Michel'le Jackson Multimedia Journalist
Crystal Waters Simmons is an Aiken native who has been in quarantine in Varese, Italy, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Varese is a city north of Milan located in the Lombardy region of Italy. The Lombardy region also includes Bergamo, which is the hardest-hit city in Italy by the coronavirus.
Simmons said she had self-quarantined herself and her son when she first heard whispers of the virus spreading in Italy. Now, her city in Italy has been in quarantine for about a month.
"Life has really changed here," Simmons said. "Because we are on complete lockdown we can only go to the grocery story or the pharmacy. And only one person per household is allowed to go. So we've decided that only my husband will go."
She said the reason they can't really stock up is because in Italy the refrigerators and storage space are smaller than in the U.S. The lifestyle there is to buy fresh food every day to cook.
"My husband only can go out once or twice a week for groceries," Simmons said. "After he comes back it usually takes one hour to disinfect everything, also, (his) clothes go in the wash immediately. It's serious."
Since August 2019, Simmons and her 1-year-old son, Zachary, have been supporting her husband, Jeremy, who plays professional basketball in Italy for Pallacanestro Varese.
Being in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language during this pandemic, she has run into problems with the proper translation of local articles.
"I try to Google articles in English," Simmons said. "But of course, you're going to get more information from local newspapers. So what I've been doing is using Google translator. Another thing is we have really good groups on Facebook here for Americans living in Italy. In that group there are some people that are fluent Italian speakers which has been helpful."
Although she has Google Translate and a group on Facebook, some topics are still confusing without a grasp of the language.
"Some laws right now aren't very clear," Simmons said. "It's all really new territory. They are still trying to figure things out. For example: People are debating whether it's OK to take a walk or are we only suppose to stay in the house. So in some cities it is OK, but in other cities you could possibly get a heavy fine from the police."
Simmons' mother had planned to come to Italy and visit her last week for her birthday.
"I had plans to visit Crystal for her 30th birthday in March," Joanne Waters, Simmons' mother, said. "But with all the uncertainties of the traveling to Europe due to all the unknowns of the coronavirus, we decided as a family that I would not take the trip."
Crystal is Waters' only child and Zachary is her first grandson.
"Needless to say, the coronavirus has really turned our lives upside down," Waters said. "But I’m grateful that we are still able to communicate via FaceTime which is a blessing."
Although Simmons' mother couldn't come and visit her and now her family in Italy is on lockdown, Simmons has found a new routine. She is exercising inside, cooking more and spending quality time with her husband.
Since her husband is at home from work, she also has had more time to perfect her online clothing boutique. Simmons does everything from her laptop.
"My first job in Aiken was at Rue 21," Simmons said. "I absolutely loved it. I loved folding the clothes, tagging up clothes, styling customers and my whole paycheck would go back into that store. Then I went to College of Charleston and my shopaholic ways continued."
While at College of Charleston, Simmons met her match and they quickly fell in love.
"Then I got married," Simmons said "and my husband's job requires him to work overseas. Finally, I just thought, 'How can I turn my passion into a career? Why don't I just open up my own online boutique?'"
Her online boutique Sugar and Spice is scheduled to launch on March 27. Although this quarantine has allowed time with her family, the borders between Italy and the U.S. are closing quickly. Simmons and her husband have decided it's time to return back to the United States. They were scheduled to return home over the weekend.
"We have made the decision to come back to the U.S. because the borders are planning to close," Simmons said last week. "We don't know if it will be closed for two days, two months or two years. I'd rather be on lockdown on U.S. soil with my family if that happens."
Simmons gave advice to South Carolinians and all U.S. citizens regarding the coronavirus.
"We were at where the U.S. is now about three weeks ago," Simmons said. "So it's kind of like déjà vu to me. What y'all are going through, I've already been through it, I've already seen it. I just want to tell people that this virus is very, very serious."