We are covering how the expat community in Poland is coping with the coronavirus outbreak and the country-wide lockdown. If you are interested in sharing your story, please send as an e-mail at: email@example.com
On the weekend of the 8th of March, I was visiting friends in Kraków for Manifa, and while I had been following the progression of Covid-19, it was only that day when I realized stuff was going to get really ugly fast, when I got a notification that the Pride march in Koszalin was canceled, which was supposed to take place today (April 4th).
The week of March 9 was surreal. I had my 38th birthday that week, and the week before me and some friends from Gdańsk had thought about organizing a party together somewhere in April when I would have my new apartment to make a combined birthday/housewarming event. I was supposed to be back in Nowy Targ in the south of Poland on the 20th of March for my laser hair removal, and I'm still in the middle of getting a new PESEL and updating my Polish documents after changing my legal name and gender in the country of my citizenship, which had already taken far more time than it should due to the bureaucratic nightmare involved when there are transgender individuals with multiple citizenships. The original plan was to go back to Urząd Stanu Cywilnego in Gdynia later that week, and then on to the south of Poland the week after for my laser treatment, and then return to Trójmiasto to move apartments and start my new job on April 6th.
And then came Covid-19
And then, Friday March 13, I found myself driving in a mad dash with less than 24 hours until the borders closed to pick up a friend of mine from Sint-Oedenrode in the Netherlands, in the middle of the hardest hit region of Western Europe, to bring her to safety here in Trójmiasto. My friend, like myself, is a transgender woman who is on the autistic spectrum with no realy family or other people who are close to her. Unlike myself, she's been in assisted living residence her entire life and is dependent on benefits because she's always been told she's unable to take care of herself. And she falls in the risk group for complications of Covid-19, which she only found out when she went to visit the endocrinologist I recommended her in Gdynia.
And in the assisted living residence she was living in, she had zero possibility to practice any sort of social distancing. The social workers there did not care one bit about official recommendations, stating that everything was overblown.
While she had enough food in her flat to stay inside for a very long time, as we had been doing a major shopping the last time she was in Poland, and while she hadn't left her apartment already for two weeks, she still had to deal with coming in contact with her social workers and her neighbours, none of whom were following any precautions.
We crossed the border back into Poland with literally hours to spare before the borders closed, and my friend was able to isolate herself for two weeks upon returning to Trójmiasto due to friends of ours having a spare place for her to live. For another week, the Netherlands kept on maintaining "business as usual" while the bodies were piling up higher and higher with dozens dead just in her rural municipality by now, three weeks later. There are a lot of things I disagree with the current government upon, but the response to the coronavirus crisis is most certainly not one of them, but rather something which should've been an example for the rest of the EU. With the exception of Czechia, Poland probably shows one of the best responses in the EU. And while there are mishaps, these exist everywhere else too.
As for me personally, I never would have considered leaving Poland as I would not have anywhere to go.
Over the last decade, I've built my home here, and for all of its issues, this is a country I've gotten to call my home and which I want to see become successful, because if our home is successful, it benefits us all. And the amount of kindness and solidarity present in Polish society is something many other societies could learn from.
And personally, other than bureaucratic delays, and issues with moving, I haven't been particularly hit hard. I still got my new apartment, and I'm still starting my new job in two days. I am doing the entire onboarding from home, so it could've been much, much worse.
Eilidh Marzanna Bizzell,
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