Still Searching for Pandemic Bottom

Normally, I write about once every two months, but for my last deadline I asked for an extension because I was anticipating news: My first traveler since every tourist up and left Costa Rica in March would be arriving. After seven months of lockdowns, quarantines, partial reopenings and mask mandates, this had to be the turning point. Boy, was I excited to get in the car to battle traffic and airport parking to greet our visitor. I couldn’t wait to be face to face again with someone who had never eaten rice and beans for breakfast.

Costa Rica breakfast
Breakfast of Champions!

For as much as I tried to psych myself up for this moment, it was hard to ignore just how severe the downturn had been. The airport, which used to handle up to 12 inbound flights an hour, only had three arrivals the whole day. It was a ghost town. 

This visitor was a volunteer going to our animal rescue center, one that I had taken countless volunteers to before the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the site often was bustling with 50 or more volunteers, but this time there were fewer than 10. The volunteer also happened to arrive on the same day the country recorded its highest ever COVID19 case count, likely because of government loosened restrictions a few weeks ago.

I think we have reached a point where the psychological and economic effects are doing more harm than good. I naturally enjoy being at home, but I know I’m in the minority, and even I’m starting to get on edge.

Psychologically, it’s frustrating that there is no end date to this pandemic. Countless times I’ve geared up for an end date only for it to get extended. I’d go through all the emotions to open up and then suffer disappointment.

And the more I get entrenched in my routine, the more I find it hard to add even little things to my calendar. Even simple things, like calling my parents. 

I have more free time than at any point in my adult life, but I find that I forget or put off things because it might interrupt, like, my Netflix schedule. Besides, without anything going on in our personal lives, there’s not much to say.

Now, the crisis is economic. Every day more and more people and organizations are asking for help. Heck, even the government is asking for help.

Costa Rica is not like the United States, where it can just print itself out of a problem and add it to the deficit. If Costa Rica were to do that, there’d just be massive inflation. 

A few months ago, the government went to the International Monetary Fund, a big international bank that loans to countries, and asked for a loan just to cover interest on its current debt. Now, it is going back to the IMF for new money to get through the pandemic and refinance old debt.

It seems sensible, but you have to be really careful how you approach an IMF conversation with Costa Ricans. It’s like talking politics in the United States – you’re either going to find someone who really agrees with you or really doesn’t. There’s not a whole lot of middle ground, and it doesn’t take much for tempers to flare.

If you’re anti IMF, it’s because they will require the government to implement austerity measures to pay back the debt and we end up like Greece. If you’re pro IMF, then you are probably upper class and/or work for a large corporation. 

The majority of large corporations don’t pay income taxes, as they are located in tax-free zones, or they implement tax strategies to pay none. What irks the majority of Costa Ricans is the proposal that the government is sending to the IMF imposes additional taxes on everyone, except for… wait for it… yeah, large corporations.

This is where I tune out.  A few years ago there was a near six-month general strike as tax reforms were put in place to reduce the deficit. Everyone had to tighten their belt except… large corporations. Sigh. Here we go again.  

It’s not that I don’t care, but it’s frustrating to think that something will be pushed on us when there could be better negotiating and maybe even an option that doesn’t involve the IMF.  They interviewed an economist on the news the other day, who at one point suggested ending the interview so he wouldn’t start crying on live TV. 

I don’t think he was joking. I’ve felt the same.    

I wasn’t expecting a V-shape recovery to begin with the arrival of this visitor, but the excitement was certainly dampened by the worsening economic situation and rise in cases.

Hindsight will be 20/20, but I think it’s pretty safe to say we haven’t hit bottom yet. Maybe next month will be better.  

As I prepare for the next visitor, I’m already thinking of ways to psych myself up for this turning point. 

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