On being country-less: The tragedy of masks in Latin America & finding a temporary home in Nayarit, Mexico.
Report by Amanda Euringer - originally published 17 April 2022 in "The Cutting Room".
It has been a long strange fever dream this past two years.
For those of you who know me, you know my “pandemic journey” started when I went on holiday to Huatulco, Mexico in December of 2019 . The very first time I heard about any “pandemic” was listening to a man that worked in an executive position for Alberta Health speaking with some of the expat Canadians at the pool in our mutual condo building. Naturally, I waded in and asked him questions for over an hour.
Because that’s what a journalist does.
He had told me that they had already known about the virus since the fall; in Wuhan. He said it had a 99.9% survival rate, and that it was just a matter of making sure there were enough doctors on staff, etc.
In Huatulco, we watched as all the Canadians raced to get themselves on planes and fly back to Canada, where they were sure they would get better health care should they get sick – not realizing they would get no care at all if they got Covid. In Mexico, when I got really sick in October of 2020, I was instantly put on antibiotics, two kinds of anti-parasitics, and given a steroid inhaler. In Canada, no one was given any treatment for Covid; they were just sent home, or given final stage interventions like ventilators. Mexico was also effectively using hydroxychloroquine very early on in 2020, but I digress.
Then started a very long, strange year. After the flurry of tourists “fleeing,” Mexico – and the rest of the world – locked down. We were in paradise, we were almost alone in a beachfront, ocean-view, top-floor condo in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Alone.
For about four months, we saw no one but ourselves and the people that managed the building. Every day, we would go to the beach and swim as the sun rose (the police told us we could go as long as it was before 8 and after 8). All the footprints on the beach were washed away in a few days. Then the water cleared and huge rays pulled close to shore. The schools of fish at first got bigger, then smaller, as locals sneaked out to fish at night. The turtles came back. Huge old turtles came into the bay, immense and graceful, along with the smaller ones we were used to seeing. Flocks of birds and tiny tropical deer populated the deserted forests adjacent to the beaches.
It was like The Last Man On Earth. We created a schedule to keep ourselves sane. We swam two or three times a day. Once in the pool, twice in the ocean. We played Scrabble. We tried to homeschool our eight-year old daughter, Lillian. In a panic, I decided that Lillian needed to learn long division. She was “in” grade 3.
To her credit, she actually did figure it out.
We do strange things when we aren’t certain if there is a future. In the beginning, no one was sure what was possible. Things that had seemed impossible in February of 2020 now seemed likely.
“Lillian better know how to do long division,” was what my anxiety about the future came up with at the beginning of the “pandemic.” Other people stripped naked when they got inside their house and disinfected themselves. Long division was more useful.
Every day, we watched the sun rise and set and we looked out at the sparkling sea and stars – unmarred by airplanes or boat noise. I remember the first time I saw a plane in the sky, (six months later? Was it eight? Time had gotten strange). It looked impossible; like alien technology. I had forgotten about airplanes.
Watching Canada Fall
All the while, in this foreign-to-me landscape, I watched my country go somewhere I could never have imagined. People stopped listening, they stopped asking questions, but worse, they stopped allowing others to ask questions.
Old friends who used to like and respect me (or so I liked to think think) were suddenly attacking me for being the same exact person I had always been: one that asks a lot of questions. Fellow artists, and former “anti-establishment” punks, were all now screaming for those around them to stop questioning and comply – comply.
The word “comply” became trendy and acceptable. This was the exact antithesis of both the worlds I had loved and inhabited: theatre and journalism. Compliance is the death of both.
One by one I had to block and “let go of” people I had loved, people I thought were important, people who’d made up my world and I thought would be a part of my future.
At the same time, I was shocked as I realized that these people were reflecting the political views of my country. My Canada.
I have never thought so much about what a country means as I did in the past two years, watching mine die.
Canada was a beautiful idea. There were similar ideas in the world, but Canada was unique; imperfect for sure, growing still, but it was an idea of reaching for something better. We were a people humble in origin but steadfast in our desire to be good. We were “nice.” Famously so. That beautiful idea that was Canada became irreparably broken during the past two years when, because they were scared, Canadians chose the moral wrong path. Only certain Canadian’s well-being was considered important. For three beautiful weeks, I thought that the truckers might bring it back. Then I woke up in a panic the morning after our government froze the bank accounts of peaceful protestors, and spent three hours moving all my money and planning how to get it out of Canada for good.
All those strong Canadian values we had spent years learning, values about equality and fairness, simply went out the window over fear of a virus. Most average Canadians opened their arms and said: We don’t care what you have to do, or who you have to hurt, just protect me, Daddy-government.
When that happened – and it took about a year to really cement – Canada fell, and I grieved it the whole way down.
What it means to lose your country
People have been writing to me from all over the world asking me questions about moving to Nicaragua, or Mexico, or just about anywhere. Where do I think is safe? Where will they be free to raise their children with their values? Can they buy land and have fruit trees?
What they are really asking is: Can Mexico, or Nicaragua replace my country?
The short answer is: No, no it can’t. I will never get Canada back. I truly believe that the Canada I loved is lost forever.
Despite living in “paradise,” I grieve the loss of Canada all the time. I miss the pristine lakes, and the highways with no garbage. I miss living somewhere I can express myself easily to locals. I miss being a part of the country and feeling like I belong somewhere, instead of constantly feeling like (and being treated like) a tourist. I miss blending in, instead of being a visible minority. I am aware I am simply sharing an experience that many have had, but I am saying that it is uncomfortable to live as a visible minority. It’s not something most people living in their birth countries know anything about.
I miss the feeling of being safe and secure: that feeling that there are rules and laws that will protect me, and that if I buy a house it will be there when I am old. But that feeling no longer exists in Canada either, and for many people, those things haven’t been a part of their Canadian experience for a long time, if ever. The disenfranchisement in Canada has been real for so many – perhaps for decades, for centuries, the whole time – regardless of race, colour, or gender.
You will not be able to replace your country. It’s gone. Grieve that.
Try to take the best parts of it, and bring it with you to your new place. See if the nationals there are interested in what you have to offer, and be prepared to move again if they are not. This is what being a refugee really means. It means movement and change. It means having to find the energy and bravery to stand up against the world, without your country or family backing you up. It means doing this every day until you finally find a place to settle, and that place and those people slowly, over time, become your new country.
That said: Here is why we are staying in Nayarit, Mexico for now
The masks and pandemic measures have become overwhelming in much of Latin America. When we left for Nicaragua in June 2021 we thought Guatemala would be our plan B. There were no masks, and the locals we spoke to were against the vaccines. The people we spoke to were unconvinced they were good, and in the town we stayed in a young local boy had died after vaccination. The town wasn’t having any of it. We mistakenly thought that meant Guatemala would stay normal. Nine months later Guatemala is a country you can’t enter without being vaccinated (12 and up, I believe). When we called the Waldorf and Montessori schools in Antigua, all the children were in masks, and social pods, and had plexiglass on their desks!
Everywhere we went in Latin America, lines of school children in masks trailed up streets, or stood quietly in playgrounds. The only mask mandate in Nicaragua was for kids. All the way through El Salvador we saw masks on adults and school children. There might be a “bubble” in the Bitcoin Beach area, but we found the masks in the rest of the country so oppressive we didn’t stay long enough to find out. We wanted a bubble bigger than one town. We wanted a country with several “bubbles” to choose from. If the world has come down to bubbles of sanity, we wanted to be near more of them.
Throughout the central states of Mexico, the masking was insane. Double masks are everywhere. Seriously, double masks! What are you people thinking? For sure you’re vaccinated, and on top of that you’re wearing two masks? It’s irrational. It’s madness! It’s a mental illness at this point, and because of that, it’s not going to go away any time soon.
I have this horrible feeling that masks will become commonplace on children in Latin America for years to come. Masking the children is not benign, it’s an abomination. Globally, it’s causing cognitive decline, damaging language competence and literacy, and hindering essential empathy and facial recognition. I did an interview with Dr Martha Fulford and Angela Durante that speaks to this.
Watching all the little babies in masks, as they look at the masked faces of their parents is heartbreaking.
So when we crossed the border into Nayarit and saw there were no masks, it was like a huge weight had lifted off of us. Remember, we have lived almost mask-free for two years. Our daughter homeschooled for a year in Huatulco and then went mask-free at the San Juan Del Sur Day School. Just the month it took to get through the rest of Central America and through swathes of masks in Mexico was a huge toll, psychologically.
I don’t know how you all manage in your respective countries. I really would have lost my mind living in a masked-up place.
The more we drove into Nayarit, the more lovely it was to see the happy smiling faces around us. Children playing, old people. And eye contact!
People in masks don’t make eye contact the same way that people without them do. If there was ever a reason to drop the mask, that’s it. Eye contact is essential, especially if you are travelling! It tells you if you are going to make a friend with the person in front of you, or if there will be an issue. Eye contact and a smile gets you so much further, even than language.
Lo De Marcos is the single least “masky” place we have seen anywhere on our travels. The kids at the local school have to wear them (apparently there is some kind of regulation in Mexico around masks in school, although not at private schools). Honestly, the masking of children must stop. At least here, in Lo De Marcos, the kids take off their masks the second they are outside school property, unlike children in other areas who have gotten so used to them they just wear them all day long. No one here wears a mask.
It’s super safe. Definitely as safe as Canada. It’s very relaxed and quiet. It has tropical fruit, coconut, fresh fish, local beef and milk, seriously the best unpasteurized cheddar and butter, access to Puerto Vallarta for world class medical treatment and big box stores if you need them, and no masks.
Lo De Marcos has found a sane balance
I am not sure what the numbers are, but I would say half the people here have been jabbed. There are loads of retired Quebec RV’ers, and they’ve been jabbed, but no one is shaming or blaming anyone else. In Lo De Marcos, it’s a non-issue. If, occasionally, there is a person in a mask, so what? When I explain to people that we aren’t going back to Canada because I don’t agree with the vaccine mandates, they normally nod their heads in agreement. They got vaccinated, but getting through the border was a nightmare, and maybe they had a reaction to the jab, or know someone who did. Or maybe it just makes sense that this nice family in front of them believes in choice, and they just had enough of all this nonsense too.
I’ve had more balanced conversations in Lo De Marcos than I have had anywhere since the pandemic began, and to me that is worth the parts that aren’t perfect. I want to live somewhere where I can have actual nuanced conversations with people. I want proper, respectful debate.
The Waldorf School in San Pancho has no measures at all, and our daughter has already made friends. It’s only $120 CAD per month. The Cirque De Los Ninos is world class, and has classes three days per week after school for $50 CAD per month. There are riding lessons at the polo stables in San Pancho, and the beach in Lo De Marcos is accessible and clean.
There’s also wifi in Lo De Marcos. Really good wifi! Fibre. There have been no blackouts, so far (it’s been four weeks). In both San Juan Del Sur and Huatulco the bad wifi and the blackouts were constant and very frustrating.
The Irish have a word to describe what all of us who have been cast-adrift from our countries have been feeling: Hiraeth
Hiraeth is all of the following tied up in one word: homesickness, grief for a lost or departed person or thing, and longing.
This is how I feel every day, in some small way. Some days it’s extreme, and others it’s just a quiet low note at the back of the orchestra.
I don’t know if one ever stop missing one’s homeland. All I know is that we will stay in Lo De Marcos for now and enjoy the freedom we have found here. Maybe one day we will wake up and Canada will feel like no more than a lovely dream we once had, and Lo De Marcos will feel like home.
Amanda Euringer is a writer, journalist, content strategist, health advocate, yogi, and mom. She has been published in Macleans, The Tyee, Enterprise Magazine, Fox News, Forbes & Wired. She maintains The Cutting Room on Substack, where this piece was first published.