Love in the Time of Coronavirus #1

Lisbon riverwalk

Well, this is different, isn’t it? A 100% true day-by-day real-time blog for my friends – so we are going through this together, not knowing how things will end. I must decide whether to continue my work-dance-vacay in Europe in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, with a job contract that has been cut at the end of March… but I have full faith that between the universe’s abundance and some Dalia-style-hustle that all will be ok 😉

Today, Thursday 12 March, my Miami-based, cruise-industry employer announced that they are ending most contract jobs, including mine, at the end of March. I’ve lost my job.

Today, typing on my laptop that rests on a scrap timberwood table in the shape of a millennial glob, suspended from a ceiling of a hostel in Lisbon with framed retro posters, collages and publicity for tours on the walls, I’m writing because I find myself again in unusual circumstances. Circumstances so unusual that most people in their lifetimes rarely even get close to it and they sit riveted as I weave my story and I can see the events passing before their eyes. So. Better to tell it as it’s happening.

Today Portugal’s prime minister announced the closure of all bars and entertainment spots and less than one quarter of the students of the dance studio I attend showed up.

Today I’m reminded of the fear that exploded with the Egyptian revolution and all of the things I could have written about as they were happening, since I was present in Cairo that fateful 25th of January, 2011 of the Arab Spring.

Today in Lisbon, as in Cairo in 2011, I should make a decision about whether to try to flee the country.

Today I have choices in the face of Coronavirus while in Europe:

  1. return to what could be a great guy (or not) on Grand Canary Island
  2. buckle under the chaos and fears and leave Europe altogether
  3. do something practical in between
  4. do nothing and simply wait it out

Today, a friend, Lourdes Restrepo, asked me

What happened when you stayed during the revolution?

Answer: “Experienced life during political changes, felt the hopes and dreams of Egyptians, worked in the most-cited newspaper during the revolution, had amazing colleagues -and friends- and a feather in my cap for work experience.”

Lourdes: “Nice!”

Last Week
Thursday, 5 March

The Canary Islanders have certainly left their impression on the Caribbean. Colonization may have been evil for many people, but some of them did not come with the intention to simply take, but rather for a better life. Immigrants. I have felt a kinship with the Canary Islanders whenever I’ve met them around the world. Simpáticos. Gentiles. Sinceros. Relajados. No son unos interesados. This can describe most of the people as I know them in Puerto Rico, where my family is from. And we both call buses “guaguas”!

When I saw a $250 cheap flight to the Canary Islands on Cyber Monday in November that would end in Lisbon, I jumped on that offer! I bought the “to” flight immediately with no return flight to the US. I prayed that my employer would allow me to work remotely, from abroad and gave them the option before I bought my return ticket. Upon receiving their blessing, I bought my return ticket for three weeks later through a series of different cities.

Fast forward >> to my actual flight to Gran Canaria on Wednesday, the 4th of March.

With coronavirus a sudden intruder in my plans in the background, I wore a mask on my overnight flight.

Landing in Gran Canaria on Thursday, everyone in the airport is just as I expected: Friendly. Kind. Relaxed. With a softness to their Spanish not easily found on the peninsula.

Arriving to my Canary Sun hostel with no problems whatsoever the owner and attendant, Rita, is a dear and explains all about my immediate area, the difficult-to-get-to-but-beautiful interior, the touristy beach areas to visit …

But I’ve come to dance!

Contacting people through Facebook I discover there’s a class and social night at La Cuba Mía, and I have just enough time to rest, eat, and head out.

Taking a taxi because I overslept on what was supposed to be a short nap, I actually arrive near the beginning of the Kizomba lesson. Apparently, Canary-time is just like Caribbean-time. Point in favor. One more thing in common 😉

As the new girl on the dance floor, some ask me to dance immediately. Others work up the courage and ask me subtly and near the end of the night so as to not look like “one of those guys” that just wants to dance with new girls.

At some point I dance with a rather tall man, a good dancer, with many cool moves, but there’s something missing. And he frequently explains what he’s doing or what I’m supposed to do.

I ask him politely not to “ay, por favor, no puedo disfrutar del baile” I can’t enjoy the dance if he’s talking. He does it again and I again ask him not to. I really want to enjoy this dance! By the third time, I say “You know, maybe we don’t need to dance,” breaking out of his embrace and walking away slowly so we can try to walk side by side and not appear abrupt with him.

He is a little shaken, but he seems like a shaky kind of guy anyway, and with a smile he says “Yes, you even told me already, and I just cannot seem to stop!” (all of our conversations are in Spanish, mind you) and laughs good-naturedly. He disappears into the small club and I lose track of him without any further ado as my mind is occupied considering if it’s a good time to leave, will it get too late to catch a taxi soon, am I tired, etc.

Soon, I’m gathering my things to go.

When I walk out of the door I become disoriented.

(Sidenote: I swear, that internal compass that most people possess is broken in me, which I have to explain often when out with my friends.)

A black car gets close and it’s the gentleman I’d just been dancing with and I’d left on the dancefloor.

He asks me if I need a ride.

…….

Pause the movie.

Up until this point my vacation has gone pretty much like all of my other travels. Simple. Fun. Nimble. Light. Dance-oriented. Well, my Instagram handle is @DaliaMedioMundo. That encapsulates my life.

I’m fine traveling by myself, enjoying the knowledge that I will write more in my books, record for my video blogs, and in the evenings I will take dance classes, meet people, maybe have a coffee with them and at night I will go out to dance.

I’ve avoided men during my travels unless they seem they will keep within the friendship bounds and when they don’t, I resent them for it.

So, mostly, it’s just me-and-me.

……

Now.

Yes.

It’s dangerous to get in the car of a perfect stranger.

But at my age and with my experience, he hadn’t given signals of being misogynistic.

Why? He was a gentleman on the dancefloor, if a bit incapable of controlling his desire to “get the dance moves right.”

But his reaction when I ended the dance mid-song was of a gentleman. He realized why I wasn’t enjoying the dance and did not reproach me for cutting the dance short, which in normal circumstances is a faux pas in the social dance world. After 14 years of social dancing I can read someone’s personality through their dance. An aggressive or controlling person on the dance floor is the same in real life. I avoid men like that altogether.

“Yes, thank you. Are you sure?” I ask in case it’s inconvenient for him.

“Where are you staying?”

I fumble for the name of the town, “Teleda? Tuleda? Toleda?”

He comes to my rescue: “Telda? Vale, vale, ven, ven,” motioning with his hand and head down.

With that gesture I realize that he’s swallowing his pride and giving me a ride to make peace.

He must think I was angry and he doesn’t want this to keep him from being kind to another person he would normally be kind to. But I’m also guessing he wouldn’t make the effort for someone he wasn’t attracted to, either.

I get in his car, a bit worried, noting that the windows are very dark.

The conversation continues from the usual to the not-so-usual: Where are you from, “I’m from Gran Canaria, born raised, and bronzed” I work for the GOVernment, what are you doing here, “DANCE-work VACATION” oh? I started dancing in 2007. Where did you start dancing? “<3 Egypt.” I know Spain very well, but you’ve traveled quite a lot. They are very religious in Spain. I have MY different thoughts on creation. You know normally I don’t do this. I’m surprised you said yes. But you’re a gentleman, not aggressive. You trust your instinct? Yes.

The drive came to an end quickly, since I was only 15 minutes away and the conversation continued a bit longer in the car touching on some interesting subjects.

We exchanged numbers:

“Oh, I have to add what? A ‘plus’?” he asks me. “And can I call you on this number?” Whatsapp.

This ended with an invitation to show me around the island.

………

Now.

I’d already been asked by others if they could show me around the island, and again. Their insistence told me that they were going to be super annoying, selfish and possibly disrespectful. But, this man, let’s call him Elias, wasn’t insistent.

And normally I don’t like to be “shown around” by a guy because they are usually just trying to get into foreign women’s pants. But intelligent, nervous, dignified Elias didn’t know how to add and use a foreign phone number. Could be a clue…?

“Ok”

Friday, 7 March

“Oh I can’t believe it! It’s 2pm! I’ve spent my first whole day in Gran Canaria sleeping!” I thought, frustrated at myself, jumping out of bed groggily. I had needed the sleep, though. Overnight flights kill me and I’d flown from Miami overnight, landing at 5am in Lisbon, wandering around the airport like a lost zombie – wearing a mask most of the time except for some baby-talk with a toddler from afar – until 10:30am when I took my short flight to Gran Canaria.

I write Elias, my eyes still half-closed but my mind determined to seize what was left of the day.

He writes back: “You’ve done me a great service. I exercised, finished my laundry, did some housework, I’ve gotten it all done!”

Sighing in relief, we make plans and he picks me up around 3pm. I talk with my hostel roommate, Adria, about Elias.

We laugh and try to guess if he’s a player who does this all of the time with foreign women.

With only three outfits in my bookbag and two pairs of shoes, I hoped that the high-heeled knee-high boots I was wearing wasn’t going to mess up his plans. We were going to go to mountainous area. I sent my sister a photo of him and his name, nervous because I could disappear into nomansland never to be seen again. But. He’d been a complete gentleman up until this point.

Because this is a true story, I don’t want to reveal the details that make me melt with love, shiver with disbelief, and reveal our special moments.

But.

Have you ever accidentally been at the exact right moment and place to see with your own eyes the fog from the warm valley, roll over majestically on the backs of the hills and out to the sea, as if the water was calling it back home…? And all of this because you got up too late and the universe gave you that gift of the right time, right place?

Have you seen the sun set in the distance with a person who has made every effort to show you the beauty of his lands, the best of their gastronomy, stopping for you to see the island from different vantage points and dancing there on the side of the road without a care of what anyone thinks?

Meanwhile, opening like a book to you for no reason other than that he wants you to know him?

I think to myself many times: “Is he real? Is he faking all of this? Is he doing all of this hoping for a little sex?”

Well, my world until Friday was dance, my work, traveling and an amazing day with Elias.

Oblivious I was to the complications coronavirus would bring a few days later.


Next posts:

From Gran Canaria to Lisbon.

A few great days of dancing in Lisbon.

Coronavirus leaves me without a job, hardly no dancing, and the panic sets in at my hostel.

I’ve probably should take action, but as news develops, so will my decision-making.

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