After graduating from her Masters in Public International Law at Utrecht University three years ago, Niamh O’Dwyer from West Cork decided to stay on in the Netherlands. She is now living and working in Amsterdam. Niamh recalls when the seriousness of the current situation really started to really sink in and the approach the Dutch government is taking to the pandemic.
I remember standing in the office with my Italian and Spanish colleagues, Ines and Rocio, and it was the looks of sadness and worry on their faces that really made me realise we needed to start thinking about more than just ourselves. The umpteen bottles of hand sanitizer weren’t stopping us from feeling completely helpless.
I’m very grateful to have job security at a time like this and my gratitude was amplified when the company I work for took progressive measures to close all international stores, prior to any national directions from the Dutch government. It’s very humbling and reassuring to feel taken care of by my employer at a time like this, especially when the Dutch government was surprisingly slow on the uptake when it came to enforcing isolation.
As soon as work announced the closure, we all agreed to do a modest supermarket shop and stay home for as long as we could. I had heard from my parents that some of the bulk buying in Ireland was outrageous. Here in Amsterdam, there was a toilet paper craze for a week or so. Eggs and flour were the only other things that were noticeably sold out.
My housemates Karen (Clonakilty) and Sam (Waterford) decided to do enough food shopping to keep us going, but we weren’t going to stock up on palettes of everything (the chance of fitting anything up our narrow Dutch stairs anyway was unlikely).
We had a few conversations about potentially flying home, but all of us are lucky enough to still have our jobs so we wouldn’t want to jeopardise our work or anyone else’s health by flying. Once that was decided we just started brainstorming ideas on how to keep ourselves busy doing things other than eating
Reading articles that would benefit me in work, coaching, training and development, self-improvement techniques, High School Musical marathon, you know yourself. The first week flew by, with cooking and stretching taking up a lot of time, but 99 per cent of our conversations were about the number of new cases announced, how everyone at home is, the poor elderly people, some of whom must be confused and more lonely than ever… All the while being slightly frustrated with the laidback approach of the Dutch Government. Considering this country is blatant leaps ahead of other European countries when it comes to health care, public transport and financial security, everyone was so shocked at the measly “recommendations” to “avoid public gatherings where possible” and “wash hands”. Universities and private companies had closed their doors, but primary schools, restaurants and public houses were still open.
Last week it was announced that events and gatherings are banned until June 1. People must keep a distance of 1.5 meters from others in public. Fines for individuals and companies found not to obeying these rules will range from €400 to €4,000. Unemployment benefits have been approved and tenancy agreements will be met with subsidy provisions to protect people unable to pay rent. There are specific gatherings that are banned until April 6 and this date will be revised today (March 31) in another update from the Netherlands’ Government. So while strong leadership was slow to take stride here, at least we’re getting somewhere. There have been agreements made with Belgium to prepare for when cases exceed services in the Netherlands.
Hearing that there are still people meeting in groups and in the park, and travelling on public transport, my heart goes out to those begging people to take this seriously and stay home. I’m so proud of my young brothers who are only 17 but are wise and selfless enough to know how important it is to take these measures seriously.
For now, we will continue to stay at home, wash our hands, send pictures of the dinners we have made back to our parents, facetime friends, learn instruments and send support to people working with those in need. We have to focus on some positives or we’ll lose hope completely. Think of how lovely it will be to give our next hug to a friend.
I recently posted on my Instagram about what I have learned over the last few weeks. I have learned the true meaning of “I hope you are well”, “I miss you” and “I can’t wait to see you”.
I am so grateful to all of those working in any service that is providing aid right now, my superhero friends who are doctors and nurses. I really hope our Government, in Ireland and in any country that is currently home to those carrying the Irish Tricolour on their cape, do everything in their trusted power to help people whose health, jobs, homes and safety are at risk.
To my beautiful family and friends, wherever you are in the world, I hope you are well, I miss you and I can’t wait to see you. Take care, Niamh.