A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally posted a picture of me in Mazunte Mexico from Instagram to Facebook.
I’m not sure why instagram feels less vulnerable, but it does.
I feel the need to say something about why I’m in a foreign country during a global pandemic. I know it’s not a popular choice. I know there are so many people sheltering in place, not even going to the grocery store.
To describe the experience of living alone in the DTES this summer as emotionally devastating is no overstatement. The relocation of tent city brought a subtle but significant shift to the neighbourhood, among many other factors. While I’m still not, and have never been, fearful for my own safety there, worrying about the safety of others amplified substantially. It was not uncommon to hear screaming in the alley. After everything about police brutality, and the safety that is missing for so many, the dangers that enforcement represents particularly to BIPOC people, my threshold for calling for help gradually decreased to a point that I was greatly uncomfortable with. Are they breathing? Don’t call. If they’re bleeding, how much? Don’t call.
Between June and August, I lost three friends to overdose. I came to a point that I would call passively suicidal – not that I considered taking my own life. I couldn’t do that, even in my darkest moments. Having lost people to suicide, I couldn’t put anyone through it. But I thought frequently that closing my eyes and being released wouldn’t be a bad outcome. I felt, as I’ve written before, that maybe all the good things were done, and there was only anxiety and depression ahead.
I called Teprine and described my experience – I didn’t know her pre-teen daughter was in the car listening. Later, she said it shocked her to hear about people lying in the street. Teprine graciously invited me to Stanbridge East, to live on her seed farm and help her with harvest.
I feel like I arrived in September with a broken spirit. Over the next month, I cooked, I ate, we made a zombie movie. I had a family again, something I had been sorely missing. And I knew that I couldn’t go back yet. A month wasn’t enough to heal. Mexico had been calling my name.
Montreal began to lockdown. I had a very small window, if I was going to get out. The day I flew out, all restaurants and pubs closed. At 7pm, the malls closed too, and there was nowhere to be but outside in the cold. Friends of 25 years felt uncomfortable inviting me over, and I understood. There were police in the streets.
Originally I thought I’d spend a month and see how it went. I’ve been here for 6 weeks or so now, and I think I’ll stay for a while. For a few reasons.
My rent in Vancouver is $1550 a month, a “steal” for a nice one bedroom condo. Add phone, utilities and internet and monthly expenses before food are about $1700. Takeout, $20-25 per order. The last restaurant meal I had there was $55 for a bowl of ramen and two glasses of wine.
Rent in Mazunte is $220/month, including everything. A meal at a restaurant is $12 or so, if I’m being extravagant. I had a beautiful grilled chicken lunch today for $3. Wine is “expensive”, at about $5 a glass. A beer is about $2.
I skinned my knee and got an infection that required antibiotics (because, of course – first time I’ve taken them in 12 years) and the doctor visit including the antibiotics was $42.
Everything is outside. Face masks are required on public transportation, and there have been mixed restrictions that don’t always make sense. But people aren’t focused solely on COVID here. I’m mostly alone, and sometimes it’s lonely – but also I don’t feel ashamed for walking in the street.
And also – this place needs me and my money. I’ve been thinking a lot about the financial devastation caused by staying home – with no shame for that. I completely understand the desire and need to stay home, to protect yourself and others. But I also think of all the families reliant on western travellers to feed their families. It’s part of why this place is still so lush – I fear that natural resources will be depleted en masse in the time to come, to prevent families from starving without tourist dollars.
From the seed farm to the beach, I’ve become increasingly convinced that cities are over. They are not sustainable – they’re barely inhabitable. Who could have anticipated this strange new world? I can only say, there are people in other places, living in ways we can’t even imagine. And it’s keeping me alive to discover some.
I’m concerned for the future of this place – development is coming. In ten years or less, it will be a city. And what then? How do we engineer a future that doesn’t repeat the same consequences we’re seeing now?
I think I’m experiencing something like survivor guilt. I think I’ve probably been experiencing it since I was a teenager. But I can’t be sorry that I’m still around to write these words, because life, although confusing and complicated, is still, at times, breathtakingly beautiful.
I hope you’re doing ok, wherever you are. And if it’s destroying your soul, I advise you to overcome the anxiety and get out. I’m making the choice to stay where I am for the time being, because I don’t wake up with a feeling of dread every day. We deserve at least that.
I have a low key fear of judgement for this choice – it was a risk to get on a plane, but I saw the window closing, and I didn’t feel confident I could survive another several months of isolation where I was.
I miss my friends. I miss friends, in general. It’s lonely here at times. But I know if I came back it wouldn’t be that different at this time, except I would be trapped in my small place, with sorrow all around me. Solo warriors, I see you. If you’re feeling lonesome, send me a message – I would love to hear from you.
With lots of love from another Pacific Coast.