Categories
Slices from Life

Travel in the Time of Pandemics: Select Diary Entries of an Urban Nomad

By Sunil Sharma

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

Confucius

The journey is the thing.

Homer

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Reflections, random

It was a Journey of Faith (JoF).

Most journeys are acts of faith.

A daily commute or a long-distance one, humans undertake movements that affirm the principle of belief. Belief in certain ideals.

The pull of a dream!

Kinesis is the fundamental science of change; it is the force behind the evolution of species.

You want to grow wings — and soar!

Migrations.

Birds and animals do the challenging migrations across geographies and climates –for survival.

JoF involves love. For the dear ones!

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Embark on the journey of LOVE. It takes you from yourself to yourself.

—Rumi

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Indeed! It is a similar terrain with similar topography yet varied.

And when love calls, nothing stopping the voyager.

Faith becomes the compass.

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Similarly, we began a travel across continents, deserts and sea, mountains and plains, stalked by an invisible and silent killer.

Homer could be heard in a recess of the mind:

The roaring seas and many a dark range of mountains lie between us.

Travel in the Time of Covid!

From Mumbai to Toronto via Maldives — a journey of five days.

And Love and Faith are our guiding angels.

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Exit

September 8, 2021

Kalyan

12.30 pm

It is raining hard. Suitcases are all piled up. The taxi is waiting. Few friends have come to bid us a quick goodbye.

Brief but final.

We spent months together to dismantle a secure life for the “unfamiliar”. You feel nothing. Just a quick bye — a last lingering glance.

It is over– 30 years come unstuck in a gliding instant. Joys, disappointments; tragedies and triumphs; losses-n-gains. Personal narratives unravel and evaporate, simultaneously, in that single gesture.

The anticipated moment arrives as an anti-climax.

No surge of emotions. No sense of loss.

Nothing.

And the ride begins.

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We arrive at the Hilton in the afternoon. The sky is overcast. Hotels around the airport are not fully occupied. Covid-19 is real. Third wave is expected.

Mumbai is unlocked yet locked up. There is pervasive fear.

Hotels are badly hit. We retire early. Next morning the expedition, our JoF, begins.

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We are sleepless in Mumbai.

A new home calls from Toronto.

One home traded for another — and a long arduous journey involved in the transition.

Certain things end.

Fresh things begin.

Hope. Fear. In equal measure.

Travel, real time.

No looking back now.

All set.

Foreign shores call.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

― Lao Tzu

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September 9, 2021

CSM International Airport, Mumbai

6.0 am

We are in the early-morning queue at the counter which is closed. After half-an-hour, a young female executive sits at the counter of the airline, rest are still closed. In fifteen minutes, the queue gets long, and people wait for their turn. Slow. She takes time to check every document. Finally, another staff comes to open the second counter. Nobody complains.

The jostling passengers in the serpentine queue hardly have the mandatory two meters for practicing social distancing. There are official checks but the global safety protocols cannot be implemented due to the crowds and general apathy.

Nobody minds the non-compliance.

It is India, dear!

After a long wait, we get the boarding passes.

Next, we queue for security and immigration checks. They ask some routine questions. Finally, we are cleared. We move to board the airbus. No social distancing is maintained while boarding.

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Maldives.

Time: 1.15 pm

The small airport is full of tourists.

Maldives is suddenly full of Bollywood celebrities and hapless students on their long and tortured way to Canada.

For the former, it is a luxury getaway — beaches, sun-bathing, the over-the-water cottages; perfect Instagrammable moments, fodder for the paparazzi.

For the latter, middle-class, wide-eyed young adults separated from their small or big-city cages, it is a pricey gateway to Canada, some kind of a Promised Land, a utopia — the western Shangri-La!

Two different sets of travelers in the Corona period.

At this moment, no stars are to be seen in the airport.

Only large number of Indian students, some parents, and workers, all bunched up, bit tense, ready for the official interrogation.

It is smooth sailing for the Indians and few other nationalities, mostly Asians, at that particular hour.

People move and get directed to various counters.

The documents are scrutinized. Faces, uncovered, and covered.

The long lines are quickly cleared. Officers are polite.

Female officers, covered up, are monosyllabic but overall helpful.

There are more female officers visible here than in Mumbai or Delhi airports!

We are relieved.

The immigration officers can be tough. They might ask you reason for transiting via Maldives. Give them the truth. They may detain a passenger but normally will allow the entry.

— Our had agent informed us prior to our departure.

The WhatsApp group discussions had been confusing. Hostile officers! Some claimed. Friendly! Others countered.

That did not help.

The almost two-hour-and-half flight was spent on worrying about which 50 per cent would fall our way!

To be detained in a foreign city can be daunting. Linguistic and cultural differences, poor internet connection, a roaming number that does not work — all these factors add up to the complications in an unknown location buzzing with people from many countries. Anything can go wrong and you are in a modern limbo; incommunicado with the outside world, on your own.

Incognito!

These fears played on our minds, as we land on a sunny and humid afternoon.

Once we embarked on the adventure, there could be no turning back, Covid or no Covid.

Ready for worst, praying for the best!

Breathing easy, we headed for the exit.

Then, the bump!

Our baggage is held up for additional checks. A female officer asks, “Are there idols inside your suitcase?”

“No,” we say. She nods and asks us to leave. Idols and liquor are prohibited items.

Relieved!

“If any other country does this, prohibiting the sacred objects of a given faith, that government will be dubbed as anti-Islamic. Media will call them spreading Islamophobia. What is this? Liberal governance?’’ asks an Indian co-passenger sotto voce.

The hotel is a large property and full of the Indian students. Few whites also. The view of the ocean and sky is terrific!

A picture-perfect venue.

Chain of atolls stretches in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The sky and the ocean mirror each other, twinning in blue that electrifies the senses.

Here we saw a green ecosystem curated by the travel industry for the wealthy. The resort packs up natural beauty into a commercial package — spas; massages; food; liquors; boating and fishing; surfing and snorkeling.

Other side of Male is poor where workers and other classes live in bleak condition. Covid-19 ruined the economy, but things hope to improve now.

The barriers had been lowered. Vaccinated tourists were returning.

The hotel was on the edge of the ocean. Young Indian and foreign women swim and relax under umbrellas. Indian couples unwind. Women in swimsuits roam uninhibitedly, feeling emancipated, free, under an alien sky.

Outside, along the narrow strip leading to the airport– small stretch — women of any age get that malevolent male gaze!

We spent the night and the next day enjoying the breeze, ocean and the short walks.

And get revived.

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September11

Time: 2.30 pm

The batch of new arrivals is largely from the north of India—Delhi and Punjab. They are sitting in the lobby, bags unpacked, ears plugged in. Some are talking to parents via video calls and reporting their minor discoveries about Male. Eyes are tired but dreams, burning.

“Headed for Toronto?” I asked a strapping bearded man in early twenties.

“Yeah,” he said. “We have to come here for our RT-PCR report. It has cost us a mini fortune!”

“Same here.” I responded.

“They should have set up a lab at the airport in Delhi.”

“Who?”

“The Canadians. They know we will come, the students, via a third country.”

“Yes. No options.”

“Bizarre! We bring skills and money and that is how Canada is treating us! Making us do additional travel for entering the country.”

I nod. “It is a regular brain drain but our country does not care.”

“Yes,” he observed. “1.3 billion! Deaths or migrations, even on a large-scale basis – it matters not. The youth have to re-write their destinies there.’

He was an engineer going to do the data analytics course from Canada.

“Why you want to leave?”

“Well, for better quality of living. What else?”

“It is tough there.”

“Not for the weak, any foreign country. One thing is sure. Merit is recognised in North America. India lags behind. We do not get what we deserve. Hence, the recent exodus.”

He has a valid point.

Same grit is seen on the faces of the young women. They left the security of homes for a dream.

These are the Young Pioneers doing the Journey of Faith. For a dream of equitable society, merit driven.

The young are obsessed to find better versions of a civilization — humane, well-policed and well-regulated.

To escape the grind of a country mired in extreme corruption, casteism, communalism, regionalism, linguistic chauvinism — and subtle racism.

Each one of the group is in search of a Brave New World, mythical or real.

The Talented are exiting.

No policy maker is bothered.

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The hotel has got staff from India, Nepal and Malaysia. The food is good. Service, impeccable.

We do the PCR tests in the evening and wait.

Next morning, reports come — negative.

We are ready to leave Male for Toronto via Doha.

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September11

Time: 4.50—7.45 pm

Male airport

 The horror!

The counter at the business class had a long queue. When our turn came, the female staffer went ballistic. She asked for all the documents related to our son based in Canada. Other documents — RT-PCR reports and vaccine certificates, passports and tickets — were ready but not the papers like sponsorship letter, address, and proof of kinship. She was stern, asked us to leave the counter and return with the soft copies of the documents. It was most harrowing! We pleaded. Told her the embassy had given us visas, but she did not relent.

Paperwork.

Bureaucracy.

She was more of a controlling clerk than a sympathetic customer-care staff willing to help tourists.

Cold logic.

We had a mild shock.

Never expected this treatment from a customer-care agent of an airlines.

No relief was in sight. She was deaf to our requests.

The internet link was unstable in the airport. There was a language barrier. No other senior officials were around to help. The time zones were different. We were stuck.

Boarding would commence soon.

We were almost detained. If denied passage, our schedule would go haywire. We would be spending night in the airport till alternative plans could be made.

Uncertainty can be crippling!

We made frantic calls. Somehow, things worked out. Papers were shown. Boarding passes issued.

We rushed, exhausted but happy.

Bye-bye Male, a city of contrasts. Leaves a bad taste.

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September 12

Doha

Night layover

We tried to rest in the Lounge.  It was a crowded airport and all the lounges full for the business class passengers. It was chilly. I stretch out my legs and try to grab sleep but give up in that lit-up space. The big airport is buzzing with passengers. Few passengers managed to sleep bent over the chairs.

Lucky ones!

Middle of the journey, near dawn, I heard Odysseus singing:

I long for home, long for the sight of home.

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September 12

Doha

Early Morning

It was 8.50 am.

We had boarded the long-haul flight to Toronto — finally. The bunks were narrow in the business class. The entire flight was full. Families. Young students. Everybody in a hurry to reach their destination. About 14 hours to spend on board. It is a demanding job to remain fully masked in those tiny but pricey cubicles.

The economy class is packed.

We are slightly better in that limited area. Bit secluded and safe.

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I watched two movies. Lay down. Sat propped up. The food was not very appealing. The crew was a mix of ethnicities. Polite but bored. Most passengers were sleeping. I was unable to take a nap…instead I dreamt of the spires of the city of Toronto beckoning from afar under a bright sun in a clean blue sky, the latter a heavenly sight for the sore eyes.

I waited for that site as a conclusion to the long journey.

Like every journey, this would end soon.

And that was the award.

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Arrival

September 12

4.0pm

Destination—reached!

Almost on time.

It is sunny outside.

And a magical city springs into a startled view!

It is Sunday afternoon. And we have arrived in a single piece!

We walk briskly across the less-crowded Pearson airport. Minds relaxed. Luckily, the queues were not long. We were cleared fast by friendly officers, collected our bags, came out, tired but delighted…and united with our family, after a long gap.

At last!

It was intoxicating!

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PS: The ban on the India-Canada direct flight got lifted on September 27th onwards. But we do not mind. It was a long odyssey of love and faith on choppy waters and variegated landscapes.

We enjoyed the thrill of becoming mobile again during the endemic curfews imposed by a monarch called Corona and understood the benefits of a science termed kinesis.

Takeaways

…Third day, morning, I have this gnawing emptiness typical of a traveler: Now what?

— Next morning, the epiphany: The end of a formal journey signals the beginning of the other journey.

— Endings. New beginnings.

–That life is a series of journeys only, some within and some, without– constant flux, transformations.

— Every journey delivers this enduring message: Embrace the change, otherwise die by stasis, stagnation…you are already dead inside, if stuck up inside a black hole!

Adventures! We all need them.

Ask Alice. Or listen to Ibn Battuta:

Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Or, to this shout out by Jack Kerouac for the ones restless for another expedition of body-mind-spirit:

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.

We plan to do that only.

Categories
Poetry

Prairie Poems

By Michael Lee Johnson

Courtesy: Michael Lee Johnson
Alberta Bound 


I own a gate to this prairie
that ends facing the Rocky Mountains.
They call it Alberta --
trails of endless blue sky
asylum of endless winters,
the hermitage of indolent retracted sun.
Deep freeze drips haphazardly into spring.
Drumheller, dinosaur badlands, dried bones,
ancient hoodoos sculpt high, prairie toadstools.
Alberta highway 2 opens the gateway of endless miles.
Travel weary, I stop by roadsides, ears open to whispering pines.
In harmony North to South
Gordon Lightfoot pitches out a tune-
"Alberta Bound."
With independence in my veins,
I am a long way from my home.


Tiny Sparrow Feet
 
It's calm.
Cheeky, unexpected.
Too quiet.
My clear plastic bowls
serves as my bird feeder.
I don't hear the distant
scratching, shuffling
of tiny sparrow feet,
the wing dances, fluttering, of a hungry
morning's lack of big band sounds.
I walk tentatively to my patio window,
spy the balcony with my detective's eyes.
I witness three newly hatched
toddler sparrows, curved nails, mounted
deep, in their mother's dead, decaying back.
Their childish beaks bent over elongated,
delicately, into golden chips, and dusted yellow corn.

Michael’s poetry sung to music

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era and is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, DuPage County, Illinois. Mr. Johnson is published in more than 2033 new publications. His poems have appeared in 42 countries; he edits and publishes ten poetry sites.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry

Harmony

by Christopher Manners

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Amidst the crowded cacophony of chaos,

this sweet perception fleetingly crystallized,

in these suddenly calm, pristine waters,

as I no longer perceived each ego clashing,

but a united chorus of the countless cascading

with those blazing harps of blissful harmony

trumpeting beyond all the mundane misery,

as each valiantly distinct and voyaging voice

was a dear resonance of deathless radiance

all vastly imagined by the boundless artist.

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Christopher Manners has had 2 poetry books published by Sophia Perennis.  He has also had poems published by Harbinger Asylum. Born and residing near Toronto, Canada, he has a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from York University.   Manners is the founder of poetryimmortal.com, a poetry blog and encyclopedia dedicated to the classics. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Categories
Musings

People matter more than Money

By Keith Lyons

Some of my best friends on Facebook aren’t my friends anymore

It was the post on Facebook, in the early days, before, you know, before it got really serious. “Does anyone know of anyone actually getting this virus?” The question behind the question was something like ‘this is all fake news, all made up, this is not real’. In the comments section, her FB friends and followers were quick to respond. No. No. Don’t know. No. No. Don’t know anyone. As if to confirm suspicions. So, the poster followed up. Wasn’t it interesting that no one of her hundreds, perhaps thousands of friends, had themselves or knew of anyone with the virus?

When I checked later that week, the denial and dismissal hit some bumps. People, from around the globe, added comments to the list. Yes, they knew of someone who had it. Yes, one of their friends got COVID. Yes, I have it.

So that conspiracy theory in the making was quashed. I selected first unfollow, then unfriend. And thought about blocking or reporting.

But like the arcade game Whac-A-Mole, more so-called Friends were re-posting ‘alternative news’, or penning their own takes on the virus. Sure, we are in a democracy. Sure, information is distributed. Sure, we can be critical of official sources. But when a friend posts, all in upper case, “THIS IS ALL CRAP” I am tempted to turn off the shouting. Because this is a sign that someone has been contaminated, just like in the horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead. Ironically, it is their shouting about all the unnecessary fear and overblown panic that suggests that they themselves are afraid and panicking and have chosen to find comfort in the thin veneer of insight that comes with conspiracy theories. Just that you can’t call them conspiracy theories. Non-mainstream views sounds nicer. Alternative news perhaps.

I’m told not to believe public health officials, political leaders, epidemiologists or scientists. Because, somehow, without educational qualifications, just with a little time using Google and YouTube, my friend is now privy to the real truth, and I am just a mere witless sheep, so naive, so unable to see that this virus hoax is actually a black swan event being used by the powerful elites and clandestine organisations to bring about compulsory micro-chipping, GPS tracking and vaccinations. Or is it really a white swan event, and we could have seen it coming?

So, who will achieve world domination through the pandemic and the recession to follow? The coronavirus itself, isn’t that its goal, aided and abetted by human carriers? All of this is a tad confusing. There’s an invisible virus which is wreaking havoc, it has almost closed down many nations and brought a halt to human activity. We can hear the birds singing, the water is clearer, the air is breathable again, and filled with smells and fragrances. It is an unexpected benefit of lockdown. In such a short amount of time, the Earth has started to heal. We’ve seen how a new world might look, with the kindness of neighbours, a sense of community, time to pause, linger, reflect.

There’s a psychological test, where you imagine yourself in a white room, with no way out. What do you do? Your answer is supposed to indicate your attitude towards death, specifically your own death. In a way, the lockdown has been like a mini-psychology test, to see how we do behave. Are we productive and organised, with full routines and self-care and connecting with others? Or instead, do we mope around, eat too much, binge on Netflix or entertainment as a means of escape, rather than use this time to sort out some things in our lives? Funny how a few months ago many of us were complaining we don’t have enough time with our families or that we are putting off doing things because we are too busy. Yet when the opportunity to spend quality time together or the freedom to do that home decorating task finally arrives, instead we find ourselves wanting to kill those we live with, lamenting over our lack of progress on those rainy day errands, or getting into a cycle of avoidance, regret, and guilt.

In these turbulent times, many things have been put on hold. Not just haircuts, or holidays. But many things have carried on too, though in ways that are not so familiar to us.

The first of my friends to get COVID-19 was in Canada, though she wasn’t able to be tested to confirm her case. One of my best friend’s mother died at the start of the lockdown, not from the virus, but from the kind of natural causes that sees you go out in your late nineties. Travel restrictions and prohibitions on gatherings meant a small service was held via video link.

A comedian and actor from my childhood, Tim Brooke-Taylor, died from COVID-19, on the other side of the world, but because he’d been in the living room when I was young, it seemed like it was close. Then, just a few days ago, a friend calls from China, bearing sad news. One of my friends, a Tibetan in her sixties who founded orphanages and schools across Tibet, had died in Switzerland. The cause of death, I check and re-check the translation on the article in the newspaper: the virus. Tendol was the kindest, big-hearted, loving person I have ever met. She was literally mother to over 300, having welcomed street children, abandoned waifs and orphans into her homes.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, it seems to have separated out those countries that have acted quickly from those who haven’t, or those lacking resources. The daily updates of confirmed cases, patients in hospital, and deaths seems to be too much like the Olympic medal table. We check on how we are doing, how others are doing, how we are doing in relation to our rivals. Self-proclaimed experts ponder exponential curves and possible projections, politicians casually dismiss that it might hurt tens of thousands of people, but they are standing in the way of economic growth.

I would like to go on Facebook and tell others about my friend Tendol, who more than once told me she was ‘the happiest person on Earth’. I would like to let others know that this pandemic is human, not mathematical. I would like others to know people matter more than money, that you can re-start an economy but you can’t bring someone back to life, that if you let go of selfishness and greed you may find your love extends beyond yourself, your family, even your country.

I would like to say this to all my Facebook friends, though the ones I’d really like to reach are now quarantined, unfollowed, unfriended.

Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, with a background in psychology and social sciences. He has been published in newspapers, magazines, websites and journals around the world, and his work was nominated for the Pushcart prize. Keith was featured as one of the top 10 travel journalists in Roy Stevenson’s ‘Rock Star Travel Writers’ (2018). He has undertaken writer residencies in Antarctica and on an isolated Australian island, and in 2020 plans to finally work out how to add posts to his site Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).

Categories
Poetry

The Birds in These Strange Times and more…

By Matthew James Friday

The Birds in These Strange Times
A pair of kites have come for the lake
now the airport is closed, buoyed by empty 
skies, rustling wooded hills, lacey waters.

My wife shows me trees on the lake’s
whispering edge where cormorants gather,
roosting in the trees like paused pterodactyls. 

An adult swallow giddy with its suddenes,
rolling in the early April air, the very first
migrant recoiled by a changed climate.









Back to Blue
Imprisoned in caution,
the cases rising, fear abundant,
school closed, classes cancelled.
All online now. I watch
a documentary about Miles Davis.

I have always struggled with Jazz,
berated the lack of melody,
felt lost amongst the jostling notes.
But following his story, the craft
from the chaos, the passion in tone

I choose to try again. Back to Blue
starts, and notes sound as alarming
as the online coverage but the jingling 
chords, the blasts of trumpet suddenly 
sounds peace while the world tears. 



Balance

From the balcony I watch a cat
watching a squirrel leaping
from one tree to another, change
its mind, return and scuttle
up and down branches, a slither
of fast fur perfectly balanced,
death either side of sure claws.
The squatting cat tilts its head
as the squirrel becomes branch,
then pads off to draw its own line.

In Rooms, Therefore We Are

The rooms we build define us, shape us, create and consume us.

To function as a modern human is to be in a room: offices, classrooms, waiting rooms, shops, bedrooms, gardens, cafés, libraries, trains, airplanes, theatres, cinemas and stadiums.

Alone or confessing, on holiday, marrying, working or transgressing. Watching or waiting, dancing, defecating or contemplating.

Our own heads are a skeletal room we stare out of; thoughts, ideas and words bouncing around the bony walls. Billions pray to be safely ushered into the everlasting room beyond these rooms, to be reunited with those who were once in our rooms.

The number of rooms make all the difference between a slum resident and a billionaire, freedom and imprisonment; rooms that can be built from waste material or secreted into yachts; rooms that only the most valiant warriors can ascend to while others descend to the deepest unreachable rooms.

To feel free, we leap over the walls to the open, roomless countryside, though we return to rooms at night or make them using tents. We stare deeply and longingly into the blinking night sky, wondering if there are rooms on other planets like our planet, which is one giant, spinning room, moving through an ever-expanding room.

Even the atom itself is a kind of theoretical room, built mainly of nothing, of potentially something through which hums the moments of energy that we use to build up all the matter around us.

         Perhaps we love rooms because that is where we began, in our mother’s warm interior room; safe from everything outside and other. Perhaps it is the safety of this dark, nourishing room that is the shadow between every room thereafter.

As children we build pretend rooms, hide in them from the monsters that sneak into our rooms, that lurk in their own dark spaces in the corners.

As adults we spend days rushing in and out rooms. Now, confined to our rooms in fear of that which knows no walls, we are more thankful than ever for the walls. We stare at each other from balconies and buildings, all afraid in our rooms and wondering when the doors will open again.


Matthew James Friday has had poems published in numerous international magazines and journals, including, recently: All the Sins (UK), The Blue Nib (Ireland), Acta Victoriana (Canada), and Into the Void (Canada). The mini-chapbooks All the Ways to Love, Waters of Oregon and The Words Unsaid were published by the Origami Poems Project (USA).
Website:      http://matthewfriday.weebly.com

Categories
Poetry

In Solitude’s Splendour

By Christopher Manners


In Solitude’s Splendour 


In solitude’s splendour, I was blessed
by that graciously guiding breeze,
fervently free with towering thoughts,
as I philosophized amidst the trees,
energized as I examined existence,
contemplating through the destined day,
curiously seeking that cosmic clarity,
while the swift birds seemed to play.

And suddenly I was jolted by joy,
as a resplendent and racing river
overflowing on its progressing path,
as the forest did decisively deliver
this serene sense of triumphant trust
in the universe, its underlying frame,
in the valiant vessel’s secure voyage,
with old anxieties to finally tame.

Immersed in that ecstatic elation,
though the experience was only brief,
it had this lasting influential impact,
vanquishing all my grueling grief,
as I was past my small worrying self,
in this euphoric expanse and tied
momentarily to the river’s source,
while the Sun’s chariot I did ride.

Christopher Manners has had 2 poetry books published by Poetica Press – Sophia Perennis.  He has also had poems published by Harbinger Asylum. Born and residing near Toronto, Canada, he has a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from York University.   Manners is the founder of poetryimmortal.com, a poetry blog and encyclopedia dedicated to the classics. 

Categories
Musings

In time of a growing pandemic: Some thoughts

By Zeenat Khan

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.

Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA

This was originally published in Countercurrents.org