Travellers in a pandemic in Uruguay – Where are they now? (Part 2)

The coronavirus pandemic trapped them in a country they did not know, yet they adopted Uruguay as their refuge. Where are these travellers a year later?
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on April 1, 2021

In April it will be a year since my article There’s no place I’d rather be in a pandemic than in Uruguay went viral. Back then, the English-speaking international media couldn’t get enough of New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic whereas there was zero coverage of Uruguay’s comparative case. Besides, as a British national resident in Uruguay for the last two decades I felt so grateful—even more so when I compared Uruguay’s response to the UK’s.

At the same time, as CEO of Guru’Guay, an essential reference for English-speakers, I was contacted by dozens of foreigners who had found themselves trapped in a pandemic in a country they knew virtually nothing about. Between July and October 2020 El País and Guru’Guay co-published a series of articles with a selection of those people. Last week and this we’re looking at where they are now.

Vici & Hennie Greeff: South African couple on ‘baby moon’ return home — with baby

Vici and Hennie Greeff had just found out Vici was pregnant when they flew to Uruguay for a honeymoon in March 2020. The South Africans never dreamed their baby daughter would be born a Uruguayan and they wouldn’t see South Africa again until she was five months old.

When I interviewed them for El País in July, the COVID 19 situation in South Africa was spiralling out of control. Despite a mandatory lockdown there were over 100,000 cases. With so many uncertainties, the couple had already decided to stay in Uruguay where they felt safe.

Baby Olva was born in August in Uruguay’s largest public children’s hospital — the Pereira Rossell. Vici praises the “wonderful care” that they received in both the Pereira Rossell where the birth took place and the Maciel, another public hospital in Montevideo’s Old City, where she and Olva received pre and post natal care. [Vici experienced both high end private health care and the public system and speaks highly of both. See our first article for more details]

The biggest complication of their unexpected nine-month stay in Uruguay was arranging for Vici’s mother to come and support them. Both South Africa and Uruguay were closed to all but humanitarian flights. Happily, the new grandma was finally granted permission under family reunification and arrived when the baby was one month old. In December, the family finally returned to South Africa — with a new baby, several kilos of mate and matching Peñarol shirts.

Olva is now old enough to sit up by herself. The couple are planning to move from the capital Pretoria to a much smaller town in the Western Cape to be close to the grandparents for Olva’s toddler years.

In the meantime, they are serious about maintaining their ties with Uruguay. Hennie found that he was able to successfully continue to run his software business in Pretoria remotely from Uruguay. Olva has a Uruguayan passport dint of birth, and the couple both obtained residency.

“Olvacita is a little ‘Uruguaya’ [the term for a Uruguayan woman or girl] in South Africa. We want to take her back as often as possible and show her to the staff at the hospitals who looked after her so well,” said Vici.

“We have friends that have become like our family in Uruguay and we are definitely planning to visit again, when it is safer to do so.” It’s very possible that Olvacita [little Olva, the Spanish diminutive] may eventually grow up in the country of her birth.

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