Esther Costello in her adopted home of Switzerland.

An Athlone woman's life in lockdown amid the Swiss Alps

In recent weeks, the print edition of the Westmeath Independent has been publishing an extensive series of interviews in which we've asked local people overseas how they've been coping during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 'Abroad In Uncertain Times' feature in last week's edition included the following interview with Esther Costello, a native of Baylough in Athlone, who has been based in Switzerland since 2011. 

* How did your move to Switzerland come about?

I met by partner, a Swiss mountain man, in 2009. After a few years over and back, here I am! We are up in the Swiss Alps, living higher than our highest mountain in Ireland! I am an English language teacher working with adults, and I also work with the Cambridge exam centre who handle all Cambridge English Exams in this area.

* Could you tell us what Covid-19 restrictions are currently in place there?

Everything is closed, except supermarkets and pharmacies. They cannot sell non-essential, non-food items in supermarkets, so the 'socks and jocks' section is closed off, and while you can buy ink for your printer you cannot buy candles!

I live in a small village with a little supermarket, so I only go there. We have also been asked not to do any sports. Living at 1400 meters, there are a lot of outdoor activities such as skiing, mountain biking, hiking, etc, so our big playground is off limits. This is because they're high-risk sports that can lead to accidents, and they don't want helicopters and hospitals having to deal with that as well now.

* What's been the most difficult aspect of the situation so far?

I live in a ski resort and the sudden end to our ski season was a bit of a shock. We're surrounded by beautiful pistes that we cannot ski on! The hardest part, by far, is the lack of contact with other people. I love my solitude but value so much time with others.

There is also that fear that something will happen at home there and I would not be able to get back, but I try not to think about that and take it as it comes. I also miss playing the odd session with my friends here, but we all have time to learn new tunes!

* What are your thoughts on when 'normal life' might resume?

Ah, 'normal life'. I think that, for a lot of people, there will have been a fundamental change in how life is lived and what we value. I remember seeing Stephen Fry on Graham Norton once , and he spoke about how our society has lost the sense of the "hearth". Throughout the history of mankind, we have gathered around the fire and shared stories and troubles.  

With the technological age that we live in, the fire in the hearth had dimmed considerably. Perhaps now the flame has been rekindled and we will once again find our "hearth", our togetherness, our community.

* If you had to identify a positive aspect to the current situation what would it be?

Renewed contact with people I had not spoken to in a while. It's been great how people have reached out just to say hello. I also think there is a renewed sense of community and looking out for each other and finally, for me, a new awareness about what people who suffer from mental health issues must feel. I am more aware of how hard their sense of aloneness and isolation must be, even when there is no lockdown.  

And, of course, my house is clean and my garden is spring ready!

* What's your message for family and friends back at home?

I love you all and can't wait to see you very soon. Find something to smile about, to laugh about, to reflect on each day. Keep safe, do what you are told to do and wash your hands!  

Thank you to Esther for this interview. To read more stories from locals who are now living in Texas, Melbourne, New Jersey, Scotland, Abu Dhabi, Perth, Ontario, and Singapore, pick up tomorrow's print edition of the Westmeath Independent.  

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