Snapshots of pandemic life

With alumni living in 116 countries, Luther truly is a global community. In non-pandemic times, stories abound about Luther grads recognizing each other by their Norse T-shirts in Madrid, or spotting a fellow grad’s class ring in Oslo. During this time of limited travel, we’re really missing our friends around the world. So we decided to check in with our alumni abroad to learn how they’ve experienced the pandemic in their countries of residence.

We hope you feel a sense of expansiveness and solidarity as you read about your fellow Norse around the globe. And wherever you are, we hope you’re safe.

Responses have been edited for style and clarity.

Namupa Nengola ’98

Namupa is self-employed in Windhoek, Namibia, at her family’s marula oil production business, Pure Marula by Taneta.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

When the first case was reported in Namibia, the government took immediate action and implemented work-from-home measures. What many people didn’t know at the time is that I was in the middle of making the decision to leave my work in order to pursue full-time self-employment and grow our family’s marula oil production business. I had a lot of fear around making such a big decision during such an uncertain time, but deep down I knew that this was the next step for me. At the end of April, I sent in my notice letter of resignation.

Namupa Nengola in Windhoek, Namibia

I had some big adjustments to make as I transitioned to self-employment, working from home, and strengthening our production systems, structures, and products now that I could dedicate my time there.

Because our work involves partnership with rural women collecting the nuts needed to press the oil, the lockdown and travel restrictions made it difficult to access our raw material. This negatively impacted our projected production targets. Many of our clients locally are tourists, and because of the travel restrictions we saw a large decrease in sales as well.

The opportunity that it has brought us is that it allowed us to learn how to do things differently. We were able to leverage technology to keep business processes moving forward.

What has school looked like for your kids?

School definitely looked different for my daughter, who is currently at Luther, than it did for her two older sisters. We were all a bit nervous and didn’t know what to expect when the school announced they had to leave campus. It’s already difficult having a daughter studying overseas, but the added pressure of a pandemic was something we were not prepared for. As parents we are very thankful for the help of friends who were able to host her and support her during the time she couldn’t come home. We are thankful for technology and being able to video call as we offer her the support we can from afar. Getting her through this time has definitely been a community effort, and for that we are sincerely grateful to have had a network of people who care about her as much as we do.

How has your neighborhood or city changed?

Before the pandemic you would almost always see people walking up and down the streets, kids playing in the cul-de-sac, cars parked on the pavements because there was always some kind of gathering happening. Now you hardly ever see people in the street. The restrictions were such that you could only go to essential places. Everyone is required to wear a mask everywhere you go, which is something I still have not gotten used to. Even as the restrictions start to lift, the feel of the neighborhood is still very cold and isolated.

What customs or celebrations have been practiced differently because of COVID?

We are a very social and people-oriented culture. Due to COVID regulations, gatherings are limited to 50 people. You can imagine that it would be very difficult to have a wedding of 50 when normally you can expect to have up to 2,000 guests. How do you plan for a funeral for 50 when your immediate family is already more than 50 people? I personally felt this pain and stress during the passing of my brother, when there were family members who couldn’t attend his funeral because of COVID regulations.

We have had to adapt and learn to celebrate differently using technology, which was strange before. Resources like Zoom, social media, and the radio (especially for people in the rural areas) have now become more popular as a way to stay connected with friends and family, both near and far.

At its strictest, what measures did Namibia institute?

Our government was very quick to respond and implement safety measures even though our cases were low. We were instructed to work from home with the ability to only leave your house for essential goods and outdoor exercise. There was restriction on how many people could be in locations at once with very strict social distance measures.

Social gathering restrictions, a 10 p.m. curfew, social distancing, and the requirement to wear a mask are still in place. I’m very thankful for how proactive our government has been in keeping our cases relatively low.

Are you satisfied with the measures that have been put in place?

I am satisfied with the measures that have been put in place. I acknowledge that it is uncomfortable and there are people who sometimes feel it’s unnecessary, but the results have been positive. Putting together a COVID communication center has helped distribute information to keep people aware and proactive in protecting themselves and others.

Namibia to date [late March] recorded a total of 42,477 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 492 deaths. Yes, the economy has been affected, but in terms of protecting people, that’s what was required.

What do you look forward to about post-pandemic life?

There is so much that I’m looking forward to, but before I share those, I’d like to highlight the opportunities that the pandemic has brought us and give thanks to that.

The pandemic has made learning so much more accessible. I’ve participated in personal development training, workshops, and events that I could have never attended before because they were location-bound. I’ve been able to attend Luther Chapel and am in better communication with friends all over the world. Being able to meet online has opened up greater potential for trading and business networking all over the world. This pandemic has been challenging, but it’s also taught us how resilient we are. We now have a greater appreciation for the things that truly matter, our community and loved ones.

When the pandemic ends, I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s smiles! Having to wear masks has made communication so different. It’s made me realize how important facial expressions truly are. I’m looking forward to being able to meet with people and give them hugs. I’m looking forward to a life where people are not so fearful. I’m looking forward to the borders opening up again and being able to see people from all over the world walking down the streets of Windhoek.

Most importantly, I’m looking forward to seeing people laugh with each other and love one another even more deeply than they did before the pandemic as now they have a greater appreciation for community and connection.

Olav Skogaas ’98

Olav is a translator in Drammen, Norway, where he also runs Norway’s biggest blog dedicated to barbecue and grilling,

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

I was on parental leave when the pandemic came to Norway, so it didn’t affect me all that much. However, when I returned to work in January 2021, my office was closed, and I now work from home. I do miss the face-to-face interaction with my colleagues, but I do not miss the commute.

Olav Skogaas in Drammen, Norway

What has school looked like for your kids?

Schools and kindergartens shut down for a few weeks during the first wave of the pandemic here, but there has been a lot of effort in keeping school and kindergartens open for the youngest children.

We use a traffic light system—green, yellow, and red. Schools and kindergartens in our municipality have been at red level a few times, which means shorter days and smaller cohorts. The teachers have all done a fantastic job in pivoting when there is a level change.

However, everyone from the prime minister down has been focused on the well-being of the children, and that things should be as close to normal for them during this period.

How has your neighborhood or city changed?

We live in a very quiet suburb of Drammen, about 40 minutes outside of Oslo. The area is semirural, with lots of forest around us. So people have been using those a lot more than before for walks, biking, and skiing.

What customs or celebrations have been practiced differently because of COVID?

Due to social distancing and restrictions on events and gatherings, there are a few things that have changed.

The biggest in 2020, and I suspect it will be the case in 2021 as well, is that the big parades during Syttende Mai (Norway’s national day) were cancelled across the nation. It is difficult to explain to non-Norwegians just how big of a deal this was, especially for the children. However, we made our own celebration in our street, complete with a paraad, hot dogs, ice cream, and games. Christmas and New Year’s celebrations were also muted, with only the closest family members gathering. Confirmations and weddings have been postponed, and funerals have been only for the immediate family.

Olav's Drammen neighborhood in winter

At its strictest, what measures did Norway institute?

Norway effectively closed its borders after the pandemic hit us, and they remain closed. You can still travel, but it has to be for very good reason. And you still need to quarantine when you return home.

Restaurants and bars have been closed, and there have been bans on serving alcohol. This was lifted, but in order to serve alcohol, you also had to serve food with the beer or wine. Recently, a new ban on alcohol serving was introduced, and restaurants and pubs had to close again.

All nonessential shops have closed intermittently, depending on the spread of the virus locally. Currently [late March], all nonessential shops are closed for physical shopping, but curbside pickups are allowed for goods that have been ordered and paid for. Restaurants are allowed to do takeaway.

Are you satisfied with the measures that have been put in place?

For the most part I am satisfied with the measures. I do understand that the authorities have a difficult task at hand.

People do for the most part comply with the measures and restrictions: we keep our distances, wear face masks, and avoid gatherings. That being said, people are getting tired. College students and high schoolers are suffering from depression, people in the food industry are unemployed, businesses are going bankrupt, we long for sitting down and having pints with friends. People miss hugging. People miss their parents, grandparents.

But I do think the worst is the uncertainty, that the rules change constantly. One week things are open, the next they are closed.

What do you look forward to about post-pandemic life?

I look forward to being able to have a beer, go to a concert, travel freely, shake hands and hug, sit outside in the summer with friends without constantly thinking about keeping our distance. I look forward to walking around without bottles of hand sanitizer and face masks in my pocket. I look forward to seeing the faces of the people I meet at the shop. When this is all over, I look forward to having a big barbecue for my neighbors.

Anna Dieter ’15

Anna teaches at an international school in Mbabane, Eswatini.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

I am a teacher at an international school in the small country of Eswatini. Due to the pandemic, we closed our school in March [of 2020], four weeks before term break. We sent 400 boarding students back to their home countries, took four weeks to try to figure out what online learning would look like for us with varying internet speeds and multiple time zones, and then launched into online learning at the end of April 2020. We’ve been teaching and learning online ever since. Because we are a school in the southern hemisphere, it meant that we taught from April to August and then September to December. We had hoped to start the new school year, at the end of January, in person. But our second wave came in January, and we needed to open online. This second week in March now marks a full year of being closed for face-to-face learning.

Anna Dieter in Eswatini

How has your neighborhood or city changed?

There is either a hand sanitizer station or a person holding a sanitizer spray bottle at the entrance to every store. Everyone is wearing masks in town (except for a small handful who are walking outside). Some stores take your temperature before you enter (though I’ve never seen anyone turned away for a high temp—most shake the temp reader and just try again until they get a lower read).

What customs or celebrations have been practiced differently because of COVID?

There are a few large-scale cultural events (Incwala and the Umhlanga reed dance) that have been canceled due to the fact that large groups of people can’t gather anymore. Another huge event is called Bushfire, which is an outdoor musical festival in May that normally draws crowds of 30,000 people. This is a huge economic loss for the country, as people from all over the region spend the long weekend in Eswatini.

At its strictest, what measures did Eswatini institute?

At the beginning you were only meant to leave your house for groceries or trips to the pharmacy. There were police stops where they would ask you where you were going. Many “non-essential” stores were closed. The country has closed liquor stores several times in the last year with the belief that alcohol causes people to gather and make bad decisions with social distancing. So there have been many “dry months” over the last year. Like maybe six months? Also, the borders to South Africa were closed for MANY months. This put a huge strain on the country, as we are very dependent on “big brother South Africa” for imports, weekend shopping trips, and medical appointments. You needed to get very special permission to cross the border. Also, it meant international travel needed to happen via our small airport and not the usual methods of driving to Joburg [Johannesburg] and then flying from there. Then other things like curfew, being home by 8 p.m. and stores closing at 6 p.m. And yes, the curfew just got extended to 11 p.m. and stores stay open now until 8 p.m.

Are you satisfied with the measures that have been put in place?

I’m thankful that everyone is wearing masks. And it doesn’t seem like that has even been mandated but suggested, and people follow it. Also many stores have a “no mask, no service” rule. People think closing the alcohol stores is crazy! In general, people are able to social distance pretty well. Although there are places where it looks like people forget we are in a pandemic and stand in line right behind you . . .

Anna—wearing her Luther women's soccer shirt—in Eswatini

What do you look forward to about post-pandemic life?

I look forward to not needing to get a COVID test to travel to South Africa. Those are around $50 USD. I look forward to attending Bushfire, as I’ve never been yet—and I’ll have been living here almost two years. I look forward to teaching normally with students in the classroom and no one fearful for their life! We just sent word that boarding students can come back (because we will be opening soon hopefully, waiting on government announcement), but there’s been a lot of resistance from parents around the world not wanting to send their kids back, or preferring to wait until term two, because we currently [mid-March] have only six weeks left of this term.