Mandatory wearing of facemasks while outside, leads us to be inventive with scarves
Last month I brought you an article about how the Coronavirus crisis has affected myself and other people living in vans especially those abroad at the time and those whose van is their only home. Now a month later what new challenges have we faced and where do we go to from here?
I am in Morocco, I arrived in February and spent the first month travelling around exploring the country. The lockdown started on 20th March and was initially for a month. On 18th April the authorities announced a further month of lockdown and so here we are into month two of our restricted lives.
Have I questioned over the last month whether I made the right decision to stay in Morocco? Would I have been better to get back to Portugal where I am based? Or even back to the UK where I could be nearer family and even possibly go back to work as a care assistant? Of course I have asked myself those questions. Ultimately, I still think I made the right decision for myself in the circumstances. I also still believe that a lot of people who went back made decisions based on bad advice, rumours and hearsay.Our parking place has been free from any hassle
My partner and I feel very lucky to be somewhere where we can have a nice walk every day without meeting another soul, somewhere where food is cheap and the shelves are not half empty due to panic buying, and where the weather is good every day. We have been imagining what it would be like to be stuck in the van with the rain pouring down day after day. Luckily even in the UK and Ireland where we are originally from, the weather has for the most part been fairly good. Unfortunately, life for some van dwellers has not been though.
Many full-time van dwellers have had harassment from the public for being on holiday. People have had verbal abuse and rather nasty notes put on their vehicles telling them to ‘go home’. Many van dwellers have had to move from where they were safely parked and social distancing to a new park up, others have had to call the police and get the council involved. The council for the most part have been helpful and sympathetic to the plight of people living full-time in vehicles. Many have issued notices that people can put in the windscreen of their vehicle to tell the public that they are allowed to park and live in their van at that location.
The headline of a recent DevonLive website article was titled ‘New Age traveller waits out pandemic at Torquay beauty spot in unusual vehicle’. The news website had received an email from a reader which among other things said, “Maybe your readers would be interested why these people are permitted to flout the rules in this difficult time, while the rest of us have to stay and home.” For the record the vehicle was hardly unusual, just a self-built campervan!
Another similar article from the BBC had the rather unsettling headline ‘I’m scared I’ll return to find my home burnt out’. It detailed the struggle a young woman living in her van was facing. The woman, who is a frontline worker, was receiving abuse on a daily basis and she felt vulnerable in her van and was finding it hard to sleep at night. People were accusing her and another van dweller at the same spot of being there on holiday. As well as the police stepping up patrols in the area, so as the van dwellers felt safer, a local councillor has been supporting the pair and posted on Facebook to inform the community they both had a legitimate reason for being in the car park.
What is clear is that some people do not realise at all that there are folk that live in campervans and motorhomes full time. That these vehicles are their only home and that the vast majority of van dwellers, just like the general population are obeying the social distancing guidelines and are staying at home. It is true that there was a sudden wave of motorhomes heading off to ‘escape’ the lockdown at the beginning of the virus outbreak. This has, no doubt stuck in people’s minds and now they think everyone in a van is on holiday.
Friends I have living on traveller sites are also getting frustrated, like many of us are, with other people not obeying the social distancing rules. On site where you often share a toilet and possibly a shower block and washing machine, it is doubly frustrating as you have no choice but to come into contact with the others who are not playing by the rules. A friend on a narrow boat has had walkers, on their allotted ‘exercise time’ walking along the tow path with seemingly no care for the fact they are well within two metres of her on her boat. Another friend on the canals had the same problem until the waterways authorities put signs up on the tow path asking people not to walk on the parts where boats were moored.
As is so often the case in today’s society, there seems to be an ‘I’m OK Jack’ mentality with the view that ‘I’m doing the right thing and other people are doing the wrong thing.’ It seems few people take the time to think about anyone’s individual circumstances and people are happy to report other people for what they see as ‘wrong behaviour’. Worryingly the term ‘covidiots’ has entered our vocabulary in recent weeks. Whilst some of the behaviour may well be wrong and against guidelines, humiliating individuals is certainly not the right way to tackle the situation. It should probably be more about shaming the behaviour itself.
Back here in Morocco the wearing of facemasks became mandatory while outside, early in April. There have been thousands of arrests for not wearing them as well as arrests for people breaking social distancing rules and being outside when they shouldn’t be. Here in Imsouane where I am staying it seems to have become fashion to wear a facemask around the neck! People do not put it on their face when they pass you nor do many even put it up when in the shop. The only reason to make them put it up is the sight of a policeman.
It’s an odd mentality the people that are more concerned with getting a fine from the police than catching or passing on a deadly virus! I know there has been many reports that say the wearing of a facemask is not necessary or that they don’t work and so maybe many of these people believe that. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable when in the close confines of the village shop when there are others in there not wearing masks. The shop here is very small!
One of the big lessons of the Ebola crisis in Africa was what it taught about the importance of helping local populations to adapt their behaviour through a good understanding of infection dynamics. World-wide epidemiologists have used the term ‘social distancing’ without really being able to explain clearly what this implies. Both physical distancing and cutting down on social contacts are implied in the term, but it says little about how it is done. Ebola-affected villagers in some districts of Sierra Leone during the outbreak in 2014-15 started to call the disease ‘bonda wote’ meaning ‘family turn around’, or, ‘family stand back’. They quickly understood that they needed to make proxemics adjustments to group activity, and family life to reduce the risk of infection
At the beginning of April there were about 700 cases of the virus here with 40 deaths, by mid-April there was 2,000 cases and 127 deaths. Now at the end of April there is 4,360 cases and 168 deaths. Without a doubt by shutting everything down early they have made great progress in stopping the spread of the disease at the same accelerated rates of some countries.
Regular visitors to our parking space, the sheep and the goats!
The illness has been slow to reach Africa but there is reason to suspect its eventual progression could be the biggest disaster for developing countries in our lifetime. The greater youthfulness of the population in Africa might indicate lower death rates but this will be affected by co-morbidities. People with compromised immune systems seem to be at greater risk, so infection is likely to be dangerous for people with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, anaemia, malaria, or malnutrition. All these other issues are more prevalent in Africa than Europe.
African health systems are generally poorly equipped to cope with a huge spike in respiratory cases. There are in fact ten African countries with no ventilators. In Morocco they are trying to increase the amount of critical care beds from 1,640 to 3,000 to cope with the crisis, but this will still only make 1.5 beds per 100,000 people. In the UK there are 6.6 critical care beds per 100,000. Morocco has also begun manufacturing its own ventilators with 500 invasive and non-invasive types set to be ready in April.
In April, there were two ferries running to Sete in France and two to Genoa in Italy taking motorhomes and campervans. These ferries were exclusively for campervans and motorhomes. All the backlog of people waiting in Tangier wanting to return has been cleared and most other people in campervans have their safe place to stay whether on a campsite or on friends’ land. There are to be two more ferries in May although the dates have changed and nothing is guaranteed as the ferry company has to get authorisation from the Moroccan authorities on a case-by-case basis to run.
There are also still some people free camping here in Morocco. They don’t seem to be getting any hassle, certainly those local to us, anyway. The difference here than to the UK is that people realise that now all borders are closed it is near impossible to get back to the country you come from. I have not heard of any situations here where van dwellers here have been told to “go home”. Despite rumours on social media of locals not wanting tourists around I have not seen any evidence of that or heard any first hand stories where someone has had any abuse just for being a tourist or foreigner.
There have been articles in online magazines and newspapers as well as YouTube videos from people all over the world that have ended up staying much longer in a country in their campervan due to the lockdown. The stories are of people in campervans trying to return home or how they are coping staying put. The vanlife movement is very much an online movement in as much as it is not really a community like the New Traveller movement. Much of the connections people make are online as well as the groups they are part of. There are a lot of people that are part of the van life scene that have blogs, make videos for their YouTube channel and take photographs for their Instagram feed.
The BBC reported on a vanlife couple with a baby who had left the UK to start a year-long road trip but raced back to the UK before the borders closed. “We made it back in the nick of time” they say in their interview. Advanture magazine have an article on a Dutch couple who say, “We decided that the only country that would be safe for us to continue living in a van would be back home in Holland”. They go on to say that they started to hear Moroccans were blaming Europeans even though they had not experienced this themselves and that they didn’t know what would happen if one of them fell ill.Our walks take in the deserted beach
A popular vanlife channel on YouTube had six videos from its creator all with the title ‘Stuck in Morocco’. The videos give details of the family’s issues with trying to leave Morocco amid the first couple of weeks of lockdown. Interesting in parts, and also with some good information, but personally I have to question the terminology being used by all these privileged westerners during the crisis.
A recent report by Cléo Marmié highlights how the coronavirus lockdown has forced some of the tourists and foreigners stranded in Morocco, to adopt the rhetoric of migrants. According to the researcher, thousands of these people stranded in Morocco turned to social media, using a discourse of border, migratory injustice and discrimination. The situation has pushed those who are the relatively privileged ones in this world, with passports authorizing entry, without formality or with a simple visa, to act like vulnerable migrants.
European citizens experienced being kept waiting, as well as uncertainty and a feeling of dispossession in the face of diplomatic and administrative decisions, whose impact on their lives and their freedom of movement sparked their outrage. The study concludes that the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted intrinsic inequalities of migration, the differentiated value of lives and the selective emotions when one faces the intolerable.
For us here in Morocco we are very aware of the privileged position we come from and in fact still find ourselves in. We have money in the bank and we have families in the UK and Ireland that can help us if our money runs out. We have had assurances that we do not need to worry about trying to extend our visa as the Interior Ministry has said we will be able to leave without penalty when the borders re-open. We are safe and healthy and know that in time we will be able to get back to Europe.
Meanwhile we are taking each day as it comes and still managing to find things to do every day. For me learning an instrument is helping immensely as it is something that is different most days. I can feel myself progressing with it and so most days bring something new, either learning something new, or, a feeling of actually making it sound better than the day before. I have been writing my blog and updating my website and easily been filling my days.
My partner has been writing songs and has been practicing the instruments that he plays. He has been cooking a lot and devising some new recipes and tweaking old ones so as he can use the ingredients on offer here. One of his new dishes has been a vegan Shepherd’s Pie which he is immensely proud of. He has also been taking more walks than I have as it’s getting a bit hot here now for walks in the day time, and no-one is meant to be out after 6pm without good reason.
Boredom and keeping busy also seems to be less of an issue among my traveller friends than some house dwellers I know. Maybe it is because many are artists, musicians and generally creative people anyway, even if they have quite mundane day jobs normally. With easy internet access as a form as escapism as well as a good resource for looking things up, most people I know seem content to be at home doing their thing.
Money worries and job security are things shared by everyone but it seems that my travelling friends are used to living on a tight budget. They seem to generally feel that things will work out in the end. Many have had issues with the government website to apply for benefits though, as I’m sure many people across the UK have. Some have also had issues with the agricultural jobs that were advertised but actually seem to have gone to specially flown-in migrants due to the fact that they will work in worse conditions for less money.
As April draws to a close the holy month of Ramadan starts. Muslims here were saying that it already felt like Ramadan as everything was so quiet. In Morocco, like many other countries, mosques are closed, and as a result, Moroccans will be unable to perform Taraweeh prayers that are usually conducted in mosques after the Isha prayer. During the holy month, Muslims wake up early to eat a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, and break their fast after sunset with a meal called iftar. Breaking of the fast is usually a communal affair with families and friends usually gathering together to break the fast. It is common for mosques to host large iftars, especially for the poor.
Giving charity and zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is encouraged during Ramadan. In many countries, charities will deliver iftar meals to the poor instead of serving them in Ramadan tents or mosques. For safety reasons, religious and health experts have advised using online methods to donate to NGOs helping those affected by the outbreak.
So, what do we see as our plan for the future? Well it’s hard to tell as we are relying solely on the authorities in various countries making their countries more accessible again and the Covid-19 coming under some sort of control. Africa has not become the epicentre of the virus yet but we do think the possibility of that is very real. Although sub-Saharan Africa will suffer the most it will no doubt touch Morocco too. We hope that by the time Africa starts to really feel the worst of the virus Europe will have some sort of control over it and restrictions will be lifting for us to be able to return.
We would hope to be able to get back into Europe and then obviously quarantine for fourteen days before mixing with anyone. It may be that we have forced quarantine in a designated facility which is fine by us, the hard part will actually be getting a ferry crossing to Spain! Next month I will bring you another instalment of our life on the road during the crisis.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily the editorial stance of the publication.
Sam Wilkinson – 30 April 2020
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