25 June, Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Pasan Jayasinghe

You break one routine for another. So out with waking and eating and sleeping at all or no hours of the day, and in with restarting something like a routine and trying not to forget the mask and creeping down submerged streets still waking from an unbidden, alien shock.

There are new things to get used to. People at a skittish distance and sweat beads congregating on the nose. But less obvious are the parts of the old routine which have vanished. Like the lunchtime buth kades from before, which have all shut down, along the outer edges of Wellawatta and into Pamanakada. If the window fronts aren’t barred with tables and chairs, they are marked out with To Lease signs.

Now that they are gone, I suppose it is romanticising to recall them, even if I point out how uncomfortable they were at midday, packed and alive and slowly steaming. The struggle to place an order, the small terror of getting it wrong and being too anxious to change it back. But there were also the un-remarked, lilting negotiations over time. Trying to build enough familiarity so that your order is remembered. Slowly bartering down the ratio of rice to curries. Relationships that existed only in what was packed and read into parcels of carbohydrates and assorted spiced vegetables, their price increasing in 10 rupee increments every few months. By which point you wouldn’t consider finding a new kade.

For the owners of the buth kades, those momentary kindnesses and lapses in profit margins have now been wiped out wholesale. Without access to even the meagre capital the government is doling out to ‘small businesses’ or ‘entrepreneurs’, the shock was fatal for most of them. In the economy that rises from all this, buth kades do not really exist. In the many lines pored over on The Recovery, there are none spared for them. It never felt possible that the uncles holding the hovering spoons could be vanished so easily.   

In their place instead are those outfits—less kade and more industrial business—that can dispense rice packets hygienically, in uniform cardboard boxes ready-made for Uber Eats and PickMe dispensation. Less haggling for time and deliberating how and when you can force yourself into a gap to make an order. More deliveries of uniform, far more expensive, lunches that feel and taste safe.

This is maybe what we wanted all along. Perhaps it is a relief to beat away the spectre of too much rice and not enough curry.  But you wish back for a second those old anxieties and the brief, salted glimpses of the lives that sustained them. An extra fried chilli and a curt smile. 

100 Days

By the Editor

The first entry in this journal was written about 15 March 2020 – today 22 June 2020 is day 100. For many of us it is a day spent at least approximately unlocked as well as at least approximately uncertain.

As many of us return to working beyond our homes, as our governments talk of re-starting ‘the economy’, as we are overtaken by new and pressing matters in our politics and our personal lives, as case numbers fall and sometimes rise again, as changes bite, entries to this journal also slow. This is natural and we don’t resist it.

But we will keep the door open – for those who wish to reflect, read and write here through the coming year. For it is really now that we will begin to learn the detail of how this pandemic has and has not changed us and the way we live on Earth.

Please keep writing in, please keep reading and please keep bringing other people to this meeting place.

21 June, London, UK

By Ivana MacKinnon

London is no longer a place where anything seems to make any sense.  What rules are we living under – who knows now? Some people are still sheltering in place, others are having picnics that look more like wrestling matches, and Primark re-opening seems to be the thing the whole country has been waiting for.  Things seem to be getting better, but at the most gradual rate imaginable – and the looming threat of the economy is starting to bite. Last night, I accidentally read the news just before sleeping and slept badly. It didn’t help that I read the news and then went on Twitter to read the opinions. Which were, as always, like looking into the Sarlaac. This country is so angry, and we are about to have a hot, hot summer.

Today we drove to a river just outside London to meet my sister-in-law and her family and go wild swimming. Apparently the small bank there has been overrun by London people since lockdown and now the locals mutter darkly about “The London Beach” – but it was overcast when we arrived, so we were the only people there. We spread out our socially distanced blankets to sit on, which means taking up what seems like four times as much space as we would have, and got out the paddle board we’d just bought as a way to make open water near London more appealing. I realised quickly that I hate paddle boarding, but the water was amazing. We ate our picnic, more relaxed about sharing grapes than we have been previously, and I noticed that after three months of no one touching anyone, people seem to be slipping – someone touching a toddler’s head; hands touching when passing things. They all fire electric signals in my brain like someone has drawn round the place of touch with a huge flourescent marker pen. Over the last few days, everyone’s perception seems to have shifted, like there is something in the air, into a feeling that things have to start relaxing and people have to start living again – I don’t know if it’s that people quite simply want to enjoy the summer; or feel the rates are so far down they can chill; or are always three days ahead of the government guidance; or have decided all the vulnerable people can just stay in their houses for time; or are just at the end of their tether. But it feels like we are all hooked up to one enormous brain in some way, and that brain has let some of its walls down so everyone else has too.

On Friday I’d cycled into Stoke Newington to have a pint bought take-away from a pub. The queue at the pub, the open shops, the park – everything was like a festival. I’ve never seen it so full, mainly of people in their 20s – and since our area is still cautious, I hyperventilated for the first half hour, completely freaked out. But maybe, quite simply, all the 20 year olds are just going to get it and have antibodies and then quietly take over — and maybe that will shake the world up in a good way. It could certainly go some way to solving our diversity problem in the film industry by Corona-smashing the glass ceilings. 

I realised halfway through our wild swim that we were right down the road from a friend who had moved out of London, so on the way home we dropped in to say hi to her and drank half a bottle of white wine in the sun as I realised I had completely sunburned my face.  And, again, it felt almost normal. 

At home we realised our fridge wasn’t working and had to decant everything into an ice box. Now it feels like we are on a camping holiday in our own house. Maybe that’s what the summer will be. It might not be so bad. 

20 June, Worcestershire, UK

By Rachel Smyth

Today has been a tough day. I’m typing this on my phone, crouched in the darkness of my bedroom, while my daughter sleeps. I know I should be sleeping too and will regret the missed sleep in the morning. But I want to do something for myself today – and so, I write.

It hasn’t been an exceptional day today, so I’m not really sure why it’s been so hard. My husband has been ill for a few days and is pretty much out of action following a minor operation yesterday. All the household chores and childcare have fallen to me. This was normal pre-lockdown. However since my husband was furloughed in April, these responsibilities have been somewhat more equally divided.

I am, maybe unfairly, resentful that my husband can rest when he needs to and can recuperate when he’s ill. Since my daughter was born, this has been impossible for me. I’ve had to carry on through an unplanned c-section, countless colds (an unwanted perk of playgroups), several bouts of mastitis, a particularly delightful episode of norovirus and other illnesses. The extra practical, physical and mental load can be exhausting. When you combine it with the fact that my daughter rarely naps anymore, the days can feel long and there’s little opportunity for any respite.

I’ve definitely taken my frustrations out on my daughter today by being more impatient with her than usual. I feel bad for it and for not being able to give her enough of my time and attention the past few days. I’ve promised her that I will do better tomorrow. Told her that Mummy is tired and I’m sorry. Although she’s only just turned 3, she seems to understand and gives me a big hug. Mother guilt is very much present and real today.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. I am meeting my parents and siblings in the morning for a “socially distant” get together. The never-ending lockdown in England and our ever-increasing death count are equally depressing and infuriating. I’m angry at how useless our government has been through the whole pandemic so far and their apparent lack of accountability. Everyone talks of moving towards a ‘new normal’ but for now, I just feel stuck in a weird limbo with no end in sight.

The weather has been terrible here the past week. It’s made it much more difficult to escape the confines of our house for some much-needed fresh air and a change of scenery. After days of grey skies and rain, we have warmer weather coming again. I can’t wait for the sunshine.

19 June, Sringagar, Kashmir

By Sauliha Yaseen

I am remembering the evacuation flight from Dhaka six weeks ago.

As the flight took off, I was overwhelmed by a strange fatigue already, like a premature jetlag setting in. This flight was special, an evacuation flight specially arranged to ferry students from COVID-19-hit Bangladesh to COVID-19-hit Kashmir.

We had reached the airport in the wee hours of the humid morning of 8 May, 2020. The airport was bereft of people, engulfed in a strange silence, something with which we have recently become acquainted. The only flight that was going to depart was ours. People in masks and gloves stood at a distance, wary of each other. The airline staff did not haggle over stray pounds of extra cabin baggage and the usually tepid immigration officers were remarkably quick.

I wasn’t carrying much luggage. How could I? Is it even possible to wrap up six years in just one night and fit everything into a forty five inch suitcase? I had lived in Bangladesh for six years, finished at college, earned my degree, crossed a couple of milestones in my life.  Most importantly, it was a place I had made countless memories with so many people. How was I supposed to wind up everything and say my final goodbyes to all those people? This wasn’t how I had pictured the end of my journey in the country.

One fine evening, when the lockdown was in full force and COVID-19 cases were on a steep rise, we’d received an email from the High Commission that an evacuation flight had been arranged for us and we were going to be sent home ‘very soon’. The ‘very soon’ part turned out to be two days later. It was chaotic, distressing, and left me surprised at my own ambivalence. My first reaction was to be happy that I would finally be home. My second reaction was a pit that I felt in my stomach, my heart slowly slipping into it. I was about to lose a place that had been home to me for over six years, to lose people who had been family to me through thick and thin all those years. Most importantly, I would not get to say a proper goodbye any of them.

Soon this grief was replaced by uncertainty. Was this really going to be my final journey out of Bangladesh? Would I ever get a chance to come back? I stood staring at my closet, thinking about what I should take and what I should leave behind to come back for. This entire process was gruelling. ‘Should I take this flight and go home or should I wait for things to get better?’ I kept debating with myself for hours. The possibility of things getting better was nowhere close on the horizon. Going home seemed the saner choice. But then there was a part of me, a significant one, that wanted to stay back for closure.

I started counting hours. I had some thirty six hours to make calls, to say goodbyes, to pack up and I was undecided as to which I would start with. I picked up the phone and started calling up friends.

My hands trembled as I dialled each number, one by one. A very close friend had tested positive a week back, I called up to say that I would be leaving soon. I could hear a sigh on the other side. There was going to be no formal valediction, no farewell hugs, not even a parting handshake. One must thank technology but even a fifty minute video-call wasn’t enough. There was no replacement for human touch when it came to expressing love. We were stripped of this way of expressing solidarity; making the other person believe how much you love them, feeling their energy seep into you and transform into a precious positivity that then share with the next person. This cascade of tenderness had been dismantled and we were left to concoct substitutes.

As human beings we claimed to be at the pinnacle of evolution but here we were floored by something placed towards the bottom of that same hierarchy. I was baffled by the sheer irony of what was happening. Yet, I saw people fighting back, trying doubly hard to express their love through unconventional means, in any way possible, from a distance of two metres away,  and I felt the same warm fuzzy feeling in my chest, the one probably called hope.

19 June, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

By Preeta Kuhad Balia

The house repair work has resumed. In the last third of March, an absolute lockdown so stringent was imposed that when I drove to buy fresh produce in the mornings, at a time permitted for the purpose, I was harassed multiple times by policemen on the roads – ‘why don’t you walk down, why do you use a car?’ or some such unreasonable dictum that I simply accepted because those weren’t the days to fight small fights. I’d steer my car and access a by-lane to reach where I had to go.

Later, the newspapers said that service providers such as carpenters or electricians or similar could go to work between 7 and 7. The supporting shops, ironically, were still shut. Only once our usual suppliers confirmed on the phone that they would be lifting their shutters that I called the workmen back. Today two men painted the underside of our front facade cantilever and the veranda ceiling. I made a note in the roster. I am also painfully reminded of how my costs have risen – the earlier workmen were from UP and worked with the quiet, uninterrupted force of practice and perhaps migrancy. These men, both from Jodhpur, are like our city – slow, unapologetically easy, always chilled out. For all the virtues of living in a tier-three city, I am annoyed to have to deal with men who show no urgency to finish a job.

I read about the misery, the disrespect we showed in shooing our workers away from Indian cities.  Most newspapers stabbed at our conscience with anecdotal accounts of the ‘largest migration post Partition’ even though the painting contractor assures me he sent Sunil and Jaisingh safely home. Now they can’t return because the closest train stop is 70 km from their village. How would they reach that far?

The to- do list of the day safeguards me from taking many a guilt trips, considering  how we scooped out Pintrest recipes even as people starved and thirsted on their way home. Many died.

Every construction contractor I reach out to claims to be operating with 40% the usual workforce. And their pools have lost the best fish. I know it. I am still paying the same money, even though the Jodhpur men come an hour late and leave much sooner. These two don’t drink tea, unlike Sunil and Jaisingh.

The expensive, home delivered vegetables have been stopped. The chauffeur is back and can be sent to fetch everything – grocery, tower bolts, interior paint. This morning I forwarded a picture of the exact bucket of paint needed to the supplier on Jalori Gate, as sent to me by Hukmaram the contractor, to weed out any chance error.

There are some office calls I make in the day. Most of my legal work is now centred on re-negotiating lease deeds for clients.  Today I have an anxious landlord to deal with. He sends me Whatsapp copies of messages that his defaulting restaurateur tenant has been sending him. It’s an image of an undated news item that states –

‘Most mall owners agree to retailer’s rental terms’.

Office may function at less than a fourth of its manpower capacity but when I called my husband’s cousin to wish him a happy birthday he suggests we drop by in the evening. He tells me over the phone in his understated, reticent manner – ‘accha lagega, tum aana’ –  it’ll be nice if you come.

We go with mangoes and some store bought sweets – because now sweet shops are open.  It’s my first buy though and I debate if it’s morally, medically safe to do so. My husband has asked for them so I rationalise, it must be okay with them. Seated in their foyer, I see to my amazement that they serve the very sweet we’ve brought them, albeit from a different store. The size of these rasgullas is much smaller. By now, my metric of rasgulla softness is based on the recent homemade ones I’ve enjoyed due to the generosity of a skilled friend or my mother in law. The sunken cheeks of the served rasgulllaspale in comparison, though that doesn’t stop me from chomping down a pair.

We are all seeing each other after so long that the first few minutes of ice-breaking conversation is centred around who has lost weight and who hasn’t. Each pointing a sharp index finger at the other, as though to be thinner is a lockdown sin. It always amuses me to notice that people here usually warm into a conversation with personal allegations of weight variation –

 ‘Oh God, you have lost more weight’.  

 Or ‘Are you not looking fuller than last time’.

In London, conversation starters would be the day’s weather. In Jodhpur it was traditionally, ‘what have you eaten (or cooked) today?’

Now the current stock of married couples talk about body weight. Yours. Theirs. The struggle to be rid of it. Youtube video links for spot specific fat reduction. The odd joke at one’s own flab. Our weight is our mental weather. All this while there are at least five saucers of food options to feed us. Yes, just as quickly as we had conveyed to our cousin, his mother, wife and everyone in earshot that we’d eaten a large dinner of fried kachoris (courtesy my sister in law, not a lie), his wife rushed to fetch more food for us. As is ritual, we ate after some half- hearted fulmination even as we weighed the virtues of the bite sized rasgulla against the sambhar vada and aam papad. Everyone laughs as a can of their rasgullas with late mangoes from their own tree are packed for us to carry back home.

It’s life coming full circle. Truly, as we sow, so we reap.

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.