Sorry, friends! It’s been a little while! When I went to my blog to post this, I was actually a little shocked at just how long! I was taking an AQ course online from mid-April through mid-June, and as the workload ramped up toward the end of the course, all of my free time outside of school was dedicated to homework and projects, and not to blog writing. Then we had our mid-year break from school here, and I took the opportunity to rest and relax, but now I have a lot to catch you up on!
Let’s start with that reference to a mid-year break. Remember that our school year in Guatemala runs from January through October. We had a week off for semana santa (holy week) – sort of like March break in its timing and length. We have two weeks off mid-year – sort of like Christmas break in its length and in its relative timing, but obviously corresponding with the start of summer break in North America. And then kids will have two months off in November and December.
Normally, mid-year break would be a time to go back to Canada. I can imagine that in a normal year, I would have excitedly been setting up times to meet and hang out with as many people as I could, as well as carefully considering what supplies I needed here to get me through the rest of the year – things that are pretty hard to find in Guatemala.
But 2020 and 2021 have not been normal, have they? Canada’s entry rules have changed recently, but let me remind you that until they did, any Canadian coming home to Canada needed to stay in a hotel quarantine for 3 days at an expense of upwards of $1500. And then, as long as a Covid test came back negative, the rest of the 14 day quarantine could be carried out at home.
Well, a two week vacation with a 14 day quarantine wouldn’t actually allow me enough time to be quarantined at home before needing to leave the house to get a Covid test to be able to return to Guatemala. And for obvious reasons, I could not afford the $1500 hotel stay.
As a side note, I have to say that I’m so grateful to live in a country that has taken the pandemic seriously. I think these rules are important (even if I disagree with needing to quarantine in a hotel). I just wish they didn’t apply to ME in this PARTICULAR SITUATION.
Meanwhile, I had to leave Guatemala. I’m here on a tourist visa. I get paid in Canada, which makes everything CRA- and OHIP-related much easier, and also avoids the need for lots of paperwork to work in Guatemala. And that 90 day tourist visa is why we had to go to the city in March to renew our visas. But after 180 days, you really do need to get out of the country for 72 hours or start paying a fine that accrues daily.
So I needed to leave the country, but I wouldn’t be able to go to Canada. (Thankfully, if you remember, the regulations were put in place at the end of January, so I’d had a lot of time to anticipate not being able to go home. It would have been a lot harder if it had been a surprise.) If Canadian teachers here at GSO decide not to go to Canada during their mid-year break, they will usually opt for a short flight over to Costa Rica for three days (can’t be Honduras, El Salvador, or Nicaragua due to country agreements) and then a return flight, just long enough to be out of the country for the mandated 72 hours. That’s what I was counting on for a long time. But then my director Beth and I started talking about details, and we hatched a new plan.
There are direct flights to the US from Guatemala City, and some of the cities where you can fly to are in states that don’t have residency requirements in order to get a vaccine. So… what if I went somewhere in the US for these 72 hours, got vaccinated, and then returned, and could make my eventual return to Canada a lot easier (in addition to obviously being better protected against Covid here in the meantime anyway?!)
If you do some googling about getting a Covid vaccine in the US, it won’t be long before you come across vaccine tourism websites. I clearly was not the only person with this idea. A flight to Miami was out, because Florida required residency in order to receive a vaccine. One of my roommates invited me to come to her place, but her state also had residency requirements. But Houston or Dallas? Texas doesn’t require proof of residency to receive a vaccine! (Probably a wise public health choice if you’re hoping to get a population of undocumented immigrants vaccinated.) I booked a flight and hotel and started researching vaccine appointments.
Going to the US actually made my break significantly easier in some ways. I had to navigate some extra steps – Covid protocols, procuring a Covid test to re-enter Guatemala, and of course, getting vaccinated, and it was so convenient to be able to do that in English. It was also really nice to go to Target and get some of those things that are hard to find here. And let’s be real, it was also pretty great to go to Starbucks every day!
Actually getting vaccinated was pretty easy. I booked an appointment at a pharmacy (booking ahead of time gave me the peace of mind that I would really be able to accomplish a key objective of my trip). I requested the Johnson and Johnson vaccine – maybe not my first choice if I’d been able to choose anything else, but getting a one-dose vaccine was my only way to end up fully vaccinated. I showed up at the pharmacy, they took my Canadian passport as my official ID without any comment, vaccinated me, and sent me on my way, no questions asked.
I’ve thought and wondered a lot about the ethical side of getting vaccinated in a country where I’m not a resident, don’t pay taxes, and don’t contribute to the vaccination rate since I got vaccinated and promptly left. I’ve thought a lot about talking about it too. I considered my privilege in being able to get vaccinated before anyone I know here – the privilege of being able to fly into the US (you need a visa if you’re Guatemalan), the privilege of being able to afford the trip even on my stipend. In the end, any doubts I had were far outweighed by the reassurance that I am so much less likely to get Covid, meaning I can be a firebreak in the transmission of Covid. In a country with so few vaccinations so far, I can be one more vaccinated person. It helps a whole lot that with Canada’s most recent regulation changes, I can also be hopeful about not paying for a hotel quarantine when I return.
Okay. I feel like this is a long enough blog for today. Catching up is going to be a several week long endeavour after two months (😬😬) away. I’ve got a couple of future blog topics planned, including regaling you with stories and pictures of Dallas.
Enjoy your weekend, and if you are an Ontario friend, I look forward to catching up with you in person in November when I really will be able to come back home!