'I'd planned to stay in Arizona one year, I'm still here 25 years later'
Covid-19: Dubliner Leslie Thompson is involved in raising money for the hard-hit Navajo Nation
Leslie Thompson and her daughter Sali at their house in Phoenix, Arizona
When did you leave Ireland?
I left Ireland in September 1995. I'd completed an assignment in Portland, Oregon for Intel in 1993 and had a green card. An opening came up to be a technical trainer for Intel’s wafer fabrication start-up in Arizona for one year. It was a great opportunity to work on the latest technology so I applied, did an interview and got the position. I thought I would stay the year and return home, but I am still here 25 years later.
Where do you live now and what do you do?
I live in Chandler, which is a city south east of Phoenix. I am still at Intel, but now I work in the "Internet of Things Group" where I am a people systems program manager. I lead a small team and we manage all the hiring, on-boarding, student/intern, technical training and inclusion activities for the organisation across the world including a team in Leixlip, Co Kildare. I love Arizona and I could not imagine living anywhere else in the US.
How are things in Arizona at the moment?
It is very dynamic and evolves as the coronavirus situation does. It varies by county within the state based on population and Covid-19 data so the criteria in Maricopa, where we are, is very different to the more rural areas that are less densely populated but still impacted.
Arizona is the 48th state and only became a state in 1912, so it still has the "way out west" character while also being the fifth fastest growing state in the US, according to the United States Census Bureau. Arizona brings an interesting people dynamic together; there is the practical and the more independent “cowboy” mentality and we also have multiple cultures here including native American and Latino and a large retired population. That all blends together to be quite complex but also incredibly fascinating.
Has Covid-19 affected work there?
I'm working from home (or WFH) with full salary. People have been impacted in very different ways here. We have many people like me WFH, schools are all closed through the summer so parents are home schooling or teachers are offering online classes. We saw a huge impact to tourist and restaurant business along with the rural farming communities. We have been living under a "Shelter in Place" instruction for more than 60 days (this is an official order issued during an emergency that directs people to stay in the indoor place or building that they already occupy and not to leave unless absolutely necessary). It's being lifted this weekend with phases for different scenarios. We are mostly all following social distancing and we can still be outside in local parks and community areas. We have access to grocery stores and overall no major shortages of basic goods.
What does your day look like now?
I'm working from the den, and on my computer and a headset all day. I've actually found, like most of the team, that I'm working even longer hours. Our technology and solutions are in demand and we are supporting a lot of customers. I'm part of the Business Continuity Team for the Arizona (AZ) site so I am in daily meetings reviewing the data and aligning that with direction from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Government and the AZ Governor to provide direction for the site.
We try to have at least one weekly open time to check in and do coffee or happy hour online with fun themes or no agenda. After work I go for a two to three mile walk with my husband. Lately, with the weather warming up, I've been swimming. We eat dinner and watch a movie unless I've get back online for meetings with our global team. My weekends blur into this, but I do try to stay off my computer and sew masks or read or play the guitar.
You have a daughter. Have things changed for her?
She just turned 21 in February and then all the bars closed – haha! Her college classes are all online, which she doesn’t really care for as she liked the campus and in-person better. She works part-time at a prosthetics company and they asked her to continue to work for critical care patients following strict protocol. She's a little more stressed than me as she is out in public. She has also seen some friends continuing as usual instead of following the group gathering and social distancing guidelines. She's a barrel racer so she spends the rest of the time taking care of her horses while she waits for rodeo events to open up again.
What is the food situation there?
We've not been short of any of the staples. Many restaurants shifted quickly to online or to-go ordering, and we try to support someone local about once per week. The food banks are also mostly operating. My husband is retired so he does the shopping. There can be queues and sometimes shelves are empty.
You are involved with a number of Irish organisations. What are they doing at the moment? Does being Irish mean anything at the moment?
I volunteer at the Irish Cultural Center. The building is closed but the staff are WFH. We use GoTo meeting and have transitioned to online content and Facebook live and Zoom events. We are also reaching out to the community to check in on people and we've answered a lot of questions on travel. We're planning a drive for the Navajo Nation and also to sew masks for our at risk retired population. The Navajo Nation has surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita Covid-19 infection rate in the US.
Irish people are very scattered across the Phoenix area, but stay in touch online and by text. We do miss the pubs and seeing each other in person at events. I find a lot of the extended Irish American community are missing the sense of community that is generated at the centre and the resources there such as genealogy and the library.
How are people in Phoenix coping with the pandemic?
People here are very resourceful and hardy. They come from all over. We have seen lots of creative ways to home school, stay in touch in neighbourhoods, support local PPE drives and appreciate people on the front line. But there's also a large homeless population and the Covid-19 impact in our assisted living facilities on our retired and elderly population has been very sad to see.
Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?
The overwhelming thing I miss is not being able to travel home. I am using WhatsApp and Zoom to see everyone and catch up. I am also almost out of Lyons tea bags from home.
If you would like to share your experience (max of 600 words) of how Covid-19 is affecting you where you live email Irish Times Abroad at firstname.lastname@example.org