Free flow, in lockdown

Kigali, Rwanda

I fly in from Berlin, to honor a consulting work contract, being effective 1st March
Great times reconnecting with the motherland again, more networking
Work on an Airbnb project with Dadi, close friend. Money gets invested
We find an abandoned place out of the city, close to the lake, clean it, paint it, bring life to it.

Meet friends I haven’t seen for a while
Link up with new connections including the Austrian new friend
We go to a wonderful party, have fun, stay in the small circle
First customers get in. Business seems promising
First case of corona gets announced in the country, Business is shaken with little hope.
The Institution sends a starting date extension, 1st April.
Bertie’s car gets broken, we fix it with Dadi and Bertie (close UK friend), 2-3 days
20th, last link up with Bertie and Dadi, fun night, just for three. home. 
We finally fixed an old Rover, we mini-celebrate that. Team work wins. 

Dadi, 21st, we decide to stop moving even though the lockdown isn’t here yet
Same night, lockdown is announced, to be effective midnight
Same night, family members are celebrating grandmas special 80th birthday
Same night, my worries from grandmas are multiplying. 
She has high blood pressure. I decide to miss the important event.
Same night, she reaches her climax on happiness, she nearly dies, her heart almost stops. 
She becomes unconscious for minutes.
Same night, people cry, pray, call God, emergency numbers, etc. etc.  
She suddenly comes back to life, happiness was an overdose. Smoothly cut the cake, we’re grateful.
Same night, I cancel the payment for my new place since I won’t be able to move in.
Same night, I lose the house that took me three weeks to find, including brokers funds. 
Same night, I decide to head to the family house. Avoiding solo quarantining.
Same night, our Airbnb investment is lost. Let’s restart after international flights resume. Who knows when.
Reaches home midnight, perfect timing. Life is on hold. Lockdown comes to life. Quality time with fam starts. 
They miss me and my brother from China. We’ve been out of the country for a year. 

1st week of the lockdown, work sends a contract cancellation email.
We are sorry to inform you xyz, corona reasons. An unexpected sad day
My girlfriend is locked in Dakar, her housemates go to party amid the virus, she’s worried, I’m worried.
My finances are shaken, got to find another way to get money, lockdown reminds me of the impossibility
She gets evacuated, sleeps in the airport, no food for 22 hours except cocoa, finally make it home. I’m happy.

7pm, I step out of the house, meet a mom carrying a child, she needs whatever work I can give her.
She doesn’t have where to go, no food, she begs for work, I give her groceries money instead. 
I can’t afford more. 500 meters after, I met another one, and another one, and more people asking for food, I realize how bad things are becoming outside, the unprivileged routines. 

Lockdown is extended. Gratefulness starts to hit my soul, I have food, I have a shelter, millions around me don’t.
Problems start to disappear in my mind. They don’t feel heavy anymore. Life is teaching me something here.

Kigali Downtown Taxi Park, (KT Press, 2020).
Retrieved from https://www.ktpress.rw/2020/03/video-life-in-kigali-under-coronavirus-lockdown/

Monday, Tuesday, W, T, F, S, Sunday, #Stay home #GumaMurugo.

Genocide against Tutsi commemoration starts, I can’t support friends who lost their families during 1994. Lockdown reasons. We start trying the virtual support. They are being hunted by past events. Wounds are feeling fresh again. I can’t do more than the virtual. It’s sad but we try. Their faith being tested. Healing energy is continuously sent.

Lockdown continues. Austrian friend tests positive on corona.

Bertie doesn’t feel well, tests positive on corona. his girlfriend tests negative. his housemates test negative, government puts them in quarantine. Bertie is taken away for isolation.

Dadi doesn’t feel well, government takes him for isolation. We are now being tracked. Up to 7 people from the party test positive. Government tracking continues. My family isolates me. I receive the Gov call. I test negative, gratefulness continues. Gratefulness will not stop.

The Flame of Remembrance, (KT Press, 2020).
Retrieved from https://www.ktpress.rw/2020/04/genocide-against-tutsi-remembrance-in-the-time-of-covid-19/

Long story short. The unscripted story, free flow writing starts to make sense. I get a closer view of fears; I wipe their strengths out. My light soul is activated.

This represent a cocktail of information, it represents a cocktail of thoughts, a roller-coaster of emotions it represents not having an answer to everything happening to you or your surroundings. And It’s okay. Life works that way. Life goes on. Friends including Dadi and Bertie are starting to feel better. Learning to create a mental serene space helped me to go through everything. Focusing on what I have in control and leaving what I don’t to the universe, to the collective hopeful energy of the precious positive humans.

The universe has never worked against us either way, it’s always been for us. We got to remain positive. Let’s spread that energy, stay home. love harder, care harder, thank harder. Grateful hearts, we’re in a better position than most humans. I have time to type on a computer, somebody else is fighting to go out, there is nothing inside except hunger and losing hope – a near death experience, they’re not afraid of Rona, they’re afraid of hunger. They become outlaws, the only survival way. The society judges their acts, the poor is not following lockdown measures, the rich sensitize the poor to donate to the poor. The real image of people remains alive, even in the hardest times. Some things might not change anytime soon, you can’t change the world overnight, nobody did. Focusing on what you have in control. Being the change you want to see with the hope that you inspire some souls to do the same, to join the holistic movement. To change your surroundings, your home, where it all starts. Breathe. 

If you want to go far, go together, (Mzilikazi, 2020).
Retrieved from https://twitter.com/iammzilikazi/status/1104980709947641856

Breathe, love heals. We will survive, being able to write and read this, we are the lucky ones, the privileged. We are witnessing a life changing moment. It’s alright, you’re still breathing. Somehow, somewhere, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s a rainbow after heavy storms, we are the light, we are the sun, we are the rainbow. We create life collectively, we will always do, in colors with blue hearts. 

From Kigali, with a message of hope and love. Joe Ntwali.

If you believe in darkness, then you must believe in light

West Midlands, England

I do not fully know how to explain the time we are living in. In conversations with close friends, I find myself repeating versions of “guys, seriously what the hell is going on, it’s like the world is on pause….”.

As a humanitarian, I am trained to almost instinctively act at a time of emergency, respond fast, work all hours. But what do you do when you can’t do anything? My social media feed is full of areas I have worked in, from typhoons to war torn areas, to refugee camps. I have always tried to show the realism of this work, the nature of what we do on the front line. How difficult it can be, and beautiful at the same time, an oxymoron. Everyone faces a tough battle and sometimes you are helping without knowing it.

But recently the messages in my inbox have been different. I can sense fear, uncertainty, and a few people have asked me, will we be ok and have I been through worse? My heart sinks slowly and I think about the experiences, and moments where I have sit with widows in refugee camps, and have seen their children pass away. Their husbands taken and never seen again, the pain in their eyes is a different anguish. I think about the times I have been frightened to my core thinking am I going to get home. Then I remember, the storm will pass. So I message back saying, don’t worry, this lockdown will pass like all things. It will just take longer and a bit more time. I say this because I have been in worse situations so be patient, be calm, and look after loved ones. There is always light after darkness. Have faith.

I end my message with two smiley faces because one is not enough. To everyone who does read this, just know this will pass. 🙂 🙂

Day 33

Washington DC, United States

As I write this, it’s day 33.  Day 33 of what originally started as me self-isolating out of an abundance of caution (due to potential exposure and potentially exhibiting symptoms) but has turned into a mandatory city lockdown along the way.  I know it’s day 33 from the strike marks on a small sticky note that are added to each morning. Each day is marked not in a negative light but for a sense of routine during this unprecedented period.  I have long been comforted by routines and habits and have found some comfort in my newest ones.  

In recent years, and with added wisdom from each rotation around the sun, I have felt very fortunate for each day I’m afforded; I find this 33-day period has only increased that appreciation in me. That being said, each day has brought with it various different emotions. Some of them occurring in rapid succession, others taking over for longer periods.   Not all of them are pleasant, not all of them are forlorn. I often feel like I’m not only sheltering in place but also trying to shelter myself from the insanity swirling around outside these walls. However, that is as much a function of changing social norms than of the global health crisis.  

For context, I moved to Washington DC from San Francisco just over a year ago and have found the city very pleasant apart from its ever-present proximity to politics. I have been quite successful in the past year avoiding most of the political elements and spin of the city but, at times, it seeps through even the thickest of concrete walls that surround me.  

Nevertheless, I have already made reference to feeling fortunate and I will repeat that sentiment again now.  I am still working, albeit from home. Also, my loved ones are healthy and safe and these are things I have not lost sight of.  I also have truly enjoyed the days at home, getting creative with meals, taking walks when the wet spring has allowed it, finding solace in the simplest of tasks.  There are many moments in recent weeks that will stand out as cherished memories in the years to come. I also know this is not everyone’s experience and try to empathize with the realities of others and not feel too guilty about mine.

I have always had a tendency to worry and have tried hard not to let the what-ifs get the best of me.  What will the weeks and months to come look like? I ask myself this and many other unanswerable questions, as I’m sure others do too.  Although I have a longing to get back to normal, I wonder what the new normal will look like and if it will contain many of the components that I have grown so accustomed to.  I also wonder if when I get back to whatever that normal state is, if I will reflect back on the current moments and long for these passing spring days. One thing is certain, life will inevitably change in the days, weeks and months ahead. For now, for me, at least one check mark is added with each passing day… 

The life of an ordinary Rwandan citizen

Kigali, Rwanda

It was Friday night, 20th March. I was on my way home from a restaurant when I got a notification that the country would be starting a two-week lockdown the next day. While reading the official government notice, I never really paused to consider what it would mean for me and how I was going to make it through. My mind turned to what this would mean for ordinary citizens, the majority of whom live hand-to-mouth. How were they going to manage this situation? All around the world, the data is telling us that while the virus is indiscriminate, the disadvantaged, minorities, those facing multiple forms of deprivation, are disproportionately affected. 

Unlike other African countries, Rwanda started preparing early to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus, even before getting the very first case. A week before confirming the first case from a man coming from Dubai, the government had already put serious measures and precautions to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 as required by WHO. All shops and public places were urged to have hand sanitizers or water tap and soap at the entrance and make sure everyone washed their hands, keeping 1m+ physical distance. This caused some changes in services such as transport, where police were asking to reduce the usual number of passengers in a car, and public bus services were reduced. You could see that there were going to be big changes like never before. 

Handwashing facilities set up outside a supermarket

Our borders closed, including the Kigali International Airport.  All citizens were asked to stay at home until further notice, with the only exception being to shop for necessary food, medicine, hygiene and cleaning products. All public transportation, restaurants, and other recreational areas were closed to allow minimal and necessary movements only. 

For the first few days of the lockdown, people did not full absorb the complexity of Covid-19. Some kept going out and giving hard jobs to police, who were stopping them on the street and forcing them to go back in their houses. A number of fake news stories were circulating in relation to the virus. It was sad. I could empathize; people were under pressure to feed their family. Instead of being killed by hunger, they’d rather be taken by the outbreak. But as the number of cases increased each day, people started accepting the severity of the virus. The Government started distributing food to the most vulnerable families in every neighborhood. Thanks to humanity and national values, everyone is trying to offer a helping hand either financially or giving food to a neighbor, or even the wider community depending on financial capacity. 

One of the best things that the Rwanda government did during this lockdown was to put a limit on the amount of groceries that every family could buy. This helped in sharing products that were available in the market with less privileged families. As someone living alone in this period, I only go out to buy food nearby. I appreciate the way at the supermarket, they’ve drawn small circles that every client needs to stand in to keep physical distance, and wash hands before entering. And the sellers are wearing masks and gloves to avoid any contamination of the Covid-19. Everyone seems to be cautious; no one is maintaining eye contact or wanting to have a conversation publicly. The streets are empty, it’s only traffic police on a routine patrol asking everyone passing where they are going. When they feel your movement is not necessary, they stop you. 

In the spirit of solidarity, I appreciate how fellow Rwandans are helping vulnerable citizens in different ways. Ameza app- is an application that was quickly developed and setup by two local young people to connect and facilitate donation-sharing to needy people. A toll-free line was also put in place to allow those struggling with lockdown to contact for food supplies. 

It feels lonely and scary to stay in the house alone in a period like this. Even neighbors are locked down in their compounds, so it is hard to connect. To curb loneliness, I have made a schedule of connecting to my family using video calls three days a week. I spend my time doing things that help me to relax and take everything slow such as reading, watching movies, doing home workouts for exercise and I’ve tried improving my cooking skills. Trying new things helps to remain calm and kills the boredom in this trying time. 

This lockdown has given me a space to meditate and reflect on my career goals. Looking at the news, it is only feeding people with scary Covid-19 news worldwide. Death tolls; increases in confirmed cases; and the economic crisis. Instead, I am trying to be positive and narrow down the amount of negative information I read. I believe, this too shall pass. It is a good time to understand my vision as a young leader, professional, and human. It is a moment I am trying to evaluate myself and create a new plan for my future. It is a space to be grateful for the gift of life. I am using this period to learn, re-learn the skills required on the job market, and unlearn whatever is stopping me from achieving my dreams. It takes courage and commitment to grow in a stressful and uncertain period like this. But I am trying. I believe that when this lockdown is all over, I will be having something tangible to remember how much it has shaped my next adventure.

A mild case of Covid

London, England

Last week, I overheard my husband telling someone on the phone that I was ill. Within a couple of hours, that person’s partner, in another continent, messaged to see how I was as they’d heard I wasn’t well. Covid has given the term viral a whole new meaning. I’ve been thinking about the patterns of transmission, contact and links between one individual and those infected, and how they mirror information flows, gossip channels, probably other patterns too.

A couple of weeks ago I tried to go for a run. It was impossible; so many false starts. My body said no. Eventually I found my groove, but when I got home, had a terrible headache. I tried sleeping it off, but instead woke with a fever. A paracetamol helped, and I carried on as normal over the next couple of days. I started to get progressively more tired, normal tasks at work felt insurmountable, and I found it hard to concentrate. Eventually, I took a few days off to recover.

My symptoms came and went in waves. Chills, an irregular cough, mostly in the night, but some days I wouldn’t cough at all. Fever, always with a headache. Eventful, vivid dreams (although I later read that more REM sleep is a product of us sleeping for longer during lockdown). Then, one night, my breathing worsened in the space of an hour and became very shallow. I panicked initially. It wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before. I focused on breathing deeply and inhaling with steam. The steam helped hugely. And then I started to feel better. After seven days I no longer had a fever. The guidelines said I could go out, I celebrated with a walk in the park, but I couldn’t really walk that far. I made banana bread, and chatted to some friends on the phone. 

The following days are a bit of a blur. Walking to the kitchen to get water made me lightheaded. My lungs and chest felt heavy and tight. The fever came back. I forced myself to rest, read, stay in bed, sleep. Everytime I felt better I would go and do something and feel wiped out again. 

I’m back at work now. I’ve tried to figure out where I might have caught Covid. Was it the person coughing on the tube, someone I came into contact with, a surface I touched, the flight I took. Living in London, it’s impossible to know. 

Fairy tales in confinement – cosmic wisdom vs. Covid-19

Florence, Italy

6 April 2020, day 29 of Covid-19 confinement. Once upon a time, there were approximately 200,000 tourists visiting the city every day. Even though I have lived in very packed places across the world, I was never a big fan of those crowds of people. It can feel like fast food, but for sightseeing and fashion. Then Covid-19 came and Italy closed down; Florence consequently did the same. During the first two weeks, I allowed myself two walks in the city centre, and enjoyed that great empty. Tourists had disappeared, leaving Florence alone in its renaissance beauty. 

We all went through – I believe – this feeling of being abandoned suddenly, in the middle of something we were busy with. Life took on a slow-motion pace, like when you’re driving fast on a motorway and have to slow down to 20 km/hour because something has happened a few cars ahead of yours. Public space suddenly shrunk, giving space to the private one, catching people (many at least, among us, or those that I know) unprepared for how to manage the intimate time with the self.

So, with new restrictions in place as of 23 March 2020, I stopped wandering around, reducing my walks to the few hundred metres that separate my flat from the supermarket. Hence, my flat has become my temporary world, shared with the other citizen living in it – my partner. This was a big change for me, who as a child would have put an atlas amongst my favourite toys. 

I have started reinventing my temporary geography. Within the limit of 75m2, finding that a balcony, despite being small, can be as big as an airport, and like an airport can connect us with other neighbouring worlds. From the balcony, I’ve seen innovative dance performances and listened to songs sung lustily. On day 4 of confinement, I thought that my partner and I had enough space and time to share them with other characters. I started to polish off fairy-tales – books I had collected from different countries around the world. Characters started entering our small world from those books. They do not need to wear a mask or wash their hands frequently, they just share their story and leave. 

As of day 4 of confinement, I have been narrating fairy tales and my partner has been helping me to record them every evening – a tale a day as a commitment to myself. It has become the daily nourishment for the soul, setting it in motion, and our personal “mask” against Covid-19 and the excessive flow of news, as well as a way to assure family and friends that it will go fine. 

Fairy tales are not only for children, but for anyone. They communicate basic truths about human life and about the world. They are archetypal stories present in every cultural tradition and a source of deep wisdom about the world and about the human condition. As a remedy to confinement, I have tapped into this box of cosmic wisdom. 

Mostly exploring the Sicilian oral tradition, I have started looking for and narrating similar tales in other traditions across Europe and the world. Interestingly enough, certain characters, themes and situations are found in the stories of different cultures, such as the Arab tale “The story of the safe” and the Sicilian tale “The belly that talks”, indicating the common features of humankind. Fairy tales are in part allegory, in that the characters and situations stand for something larger than they do. However, they also portray the mundane aspects of life the possibilities for the future. 

Indeed, “fairy tales are true. […] these folk stories are the catalog of the potential destinies of men and women, especially for that stage in life when destiny is formed, i.e., youth, beginning with birth, which itself often foreshadows the future; then the departure from home, and, finally, through the trial of growing up, the attainment of maturity and the proof of one’s humanity”. [Italo Calvino, Italian Folk Tales, Torino: Einaudi, 1956, translated by George Martin]

Should you be curious to listen to the fairy tales, you can find them on www.radiocavolo.org. In exchange, I am keen to receive your favourite fairy tales, and perhaps to narrate them together in different languages!

Springtime in Iraq

Duhok, Iraq

Despite the grim news of coronavirus gripping all of the world’s media, spring has arrived in northern Iraq! This is usually the prime season for family picnics and hikes on the beautiful mountains and trails surrounding the small city of Duhok, but even one of the biggest Persian New Year (Nowruz) celebration weekends passed by quietly with the occasional fireworks lighting the quiet city for families to enjoy at home. 

The country has been in lockdown since mid-March and it’s expected to continue for another month or so. The international airport in Erbil remains closed, without indication of when flights will resume. This is understandable as without precautionary measures, there are fears that the health system in Iraq could collapse. According to the government, over 1,000 individuals have positively tested for COVID-19, and numbers are expected to increase with additional testing being made available. 

There are 21 camps – five camps for Syrian refugees and 16 for Iraqis internally displaced by conflict – in northern Duhok governorate alone, but no COVID-19 cases have yet been identified among the refugees and IDPs in any of the camps or urban areas. Daily monitoring continues and contingency planning is in place for humanitarian actors to be able to swiftly respond should an outbreak in a camp happen. Thankfully the Government has been allowing movement for life-saving humanitarian activities to continue. Unfortunately borders remain closed, including to those seeking asylum in Iraq. 

For me, this means that I am able to go on protection monitoring missions at least once a week when we talk with the authorities and health staff in the refugee camps, as well as the community leaders and outreach volunteers and provide feedback on the concerns that they previously shared with us – and for the rest of the week, I do what all other employees around the world are doing: work from home.

Pros of working from home: 

  • Wearing the same PJs as ‘work attire’ three days in a row while working in front of my laptop just because I can. 
  • Taking less than 10 minutes to get ready for work (just a quick splash of cold water to the face and making sure that the video stays turned off during any online meeting).
  • No commute. 

Cons of working from home: 

  • Feeling guilty for harassing your team with multiple calls throughout the day because you no longer share an open office space with them to ask questions or discuss certain topics. OR NOT being able to harass your colleagues because you are mindful of the time differences in the parts of the world they have now been scattered to.
  • Longer working hours with less work-life balance. Especially when your flatmate is stuck back in the States, and you have the empty apartment to yourself with no family or children to distract you. 
  • Gaining weight. Although my yoga mat is out on the floor, it feels to be an elusive psychological comfort and less of a friendly reminder for exercise. 
  • No commute. Who knew I would miss the drive to the office in the mornings. 

Pros of lockdown: 

  • Catching up with friends all over the world – online reunions with different groups of close and old friends have been possible through Zoom, Houseparty and Skype group calls where we share the shock of this truly global pandemic affecting each of us in our homes and respective locations. Thank goodness for WIFI and internet.
  • Appreciating beauty even more as you watch nature heal. Is it just me or does the sunset look even more stunning and the birds chirp louder? 

Cons of lockdown: 

  • Uncertainty. Not knowing when I will be able to see my family or my boyfriend or other loved ones. 

Nonetheless, spring is here! 

And it’s a reminder that time will indeed pass, and time will heal. 

Fica em casa

Lisbon – Portugal, April 2020

I am a roadie……catering department. I have toured for 12 years supporting artists and crew, from tiny theatres all the way up to stadiums and festivals. Mainly the UK but also throughout Europe and the US. In recent years, I have been working nine months out of 12. My partner is Portuguese and Lisbon has been my base for three years. For me, my time at home has always been about relaxation, finding the time to do things that you don’t get much of on the road. Going to the beach, cinema, galleries, the gym………

I returned to Lisbon on February 2nd expecting a six-week break before my next two back-to-back tours, which would have kept me in work until early June. My partner and I had friends visiting for a couple of weeks not long after I returned. We did the things that friends do……barbecues on the balcony, trips to the beach, Lisbon city and Sintra. By mid-February we were listening with concern as one of our friends, who was about to embark on a European tour, started reporting that venues in Milan and other Italian cities were cancelling gigs. This trend continued with cities in other countries doing the same. In some cases, this was before the governments issued a limit on public gatherings. It seemed like this disease, which a couple of weeks earlier seemed so far away, was going to hit Europe like a tsunami, and in the process knock out the entire live event industry.

Five weeks later, Portugal is in its third week of a national state of emergency. The queues at the supermarket are orderly and respectful, there has not been any noticeable panic buying, although I’ve not seen any hand sanitiser for two months. We are allowed out to exercise, but at the weekends the police are out in force ensuring people are not leaving their own district and blocking all the main routes, particularly those heading towards the beach. I tend to run around the car park behind the apartment block, with a view of the roundabout and the occasional car, for exercise. Most days a policy car drives slowly through the neighbourhood with a loud speaker.

“FICA EM CASA”

“STAY AT HOME”

The underlying level of anxiety is always there, concerns for friends and family spread all over Europe and beyond, global and financial concerns. The concern that my industry will never recover. But…… in the midst of all that, we are finding the time and space for other pursuits. We have a WhatsApp group of caterers, quarantined all over Europe, daily trying to outdo one another with the food we are creating at home. The zoom room quizzes and bake off challenges, yoga, puzzles – buying one that is fifty shades of beige may have been a mistake though, rereading favourite books and taking a trip into 1980s films for nostalgia, This is the longest I’ve spent in one location in over a decade.

I’m writing this sitting on the balcony, the tree outside which was bare a few short weeks ago is blossoming. Soon I won’t be able to see the building opposite through the leaves. In this small, slow world that we are currently inhabiting, you start to notice every tiny little detail.

I hope that we will come out of the other side of this, that we will recover physically, emotionally and financially. But I also hope that we will have learned some valuable lessons.

Fica em casa……..Fica bem

Let me entertain you

Coulsdon, England

Entertaining a little human during lockdown is my new job. I work from home as a copywriter, and I’m also a part time SEN key worker at a local school, so I’m a bit busy with that. But nothing fills my days more than my nutty little toddler and his many daily discoveries. It’s been an opportunity to see the world through his eyes. I had to ask myself, what would I want to do if I was stuck mostly indoors with just my parents for company? Probably kick and scream to be fair (which might explain a few pre-bed meltdowns of late – him, not me). But, aside from that, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to learn how to be a child again. 

Our little boy has and always will be our rainbow in these dark times. He came into our lives as a rainbow baby and thankfully he still shines bright. But, how to fill the days for an overactive almost two-year-old? Well, at first I was furiously googling ‘toddler ideas’ for play. Most of these required an arsenal of art and craft supplies – all of which are now either sold out or overpriced on Amazon (other non tax evading suppliers are available) – so that was out. I’ve managed to lose any finger-paints we did have in our seriously under ‘Marie Kondo-ed’ home (she would pass out if she saw our book shelves).  So, what about the recycling box? Hang on, doesn’t everything have Covid on it now? Oh man. Most of that has gone in the outside blue bin then. 

So what does that leave us with? Nature. It’s our biggest playground after all. And I have to say, this has been the saving grace in a truly horrible situation. Our son has never played more in our garden or the outdoors as much as he does now. He is old enough to have a sense of something not being right. He can clearly tell that he’s not allowed to go and see all his favourite people as usual. If we ever do get in the car now, he instantly asks “Naani’s house? Daadi’s house?” itching to see one of his grandmothers. It breaks our heart to disappoint him. But, the light at the end of the tunnel is the giant fields/wood that we luckily have at the end of our road, where we try to take him as much as the weather permits. Once he’s out, he’s unstoppable. He would play there all day if we let him. And I realised I’d been slightly holding him back from exploring until now. It’s always such an effort as a parent to take kids outdoors – innumerable changes of clothes, endless shoe options, ask which outfit won’t get destroyed and which one can handle a thick layer of mud/curious brown stains on it forever more – but my goodness, I need to get over myself because I finally see that this is where he belongs. 

The lockdown has brought nothing but tragedy and limitations to so many. I am keenly aware at just how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads. To have food in our stomachs and somewhere to self-isolate if we really needed to. So many have not been afforded that option and that’s just not acceptable. And so, as I look at my incredibly messy home, at my mud-caked toddler, and I say a silent prayer of thanks. Thanks for what we do have rather than what we don’t. 

This too shall pass. Of course, it will never be the same again, and to be honest it shouldn’t. Too many lives have been lost to let us just keep calm and carry on. We didn’t know what we had till it was put on hold. But, thankfully all is not yet gone. So, for now, as simple as it is – I’ll strap on my son’s waterproofs and get him out in the back yard. It keeps us going each day. Then, hopefully one day soon he will be out there with the rest of our families. Altogether, once more. 

We unleashed this little man on the outdoors, and somehow, I don’t think he’s ever going to look back.   

Clapping time

Malaga, Spain

Every day at 8pm, people in Spain go out to their windows, balconies, and terraces to applaud for healthcare workers and all the essential personnel (cleaners, supermarket sellers, pharmacists, etc.) as a way of thanking them for their courageous work during the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the beginning of the lockdown, which started around three weeks ago, different artistic talents are expressed through the balconies to bring joy and encourage each other to cope with this situation. 

Guitar, trumpet players and DJs express their feelings by playing different songs after the clapping moment that can last up to ten minutes! The music varies as it reflects the mood of the player or the general ambiance in the neighbourhood. Birthday celebrations, reggaeton special, old hits … it all depends on the feelings to be expressed. The public can also ask for a special request from one of the artists. 

Children and elderly people are the biggest participants at this event, singing, dancing and clapping. The environment suddenly changes from a quite deserted Málaga to a party place as it has been known for many years! 

Málaga’s pleasant weather has maybe been making it easy for people to socialize. It is common to start a random chat with someone while waiting for a bus, queuing in the market or even while walking. The “Malagueños” are known for being “salerosos”, which means funny, witty and somehow chatty. Social distancing is very contrasting where people are so used to interact, but people seem to have found a way to keep socializing habits through an alternative way.

Screaming from one’s balcony to ask the neighbours in the opposite window about their health, work, children and so on, is not a new practice, people used to communicate (and gossip) this way before the confinement. Now, it just got very trendy. Even in our IT era, where smartphones and computers are ubiquitously used, people still look forward to communicating face to face. 

This 8pm routine has been our moment to connect locally and recognise the efforts of those who are still working out there, as well as to appreciate the open view. The videos give a feeling of these moments.

The world has started to resemble a convent

Manila, Philippines

Thursday, 12th March – I caught the evening bus bound for Quezon Province, five hours northeast of Manila. I hoped to reach before midnight. There were talks of a lockdown to be implemented the next day. I felt like a fugitive escaping from the prison that is Manila during a lockdown.

Truth is, I am on what they call a “Come and See” immersion experience with the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion to discern the possibility of entering religious life. People may think, “Really, religious life at this day and age? You’d be shutting yourself off from the world.” Yeah, I thought I would be the odd one. Little did I know that the whole world would be joining me. 

In the last 21 days under lockdown, the world has started to resemble a convent, while life in the convent has made me more in touch with the world. Staying home has allowed people to pray more. I have had three Zoom virtual prayer sessions with my college buddies, one every Saturday, and there have been more of us present there than during our face-to-face meetings, on average. One friend whom we haven’t seen in ages has reappeared to join us in prayer. I have also seen an outpouring of generosity amongst family and friends to support those who are in need, as well as the COVID-19 frontliners. Funds flowed through calls for help in Viber chats and Messenger that got food, PPEs, and other basic needs delivered to hospitals and poor communities. Meanwhile, in the remote fishing village we’re in, the sisters and I were able to lend a hand to the local government, repacking rice and canned goods which were distributed to the 17 villages in the town. We were also able to accompany a neighbour’s family who was mourning the sudden loss of their 8-year old son.  Being integrated in the local community has given me the opportunity to become involved in meaningful activities in the midst of a community quarantine—something that would have been more difficult for me to do in Manila.

God has also, in a sense, been putting on a show for this city girl here in the countryside. Every morning I wake up to the chirping of birds and the first rays of light bouncing off the coconut and banana leaves outside my window. After morning prayers and a 45-minute workout, we have our breakfast which can include a vegetable, fruit or herbs from the little vegetable patch the sisters have started (or the local market because honestly, a lot of the plants have yet to flower, ha-ha). After doing our morning chores and study, we enjoy lunch of yellowfin tuna or whatever the fishermen catch across the road. Afternoons are my favourite because we go for a swim in the sea (because really, it could be said that the Pacific Ocean is our front lawn). Then, after evening prayers the crickets and the crashing waves are what lull me to sleep.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere remains tense in Manila, the epicenter of the Philippine coronavirus crisis. My family decided to move my grandmother out of hospital and back into her home for fear that she would get infected when the hospital started admitting COVID-19 cases. They also worked together to raise funds and source protective gear for my surgeon sister and her colleagues who continue to work in the trenches during these very uncertain times.  My dad and brother-in-law are the designated household runners, queueing up for their weekly grocery runs. Thankfully, everyone is safe and well albeit more confined to their homes. As we virtually hold hands/pray/encourage each other through this pandemic, here’s a little dose of warmth and positivity from the smiley Philippines 🙂

Making the best out of COVID

London, England

My heart goes out to all those personally and collectively affected by the COVID situation, there is a great deal of suffering out there… but right now, I feel it’s important to make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in so here are my appreciations…. This deliberately goes back to basics…. 

Connection – I’m taking time to actually talk to my friends….. Long lost friends from all over the world… we’re phoning each other instead of just sending a quarterly text or happy birthday… When I am out on my daily walks, I feel an incredible sense of community with my fellow human beings… there are plenty of friendly glances, waves and nods… it’s always been a community of a hello and yes this is officially London.  

Imperfection – yes that’s an appreciation… I am just about ok seeing chips, scratches and issues around the house… I’ve gradually given up both needing and wanting everything to be perfect and everything is developing its own personality. Who really cares if there’s no eggs in the supermarket. My writing is also imperfect, it’s not been proofread and it’s just a conscious flow… such a refreshing change. 

Spring – surely this is the best spring London has seen in years… I am adoring watching the season evolve, the smells and the buds. I’ve never seen such active squirrels or heard such a sound of the birds.. 

Shopping – I am enjoying adapting… there’s a lady selling veg boxes in the park and WOW I have never tasted a carrot quite like it in the UK before…. They used to only deliver to restaurants. Whoever knew that Iceland had such a good stock of stuff outside of a freezer?

Adaptation – I am so impressed with the small businesses who have changed their business model overnight… cafes will now add a bag of flour to an order… if they’d not adapted…I wouldn’t have the carrot appreciation above.  My community is adapting and now I’ve had a busy week of zoom development opportunities and interaction. 

Courage – I’ve offered to shop for many elderly people to assist their isolation but i’ve noticed they’re still insisting on going about their daily business… maybe they have an appreciation of what it means to be coming to the end of their lives and want to just enjoy the walks and the shopping (with gloves and masks on)… I don’t wish to be judgmental and just want to be with their courage… it’s inspiring as they seem to all be coming to life.. More than I have ever seen before…. Maybe their armour has been pierced… they are vulnerable… they are being courageous and carrying on as they wish. 

Pressing pause – things have slowed down and I really like it… I am not rushing from one task to the next…. Slowing down – I am loving this pace of life…… I’ve peeled garlic and never have the patience usually and even soaked and made my own hummus… this is healing with calm and I am attempting to practice calm and give myself permission to not be sure or to think more or to ask for more information. I am wondering how many years of DOING rather than FEELING you have endured since arriving at this nature’s pause. What’s on your COVID to do list? Try to find time to be. 

My COVID wardrobe – it’s so nice wearing joggers every day and having an easy COVID apparel range… joggers, fleece, t-shirts… I might put a shirt on but don’t really feel like ironing…. Pondering the consequences of our actions

Gratitude – I have a profound sense of gratitude for having the faith and courage to follow my inner light and passions this past decade which I guess makes me so comfortable with the situation. I’ve traveled, discovered places to be and my own being. 

That’s it for now… If I manage to make it to another instalment, I plan on writing about my post COVID life…….. And how this period of time in my life will impact that. This story is about patterns and breaking them up with this pause and taking some time to recognise them… feel and be vulnerable…. And head back to a state of calm… find that calm and bring in some appreciation. Normal might have been what brought the global community to this random bizarre place … I don’t want life to get back to normal… I would like there to be a new normal… right now I don’t know what that new normal will be which is unnerving…. But it’s an important step on the path of acceptance. 

Love, strength, courage and conscious decision making to you all. Un abrazo x x 

Lockdown in a Refugee Camp

Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi

The news of the moment is a disaster that’s putting our mind into the world of wonder and despair. Questions pending in the minds of Dzaleka residents are: What is the future of Dzaleka Refugee Camp –the home to 45,000 people who survive on donations and aid from the world? What would happen if COVID-19 bang the camp today? Won’t it be a story told to the future generations that there used to be a refugee in Malawi that got smashed up by COVID-19? Great is our fear, panic is so enormous, and the world of information is eating up our happiness.   

The lockdown in Malawi started at a time when I was preparing to participate in a retreat organized by the SNHU’s Global Education Movement. Two days before leaving Malawi, I received a call from the Degree Program’s Coordinator that the trip has been postponed due the current situation of COVID-19. I was so shocked, and that is the time I started questioning the virus that is spreading faster than the wildfire.    

People in Dzaleka already live in an everyday lockdown; adding the second is so dreadful. No one can deny it, we all have to say home and be safe. I am an active member of my church; unfortunately, it is closed and I cannot go there to implore the mercies of my God. On the other side, my school is closed and cannot teach and see my beloved students. They miss me and I miss them. COVID-19 has truly evaporated our peace, joy, and hope from our hearts.  

However, when closely looking at the present moment situation, there is also a good side to it. For example, I have personally decided to shift my focus from this negative perspective of the current situation to a more advantageous one. My lockdown is now a moment of deep reflection and a time to help others overcome the fear that’s consuming their bones. I have realized that the only way to reach growth in this matter of COVID-19 is to stay away from all communications from social media. This gives more time to focus on the family and free the mind from social media feeds. This calamitous virus was not there before. It will pass, and people in the world will just be fine. 

Sara’s lockdown experience

Birmingham, England

For the last 2 weeks, I have not left my house due to the coronavirus. It has been good and bad in many ways.

During the coronavirus I have done the same thing in my spare time, playing with toys and watching TV. The weather this spring has been very warm and sunny so I have also been playing on my swing in the garden. Playing in the garden is fun but I didn’t like it when I got chased by a really big bumble bee! I am looking forward to planting some strawberries with my parents.

My life has changed. My daily routine has changed as I don’t have to wake up really early or go to bed early. My clubs are different because they are online and my school is different because my parents print out work booklets for me. Now I have to wash my hands more regularly and be a bit more careful with touching things outside. The last time I was at school on Wednesday was very different compared to the other days because of the coronavirus. We had to repeatedly wash our hands in the day and had new spaces to sit so we were not sitting right next to each other. Also fewer children were attending school. 

In school I have breaks in between my learning time where we can play with our friends but unfortunately, at home I have no brothers or sisters to play with. I really miss my friends because they would usually keep me company and play with me. Being left alone to occupy yourself can be very boring sometimes, especially when you can’t even go out and play. However, I sometimes talk to my family to keep me company. I now spend more time with my family. We do things as a family and we spend time together because we are all at home together.

I hope the vaccine will be made soon so that I can live the way I used to. When this is hopefully over, I am looking forward to going to Scotland to see my family. We couldn’t go this Easter because of the coronavirus. I am also looking forward to being able to go out again and see my friends.

By Sara, age 9

Palm Sunday 2020

Sunday 5th April 2020, Mauritius – Lockdown Day #17

It’s a beautiful morning with the sun shining brightly through my window and a gentle breeze moving the curtains. A perfect day to go to the beach. If only…..

Today is the 17th day of lockdown. Only the 17th day. My memories of pre-lockdown life are hazy. It feels like an eternity ago when I was rushing through four lunchboxes in the morning.

Since lockdown began, I wear multiple hats in a single day: homeschooler, cook, cleaner, lecturer, arbitrator… to name a few. It has been incredibly challenging to take on all these roles. Had the hubby not shouldered so many other responsibilities that come with looking after children and after a household, I would probably have been running around the house like a headless chicken!

Today is Palm Sunday, a very special day for our Christian friends who start the Holy Week leading to Easter. All churches are closed around the island. So are the temples. So are the mosques. So are the pagodas. We have been told to pray at home. We have been told to turn to God for solace.

“Mauritius now has 227 cases of Covid-19, including 7 deaths”, says the radio presenter. Yesterday, a 20-year old died. She had no underlying health conditions and it is not clear how she caught the virus. Her whole family is in quarantine. A young cousin of hers had to complete the paperwork for her funeral. It breaks my heart to think that she died alone. Her parents could not see her one last time. This is tragic.  

As I sit and look at the birds through the window, I wonder what life will be like when we get out of this crisis – our Prime Minister loves to use the term “crisis”; he uses it several times in every single press conference. Actually, will we get out of this? And if we do, won’t we have to relearn to live “normally”? Or will “normal” life be different? Will social distancing and often washing our hands for 30 seconds become part of our DNA? Only time will tell.

“Ma, I’m hungry. What is there to eat?” asks my six-year old. I snap out of my reflection and come back to reality. Thank God for the special people, the little things and the responsibilities – however daunting they are at times – that keep me grounded and going through this time of “crisis”.

Adjustments and Silver Linings

Biggin Hill, England

Ever since schools shut, life has been completely different.  The first two weeks were incredibly stressful. Trying to comprehend what was happening to us, and restrictions on our lives building by what seemed like every 24 hours.  Luckily, we still have some freedom. Up to an hour exercise each day. We doubt, however, this will last past Easter if the weather is good and lots of people decide to flout the rules. 

I feel much calmer than a couple of weeks ago, but stress remains in the background. The kids are also playing up. I imagine it’s a combination of them missing brand new friendships and, despite best efforts, our stress seeping through to them.  We weren’t able to justify keeping them in school, as places were reserved for key workers. So we take it in turns to home-school. We are the lucky ones.  We can lay low and have the best chance to shelter from this disease.  My heart goes out to those putting their lives on the line – caring for the ill and working to keep the country going.  Many have young kids and elderly parents. I have signed up to volunteer locally, it’s the least I can do.

Despite the desperation of the situation, I’ve learned that positivity is the only way forward.  If I think about it, this has actually been a wonderful opportunity.   Spending most of my week with my daughters who at are a lovely age (three and four years old). But it’s not easy.  Anyone with small children will know it can be incredibly frustrating to say the least, with arguments and tantrums a way of life. We’ve taken to setting daily themes such as boats or minibeasts, dinosaurs or princesses.  We’re also really lucky to have quite a large garden, so games and fun outside- including gardening, are a daily occurrence.   I’ve also started baking – but flour and yeast seem to be flying off the shelves as fast as loo roll at the moment.

How do I think life is changed? It’s the unknown. Nobody knows where it’s going to take us.   We are told millions of people will die around the world – with most people affected – either losing their lives or loved ones. Financially the world is on life-support. We are worried for our loved ones; our kids; our friends, and we don’t know how long it will go on for. 

Covid-19 has actually gifted us a few silver linings. And I’m focussed on trying to find them.  Hardly any traffic means the air is fresher and birdsong so audible. The opposite of Brexit, the disease is has brought us closer. Love, friendship, generosity, support – these are the things we are now talking about – rather than the spitefulness and anger Brexit heralded. We are united in our isolation.  

Sending love and hope from Biggin Hill, Kent.

Corona Corona (a child’s view)

Nairobi, Kenya

It was 20 minutes to lunch, and I was sitting in my Kiswahili class waiting for time to pass. Ms P was writing the assignment on the board when the Head Teacher walked in. “I have a very important announcement and will require all students to gather in the assembly hall”, she said. For a moment, I felt a sigh of relief that I was clear of being asked any questions and possibly homework too! We got up from our seats and walked in a single file line to the assembly hall. Once the room had settled, the Head Teacher began to speak. “Today we will talk about the Coronavirus,” she said. “Coronavirus?!”  My friend and I looked at each other and giggled at the name. It was quite strange and sounded like a bug’s name. As the Head Teacher began to explain I didn’t quite understand all the details. The only thing I clearly understood was that I needed to wash my hands, A LOT. 

In the coming days, our school was closed and we were told to stay at home. “School’s cancelled!!” This was the best thing that could happen to me! I was so excited! However, little did I know that my mom had other plans. It was 9:30 am on a Monday and while I was making plans to eat pancakes and watch Jonny Test all day, my mom said: “it’s time for homework please come to the table”. “Homework” I thought! This was the worst. At first, I struggled with the idea of doing homework during the holidays but came to accept that it was a non-negotiable in my house. Although my mom did try to make things fun by using videos and other household items to keep me focused. My mom’s great! You could see how serious she was about my learning. The best part of all of this was making You Tube videos with my dad! He was home too and we did lots of experiments together. I seriously think I could be a scientist at this point! No need to go back to Grade 2. 

After two weeks of being stuck at home, I really started to miss my friends. It just wasn’t the same without them. I asked my Mom if we could please go and see them, but she said that it wasn’t safe to do so.  I still didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Life was boring and that was my biggest issue. In between my homeschooling, I had lots of opportunities to catch up on Netflix, dress up like superheroes and practice my singing skills. I really like to sing! My favorite is I Just Wanna Run from Flash. Everyone tells me I sing like an angel. Although I’m not sure how angels really sound?! 

In these three weeks, I have started to understand that coronavirus is not a joke. It’s a real emergency. This realization also came from the fact that I got into trouble several times for wasting the hand sanitizer. I thought to protect myself I should wear it all over like a cream! But my mom didn’t seem to think so.  I still remember her face when she found out what I was up to! 

So guys, this is it. This is my story over the last few weeks. I hope things get better soon and I can go back to seeing my friends, teachers and family. I say a prayer every night with my parents but have also asked all the superheroes to help. I secretly think Batman and Superman are already working hard on this (and maybe the Ninja Turtles as well).  

Well, that’s all from me! 

Check out my chemistry video to see what I’ve been up to! Remember to keep washing your hands to avoid Corona Corona (as I like to call it)! 

Holding out an olive jar

Buckinghamshire, England

I live in a small block of flats, over a couple of floors, and get on very well with two of my neighbours in particular. Each of us live alone, so it’s nice to have kind and reliable people so close by. In normal times we’ll quite often go for an evening walk together, or have a film night in one of our flats and send each other little gifts for Christmas and birthdays or help out if someone needs it. We have a WhatsApp group between the three of us and lately we’ve been using it more to communicate, despite only being a few metres away from each other in the safety of our own walls. I ‘overheard’ a conversation between the two of them on this group the other day and it made me smile because even though we need to remain physically distant, we don’t have to be entirely distant. We’re not truly alone.

A: Worst thing about this lockdown so far, I can’t open this jar of olives. I’ve nearly broken my wrist trying to do it

B: Have you put an elastic band around it?

A: I don’t have one

B: Leave it outside your door and I’ll come up and open it for you. If I can

A: Thank you!!! I love you

B: No worries. Coming up now.

<a few minutes pass…>

A: Thank youuu

B: Anytime. Glad I could be of help. It was a tough one for sure!

A: I am never moving as there are no better neighbours than you two

B: Haha, why is that?

A: Because one of you bought me the jar of olives and the other one opened it for me 😊

Top ten tips to work from home and survive children

Beirut, Lebanon

As I wake up to my alarm clock ringing on my phone on a sunny morning in Beirut, I remember that it’s week five of school closure and week two of lockdown in Lebanon, which includes a 7pm to 5am curfew. I hit the snooze button. With no travel time to work I can afford a few more minutes of sleep. After snoozing for the third time, my 9-month-old starts to make his presence known to remind me that its time to wake up and have milk and as soon as I head towards the kitchen, my toddler yells “mummy…where are you mummy” from the other room. 

I sigh and realise that it’s another day of working from home in lockdown. I reminisce about a time before coronavirus when I used to jump up, get dressed, kiss my husband goodbye, drop my toddler at nursery, grab a flat white from Backburner (my Beirut coffee fix) and head off to the office. Back then, my main preoccupations were things like the traffic and where I was going to order my lunch from that day.

I take solace in the fact that I am not alone. Latest stats from UNESCO[1] state that around 1.5 billion learners have been affected by school closures, meaning hundreds of millions of parents around the world are having to deal with some sort of home-schooling and quarantine, as well as contending with that other thing: our jobs. Many parents now have to juggle working from home with some sort of e-learning, entertainment, child-friendly activity and constant cooking. This is accompanied with daily pangs of guilt as to how this situation and lack of attention is going to impair your children’s long-term mental health and future educational attainment, and the constant threat and worry about coronavirus itself.

However hard it may be, here are my top tips for trying to make your lockdown with kids and working from home as smooth as possible:

  1. Always have a shower, get dressed and be ready to sit down and start to resemble a normal human being by 8.45am so that you have time to check some emails, have a coffee before you start your working day.
  2. Clothes – its ok to wear sweat pants but try to mix it up with a clean top, maybe even a piece of jewellery or even try to wear an ironed top one day….that will at least make you feel half decent and stop you sliding down that slippery slope to slobdom.
  3. Video calls – beware that there is always one (annoying) colleague/person that you will have to remotely meet with that will insist that you use video. This calls for an emergency stalling to make sure you look half decent before you meet online.
  4. Snacks – avoid eating snacks throughout the day, and keep them healthy. Try and stick to a piece of fruit or unsalted nuts and seeds. Working from home, especially when you have kids, can be a slippery slope. Unlike adults over 30, kids are growing and have incredible metabolism. It’s also ok to give them a bit of chocolate so that you can get on with that conference call… 
  5. Exercise (a good segue from snacks). One of the positive points about this crisis is the generosity of fitness experts/yoga practitioners/gyms etc in providing free, online and live classes. Instagram is a gem for finding these. I usually set aside an hour every day (9.00pm to 10.00pm) when my children have gone to bed for exercise or yoga. 
  6. Having good internet is going to make your working life and family life much better. Make sure you also set your working area somewhere where there is good range and its not going to cut off. You also may need to boost your internet if you have multiple users (children, partner and yourself) online at the same moment. More importantly when relaxing in the evening, you really don’t want to keep pausing during your Netflix fix or while making your TikTok videos.
  7. Lean on your nanny/helper if this is an option (ok this is where I hold my hand up and admit that one of the perks of living and working abroad means that I have a nanny who looks after the baby and does housework while I go out to work). If you don’t have a nanny or a cleaner, then think about getting one of those robot hoover things to help you with the cleaning at least. 
  8. Television – this is one for all the worried mothers in Beirut who I have had countless discussions with on the danger of TV. It’s really ok to let them watch TV now and then – especially if it means they stop jumping up and down on the sofa and screaming “mummy I don’t want to wear clothes anymore”. Thank god for TV. Peppa pig seems to be a favourite for my toddler and I’m a big fan now too. Embrace the TV and if someone judges you – block them from WhatsApp as you don’t need that negativity right now.
  9. Connecting with others – now is the time to be reaching out virtually to that old-friend-that-moved-to-Alexandria as well as families, grandparents, close friends and colleagues. Everyone is at home and there is no excuse to not be able to schedule a quick call, video or House Party chat. Its also a great way for children to keep in touch with self-isolating grandparents and we make it a daily ritual now in our home just before dinner time.
  10. Lastly, remember there are days when you are going to lose it with your children and/or your partner/husband/wife. At the first instance try not to yell every swear word under the sun when this happens….try to get away even just for 10 minutes alone to get it together. If you can and the country where you are quarantined permits it, go for a quick walk outside (avoiding contact with others), get a fresh breath of air and then come back and give those little monsters a big hug. After all, they are super cute and (hopefully) soon we will miss the days when we used to be lockdown with them at home.

[1] https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

42 Days Later

Pisa, Italy

Six weekends ago, we were celebrating a birthday. The highlight was a trip up the coast to Viareggio for carnevale. We wondered a bit about crowds and flu and whether we were being foolish:

The seafront, with its gorgeous Liberty style buildings, was crammed with life. Kids dressed as Elsa and Superman, thrilled that no one was rationing supplies of ice cream and traditional pieces of sweet fried dough. Teenagers hunting in packs or eating face in corners. Whole families strolling at their elderly relatives’ pace, basking in the sun. And the floats. Amazing feats of human creativity, many as high as the surrounding apartment buildings and hotels, where yet more people stood on balconies, packed in tight to watch the spectacle.

Three weekends ago, we were supposed to be at the football, watching Pisa trounce their arch-rivals Livorno. Think Arsenal versus Spurs, but with the rivalry stretching back to the 15th century when the Medici decided to build themselves a fancy new port, crashing the already ailing Pisan economy.

It had seemed like a bonus when my work trip to Beirut got cancelled because Lebanon shut its borders to Italians. There had been some suggestion that I get round this by flying to Cyprus first, which I nixed. But we ended up watching the game on a dodgy livestream after Serie B took the last minute decision to play behind closed doors. At least Pisa won (a lovely goal from Lisi in the 63rd minute, Livorno merda). We could hear the roars of delight echoing around the square outside.

Two days later, Italy closed down. Overnight, we and 60 million other people lost our freedom of movement and association. I started to get concerned messages from friends and family in the UK and other places around the world. Suddenly Italy, with its creaking economy, elderly population, and fast climbing infection rates, was on everyone’s mind.

I dialled into a meeting in London the day after our lockdown started. And that’s when I began to feel as if I was shouting and waving my arms from behind a thick pane of soundproofed, tinted glass. I’m on the board of a Multi Academy Trust that runs schools for children with a range of learning disabilities. Somehow, the meeting agenda looked like a normal agenda. People asked me if things were OK in Italy and cracked a few jokes. We didn’t talk about COVID-19 until we reached any other business. I cried afterwards out of frustration that we’d spent more time on GDPR than on what I was beginning to suspect might turn out to be a real-life disaster movie.

The next few days were a struggle. At home in Pisa, we were adjusting to a new way of living. Taking it in turns to go out for essentials. Painstakingly translating the government decrees that narrowed our lives further every day. Accepting that our plans to ride this out on our bikes in the spring countryside had been just a fantasy. Life was strange, but OK. For the first time in a decade, we were together. We had food. The sun was shining.

What was not OK was dealing with anyone else. I begged my 77-year old mother to stock up on food and then stay inside. She told me that she didn’t need to because the bistro in her block of flats for seniors would always stay open. A former colleague and dear friend in Pakistan kept telling me he was praying I’d be spared, even as I was panicking about his elderly mother, recently released from hospital. I had near daily WhatsApp conversations with my niece in Australia, in which she would worry about disruption to her planned diving trip, and I’d be trying to edge her towards getting on a flight home.

Work was surreal too. I would sit at my desk and start writing about how country X should plan to achieve the sustainable development goal on education by 2030. Or I’d get on the phone to someone I was coaching in country Y and talk to them about strategies for getting the health department to use their time more productively. Or I’d have a conversation about new development financing planned for country Z and how to structure it. And all the time, I’d be wondering how it was that no one else seemed to have noticed that none of this seemed to matter much anymore.

Sometimes the irritation in people’s voices or messages would be palpable after I’d banged on yet again about how important it was to be prepared and cautious. As the days slid by, I began to realise that however hard I tried, I couldn’t warn others about what’s coming before they were ready to hear it. And I came to understand that absolutely no-one wanted to hear me point out there was nothing special about what was happening in Italy.

Yesterday was the first time a friend called me from the UK to let me know another friend has been admitted to hospital and is on a ventilator. One of my sisters who’s now home-schooling her kids is trying to juggle three primary year groups in a weird version of a problem I am normally paid to worry about in other countries. The wonderful CEO of our Trust has worked tirelessly to make sure all our children are at home with as much support – from food to therapy – as she can put in place. People are listening now. The trouble is, I don’t think I have the next page of the script to share with them yet.

Tomorrow will mark the start of Week 4 of the Italian lockdown. It’s now second nature to carry my ID card plus a form explaining where I am going, in case I’m one of the 200,000 people the Italian police stop today. I disinfect the door handles and bannisters in our apartment building every morning and am happy my elderly neighbours are still healthy and yelling at one another from their windows. If I do go out to the baker or the fishmonger, I get a few minutes to practise my Italian again. At home, my vegetable seedlings are doing well, we’re working hard, and I am still eating delicious food three times a day. My world has got a lot smaller, if no less beautiful. I’d give almost anything to jump on my bike and go and celebrate in a big crowd in Viareggio again though.

To my daughter, when you are older

This dad wrote a letter for his young daughter to read when she’s older.

Dearest daughter 

I’m writing to tell you about a very strange development in the world. This has happened very suddenly and you may well remember some of these details in the future.

Earlier this year, a strange virus started making some people in China ill. It started in a place called Wuhan. There are lots of unknown things about this virus. Scientists soon realised that it was actually a completely new illness, a new virus from a family of viruses known as “coronavirus”. This particular virus was called Covid-19, a scientific name for this type of coronavirus.

Initially, due to its close relationship to things like colds and flus, no-one treated it very seriously. In fact, many people said there was nothing to worry about at all, especially as China was very far away – and besides, most people were recovering fine after getting ill. However, people soon started to realise that the virus was able to spread across the world very quickly, and jump from person to person just from going near someone or touching the same surfaces etc. Within a few weeks it appeared everywhere in the world, and the numbers of cases quickly reached hundreds of thousands.

Unfortunately, while the virus was harmless to most people, a small number of people who got it became really ill. Some of those people sadly started to die. Because the virus was so easy to catch, slowly the government started to get involved and tell people to stay at home and stay away from each other.

Right now, to keep safe from the virus, everyone is staying in their houses. Your school is closed and you are at home with Mama and I. We are not allowed to go out unless we need essential items from the shop, and even then we have to wear masks and keep away from others. It’s a very strange experience indeed.

This is a frightening time for many people, but we are holding onto the belief that good things can come out of every difficult situation. We are trying not to worry or stress over something that we cannot control. We hope this danger will pass, and a cure for the virus will be found soon. Then people will not have to keep hidden away any longer.

The best thing about all this has been the opportunity to spend time with you. You’ve been really happy because you don’t have school and you love to play at home all day. Unfortunately this does sometimes mean that you get bored, because on weekdays Mama and I still have to work from home on our computers. However, we’ve also been eating and playing and praying together, and you’ve been doing artwork and sketching in the garden, and we sometimes watch programmes and films together on TV. Before the shutdown we bought  lots of outdoor playing equipment like frisbees and a basketball hoop and a rugby ball thing with a tail that flies through the air, so that we could play in our garden together. It’s been like a little holiday so far, and we are fortunate to have a lovely home and family to enjoy.

I pray that by the time you see this letter there is no such danger in the world, and that all our loved ones are healthy and safe. You really are the light of our lives and make everything beautiful and easy for us. You bring us so much joy and happiness that all the darkness in the world is chased away. We often sit downstairs when you’re asleep and discuss how you deserve to have so much more, but we can’t always give you everything. However, you do have ALL of our love.

Lots and lots of love and hugs,

Your Daddy 

Running Free

London, England

Running during lockdown lets you see a whole new side to the city. One of the challenges with running in London is the busy streets – the dodging of pedestrians, stopping at crossings and the constant stop-start of the central blocks. Take away the people though, and it’s amazing – street after street, mile after mile of empty pavements, quiet parks and the city is yours to explore. Not having to constantly scan for people means you can look up, and admire the real mix of buildings London has to offer – from the mix of old and new as you traverse the outer zones, to the grand buildings of Regents Street, St James’ and the Mall. 

One thing that I love about running is the way it clears your mind – once you’ve done it for a while, your fitness is decent, and you learn to control your pace and effort so you can run for a distance, then your mind clears up and the fresh air takes over. During COVID, I’ve started running a lot without headphones, to get a clear mind and get away from the numbers, the exponential curves, and the worry. With no races to train for, I only loosely pay attention to the pace, and the distances, and just try and enjoy the freedom – to be outside, to stay healthy and to have a sense of normality. It also helps to be in control when the world is uncertain – you can control your route, your pace and your effort; this sense brings a relief from the constant worry about germs, and carriers, and friends and family.

Today was quite special though, as it was probably (hopefully) the only time I’ll ever get to run through empty streets in one of the world’s great cities – even in the early hours London still keeps moving, but today it was empty. From Marble Arch to Oxford Circus, to Piccadilly Circus, to Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square, I must have counted ten, maybe twenty people. London really is locked down, trying to stop the spread of the virus. Even last weekend feels like years ago, never mind two weekends before when everyone was still going on as normal, tubes were still full, and people had barely registered the threat. I guess every cloud has a silver lining – times might be surreal (it started snowing at one point) but it’s also an experience to remember. And another half marathon under my belt. 

Global narratives springing from a pandemic

London, England

A few days into social distancing, I started thinking about how to capture my experience of locking down during COVID-19.

I realised that living around the world has helped to prepare me. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in lockdown; I’ve managed before with a limited range of items in the shops; and while I’ve resolved to make sure I have a garden the next time there’s a pandemic, I’ve otherwise adapted with very little mental resistance.

We keep hearing that this is an unprecedented moment in history. So I thought one way to make us feel part of a global experience would be to capture different accounts of how this is touching lives around the world.

I’m really excited, and hope The Lockdown Lens attracts a breadth of voices and perspectives. I hope it can be a space to share unfiltered accounts from everyday life, comedy moments, hacks, recipes, emotions to more reflective pieces, commentaries, epiphanies. And when this is all over we will have something tangible to remember how it collectively shaped where we go next.