“Stop cooking meat! I can smell it all the way up here,” my younger daughter Annika upbraided me from her upstairs bedroom.
I had made a rare purchase of mincemeat as part of a packet of ingredients to be assembled for the evening meal. Choices were so limited when you had a vegan in the family. I had almost given up buying meat and chicken, but persisted in buying eggs, fish and dairy. Eventually I found words to describe myself which I could use to feel virtuous, such as a ‘pescatarian’ – a fish eating vegetarian, and ‘flexitarian’ – a vegetarian when it was convenient. Annika didn’t mind if I made vegetarian dishes, but wouldn’t partake unless they were vegan.
“It’s okay for you to be vegan,” I retorted. “But you don’t have to impose your values on the rest of us. You don’t always conform to my values either.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“I’m not getting into that now. It’s okay for you not to eat meat but you can’t force the rest of us to give it up too,” I repeated.
I descended the stairs to the kitchen and took in the unusual smell of cooking meat, which has been absent from our kitchen for a couple of years. Then I bravely assembled the meal, spreading out the wrap, adding the mince mixture and topping it off with some tzatziki (a Greek yogurt sauce. I folded the wrap and sat down to eat it with my trusted Labrador Tia in front of me. Tia fixed her eyes on me unwaveringly and pricked up her ears. It was my habit to share all my meals and snacks with her.
When we had bought her at the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) I had asked the vet whether it was okay to give her human food. He asked whether I meant sharing my toast with her in the morning. When I nodded he affirmed, “Of course!” From that moment I considered myself to have official approval to share any healthy food with Tia. If I were eating an apple, I would bite off one bit for her and one for me. When I was making a salad, I would hygienically feed her lettuce leaves, tomato tops, or slices of cucumber. (I do confess to feeding her occasional crumbs from my chocolate cake when no-one was looking.) The day that Annika scolded me for cooking meat, Tia was even more excited than usual. She was anticipating that I would share the mincemeat with her. I started to ingest the meat, but the smell put me off, so I passed most of it off to Tia. Needless to say, she was delighted. However, she didn’t savour it, but rather gulped it down quickly without leaving time to enjoy it.
Annika had always shown a sensitivity to the feelings of animals, even rodents. When we first moved into our house we would sometimes see a sudden movement as a mouse darted between the sofa and the fireplace. It was embarrassing to have a well-to-do guest suddenly ask you, “Was that a mouse?”
I wasn’t sure how to get rid of mice without killing them, and tried sonic deterrents which you could plug into an electric socket. Once Annika spotted a mouse in the house. She thought it was a native mouse, a marsupial, because its forelegs were shorter than its hind legs. She could even see the mouse’s heart beating through its chest as it trembled. Then she felt sorry for it and left it alone. After that I asked my husband to deal with the mice, and didn’t ask any more questions. The mice disappeared.
Until Annika became a vegan I had disassociated meat from animals. The packets of neatly wrapped meat in the supermarkets had nothing to do with the animals that you passed on farms in drives through the country. One day Annika drew a connection between Tia and meat, asking if I would eat Tia. From then on I could associate meat with living animals. The meat shelves in the supermarket became distasteful and I had to look the other way as I passed.
A friend has a business selling kangaroo meat overseas. She made a post on social media explaining why kangaroo meat is better than meat from farms; kangaroos are game, and they are not killed in the abbatoirs. I hesitated over the ‘like’ button as I read this. I was convinced by her argument but reluctant to agree with the notion of killing Australia’s national symbol, featured in our Coat of Arms and decorating the tail of the national carrier.
I work overseas and return to Australia every holiday. My pleasure in Australia’s fauna and flora is enhanced because of my long absences. When I return I am delighted to spot kangaroos in the countryside, possums in tree hollows, and koalas sleeping in trees in the neighbourhood.
Every morning is a visual and auditory feast. I spot rainbow lorikeets on the balcony, and cockatoos feeding on neighbouring lawns.
I listen to families of kookaburras cackling, and magpies serenading me. I am enjoying the fauna more than ever, and I can understand Annika’s feelings for them.
Not only that, times of global turmoil when movement is restricted are ideal for slowing down and appreciating nature. As Alain de Botton says on his homepage, “You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.” In these tumultuous and uncertain times there is an exquisite pleasure to be had in communing with animals and birds. Now I can find the time to still myself for long enough to enjoy watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos squawking as they land on the lawn to peck for their dinner.
Nevertheless, my dietary resolutions are more due to the impact of the younger generation than the enhanced appreciation of wildlife afforded by the time for reflection in the lockdown. I will probably remain a pescatarian, or even a flexitarian. I won’t become a vegan and I will respect the choices of my friends and family to eat whatever they want. However, I do understand the younger generation’s commitment to veganism, and am prepared to admit that older is not necessarily wiser.
Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendship, all published by Demeter Press, Canada.
The African man selling trinkets looks less out of place than me. In jeans and slippers he lopes over the sand, going between beachgoers calling out, “Signora, buon prezzo”, promising a “good price” in an accent that will never sound Italian. His smile is docile but nervous as he approaches three elderly Italians, plump and soft, golden and wrinkled, walking along the sand in their bikinis. He calls one of them by name. Regulars. They pluck at the jewels on offer – great hoops of gold-coloured earrings, chunks of necklaces with matching bracelets. They slip them on and turn their wrists this way and that. They gently prod each other and admire or admonish. The trinket seller senses a sale. He nods and offers other similar items. He’s gently insistent, but there are also unnerving silences that sound to me like desperate appeals for help.
One of the ladies starts to haggle over the price of a bracelet. She halves the number and he looks betrayed and disappointed. He offers her another number in return and she shakes her head. She’s starting to move away now, waving her hands dismissively. He tilts his head to one side, holding out the bracelet, willing her to take it. She hesitates and takes it in her hands again. But then she makes a decision and brusquely hands it back to him. She says once more, sternly “No”, and walks away. One of her friends lingers for a moment, still listening to his appeal, trying to be kinder and smiling at him apologetically. But then she too turns and joins the others.
He looks angrily after them, “What do you want lady? You talk and talk and talk….” He rearranges his wares, shrugging them on his shoulder, over his forearm, around his neck, and lopes on. “Signora, buon prezzo, buon prezzo.” The call is woeful. The sun forces him to squint as he forges on.
When he approaches me next my sympathy melts in the sun. I barely glance up from my book, my mouth a line, my eyes unsmiling, avoiding contact. When he, in English, offers me matching sets, I say no, no, several times, loudly, clearly. Annoyed. And as he walks on I’m immediately ashamed. Forgetting that in front of me was a man earning a living. A man who felt the sting of “no” like anyone else would, and who perhaps heard it ring in his ears long into the night, disturbing his sleep. I watched him move slowly down the beach, hovering gently between groups, being waved away, sent on.
Under a hat and glasses, shaded by an umbrella and mostly clothed, the trinket seller had immediately recognised me as a fellow foreigner. I am overdressed, over cautious. On my own. Pale and cloudy, not sharp and strongly outlined like the Italians. They are minimally dressed, drowsy and lolling in the direct sun – professional couples on holidays feed morsels to small dogs; couples stroll hand in hand, slick with love and affection; and teenagers scoff and jab at each other, all bluster and swagger. The murmur of the ocean is a gentle and lulling hum, still discernible over the laughter and chatter. But behind me violent cliffs loom skyward, the blue sky presses down, heavy and suffocating. I’m half way between the wide expanse of blue, both sky and sea, and the menace of the earth.
Someone asked me earlier whether my beach at home looked out to the ocean or the sea. I had no idea what he was talking about. Confused I kept asking him to repeat himself. Voices were raised. When I finally understood what he meant, I faltered – I didn’t know the answer. What does it matter? He smiled patronisingly at me: “Never mind.” But what does it matter? I want to know. He wouldn’t say.
A shadow falls over my book. Before I can even look up an elderly woman is saying, in Italian, “Scusa signorina, can you look and tell me if my ear is completely covered by the bathing cap?” She assumes I will understand, and I do understand enough. But I still stare at her for a moment, processing. That she assumes I will recognise her words, her request, pleases and puzzles me. She has a sweet face and a patient smile. She is very plump, and is very pale for an Italian. Despite her obvious age, her eyes are lit with youth. She is standing quite still, waiting for me to get up and check her bathing cap.
“No, it’s not….,” I tell her, “wait”.
“Oh thank you. I’ve had an ear infection and my doctor said not to get water in it. But I have to go for my swim, of course.” She is serene.
The nape of her neck looks damp, threads of silver hair escape the cap. I try to tug the plastic over her ear. Her skin is soft and hot. I realise I have to tug reasonably hard and she braces herself and nods encouragingly. I touch her earlobe, brush her cheek. Then I gently nudge her to turn, so I can check the other ear. She obliges; it’s ok. She seems unmoved by the intimacy but I shiver at touching a stranger. Not in revulsion, but breathless and moved by her trust.
I tell her, “You’re ok now,” in English. She pats her covered ears, satisfied.
“Come ti chiama signorina?” she asks.
“Mi chiamo Serena.”
She nods once and smiles, “Grazie Serena.” Then turns towards the sea. I sit down again and watch as she shuffles slowly towards the water, wades in up to her thighs and then pushes herself under. I see her arms move rhythmically, her cap peaking above the gentle waves. I watch her until she becomes a pinpoint and I can no longer recognise the stranger.
Tina Morganella is a freelance writer and copy editor with an MPhil in creative writing from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Tina is most interested in short fiction, memoir and travel literature and has most recently been published in Rush (US), STORGY Magazine (UK), Tulpa Magazine (Australia), Sky Island Journal (US), Entropy (US) and Sudo (Australia). She also has nonfiction articles published in the Australian press (The Big Issue, The Australian, The Adelaide Advertiser).
On Sunday morning, I hardly noticed that the Japanese Magnolia outside my study room window is in full bloom as it is mid-March. Every year, in late winter, some of the area trees do flower before leaves start to come. That is the first sign to remind us that spring is upon us. There is an undeniably joyous feeling to it and most of us get busy in planning flurries of activities after a long winter. But on Friday afternoon, at 3 PM President Trump declaring National Emergency had everyone put in a panic mode. He had to do it because of the growing spread of the corona virus across states as it is affecting 49 states now. After that, there was no time to enjoy or contemplate about the advancing season.In time of crisis it is hard to put feelings into words. The anxiety that is gripping the world is very challenging. To say people are feeling “scared” is an understatement to describe the kind of fear the people around the world seem to be feeling. The signs are everywhere you go in big and small way, it is written on the faces of people.
Instead of going to the nursery to choose spring flowering plants, people were frantically going to supermarkets to load up on supplies this weekend. The erratic fear is that the supply chain will be seriously disrupted in case of a serious pandemic. There will be no one to drive the interstate supply trucks if thousands of people fall sick to the virus. This year that feeling of urgency to make a to-do list has been seriously diminished by the corona virus epidemic. Now the priority for most people is to plan for the very uncertain next few months. The virus is acting as a metaphor the populist leaders such as Trump fear and detest about the outside world. It is clear that the world leaders are not working together in an effective and coordinated way to contain the spread of the virus and that is really scary. During the day, there are so many new updates on the virus and its spread that it is hard to keep track. Within 24 hours things can take a dramatic turn, as a lot can happen in that time. Trump so far has pledged 50 billion to fight this.
No matter what you do or how many precautions you take, the virus news is on your mind constantly. For the last few days, I have been feeling slightly depressed seeing many conflicting news and what it means globally as we are one big society. Last night, just before going to bed, it was disheartening to read in al.monitor.com that the spread of corona virus in Iran has shown no sign of slowing down. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has made a public plea for sanctions to be eased and medical supplies. He also wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General sating US sanctions “obstacles to the sale of medicine, medical supplies and humanitarian goods.”
It really hit hard that from March 13; Broadways theaters in New York City have gone dark and will remain so for a month at least. Broadway is the symbol of resilience and life in New York. Last time it had closed for 48 hours after 9/11. The premise that the show must go on has been defeated as it is no match against the threat of COVID-19. When I was emailing my daughter Friday evening,I called the virus an “invisible enemy” as that is what came to mind spontaneously. I keep on sending her news updates knowing full well that she is on top of things. The mother in me feels protective of her even though she is a grown up and has been a faculty member in one of the prestigious colleges in New England for the last 2 years. In response, she sends me the forward of the email from the college President that went to all the faculty members saying when the last in person class is going to be. He reassures that his institution is still safe from the virus as no one was tested for the virus. So he presumes everyone is safe and to wait another week and be done with the classes before spring break. After that the remainder of the semester will be online. She informed me that it’s a lot of pressure there to convert everything to online learning as the graduate classes she teaches are not meant to be online. But most of the faculty members feel the college should have closed the in person classes and should have done what other institutions in that state and all the adjoining states did. They all cancelled classes and sent everyone home after one student tested positive in another college very close by. As I was writing this piece I got information from my daughter where she said, “Yes, everything has closed as of last night.”
There are so many expert opinions that people are not sure which way to go as they themselves are not sure. Some argue that society cannot be shut down completely. But that is exactly what is happening. Italy is under total lock down. Spain is following Italy in terms of isolating towns and cities to reduce the spread of the virus. Each government is doing what they see is the right thing to do to save a large numbers of people escape this dreadful virus. Last night I heard on the radio that France is closing all restaurants among other things to limit the spread of the virus.
As I am editing this article on a Sunday afternoon, I can see the park across from my dining room window. Usually, on a warm day like today, the park is filled with children playing. There has been total silence there this weekend. Only I see a person walking around the park to get his daily exercise. According to WHO reports children are not at great risk for corona virus. But the parents are not taking any chances. The stillness in the neighbourhood is very eerie. Sometimes in late summer, it feels similar, as most families are on vacation before school starts in late August. This is an extraordinary time that calls for drastic measures to be taken. All Maryland schools shut down a week ago to avoid person to person contact. Many working parents were forced to find childcare for them. All the schools had sent letters home to parents asking the students not to return to school after spring break. Meanwhile, massive cleaning operations are underway in all the schools and colleges. Maryland’s corona virus cases continue to rise and as of this writing governor Larry Hogan’s office has confirmed 31 cases including five new cases overnight. He has declared state of emergency two weeks ago to get federal aid package that will facilitate to treat the disease faster.
The biggest dilemma for most families is how much food to store anticipating the worst. There are a couple of You Tubers that I follow from time to time. One of them is a lady in London. Yesterday, she posted a video as to how she is preparing for the coming weeks and months. For a family of five, among dry and frozen foods,she had dragged a sixty-pound Basmati rice bag to her third floor flat when the elevator was not working. The dry food items consisted of every kind of lentils and other nonperishable canned food that will last for months. Another vlogger had shown her followers how she is disinfecting her apartment with homemade solutions in Toronto. She was not that lucky to load up on supplies as the supermarket shelves are getting empty very fast and the lines are very long. And yes, the toilet paper panic is going in full force there as well like in Australia and America. The internet is floating with corny Toilet Paper jokes.
In my local supermarket, the cleaning and paper towel isles were totally empty when we went last Thursday night. The store was super crowded and many families came with children. Each member grabbed a shopping cart and was piling up every imaginable kind of food as if they will be facing a famine. We might, but we just don’t know. One couple was arguing over which super-size peanut butter to get. I looked at my cart with a week’s worth of supplies failing to make a decision as to how much food can I load for two people expecting the nastiest pandemic. Later on,I get a text from my daughter urging me not to go the supermarket and instead to have it delivered. I told her I don’t know while bagging my order if anyone will sneeze on my food and whether I will accept the bags thinking it is all safe. In time of crisis we can all descend into full scale paranoia. However,I console myself that perhaps in worst case scenario, the National Guard will feed people in the community if we all run out on supplies. But nonetheless, most of Saturday we were busy buying weeks’ worth of supplies from three different stores like others.
In the midst of all the uncertainties, people are naturally panicking and acting like we are facing a war, in this instance with the ‘invisible virus.’ The news media is relentless in politicizing every issue particularly emphasizing the good prime minister of Canada vs bad president of US as the punchline after Justin’s wife Sophie Trudeau tested positive for the corona virus. Justin Trudeau is self-isolating him and working from home. Donald Trump was in close contact with some of the Brazilian delegates and one of them has confirmed that he has become infected with corona virus. Trump was standing right next to that person in his Florida Golf Club estate and there are pictures to prove it. Yet the White House at first denied the president having any contact with that person. Later Trump downplayed it saying that he is “not concerned.” No one can make sense of why he would say something like this after emphasizing the importance of social isolation and self-quarantine. Why Trump shouldn’t be concerned nor get tested boggled everyone’s mind. In this instance Trudeau looks to be the sensible person and as usual Trump is ignorant and obstinate. Later, on Friday he said would “likely” receive a coronavirus test “fairly soon” even as he minimized the prospects of having contracted the virus from a Brazilian press aide. The early reports were wrong and the Brazilian leader later announced he tested negative. But the episode “underscored the tenuous position Trump now finds himself: exposed to at least one person who has tested positive, in regular contact with others who have self-quarantined and under pressure to test himself.” After that he said on Friday afternoon that “most likely” he will get tested. Then he went ahead and had him tested on Friday night awaiting results.
It is unfathomable how Trump threw a lavish party with foreign dignitaries in these uncertain times by exposing himself to people who were later tested positive for the virus. Many of his family members were also at the party dancing away.
Amid darkness there is still hope and we need to take one day at a time and brace ourselves for a positive outcome. Until then, there is no choice but to follow the guidelines and try our best to keep us healthy. Amid the corona virus updates there are still other news stories that give me hope. Three Turkish men were sentenced last week to 125 years in prison for their part in Aylan Kurdi, 2-year-old Syrian boy’s drowning. We will never forget Aylan face down on a Turkish beach in 2015. Aylan died with his 5-year-old brother and their mother, only the father survived.When you read about the fate of Aryan’s killers, you think there is still justice in the world.
Humor is something that also keeps us from over worrying and going over the edge. Pete Buttigieg served an example as to how to keep humour alive when he was filling in for Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday night’s talk show on ABC. He was trying to make television audiences laugh who only consisted of the producers and crew members sitting at six feet apart. There are no live audiences now. As Pete finds himself unemployed after he dropped out of the presidential race, and no longer the mayor of South Bend, he went looking for a supposed job (any job) in Los Angeles. This was a prop for the show as it is often done as a segment. With his Harvard and Oxford degrees, Pete Buttigieg lands a job giving out free samples of pretzels to passersby. Wearing an apron with the store logo he stands in front of the store holding a tray. When he gave one person a second helping, the burly African American woman manager fires him on his first day. Moments like this makes you laugh really hard and for a few minutes and you forget how the nation is gripped in erratic fear.
Also, as you read the comic strip prepared by DrRavindra Khaiwal&Dr Suman Mor published in the Counter Currents, you learn how Superhero Vaayu comes to the rescue to explain to the kids in simple terms what corona virus is as they are in panic. Vaayu at the end asks the children to “follow the simple steps and break the chain of infection.” You as well think that we will beat this provided we follow all the basic hygiene and guidelines to contain the virus. Such expressions in a comic strip certainly gives you hope and you believe it with an almost childlike innocence.
I am an optimist by nature – there are solutions to each problem, even the deadly corona virus. As we go through these tough times, thinking of spring, a new start, can be immensely helpful. We cannot give into fear, doom and gloom, and we need to keep our spirits up. I hope, spring will symbolise new life and we will be absorbed in nature’s essence. In about a month, hopefully, I will be looking at the happy bluebird in my backyard, the robins and sparrows hopping and jumping in the new grass, and hear the sound of children playing outside. I believe we can defeat the “invisible enemy” and one day COVID-19 will just be a distant memory. May the force be with us.