Life in Lockdown: Notes from Madrid

By : Laila Sholtz-Ames

How my life has changed since Spain imposed a lockdown prohibiting residents from leaving their house except for occasional visits to the grocery store and the doctor.

It all sort of feels like a dream when I think back to life before the lockdown. I remember my husband and I went for a walk in the Parque de El Capricho. The sun was shining, families were out with children, people were running and biking. It was the perfect spring day. After that we went grocery shopping as usual, I went to the gym, bought a new pair of shoes at Lefties, and contemplated going to an exhibit at the Reina Sofia but decided to go another time. Little did I know everything was about to change.

Here we are over a week into the lockdown and my pre-quarantine life seems like a distant memory. One of the first things I did was figure out how to teach classes online. I am English conversation teacher at a private international school outside of Madrid and when the announcement came to shut down schools we set up Microsoft Teams so our students could still receive a well rounded education thrroughgout this period of confinement. I’ve been a teacher for seven years in three different countries but I have never taught classes online so I spent a lot of time changing up my lesson plan, figuring out the system and uploading assignments.

I’ve also been on the phone with different airlines regarding our Semana Santa travels. My husband and I were planning a ten-day trip to the Balkans and now that all travel is susended for the forseeable future, I’m trying to get money back for the hotels and flights. I also had a trip planned for early May to visit a friend who lives in Bratislava, but all signs point to that being canceled as well. My husband and I both love traveling so it was definitely sad knowing that any future trips will have to be postponed.

Street life post-lockdown:

I live in Lavapies (the multicultural epicenter of Madrid) so the change has been quite drastic. My neighborhood is usually non-stop action and I’m used to standing outside on my balcony, watching people walking, laughing, drinking and playing music. Now, I see the occasional person walk by wearing gloves and a mask. All the restaurants and stores on my street are closed so it’s pretty deserted. The most lively (and enjoyable) part of the day is at 8pm when everyone goes out to their balcony and applauds. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, and it makes me feel like we are all in this together.

Looking for a silver lining:

Yesterday my husband and I left our house for the first time in a week to buy groceries. We had to stand in line outside of Carrefour and the guards told us we couldn’t be together in the store. After we went in separately and I finished my part of the shop, I was waiting for my husband outside. I saw an elderly lady slowly walk to the back of the line. She had a cane and a small shopping bag. Right away the 6 or 7 people ahead of her in line motioned for her to go in first. It was a heartwarming gesture and it’s nice to see that even if this crazy time, people still think about about others.

Self care and coping techniques:

I definitely have my good days and bad days. I am used to having the freedom to come and go as I please. I am an introvert, but I like getting together with friends. During the week, I usually go to the gym or take a walk, and on the weekends I spend time with my husband and friends, go to museums, El Rastro, or the movies. It’s definitely been an adjustment staying indoors 24/7 and not doing all the things I love to do. That being said, this situation has really given me some perspective. I’m still gainfully employed and am able to teach from home. I have an apartment and enjoyable company (my husband and my cat). During this lockdown, I’ve been able to read more Spanish poetry, write short stories that I started months ago and never had time to finish, try out new vegan recipes, do online Zumba classes, tour art museums virtually, and I still have a social life. I FaceTime and Skype with at least one friend every day. I know that whether they are in Spain, America or another country, we all are going through this together. I’m trying to use this time to be productive, foster my relationships, take a break from my usual routine and take time for myself.

Things we can do to lower the numbers:

I like what a lot of countries in Asia were doing along the lines of testing everyone, not just people with symptoms. A lot of people, epscially those under 30 years of age, are asymptomstic and might be spreading the virus without knowing it. If we could test more people then we would hopefully be able to flatten the curve. Until then, stay home!

Thinking about life post-coronavirus:

First, I want to thank all the medical workers, cashiers, sanitary workers, etc. who go to work everyday and put their health on the line for us. I’m so impressed by their resilience. I also really want to take a nice, long walk in the park. I miss eating out and so I’ll probably go to a nice vegan restaurant with my husband. I want to hug all my friends and spend time together like we used to do before the lockdown. I’m also really looking forward to going back to school and teaching my students in person as it’s been strange seeing them through a screen everyday. Last, but not least, I really miss traveling so I hope to go on a trip somewhere, even if just for a day.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on the fact that we are in this together and connected by everything that has happened, whether it is singing opera on the rooftops in Italy, playing bingo on the balconies in France or applauding at 8pm here in Spain. When this situation finally comes to end, we will come out of this stronger and more unified.

Laila Sholtz-Ames is a writer and teacher from the United States. This her second stint in Madrid as she lived here previously from 2015-2017 while completing her Masters in Teaching. She moved back to the states after that, but having missed the terrazas, museums, social life and vibrant Spanish culture, she returned to Madrid in August 2019 and is happy to be back.

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