Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world in terms of area, and the second largest one in South America after Brazil. To date, about 1.3 million people of Argentina’s roughly
45 million inhabitants have been infected with COVID-19, and 35,000 of them have died. How is the virus changing people’s lives – and especially those of our employees? In the company’s “My life
with COVID-19” series, Hapag-Lloyd Communications Director Nils Haupt (NH) and his team take a look at the most affected countries to get first-hand information from the employees on how their
lives have changed since March 2020.
In this issue, 32-year-old Sophie Nieves illustrates the effects of the pandemic on her life. She works in Operations in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.
Sophie, as an Argentinian, how has your experience with the COVID-19 pandemic been?
Well, basically I am Venezuelan. I migrated to Argentina in 2016. In Venezuela, I started to study shipping when I was 17. I left my country because of the unbearable political and economic situation, and I arrived in Buenos Aires with nothing more than what was in my suitcase. When I started to look for jobs, I had a list of 10 companies that I wanted to work for. I saw a Hapag-Lloyd job advertisement by chance, spontaneously went to its office, introduced myself and, a few days later, I was hired.
What were your initial experiences with COVID-19?
I remember that, in December 2019, I was sitting with some colleagues in the kitchenette of the office. We were discussing news about a strange new virus in China. And it seemed so far away. At that time, we would never have thought that it would ever present a threat to Argentina. But then we had the first case in Argentina in early March. That was a big surprise – and really life-changing.
We closed the office, everybody started working from home on 23 March – and nobody has returned to office ever since. The great thing was that our processes worked, the computers and the connections worked, and the phones worked. So we basically continued working as we always do, but just from a different place.
What have the restrictions been like in Argentina?
In March, the Argentinian government announced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. What we thought would be weeks have turned into seven months, and much of Argentina’s lockdown – believed to be the world’s longest – is still dragging on. Much of the country remains effectively locked down.
What have been your biggest concerns?
I was really concerned about my family in Venezuela, as the social system in the country is broken and most hospitals are poorly equipped. Fortunately, I have my brother in Buenos Aires, and we used to cook every Sunday. But the COVID-19 restrictions forced us to stop this, too. On top of everything, the economy in Argentina was already bad before the pandemic started, and the poverty rate was rising. Naturally, we all fear that it might become even worse.
And personally? How have you dealt with the lockdown emotionally?
In the beginning, everything was OK. But after a while, I started to feel isolated, lonely, depressed, and bored. The boredom in the evenings and on the weekends was getting extremely challenging.
How did you overcome your depression?
I started to take different classes – from English to creative writing to professional speaking – and to engage in various sports activities. Sports was great against becoming too lazy at home. Then I started to write poems, and I decided to dedicate every day to a certain “motto of the day”.
What does that mean?
If we only live day by day without appreciating our lives, our families and friends, we will emotionally dry out. That's why I gave every day a motto – like “Solidarity”, “Collaboration”, “Love for the family” or “Empathy” – and then tried to consequently live these mottos.
Well, for example, on an “Empathy” day, I would just ask random people in the supermarket or on the street how they felt and how their day was going. On a “Solidarity” day, I would focus on helping others who are not in the same privileged situation that I am. These were just small tokens of appreciation and humanity, acts to shine light into the dark days of others. It made people smile – and it made me smile, too.
What has been your takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The longer the lockdown lasts, the more I appreciate the freedom that we enjoy under normal circumstances. I appreciate my life much more, and I can’t wait to go out again – to dance, to have dinner with others, to travel and, more than anything, to hug my friends. Hugging and being close to others is something I really miss terribly.
Author: Nils Haupt
Here is one of the poems written by Sophie Nieves:
Y si hablamos de Soledad, si que es silenciosa pero dudo que sea peligrosa.
Oh estigmatizada Soledad que gratificante y comoda resultas para aquellos que disfrutan de si mismos.
Y que tragica pareces para aquellos que no se atreven a conocerse.
English translation of the poem:
And if we talk about solitude, it is silent, but I doubt that it is dangerous.
Oh, stigmatized solitude that is rewarding and comfortable for those who enjoy themselves.
And how tragic you seem to those who do not dare to get to know themselves.
Hapag-Lloyd’s Nils Haupt has started a series of interviews in which shipping line employees talk about their jobs and the daily challenges they must master in C-19 times.
The interviews are published in H-L’s in-house channels.
By courtesy of the company’s communications department, we are authorized to air the interviews as well.
This way, a broader readership gets access to the testimonials.
So far, Angie Morales from H-L in Guayaquil, Soniya Mokal of H-L Mumbai, and Marcelo Alejandro Saravia working for H-L in Valparaiso were featured. More are to come.