14 June, Berlin, Germany

By Juliane Schumacher

Today, we spent the day at the lake, for the first time this year. It was a warm and humid day, the water still cold, the place not very crowded. There had been warnings of a thunderstorm in the afternoon, but it never arrived. We swam to the two small islands in the middle of the lake, where the kids could swing into the water from a rope somebody had knotted to the branch of an old tree. This day felt almost normal, like any other summer weekend day.

There have been many first times over the last weeks. Protests have spread over the killing of George Floyd, and for the first time in months the front story of my newspaper is not about the virus. For the first time since the lockdown I have been at the hairdresser’s. I have used public transport to go to work, feeling strange at first with the mask that is required now, with people trying to sit and stand as far away from each other as possible.

And for the first time I have been sitting in a café again, something I have missed much more than expected during lockdown. It was in Potsdam, a beautiful small city beside Berlin, famous for its castles, on the first day cafés were allowed to open. Shop and café owners had, cleaned everything, and put their tables outside, and were waiting anxiously for customers to come. But they did not. At mid-day, the city center still looked deserted, a lonely couple sitting drinking  among lines of empty chairs. Only the police was passing through the streets, checking if all the places met the requirements of social distancing.  Were people still reluctant to go out because they feared infection? Or do they have to get used to being among people again, to leave their house simply to have a coffee in the sun?

The divisions and tensions that have emerged over the last weeks are softening with the easing of lockdown measures, divisions that have split parent councils, working groups, families. Between those who fought for an even stricter lockdown and a continuation of measures until the virus might have (nearly) disappeared, and those who argued that the costs of the lockdown were too high to continue, who wanted the measures to be lifted as fast as possible. Between those who still stay at home as much as they can, and those who have returned, as far as possible, to their normal life. In our family Whatsapp group my sister had a heated discussion with my brother after she announed she would join a small demonstration in front of the city council, mothers with small children demanding the re-opening of  schools and childcare facilities with social distancing. My brother accused her of following conspiracy theories, of siding with the demonstrations against the lockdown that have emerged all over the country and that, according to media reports, are dominated by right-wing movements. They did not talk to each other for weeks.

Bars have reopened in Berlin, but it seems people do not feel like drinking and going out. The shops complain that people do not spend their money, afraid of losing their jobs, of what will happen over the next months. In the streets around my place, the first signs have appeared on windows: To rent. The cosmetician where I used to go from time to time told me she will close at the end of the month. My gymnastic teacher too wrote to me that she had to close her studio, she had not been eligable for the state‘s emergency funds. I am missing the classes I had attended for almost 15 years. The dance studio where my daughter is taking classes is also in danger, trying to survive with the help of a support campaign. I wonder what the city will look like in the next year. How many of the small shops, cafés, places into which people have put their efforts  and dreams, will still be there — places that, for me, were one of the reasons I loved to live in Berlin?

So I share the mood of the city. I had been looking forward to return to our routine. I am happy to see more people at work again, happy that our working group will finally be able to meet again in the garden. That my kids can go back to their sports classes, even if they just take place outside, in the park. Everything is taking place outside now. In the parks I see people doing yoga classes, practising Kung-fu, taking dancing lessons. If schools will reopen after the summer break in August as planned, my life will be almost back to normal. And still, it doesn’t feel like before. The past months have left me with a certain anxiety, a feeling of insecurity that I am not able to chase away.  Some evenings, I still check the numbers of infections, afraid they might rise again.

Today the borders have re-opened, at least between most of the European wtates. On the radio, the first travelers tell their stories, how it feels to be in the airport now, almost alone. But people will not travel: most Germans have announced they will spend their summer vacation in the country. The coasts will be crowded this year. I had been thinking about taking the kids to Italy, now that it is possible again, but when I check I realised that so far there are no trains. And there are still a lot of restrictions, if you come back through Austria, you are not allowed to make a stop. We will, it seems, spend this summer in my parents’ garden instead.

12 June, London, UK

By Ian Burns

I had a longish walk today from Limehouse Basin, along the canal and into Highbury, Hackney and Homerton, before returning to Limehouse via the Lea Valley and Bow Docks. Despite half of my family being east Londoners much of this was new territory to me. Whilst I walked and took a couple of pictures, I thought about feelings, both physical and emotional.

Uppermost in my mind was ‘fatigue’. I walked about 20km which is far from unusual for me in this lockdown phase, and far from taxing, but I noticed that I was quite tired as I approached my home. But it is mental fatigue and lockdown fatigue that I found myself considering.

For good reasons our news coverage is now highlighting issues around Black Lives Matter protests, a number of sensitivities around the lives of trans men and women, and the return of Premier League football. The issue of the merits and demerits of many public statues and monuments is getting more attention than the daily virus-attributed deaths, even though they are still in treble figures.

It suits the government, but is it partly to do with fatigue? Are we all a little tired of talking about ‘essential worker heroism’? Are we tired of staying alert and ‘saving lives’? Are we tired of believing that anyone is ‘following the science’? We certainly seem tired of holding our government to account. There is little evidence that the virus is being contained, but we get boosterish headlines about reducing the 2 metre distancing rules and reopening parts of the hospitality industry.

I wonder if we are all just a little too tired to think in the ways we thought just three months ago. Essential workers just seem to be low paid workers, once more. Antagonisms about race and about ‘free speech’, and old debates over so called ‘political correctness’ are regaining oxygen. Three months ago, we were talking about ‘Be Kind’ social media messaging and about being grateful to front line worker heroes.

I sense a pervasive feeling of weariness. I hope that is wrong. We know that we have much more to do as a society to contain the virus and to rebuild a shattered economy.

That will need strong leadership and a community spirit and a willingness to come together. It requires energy, invigoration and fresh thinking. I hope that protesters protest, that opposition parties hold the government to account, that citizens remember the bravery of front line workers, including the police, and that we all behave wisely so that the NHS does not get overwhelmed by any prospective ‘second spike’. I hope, but I am skeptical. Or just fatigued. 

11 June, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA

By Anonymous

For the first time since March, we ventured out of our house to visit someone.  We took a five hour drive from our house in Baltimore to my sister’s house in Virginia Beach. Along the way we found hidden outdoor spaces to go “mountain-girl” pee.  We ate tuna salad sandwiches in the car.   When we arrived, we let down our entire guard for three straight days.  We let my daughter and her cousins go hog wild with hugs and kisses. We got take out from the Kolache Factory and Southern Fried Chicken from BoBo’s. It was restorative. The part that was most fantastic was that I felt the burdensome blessing of entertaining my seven year old daughter lift. I could finally relax and just enjoy the company of other adults – my sister, husband and brother-in-law.

It was also fascinating to see up close, how the pandemic has affected someone else, someone I have known so long and so deeply.  My sister used to make plans, back to back, to the point that her kids would take naps on random picnic tables. She did everything she could to simplify motherhood, to the point that it sometimes made me feel icky inside to watch.  This has all changed.  She has embraced her role as a mom and wife with a new vengeance.  I learned that since the pandemic, she has taught both of her kids how to ride bikes.  She makes them dinner every night. This is a person that I have known her entire life, and I have never ever seen her make her own bed. Now her bed was made every morning and I could see the floor in her room, which I hadn’t seen since she moved in 11 years ago, because she now puts her clothing in drawers or in the closet.

The pandemic is traumatic and yet has changed us.  I know my story of how it has changed me.  I am more appreciative of things and have used the extra time to garden and find new spiritual awareness that I was craving. I have spent every second with my daughter, sleeping next to her, at the office, and at the house. But to take a step back and see inside someone else’s window, is to also see inside of their soul.  To watch someone else grow and to be witness to that was such a gift, especially someone I love so dearly.

10 June, Katima Mulilo, Namibia

By Mimi Mwiya

Today I got the call letting me know my new passport was ready. My old one is full – well, on its last page, which is apparently as good as full. So even before lockdown measures, I was unable to travel, which was hard for me, because I love to travel. Of course it doesn’t really mean much that I have the new passport now seeing as I can’t go outside the country anyway, but after being without one for six months, I’m really excited to have a passport again. I am excited and relieved to know that when things are back to some kind of normal, I can travel when I want to. Until then, I’m going to try and see as much of Namibia as I can, it’s a beautiful country and one of the silver linings I’m picking from the pandemic is the chance to see more of it. Most of the lodges, either by the riverside or in places vast with wildlife, are running specials so this is a good time to travel the country cheaply.

9 June, Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Sunila Galappatti

Sri Lanka announced today the dates for reopening schools, staggered through July.  The Elections Commission will announce a date for the General Election this week.  The airport is set to receive incoming flights from 1 August.  The red line for new cases (all from quarantine centres, we’re told) and the green line for recoveries keep crossing on the graph, neck and neck in the race.  In theory, we’re unlocked.

My husband and I keep having the same conversation in circles – shall we decide it’s ok to see a few friends? We make the same arguments in favour – it does genuinely seem like there is no spread in the community now, we may as well get out a bit before the airport re-opens in August and there could be another lockdown, we’ll keep the circle small for what it’s worth. And yet instead of making a decision, we just have the conversation again. Without discussing it expressly, we don’t take our son to the supermarket.

The truth is we neither know what we’re waiting for – what is different today than it was last week – nor what it is we really want to do.  The place we really wanted to go we managed to go once – what do we do next? I don’t think it is really the fear of adding to transmission or becoming infected ourselves, it is the knowledge that this isn’t over, either the pandemic or its many lethal side-effects.  While we feel suspended it is hard to make plans or have ideas. Little things occur to me.  This morning I said I’d like to get some pyjamas made for our son, and then immediately thought — well later, of course.

All week we have been buoyed by the courage and tenacity of the Black Lives Matter protests, it feels the world has begun turning again.  It has brought life to us even as we contemplate the death of protest and opposition immediately around us.  We talk about politics in snatches, the politics of different places in turn and the politics of the world at large — we always talked but we agree we talk to each other even more now. Knowing it is the height of privilege to do so, a sign that the pandemic did not really touch our life (not yet), we are disappointed how normal ‘normal’ looks, disappointed about the things that haven’t been forced to change.  Occasionally, I force myself to look again and register the masks that hide half of everyone’s faces.

When I feel bored by the monotonous domesticity of our days – while more often I feel contented and lucky – I wonder if for the first time in my life I am craving art according to its first principles.  Over the last few months I have felt unprompted rushes of gratitude that I spent the first part of my adult life in the sprawling, teeming, city of London – in my mind a sort of ultimate antithesis to social distancing.  Curiously, I keep revisiting one night in a tiny dangerously crowded bar on Hanway Street dancing to fabulously eclectic music.  To those who know the place, we had been at Bradleys till closing, and then stumbled into the Troy bar because it was there.  I may even have been over 30.

Twice in my life I have looked ‘back’ on my past – the first was when I met my husband and felt a shift in the techtonic plates: very suddenly everything that had come before became my ‘past’.  This is the second time.  I feel relieved that to a fault I’ve always spent what time and money I had to spare on other people, the arts, food and travel – or shall we say the performance of life itself.  And we have lived that way as a family too – we went on too many road trips, had too many parties.  The last we had was our customary leap year party on the 29th of February (each time it comes round).  It was a huge, crowded party, and we can’t believe now that we didn’t think of cancelling it. Sri Lanka had only seen one case of Covid-19 at the time.  A Chinese woman who was visiting then showed symptoms, but by the time of our party she had already recovered and gone home.  Two weeks later we had our first ‘local’ case, as it was called – a tour guide who had contracted the disease from a party of travellers from Italy; within days we locked down. 

This evening in the park we see children for the first time since the start of the lockdown – and so many of them at once.  This park is just minutes’ walk from our house and we have been many times as two lone adults and a small child in completely quieted park.  But tonight there are two small boys fishing in the pond, two small girls swinging on the exercise machines, others running.  Kavan asks if he can join them and ruefully we tell him, not yet, ‘because of the quarantine’.  Our child is not naturally obedient, I’m struck that he heeds us, something about the gravity of quarantine has struck a little deeper. 

We have the conversation again, we think we’ve made some decisions.

5 June, Ahmedabad, India

Today when I stepped outside, I saw a man looking for food in the trash can. Deprived of work and livelihoods, millions of Indian migrant workers have had to deal with the worst in this lockdown. Having lost their jobs in cities overnight, they have walked thousands of miles to reach home. With no money to sustain themselves, starvation is a bigger threat than the pandemic itself.
— Kanchan Balani

4 June, Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka

By Ruwanthi Wijesinghe

Out of all the negative effects of this lockdown era, for me insomnia has been the worst.  I thought it was just me, but now I find to my horror that my son has been affected even more. 

I wake up around 2:30 am, a reaction to the unbearable heat.  I’m greeted by a house ‘up in lights’.  Where has this child gone?   I look and there he is all snuggled up reading a book!

The mother in me yells (quietly, considering the time and the effect on my neighbours). “Go and sleep immediately!  You are a growing boy. You need to sleep.”  There, I burst his bubble and ruined the comfortable space he had created for himself.  Realisation dawned a bit too late.

I return to my slides, trying to find ways of holding my students’ in their new virtual environment.  If they get bored, all they need to do is press a button and they’re out of my class, and I wouldn’t even know it. So much has changed. I sit in my chair which seems to have grown into me, intent.

Has the world gone mad?  Isn’t that party music?

“EDM”, he says.

 He is stretched out on a mat in the middle of the bedroom. 

“Amma, I was just doing some sit-ups!” The time is 3.30am.  

 I try not to laugh.

“I did try Amma, I just can’t fall asleep these days.”

Was it I who said: “Would you like some Nestomalt?

His eyes light up (while probably wondering why he wasn’t getting a whole speech). “Yes please!”

What is wrong with me? 

So, I go down and get busy making Nestomalt for my 15 year-old son. From the looks of the kitchen, he’s already been here tonight. Suddenly, I begin to feel proud of him.  Two nights ago he was up painting Captain America’s shield.  He was being innovative.  Finding ways to cope, refusing to let all this break him.  I’m not sure how I would have coped at his age in a situation such as this.

Virtual classrooms with O-Level exams looming ahead and no Sinhala tuition, no more football, no face-to-face contact with his friends, people in masks reminding him of the horrors of science fiction movies, no hugging his grandparents, no walking into McDonalds to sit down and have his favourite ice-cream, no chatting with ‘next door aiya’.  To add to which ‘Amma’ confiscated his phone and now it’s only rationed time on ‘her’ phone. 

I hope all this ends soon and we can return to our ‘normal’ lives again.  But I’m not sure I want to return to things the way they were before the lockdown.  I wonder what’s going through his mind.  Then I think of all his friends, the students I teach, and wonder how they are coping. 

When I asked him: “How many people are up at this time of the night doing sit-ups?”

He said, “Plenty of people.”

3 June, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

By Mugdha Sinha

I remember having woken up with a mild headache, which went unattended as I generally avoid recourse to medicines. By mid-afternoon, however, I was compelled to pop a paracetamol in harmony with the Covid-19 protocol of medicines. But it didn’t prove effective against self inflicted cumulative stress brought on by an onslaught of webinars and gigantically enhanced screen time, an unavoidable attendant of the lockdown; more so, as after the third phase, our sarkari offices were open with reduced attendance – no public, only staff and pigeons allowed.

The headache accompanied me to the office, along with the PPE kit, as just another piece of paraphernalia.

Sitting at my office desk, all masked up with a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi on the back wall —compulsory in most government offices, with a tag line to reminds one that, ‘the best way to find yourself, is by losing yourself in the service of others’. I continued to juggle a slew of message, being in charge of responding to the needs of migrant labourers, stranded as they stood in cities due to the sudden announcement of the lockdown, far away from home, without proper food or adequate means. The headache was beginning to descend to my temples and I could feel the throbbing in nerves above my ear.

But I was too caught up in mulling over how the graphic audio visuals of the migrants’ lives were being served to us through an a la carte of social media platforms, with utter disregard for the privacy of their lives, because poverty is a much bigger curse than the pandemic can ever be. The virus only kills you once, while penury bleeds you dry, bit by bit, stripping away the last vestige of dignity, throwing us naked to a virus with voracious appetite. We live in a much divided world.

And yet virus has for once, engineered a great homecoming. My headache had by now become viral and I decided to leave for home, eat, pray, sleep, pretty much like Elizabeth Gilbert’s sojourn from Italy to Bali via the Osho Ashram in Pune. Attraversiamo – let’s cross over I said and was back to the safe confines of my home, almost as if by abracadabra. But I needed to bathe and wash my clothes, before I could eat.

The household chores have descended on us, as the scaffolds that hold up our households are snatched away by the requirements of social distancing. Behind every single, successful woman, is a maid who doubles up as Ma. I miss mine- both Ma, in Mumbai and Gattu Bai ji, a few apartments away, separated by a laxman rekha drawn up by an invisible virus.

An afternoon siesta together with the pill, dulled the headache. I decided to make my tea and have it too. Between sips I gaze at the sky through the window of my study, where, every day, I watch with great interest the setting sun, and at night the moon, stars and constellations through my telescope. This isolation is not new for me, having lived alone since I first moved from a small town to a college in Delhi, got a job, and continued to live on my own, ever since. The freedom of being alone has grown on me like pepper grows on a tree, sybaritic and symbiotic.

It’s was close to dinner time and I was still trying to distract myself from the headache, as it refused to recede. I ate noodles for dinner. Sleep evaded me, insomnia laid hold. My hands were itching to paint and I gravitate towards the Buddha quite by serendipity, it becomes a befitting ritualistic oblation, for the Buddha Poornima as I painted long into the night.

31 May, London, UK

By Ian Burns

I took myself for a long walk today and had another visit south of the river. The relaxation of many lockdown constraints and the contempt for government instruction since the Prime Minister’s special advisor decided he was sufficiently exceptional to make his own rules in lockdown, meant that all the parks and public spaces I visited were packed with sun worshipping picnickers, volleyball players, tennis matches, and group gatherings. I heard one young woman say to a friend as they walked into one park, “Are we social distancing? Is there any point?” I think there is still a point, but I understand the lack of compliance. We must be storing up trouble.

On the subject of trouble, many things came together in my head. My initial target was to reach Brixton, which is around 10km from my flat. There I intended to meet a friend, who has a flat just off Brixton Road, and to have her guide me around south-east London, which is not an area I know at all well. In fact, I have always felt threatened by it. In 1981, on my birthday, Brixton was ablaze and the rioting continued for some days. Railton Road was described like a war zone, as “the front line” on news reports. Today it was sunlit, very tidy and calm.

I was 17 when the Brixton Riots exploded. I am ashamed to say that loaded with white privilege and a reluctance to know anything other than what some sensationalist news reports to me, I associated Brixton with fecklessness and lawlessness, with depredation and dereliction. Despite the changing face of London over many decades, until today I had never done more than drive through it. The reason all of this has played on my mind is that the US is seeing fresh rioting after a black man, George Floyd, was murdered by a white police officer. Alas, that is far from unusual, but this was captured on film. The officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, despite his cries “I can’t breathe” and his calling out for his mother. It is sickening.

The response by the US authorities has been to raise the stakes by patrolling cities with the National Guard. Police are armed and firing rubber bullets into protests. It is more than fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement, and since the assassination of Dr. King. How can so little progress have been made in so long a time? Three years ago, I was introduced to two books that made me wake up to some of my own dormant biases about race, including my stale demonisation of Brixton and its residents. They were Natives by Akala, and Why I no Longer Talk to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Lockdown has enabled me to read Ben Judah’s excoriating analysis of London’s postcodes This is London. I recently finished Albert Woodfox’s Solitary, which updated my views on the US’s attitude to its black male population and I doubt anyone could read it without being appalled by the systemic abuse.

I am one of the more mature (in calendar years rather than mindset) of the mature students at my university. Last year, I had a black mentee. She was really bright and vivacious and described what growing up in Islington had been like for her. Today she sent me a WhatsApp message with a beautiful poem/song about George Floyd’s murder and how sadly unexceptional it was. It reviewed and name-checked multiple victims with pictures of the victims as her moving message unwound.

Lockdown is encouraging a great deal of introspection. It forces some fresh thinking. Many people are asking what they want to see post-lockdown. Before we run with ideas for how much better society can be we need to address the sores that currently hurt us. I know that when I was growing up I knew spectacularly and embarrassingly little about the treatment of African Americans in the US and their attempts at resistance and finding dignity. I was aware of riots in Brixton and Tottenham, but never asked what might be the catalysts for these desperate protests.

My views started to change when I saw the film Cry Freedom in the late ‘80’s, about the murder of black activist, Steve Biko. Although it was about apartheid era South Africa, the first scales started to fall from my eyes. I read Biko’s own writing, and ever so slightly repositioned my world view. Today, I watch the news coverage from many US cities and think about the dignity of protest rather than the property destruction. I certainly do not condone lawless behaviour but laws have to be good laws and upheld by a balanced and tolerant police force. In London, there has been a protest to support the Black Lives Matter organisation. It is getting less news coverage than the government’s decision to allow horse racing to restart.

I walked home from Brixton, I walked through Camberwell and some housing estates close to Old Kent Road. I thought of Ben Judah’s brilliant book and wondered how I would make my life work, if this was home for me and if my job prospects were low.

There are no easy answers, I know that. But if London is not to see rioting again, it needs to address some of the underlying issues of race, poverty and health and employment inequalities. I see little prospect of things improving in the US soon, because it seems to be part of Trump’s election strategy to pit voters against their own neighbours. I hope we in England do better, but today, despite the glorious weather, had a slightly ominous overtone. 

30 May, Los Angeles, California, USA

By Ruth McKee

I wake up to the news that riots have been raging in the night, sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, earlier in the week. My first response is horror that people are out gathering, now, when the virus will get them. But as my brain wakes up I realize this is also about the virus. The same communities who are being murdered by the police are the ones who’ve have had their jobs deemed essential and had to work through the quarantine – or completely unessential, and have been laid off to fend for themselves. Either way, the fires now raging have been a building for a long time. We knew this was coming, we just didn’t know exactly when.

Still, my neighborhood is quiet. I walk my dog down to Ventura Boulevard, where the shops are opening up. The handful of homeless men who camp out on this stretch during normal times are still here, along with a few newcomers. The music shop is open again, and Urban Outfitters – with signs urging everyone to wear masks and stand six feet apart. The Neapolitan pizza place is hosing down the tables on their patio and setting up for their first day of in-person dining.

Over the last week, we’ve seen the governor of California relax one restriction after another, for no clear reason. Cases have not gone down, benchmarks have not been met. More testing is in place, but no contract-tracing. This same state government that urged us all to stay inside in March, that saved us from the devastation that hit New York, is now washing its hands and telling us to fend for ourselves. All summer camps have been cancelled, all summer fairs and festivals, but they’re opening hair salons next week. Everyone I talk to is confused. No one knows what is ok and not ok anymore.

At home I bake scones for brunch and we eat them while watching the Space X rocket launch the first astronauts to space from US soil in nine years. We hold our breath as it ignites and rises into the sky without a hitch. It’s a moment of victory, and yet, unlike past space missions, not a moment of shared, national unity or pride. This is a private rocket, not a symbol of what we can do together, but of what one man can do with the billions of dollars he has managed to amass from our broken system.

In the afternoon, my daughter and I go out to meet a neighbor and her daughter for a masked scooter ride. This is a first, baby-step into socializing for both of our families. The girls propel themselves around the neighborhood streets for over an hour, chatting nonstop. The mother and I walk behind, catching up what we’ve been doing and not doing during quarantine. We are all energized by the human interaction, and make plans for next baby-steps, with this family that is equally wary about letting their guard down. Maybe we’ll do a sunset hike or a backyard movie together in the coming weeks.

For dinner, we get takeout from a neighborhood gastropub that has not yet opened for in-person dining. Not that we would eat there, or anywhere, yet, if we could. My husband and I have fallen into a Saturday night routine where we send the kids off to eat in front of their screens, and eat alone, as if on a date. It has worked so well that I’m starting to wonder whether we will ever go back to hiring babysitters again.

Halfway through our meal our daughter comes running in to show us a scary alert she has gotten on her phone. The rioting has gotten worse and the mayor has ordered a city-wide curfew, starting at 8pm. All those who have ventured out have an hour to get back into their houses.

Our neighborhood remains quiet through the evening. There is no sign of the uprising from our windows, but after we put the kids to bed, we turn on the TV and watch the city burn.