Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast.
Government-mandated isolation has become the new normal for so many of us, as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m in lockdown here in France, where only essential shops remain open, and we need to carry a permission form when we leave the house, which can only be for specific reasons, like going to the supermarket, the pharmacy, or doing some exercise close to home.
In this episode, I’m chatting to American expat Leslie Keeler Saglio about her experience with coronavirus containment where she lives in Spain. As she mentions, the situation is changing so quickly, and since we recorded this interview on Thursday 19th March, Spain has introduced a permission form for its citizens to be able to leave the house.
The country has recorded its highest number of virus deaths in a day, and its nationwide lockdown won’t be lifted until 11th April at the earliest. As a motivational speaker and life coach, Leslie has some good advice for how we can all lift our spirits and try to focus on the positives at this very difficult time.
Leslie, where are you right now?
Leslie: I am currently in Barcelona, Spain.
Carlie: And your situation is very similar to mine here in France, in that your city has gone into lockdown, hasn’t it?
Leslie: Yes, we went into lockdown on Saturday 14th.
Carlie: So tell me what the past few days have been like for you.
Leslie: It’s been a whirlwind of events, actually; things are changing by the hour. I think once the virus came to Europe, especially Italy, a lot of people started preparing here in Spain, especially [places] like my children’s school.
People were just starting to realise that this was a real possibility, now that it was in Europe. And so, last week, my kids’ school shut down. Thursday was the last day of school. They moved to virtual training, as of Monday this week. They announced that it’s for 15 days, for two weeks. But we all know it’s going to be much longer than that.
The interesting thing is I was actually meant to fly out to the US on Sunday, to San Francisco for a business retreat, and then carry on to Los Angeles, where I’m from originally, and visit my mother, who has reoccurring cancer right now.
So by Tuesday of last week, which was before the US put a ban on European travel, I just decided it was way too risky – the idea of getting stuck in the US – and so I cancelled. And I’m just really grateful that I’m here with my children and my husband, because they’ve basically shut the borders. And I’m just grateful that I’m actually here with them during this time.
Carlie: It must’ve been so difficult to make that decision. You’ve got a family and a partner in Spain, but then you have a mother in the USA, who no doubt could have your support right now too.
Leslie: Yeah, it was very difficult. I mean, I think if we had known that it was going to be this … Because there was so much information going around, and things literally were changing by the hour. And so, my husband actually was adamant, like, ‘You’re not going to the US. You could get stuck there.’
And I was trying to be … I’m a motivational speaker and a life coach, and I have a very spiritual practice. So I was trying to be very positive and have this very positive faith, love over fear, attitude. And then I think it became really real when the school started sending emails saying, ‘Just get ready; we’re preparing for the school to shut down.’
And it just became increasingly more real that we were going to be in the same position as China and Italy, here in Spain.
Carlie: So what is your new daily reality? I know here in France we’re not allowed out of the house without a permission slip, and we only have certain reasons that we can justify being out on the street. And if we get controlled, there are fines of 135 euros up to 375 euros. Is a similar thing happening in Spain? Are you allowed to leave the house?
Leslie: So we are allowed to leave the house in the case of food, hospital, pharmacy, and, if you have a dog, you can walk your dog. It’s not as stringent as, I’d say, France, where I think you have to apply for a permit or something [saying why] you’re out on the street. They haven’t done that, but they will give you a fine. So, people have been fined.
People still out on the beach, or people that are just walking around … If you don’t have a legitimate excuse to be out, then you will be fined. Absolutely. I actually haven’t personally been out since Saturday. Anytime we need something, my husband’s gone out.
Tomorrow I have an orthodontist appointment for my daughter, and I’m going to go, and just make sure that we have our IDs and the appointment confirmation about where we’re going and why we’re out.
Carlie: I did see a viral video online about a person being stopped in Spain who was wearing a dinosaur costume.
Leslie: Mm. I haven’t seen that one, but there has been a lot of stuff going around social media and the WhatsApp group. You just have to be really conscious of what you’re saying. I would say this, ‘I find the humour, like the memes that can keep us laughing, are really important during this time.’
So there’s been some memes going around and I’m dying laughing. I’m like, ‘Yes, please!’ Because it’s so important to still find some moments of laughter and joy when you’re in lockdown. There’s been moments where I literally will tell some of my groups, ‘Do you have anything funny today? Keep them coming!’ And so, it really keeps our spirits high. Yeah.
Carlie: I know there have been videos of Italians getting out on their balconies and playing music together and exercising and singing and dancing. Has a similar thing been happening in Spain to keep people’s spirits up?
Leslie: Yes, I did see that with Italy. It’s so beautiful that they’re doing that. They have done it this weekend, at the beginning of the week. There was a viral message going around on WhatsApp about going onto your balcony, or your porch, to cheer and clap all the doctors and nurses and all the people that are basically on the front line trying to contain and combat this virus here in Barcelona.
So that’s been really incredible to witness. And the solidarity in this city’s been very beautiful to witness.
Carlie: Leslie, you mentioned that your children are now being schooled virtually. How does this pandemic impact your livelihood? You mentioned you had to cancel a trip to the USA. Are you and your husband still able to work in some capacity while you’re stuck at home?
Leslie: Yes, we are. I would say we’re quite fortunate in that we’re both entrepreneurs, and so we’ve been able to still work. I mean, obviously there’s some limited access. So my husband, he just has his meetings, or his partner in his business, they just communicate by email or video conferencing.
And the same with me. I mean, I do hold live events. I do weekly meditation sessions here in Barcelona. I was meant to do a live event in LA, which of course I had to cancel, but now I’m basically going to still continue that, and be of service to people, especially during this time. I think it’s important, now more than ever, to try to stay connected, and how amazing that we have all this technology that we can do that.
And so, I’m definitely going to be announcing some free weekly meditation sessions, so that we can come together and just really stay calm, connected, and be well, as much as possible, while we’re all in lockdown around the world.
Carlie: I’m really lucky where I live in France. We have a little garden, front and back, so we can get out into the sunshine. What’s your outlet to be able to get outside and get some fresh air?
Leslie: Yes. Fortunately, we have a small terrace that gets the afternoon sun. So what we’ve been doing is: we will go out there, and possibly have our lunch out there as a family. I mean, it’s not big enough to put a table or anything, but we just sit there, with our chairs and our bowls or plates, and get some sun and some vitamin D. Because that’s absolutely important, obviously, to build the immune system, as well as to get some vitamin D.
So I always tell my kids, ‘We need to get outside, get some fresh air, and get some sun.’ So unfortunately, we don’t have a garden – I’m really missing putting my feet in the ground – but I would say, if people have a tree that they can reach, or if they have plants, that’s just as powerful, just to stay connected to nature and to the ground.
Carlie: Would you say that nature is the biggest thing you’re really missing at the moment?
Leslie: Absolutely. I know Facebook reminded me … They do these reminder posts, like, ‘Two years ago, you posted something,’ or, ‘Three years ago …’ And it reminded me of a post that was, I think it was, two years ago. We were on the beach with my mother. And I reshared that post. I’m like, ‘Oh, what I would give to have the sand under my feet and my mother by my side.’
So absolutely, I think this is an opportunity to remember all those things that maybe we naturally can take for granted. But just know that this too shall pass. We don’t know how long we’ll be in it, but we will be able to do those things again. And just be grateful for what we can be thankful for in our surroundings, and with our family. And find the daily gratitude in that.
Which is why I was inspired to start a gratitude practice online on my social cause. I think it’s really important that people stay in that … It’s during this time, we can be very contracted and stay in that fear, stress, anxious mentality, which is completely normal, right? We’re human and this is huge.
This is so unprecedented; [we’ve] not experienced this before, at least like in our lifetime. And so, it’s important to have these practices, daily, that can really put you back in a state of expansion and a higher vibration, and feel the goodness and the joy in your life, so that you can get through your days.
I think it’s important that I find myself, especially because I have children … I’m like, ‘Okay, I need to stay positive. They’re watching me. They’re taking on how I’m handling this, and I have a feeling that when they grow up, this is what they’re going to remember. It’s like, ‘How were we as a family unit? How were my parents with me and to each other? How did we get through it?’
And this will be a huge memory in their lifetime. So, I would say, it’s just about finding those moments that you can be grateful for, and staying in that much more expansive, higher vibration of gratitude. So important.
Carlie: I completely agree. And actually, it’s something I’ve found myself seeking out in the last few days. I discovered this app called Shine. And you can choose different topics and themes that you want to connect with.
And for me, one of them has really been gratitude and mindfulness and positive thinking, and just taking a moment every day to think about how all those little annoyances – like not being able to find flour and toilet paper at the supermarket – don’t really matter. And what does matter? I’m home; I’m healthy; I’m with my partner; I’m safe. You know?
Leslie: Yes, absolutely. I love that.
Carlie: Leslie, I’m curious. Obviously, you’re probably the same as me, looking back to Australia and comparing how they’re handling the COVID-19 crisis compared to where I am in France. What are your observations, especially with your mother in the USA, and how do you think the Spanish authorities have been handling things?
Leslie: I think they’ve been handling it quite well. I mean, everyone’s pretty much respecting, I would say. Obviously, in the beginning, people were not taking it as seriously, but now that there are fines – I’ve heard that they actually have drones that are going around and telling people to go back inside – people are taking it more seriously, I think, especially those that are expats.
And we live here, and we feel the ramifications if we don’t do it, that our family anywhere else in the world, that they can be affected by us not following protocols. So, we really feel how connected we are. I really think that they’ve done a good job of really putting us in lockdown.
I know in the beginning it may seem really scary and so stressful to be in a confined space, and we’re blessed that we have a big enough flat that it feels like a house. But I can only imagine those that have a really confined space.
Even those people that are alone … Sometimes I think, Oh, I’m with my children and my husband. I can’t imagine about those people that are alone. I think the US and the UK are talking about having the elders self-isolate by themselves. And I’m like, Oh my gosh. I mean, that includes my mother in LA.
Thankfully, I have my brother and sister that still live there, so if she were to need anything, they would be able to support her, like physically support her. So, I would say I’m really grateful that they’ve taken this really seriously here in Spain. I don’t feel the same in the US.
I know it’s a different beast. It’s 300 million plus people, and there’s federal law and state law and city law. But they really need to crack down on that. You know, my mother, she has cancer right now, and I’m telling her to be careful: ‘Wear a mask and gloves and only go out if you have to.’
She has doctor’s appointments that she has to go to, and I ask her, ‘Are people wearing masks and gloves?’ She goes, ‘No, I’m the only one.’ Now, people need to take that seriously.
And I don’t know if it’s also because there is no supply. Maybe that’s something they actually need to consider, giving that to people, so that if there is no supply, or people are gouging the prices online or in shops, the government needs to step in and make that available free for people.
Carlie: I saw a video the other night of Italians talking about what they would tell themselves 10 days ago if they had their time again. What advice would you give others facing coronavirus containment? Because I’m sure so many other countries are going to follow what Spain and Italy and France are doing.
Leslie: Yes, I saw that too, and I’m glad that someone put that together and that’s going viral. I actually received it from a friend in California, so I’m glad to know that that’s going global and it’s so impactful.
I would tell people, ‘Follow what your government says, and if your government is not taking as strict a protocol as the rest of the world, just know that we are absolutely still connected, and follow what other countries are doing. Learn from their lessons and stay inside.’
‘Stay inside’ is the best advice other than, ‘Wash your hands’ and ‘Sneeze or cough into your elbow crease’ – that, we all know. But the real important thing is to: self-isolate, stay inside, only go out if you need to. And social distancing is super important.
And just ride it out. Stay connected through your family and your friends through technology and try to find some gratitude. And this is an opportunity to do those things that you weren’t able to do, or connect better with your family.
I know I feel that way. As I’m doing school with my younger son, I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, I’m like his teacher right now. Although he’s pretty self-sufficient. But it’s like one of those moments of time that we can just pause and reset. And do some of those things that you’ve been putting off, and just do them as you’re home isolating yourself.
Carlie: That’s it for today. If you want to share your own experience of coronavirus lockdown in your country, head over to expatfocus.com, follow the links to our Forums and Facebook groups. You can also share your thoughts with us on Instagram and Twitter; we’re at ‘Expat Focus’.
Be sure to check out our other episodes, including an interview with expat business owners under lockdown in Italy, and the founder of a ‘help and trade’ app, who’s hoping it can be put to good use right now.
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