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.

24 April, Tukwila, Washington, USA

By Jonathan Seaward

Today began like almost every other day has, for the past month and a half, for a lot of people in Seattle, Washington.  It could have been a Wednesday or a Sunday – I wouldn’t have known the difference.  Kids are not in school; they fly through their fortnightly class-work packets in a marathon run, finishing in a day or two, so they can be “on vacation” the rest of the time.  I am not heading to the office, as I’ve been laid off, due to the closure of many of my clients’ businesses, which, in turn, has my former employer on the verge of collapse.  Once or twice a week, they call on me to do some work for them, from home, and pay me as a subcontractor.  My wife is working remotely as well, but starts later in the day.  My only clue as to what day it might be are her Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings, which only occur Monday through Friday.  

For now, it’s just another day, blended in with the day before it, and the day after, like details in an impressionist painting, blurry and indistinct, yet part of a cohesive theme – the end of life as we know it, or so it seems to me.  

As usual, my thoughts rush to the worst-case-scenario:  What if my thoughtless neighbor, who kept inching closer to me yesterday, while speaking and laughing loudly (without a face mask!) unknowingly passed SARS-CoV-2 to me, and I end up with COVID-19?  My ongoing issues with blood clots (stubbornly resisting the anticoagulants), and the irregular heartbeat I was born with put me in a category they call “High Risk”, and I call “Dead Man Walking”. So the tightness in my chest this morning, and the body aches I’m feeling, have driven my anxiety levels to new heights. 

My kids have been begging to go for a walk for days, and I’ve been hesitant.  After all, where would we walk?  The parks are closed, the sidewalks are likely teeming with SARS-CoV-2, and my gas mask hasn’t arrived from AliExpress, yet.  

My son, 10 years old, reminds me that there’s a little trail behind the duplex opposite ours, leading down to a stream, and ending up near the police station at the bottom of the hill we live on.  My daughter, who just turned 8 at the start of all this, is a ball of energy as usual, constantly in motion, hopping from one leg to the other, while joining my son in begging me to walk with them.   How could I say no?

We ventured out of the house, and across the road, slipping between the two units opposite ours, to access the trail.   

What I found today was more than a trail and what I experienced was more than some exercise – I found peace, and I experienced joy.  I would even say I found God again, as I let go of my anxiety and started living in the moment.  

I already have a (sometimes overwhelming) need to know “what’s next”, and since I was a toddler, I don’t remember a time I wasn’t thinking of the future, of next year.  Next stage. Next struggle. I’ve wasted countless days hovering somewhere other than here and now.  

And suddenly, in the middle of a pandemic, knowing that I would have a 30% chance of surviving, at best, if infected (according to the doctors), I am experiencing something so very rare in my life, that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it before – I am here, now, and don’t have the slightest regard for what may or may not happen tomorrow.  

Maybe it’s a combination of having been laid off, thereby not having any meetings or projects with deadlines, and being in nature with my kids — and,  well, I was going to analyze the whole thing, as I often do, but again, that would be living outside the moment, and for now, I am enjoying this new perspective on life.  

Taking it one moment at a time.

31 March, Hantana, Sri Lanka to Westgate-on-Sea, UK

By Jerry Smith

We ordered the taxi for 6.30am. Hard to know how long the journey to the airport would take – normally three and a half hours. On the one hand, little traffic due to the curfew. On the other, who knew how many police checks we’d have to go through and how long each would take? In the event we were at the airport in just over two and a half hours with only two brief checks en route and a longer one when entering the airport precincts.

We’d been in our Sri Lankan home, in the Hantana mountains near Kandy, for several months but always come to England around this time, for the spring, summer and long days. In England we live with Sally’s brother Jeremy and his partner Melissa, in a flatlet in their house in Westgate-on-Sea, Kent. This year there were items to weigh in the balance. Sri Lanka – virtually no cases or deaths but in a state of total curfew: no shopping, no friends, no alcohol, no travel or leaving the house, but worst by far was the lack of information or any warning about changes. Everyone wearing face coverings. Heavy police enforcement and new regulation against criticising the government on social media. England – huge and rapidly increasing case numbers and deaths, but shops open for food and drinks and people allowed out for walks once a day. OK, in Sri Lanka we have a swimming pool, but with the travel bans and buying pool chemicals impossible because of curfew, it had become unusable. We chose England. I’m over seventy but healthy and we’re not risk-averse people. We’d rather take some chances and have some enjoyment of life.

Bandaranaike International Airport: lots of time to kill and, of course, nothing open. Except, for some reason, Burger King. By fiat of D Trump? Our housekeeper Rani had prepared us lots of short eats (Sri Lankan street food) and we had water so we had no need of burgers but it was good and unexpected to be able to buy a coffee. Almost everyone – and every Sri Lankan – wearing face masks. At the airport entrance a sign read: “No facial coverings of any kind will be permitted beyond this point” – a hangover from another time, the bombings just a year ago and another reason to be fearful.

The airport was almost devoid of passengers. The only flights departing were our lunchtime Sri Lankan Airlines flight to Heathrow and a chartered Condor heading to Frankfurt, late evening.  Continuous two-note Buddhist chanting over the public address system, just to ensure no-one got too cheerful. We must all maintain a consistent aura of misery throughout this crisis. Good for morale, or social control anyway. Maybe that’s the real reason for the masks – you can’t see anyone smile.

The handful of travellers was heavily outnumbered by staff on make-work schemes – pointless cleaning of already spotless windows; the return of the dreaded lavatory attendant who doesn’t maintain social distance but insists on pointing out the location of the urinals, then the washbasin, tap, soap dispenser and paper towel dispenser, asking you for money at the end of it all. Given the chance he’d probably show you exactly where your penis is located. Sally had a more unnerving experience in the Ladies where an unmasked attendant stood coughing, and giggling in between. Almost certainly a wind-up.

The flight was half-full. We’d scarcely left the runway when the trolley came round with drinks so we had a glass of wine each. Twenty minutes later a repeat performance, this time with lunch. “This is going to be good”, we thought. I’d scarcely touched my first glass so declined, but Sally perspicaciously lined up a second. The drinks trolley did not reappear for another eight hours. Meanwhile, though it was not night-time in either Sri Lanka or the UK, the cabin crew insisted on the blinds being put down for about six hours.

Eleven and a half hours later we touched down at Heathrow as the last of the light drained from the sky. Deserted baggage reclaim area – easy to keep six feet away from the next person and the cases appeared in double-quick time. No extra checks, no temperature scans, hardly anyone in a face mask – no sign of any UK concern about importing the virus. Jeremy met us and whisked us off to Westgate with our two heavy suitcases – not much of ours in them, this was a mercy food aid drop from Sri Lanka to the UK. Sacks of rice, dhal, flour, loo rolls (inevitably) and sundry other goodies.

Glass of wine and bed. No idea when we’ll be able to return.