Gardening, sunbathing, and not much else
They just want to work
‘Have a nice weekend’, Nadien Kamminga told her colleagues at the Zernike Foodcourt when they shut down on March 15. ‘It was so weird.’ After that, she went to her mother’s house in Friesland to relax in nature. ‘What else was I supposed to do?’
After six weeks of doing nothing, she realised how much she talked to people at work and how much she missed that. She didn’t just miss her direct colleagues, but also the cleaner that she used to talk to every day when he bought his cup of coffee from her.
She talks to some of her colleagues on the phone every Friday, but she didn’t have the cleaner’s number. ‘I ended up finding him on Facebook. I just really wanted to know how he was doing. He was feeling pretty anxious.’
I really wanted to know how the cleaner was doing
Kamminga went back to work at the Foodcourt last week, along with a handful of other caterers. It’s a test run. ‘I’m happy to be back.’ They’ve expanded the outdoor seating area and marked off walking routes, but so far, it’s been fairly quiet. ‘I had to go to the Kapteynborg and I ran into a cleaner. She jumped when she saw me. She didn’t know other people were allowed in the building again.’
The cafeterias in the UG buildings are all still closed. Most staff, like Sjoukje Hiemstra, can’t go back to work yet. But she’s raring to go back to work, she says. ‘Why can’t they reopen the cafeterias?’
UG contract manager Jaap Rademaker explains that it’s because there are very few employees in the buildings and no students at all. There simply aren’t any customers. If the Foodcourt has one advantage, it’s that it has its own entrance, as well as a large outdoor area that can fit thirty people socially distancing.
The university is keeping a close watch on everything that is and isn’t possible, but that might just mean that Hiemstra won’t be able to go back to work for another few months. ‘I keep busy. I walk my dog, do cycling tours, talk to people here in the village’, she says. ‘But I miss my co-workers.’
‘I’m retiring in a few years. I guess I now know what that will feel like’, archivist Alf Tent quips. Being retired in the spring and summer doesn’t sound so bad to him. ‘But what about November, December, January? I’ll get through it, but jeez.’
He lives alone. ‘It’s so quiet in the house. Last night, it was just dead silent.’ Not that he’s become a depressed hermit. He’s spent a lot of time on his bike lately; he’d always bike to work at Zernike from Glimmen, and he wants to stay in shape. He usually has a busy social life. But the Glimmen football club and the choir have both shut down and his garden and attic have never been neater.
The weather’s been nice, so having the time off wasn’t all bad. But he can’t say it’s felt like a holiday. ‘It’s not like I’m going on any trips.’ He’s not scared of the virus, ‘but I feel bad about getting too close to other people’.
He’s been checking his work email every day. ‘I was able to do a few things from home.’ But that’s it. That also makes him feel bad. ‘They’re paying me my salary, my vacation pay. Maybe I’m just being Calvinistic, but I feel like I should be working for my money.’
Alf has been missing his colleagues and contacts at the faculties. ‘It’s one of my favourite things about the job.’ Corona even cancelled the going-away parties of several of his colleagues. ‘That was a real shame.’
I feel like I should be working for my money
Last Monday, he and his office mate Gerard Huizinga were finally allowed back at work, as long as they kept their distance from each other. He riffled through papers and dug up curiosities that he ended up storing in a cupboard. ‘I can always throw them away later.’ He’s not run into many of his colleagues yet, though. ‘I took a walk around campus. It was completely deserted. I’m one of just a few people here.’
Weeding the garden
Jelmer Kiewiet works in logistics and he’s a fanatic goalkeeper. Playing football is much more than a social hobby. He needs action. But the corona crisis meant he’s had nothing to do for months now. No football. No work. All he can do is wait. ‘I got so bored I started weeding a friend’s garden.’
The logistics department didn’t shut down completely; things were still coming in and items had to be shipped. Nevertheless, his boss sent him home as a precaution, since the tall and skinny Kiewiet had suffered a collapsed lung once and no one knew how badly the virus might affect him.
‘I didn’t do much. Worked out, got a tan. That’s it. I practically built a gym in my backyard.’ He sent his colleagues a picture of the grass: ‘It’s not growing fast enough. I want to mow.’
He still had an online logistics course to finish, so he wasn’t bored. He also took a two-week vacation to move to a new house and do some DIY-ing. ‘Tear down a wall, build a new wall, move a window frame, plaster a wall, wallpaper, put down floors, tile and grout a bathroom. I did it all by myself.’
But his conscience started nagging at him. In order to get all the work on his house done, he went to the shops, where people are. ‘I called up my manager and said, listen, I’m going to all the hardware stores in town, but I’m not allowed to go to work. But I’m less at risk at work than in the centre of Appingedam.’ It worked. After nine weeks of loafing around, he was allowed to go back to work. Not that it’s been particularly busy. ‘But I’m just happy to be here.’
Geert Doornbos usually takes care of the coffee at the UB. But he hasn’t been doing anything for the past few months, apart from recuperating from a lung disease. He did some yard work, walked his dog, and got groceries every week, but that’s about it.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me’, he says, his voice cracking. ‘The doctors are still trying to figure it out.’ He’d been back at work at half capacity for a few weeks when the corona crisis started and everything shut down. But even when the UB slowly reopened, with just a single working coffee machine for staff, his manager told him to stay home, just to be safe, even if Doornbos preferred to go back to work.
He went back to work three weeks ago, and the half days were more than enough to supply the entire UB with coffee. What’s more: ‘I completely took apart some of the machines. It was the perfect time for it.’
I completely took apart some of the machines. It was the perfect time for it
Together with a colleague, he’s responsible for filling every single coffee machine at the university. Two others have been fired, says Doornbos. There wasn’t enough work. Most of the 160 machines at the UG aren’t even turned on right now. He points out a stack of cartons of milk in the UB hallway. ‘We’ll have to throw that out soon. It’s nearly past its sell-by date.’
He doesn’t know what’s going to happen after the summer. His contract with Douwe Egberts is ending on September 17, and under normal circumstances, they’d have to offer him a permanent contract. But it remains to be seen whether DE will still be supplying coffee for the UG by then, since the previous tender has ended, and the company has withdrawn from the next one because of the corona crisis. ‘Right now, it looks like they won’t be back until December. Fortunately, my boyfriend did get a permanent contract, as a warehouse manager at Douwe Egberts.’