Madeira: this is my home, this is where I was born

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view of Madeira at dawn
‘Madeira, on my 7am morning run’

I am a primary school teacher working in an International School in the Algarve.  When that closed on  the 13 March due to coronavirus, I thought: I just want to go home. 

I got a ticket to fly the next day and came home to Madeira with  a suitcase half-full of schoolbooks, my computer  and a few clothes, because I thought I may need to work from home. 

My mum lives in quite a small flat. There’s just one bedroom. So, I am sleeping and working in the living room. 

I’m working full time from 9am to 4.30pm.  Teaching online has been quite a steep learning curve because we didn’t really have much of an internet platform at school. We are just adapting to it really and finding ways to keep the children  motivated  and in a positive mindset. I’ve been  doing that for nearly a month and a half now.

small apartment Madeira
Living room/kitchen/bedroom/office

With online teaching suddenly you have to become this IT expert – which you are not!

You have to teach yourself. In Spain and Rome, teachers in lockdown have been doing this for a little bit longer than us and we were able to go online and watch them, which was useful to see how they put across their lessons and the little techniques they use. 

With Microsoft Teams you can only see 4 children at a time. You can hear all the other children but have to mute them  so they don’t all speak at the same time. And then: the screen freezes when you are screen sharing …or children start to mute you and …  Now, I feel  a  bit more relaxed about it. I know what I’m doing. It’s just finding the flow of things.

Obviously technology is the future and is moving forwards. With primary children I think teaching is very much about the values that you establish and  the relationship they have with each other. It’s very visual, very tactile. I think that’s what they are struggling with most.

The parents are struggling too. Some are working from home and are trying to keep up with what the children and doing.  Sometimes they have more than one child in different year groups, and that can be challenging. They say that the children are missing their friends and some days they don’t feel so motivated. 

Seeing the children  and hearing their voices…. it’s been lovely.

My days have gone faster and I feel like I’m having more of an impact. I’m able to monitor everything a little bit more and see how they are. I definitely think that the live sessions, seeing their teachers, have really been a positive thing. I think the children feel the same.

My normal pre-lockdown schedule was quite busy: teaching from 9-4.30pm, from 4.30-5.30pm teaching dance after school three times  a week and tutoring after that four  times a week.   I go to yoga Mondays and Wednesdays from 6.00-7.00am  and I have ballet Monday and Wednesdays 7.30-9pm. So all of that has now been cut out of my life.  I’m  literally, just teaching. 


In a way, because I’ve slowed down, it makes me realise how much  happier I feel. It’s made me think that maybe I need to make better choices as to how I fill my time. 

I am teaching Year 3 (7-8 year olds) and  we are doing ‘The Vikings‘ in history. If we were in school we would be making helmets and shields.  Now I am trying to find ways of using more online materials. Because  I don’t know their home set-up,  I don’t  want to ask mums and dads to be printing lots of stuff. You don’t want them to go out to buy anything – because obviously that’s out of the question. It has been an adjustment trying to find ways to keep the children motivated.  Basically, it’s mostly just about positive reinforcement; because it’s hard enough for them as it is. 

I arrived back to the island on the 14th March. From  the 15th March anyone who enters  Madeira has to go into a 14 day quarantine.  They have their temperature checked and are escorted straight to a hotel – because all the hotels here are shut. 

At the moment the airport isn’t closed but anyone who wants to travel has to have very specific reason. I don’t think many people coming. All the shops are closed. The cafés are not allowed to serve coffee –  but most of them can be  open for take-away. Supermarkets allow only  ‘X’ amount of people in at a time and they disinfect our hands as we go in. 

makeshift wardrobe Madeira
‘My make-shift wardrobe’

I was living in a boarding house on the Algarve and had duties  as a form of paying the rent. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come home. I just didn’t want to be stuck in my room there. It was definitely a good decision. I know I’m not going back to school this term and will be working from home until the end of June. 

Obviously I don’t have enough clothes,  but that’s OK.  The children only see people from the waist up, so it doesn’t matter what you are wearing. 

Initially, getting my head round teaching online, I was a bit anxious and stressed… And living in such a small space with my mum as well, where I was sleeping…and eating and working. I didn’t have a desk at the time and was working on a coffee table. I was sat on the floor on a cushion- for two weeks teaching like that! 

This is my Mum’s place and it’s small and now I’ve come in, so it’s about finding the balance.  Because it’s a kitchen/living room it was a little bit tricky managing the space, and our time and ourselves.

desk in bedroom madeira

When my mum gets up I move my desk into her room. Mum then moves into the kitchen /living room/my room –  and I am able to work in her room. And so, I have a separate room which works so much better.  I’ve got a desk and chair. And yeah… it was challenging in the beginning, not only the space and the  dynamics,  but with everything else that was going on  in the world.

I now see how a confined space can really have an impact on your mind-set and well-being.

You have to do your job and keep the children in a positive state of mind  and encouragement and motivating them. But when you are struggling with the set-up in your home, and with what’s going on … I guess all humans adapt. 

desk in living room Madeira
‘The desk is against the front door so we have to move it if we need to go out’

Now  that I’m finding my feet it feels: ‘nearly normal’.  

My mum is fantastic. She doesn’t really enjoy cooking but she will have lunch and dinner ready for me. She wants me to feel as comfortable as possible, and she’s been great.  On the weekends we do some exercise in the living room. We push the sofas over. It means we’ve got something to look forward to. We never talk too much about it but ….I’m sure she is happy that I am here and that  she’s got company at this time.

My dad also lives in Madeira  – with his  sister. But I can only see him at a distance which feels  strange –  because obviously I just want to give him a hug. He’s over 60 and had a stroke not so long ago.  So, for health reasons I thought it’s best for me to keep my distance.  I just go up to his house and chat to him and then  come home. It really it breaks my heart not being able to be with my dad.  He is always smiling so when I do see him it gives me a lift.

It feels like I am home –  but I’m not ‘home’ at the same time. 

What do I miss? I’d say my mum misses going out for dinner. I miss not being able to go and see my friends. I am able to go out for runs so I can keep my exercise up… but I’d like to go to my daily yoga classes. Mostly, it’s the contact with people. Being able to  see my friends and give them a hug.. would make me feel like I am home

I haven’t seen any of my friends – just on Zoom like everybody else.  But I’m definitely happy that I came back to Madeira.  It was a very good decision   because  I feel safe here. 

Two weeks after I arrived I actually felt a little bit unwell and my mum was a bit concerned. For peace of mind, and because I live with my mum and she is over 60, I phoned the helpline. They said your symptoms don’t sound like coronavirus.  However, they kept a close track on me and rang me every day to find out how I was. After 14 days they stopped. The police actually came and knocked at my door to check I was staying indoors. I wasn’t expecting that! They keep  a close eye on people because we’ve only got one  public hospital – and a private one that opened last year.

‘View from our balcony’

We live in an apartment block  facing other apartments. We have a balcony, it’s quite narrow but it looks out onto the garden. It’s very green – because Madeira is very green and a very moderate climate. It doesn’t get too cold here  – ever. There is ‘balcony singing’ but unfortunately they must be on the other side, not in our direction. 

We are  5 minutes from the sea, near the city centre. Madeira a busy place normally, but now it’s very quiet. It seems like all the birds have  come out – or else it’s just that we can just hear them now because everything is quiet.

Most of the income on Madeira is from tourism and the ships that come in to the port. The island will be badly affected and it’s very worrying. But, it’s like a little haven here because it’s very safe and we haven’t had many coronavirus cases. As soon as the borders open and people start coming that’s going to change. 

My mum works in the hotel business and has been told the hotel won’t open until September. She has been off work since March. The Government is helping  to a certain point. 

‘Our balcony. In lockdown we can hear singing..’

In lockdown you can go out as much as you want as long as there’s no more than two people together at a time. However, they were not letting people travel from one state/ town to another. The Portuguese like to gather  with their family at Easter but this year they limited people to their own district.   

In Madeira we have our own President and rules; it is part of Portugal but is autonomous. Our President tried to close the airport in March but the main Government wouldn’t allow it. Which is why he put restrictions and health checks on everyone who enters. 

We’ve had six days without any positive cases in Madeira. They are going to start relaxing things from Monday and allow some places to open –  like hairdressers, nail salons and shopping centres.

I think Portugal in general has done a good job. It gives you peace of mind that here on the island there have been under forty cases. The Government of Madeira has taken effective measures and everyone respects that. As a community we feel that we have done really well, and feel proud and safe.  

Initially I didn’t realise how serious the Covid-19 situation was- but then, I am young and healthy. It wasn’t me I was worried about: it was my mother and my dad. My brother and sister live in Canada and I worry about them too, because they are so far away. 

It is hard watching the news. Initially the news was on all the time but then we stopped; only putting it on once or twice a day. We have a daily Government coronavirus report to keep everyone updated, which we always watch. 

computer  and desk madeira home

I have never spent so much time on the computer screen!

I had a quiz with my friends on Zoom  the other day. Some were in the Algarve, some were in the UK. We could have done all that before, but  because everyone is at home they now have a bit more time to do quizzes and speak to each other. I think in a way this has brought us closer.

After a month and a half we are just living with it. Perhaps  all you can do is keep yourself safe and keep sanitising your hands and wearing your masks. If I do become ill I can’t stay here with my mum because I can’t self-isolate. I would have to go to one of the places the Government has set up. This place is too small for both of us to be here, and one of us not have it. 

I will remember this as a time for me and my mum. We spend a lot of time together.  We have quite similar personalities – we clash sometimes  so it’s quite hard to manage. But it is a test to our relationship as well. 

desk by window, Madeira

I think that’s probably what I will remember most about this time is…  the confinement of working in small spaces –  and being grateful for what you have. 

All photos by respondent

Follow Nuala Rooney:

Nuala Rooney PhD, is a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing new approaches to design innovation and spatial research through storytelling. With unique skillsets, developed as a design educator in Higher Education institutions in UK and Hong Kong, her interest lies in exploring 'home' as a human centred space.

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