The dogs being taken outside who play with one another and whose owners smile and greet others, the aromas wafting from other apartments ranging from freshly brewed coffee to comforting laundry powder, meals being concocted to pungent perfumes. All of these instances contribute to a sense of community and the knowledge that we’re all experiencing the same oddity that is quarantine together.

Of course, there are the less charming aspects of the quarantine such as neighbors blasting “Barbie Girl” and other insanity-inducing songs more often than is acceptable, young children screeching in frustration and howling in tears, and dogs incessantly yapping at antisocial hours. Yet these irksome moments evaporate from my radar as soon as I remind myself that we’re fortunate to be spending quarantine in a convivial place that has some greenery for us to walk in, since many sadly don’t have this privilege.

Right now, there’s nothing else to do but heighten our senses to what’s surrounding us and to engage in as much positive human interaction as possible, whatever form that may take. We’re all quarantined simultaneously and will be re-entering an altered society, different from the one we knew, together when this quarantine lifts. To see us through, let’s focus on how extraordinary ordinary moments can be.


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