Ruth's Diary

29/3/2020

Truthfully I'm fed up of reading Covid news, but I thought about this awhile and I figured it might be worth something to note of my experiences here in Czech Republic.

So I just want to start by saying this simple fact: I never wanted Home Office. I'm not saying Home Office as a concept is bad, for those who have young children and/or long commutes, it is a definite benefit. However, if your working tools and work phone are in your house, it's very easy to find yourself working 24/7 from the 'comfort' of your own home if you're not careful. Now, I currently work a job in which everyone knows I'm the MVP in terms of product knowledge, contacts, and remembering past tickets and random other bits about maintenance and so on. I am so happy that my hours are shift-based and in an office, with my pay not accounting for overtime (overtime has to be approved), so once I clock off, I'm off. No distractions.

However, the WHO declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, then the Czech government declaring a shutdown and lock-down of borders meant that my company had to consider approving Home Office for...everyone. Getting Home Office was previously so difficult, suddenly hundreds of laptops had to be ordered.

At first I was annoyed. I mean, pandemic or no, life continues and goes on. I was reminded of this when I attended a routine gynecological appointment, right before the announced shutdown. Before me was a lengthy appointment for a heavily pregnant woman. I think about her sometimes...is it safer for her to give birth at home right now? Hard to say considering home births are unusual in Czech. So being oh-so-British (Keep Calm & Carry On) I was determined we should take precautions but go to the office as normal. When I left the office each day, I looked at the flats across the street, expecting most windows to be lit up. They were not, but the volume and pattern were similar. The last time I saw them, I realised, was during Summer. I then realised what this meant: a lot of Czechs, having no job and school to go to, travelled to their chalupa.

What's a chalupa, you ask? (Pronounced, 'ha', loopa) Well, the most common translations are either cottage or Summer house. Basically, under the Socialist regime, everyone got a plot of land that they tended as either a little garden or allotment (or both) and also built a shed that they could sleep in. So one translation as Summer House came from the fact that these sheds containing a bed and stove had no running water, electricity or heating, so they were a Summer-only escape that was ventured to every weekend. With the free market in full force, these sheds were traded in (if possible) and upgraded for out-and-out cottages, which people could go to for any holiday as they were now heated and with electricity and running water. They don't have to exclusively be for Summer anymore, so some mountain-dwellers invest in these as ski lodges.

So it's kind of hilarious that this week the government has decided people shouldn't travel to their 'cottages' for self isolation.

Interestingly though, the government seem to keep changing their minds every 10 minutes, making life very annoying in hospitals.

Now what is also interesting is that when out and about, people should conceal their nose and mouth somehow. If it's a cold day, wrapping a scarf around yourself will do. However, the surgical masks made famous elsewhere is not something anyone can buy in this country; so what do the clever Czechs do? Make their own masks. A weird cottage industry has popped up, in which some shops have turned into tiny mask-making factories of about 3 'employees'. A colleague at work kindly sewed up masks with his sister for us all and made more for other floors too. Also keep in mind, a LOOOT of people smoke here, so if smoking outside, their mask is off but they still have to keep 2 metres away from everyone else.

Anyway, I was a little angry and disappointed that my employer decided to enable Home Office and hand out laptops to everyone. Considering that the Polish border got locked up even for border migrants just recently, I guess it was a good decision. At the time though, I was very sad. How on Earth was I meant to be productive at home? Where I place my work laptop at my desk is right next to my TV, attached to which are my PS3 and PS4. Instead of going on break to prevent incoming calls, nothing would stop me just walking away and doing laundry. Basically, it's so easy to get distracted to the point you do anything but work.

Just how people have set up their Home Office has also been a bit crazy. In the office we normally have 2 monitors, so some people are hooking up their massive lounge/HD TV screens as 2nd monitors. Others are choosing to hook up the call center system to their mobile phones, or to get their gaming Bluetooth headset synched up for calls.

In my case, I have an old USB headset that I connect to the work laptop (I refuse to consider it mine) - it's handy as it means I can still make and take phone calls over the laptop, while also having no problem joining the myriad levels of conference calls each day. After a frustrating first day (2 Fridays ago) and a sleepy, boring, unfocused second day (last Monday) I finally got myself into some sort of rhythm. It seems, after some misses, I can work professionally at home. Especially after I re-configured the work-laptop's tracking pad.

Other things to note: I don't understand why public transport is running normal timetables. So few people are using them at the moment (cars have not increased either) so I'm shocked that daily transport is not on a Saturday or Sunday timetable. In Prague, certain transport links have been shut down as running them is pointless (I'm in Ostrava remember, where there are few cases reported). Also, so proud of this Czech nation - no panic buying here. Everything is stocked and toilet paper is plentiful. The only 'empty shelves' moment I have had has been the first weekend of this lockdown, in which all the rice, dried beans and lentils were gone. That...kinda makes sense though; all the ingredients are favourites of vegan dishes and vegan meal ingredients aren't the easiest to attain in this country. People here...they love their sausages and roast duck, not at the same time of course, but many beloved Czech meals feature them.

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