The COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly and dramatically changed our daily lives. We’re speaking to Canadian women about how coronavirus has affected how they work, parent, run their businesses and more. For information on where to find the latest updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation in Canada, go here. With borders closing and flights getting grounded, the clock was ticking for digital nomad Kaleda Connell to get home to Canada. Below is her story.
I’m originally from a tiny town called Palmerston, three hours west of Toronto. Recently I decided to do the digital nomad thing, so I sold my house to go on the road full-time. I can work from anywhere – I do business mentoring for gyms and manage a website startup. I left Canada in early January, and travelled to places like Lisbon, Stockholm and London.
Earlier this month, I was in Berlin when I realized I needed to get back to Canada. Until then my mentality was similar to everyone’s: I was aware of the coronavirus and knew it was spreading, but wasn’t really worried. When my mom and sister texted me, ‘Do you think you should come home?’ it hit me all of a sudden, OK, this is getting serious. I started looking at COVID-19 statistics, and Germany was a hotspot. I immediately booked a flight. There were no direct ones from Berlin to Toronto, and the U.S. was closing its borders to non-Americans coming from the E.U. I decided my best bet was getting to Lisbon and flying back to Toronto from there.
I got out of Berlin on March 14 – the same day Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne tweeted that Canadians should travel home while they still can. That instilled fear – what if I’m stuck somewhere? I also worried: Am I being a conscious world citizen by getting on a plane when I might be carrying this and bringing it back to Canada? I couldn’t answer that question. All I could do was look to the government and follow that warning, because at a time like this, you need leadership.
Lisbon was a ghost town. The beaches were bare. I stayed with a friend in nearby Estoril, and one night, at 10 o’clock everyone went onto their patios and clapped for all the healthcare workers, and the next night, everyone sang the national anthem.
On March 16, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said if you’re a Canadian abroad, it’s time to come home, it felt like Dad was saying it. Like, oh my gosh, Dad needs me to come home. Although I had a ticket to Toronto for later that week, I decided to try to get back sooner. The next day, I went to the Lisbon airport hoping to change my flight. Police stood guard all around the entrance. After four hours in line, I was turned away since I didn’t have a ticket for that day.
I finally made it back to Toronto on March 19. I was lucky to be able to fly business class, which meant I could be more distant from other people, stay away from crowds, and board and deplane first. I also had Nexus, a huge plus in this situation – I didn’t have to wait in the massive line at arrivals, and was one of the first to get my luggage and get out. But I met some Canadians who had to pay twice what I paid, just for an economy seat back here. My Uber at the airport said he waited three hours before getting a fare – he had left his full-time job to drive for the app. I feel so bad for everyone, and really thankful to be in the position I’m in.
I can’t go stay with family – I have elderly grandparents and young nieces – so I booked an Airbnb in Toronto for four weeks. I messaged the owner to explain my situation and ask if I could have stuff delivered to the door during my 14-day self-isolation, and she was so wonderful. She said, “If you need anything, I’m going to stock the place,” and she moved another booking to a different unit just so I stay in my space for the full month. Like, faith in humanity restored.
What I would say to Canadians still abroad is the same thing I would suggest for anyone anywhere: Don’t panic. Check the news only once per day. Breathe and talk to your family. It’s very difficult going through this alone, or glued to the news.
– As told to Wing Sze Tang
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