Adaptability in the COVID-19 Era
It’s likely that we all remember our Scary COVID Moment when it hit us that COVID-19 was real, and it was going to be a big deal, for a long time. Then came the even scarier thought of what it could potentially do to our work.
Maybe you even remember the moment when this uncomfortable fact settled into your brain: “I am not essential. Unlike the work of grocery store workers, sanitation workers, medical professionals and postal workers, people can survive without clean glass. I am no longer important in this new economy.” What an ego blow. As someone who takes a lot of pride in her professional skills, that was hard.
Once that all hit me, in Thailand, around the third week in February, it took a good two weeks before it occurred to me that if I went home, there may not be much window cleaning work. People would be suffering, scared and broke, and I know from experience that whenever there is a downturn in the economy, it’s us, the luxury-item in our clients’ budgets, the cleaning professionals, that would be the first expenditures to be cut. This happened to me in 2007-08 when the economy tanked and I owned a house cleaning business. I had to find other work, and I slowly watched my cleaning business die. It was a sad time. I don’t wish to go through that again.
This time, my business is bigger, and I had more at stake. Many of my clients are over 65, and in the high-risk category. I would never put them at risk to earn a buck. But if I went home and my business died, what would I do for cash? If I stayed in Thailand to ride out the storm, my living expenses would be about one-tenth of what they were back home. My Thai family would be happy to have me stay longer. I help out on the farm and around the house. So I considered braving the hottest part of the year in a very cheap, developing country. Farming, processing fruit, finally learning to write in Thai, sweating, laying in a hammock and posting creative things on Facebook.The thing that changed my mind was one single text.
It popped up on the screen of my iPhone during the first week of March. It was sent from my biggest client, someone I think of as The Russian Gangster. In reality, I don’t think he is really a gangster, but he is Russian, smokes cigars, has an intimidating, bulldoggish face and demeanor, and has about four or five thriving businesses including real estate, a limousine and transport service, and an adult daycare for Russian elders. I’m pretty sure at one time, he partially owned a hockey team. I clean his family’s sprawling home in a beautiful suburb, as well as his office building. I respect him because he respects me: The first year I took over this business from its previous owners, he trusted my skills enough to let me haul a 24 foot ladder around inside the parking garage where he parks his Hummer stretch limos and Mercedes conversion vans. No one even moved the vehicles. Anyway, we scheduled an appointment for all of his windows for the first week in April.
And just like that, it appeared that I would be heading homeward after all.
When I landed in Atlanta on March 27th, by way of South Korea, I learned two things: One, Thailand closed its borders to tourists - arriving or leaving - the day after we flew out. And two, no one in Atlanta was wearing a mask, or social distancing. I felt like I had landed on a different planet.
For me, The Scary COVID Moment probably happened earlier than it did for y’all back home. Chinese tourists had brought the virus into the kingdom, but ALL tourists were being blamed for not being careful, and for refusing to wear masks; an obnoxious, arrogant stubbornness, from a Thai point of view. Suddenly I became very self-conscious in public for simply being white. I noticed unfriendly stares, which I am not used to, in that “Land of Smiles”.
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