A Year or So Later: How My Life Has Changed Since the Onset of the Pandemic
I ended 2019 and started 2020 in a jubilant mood enjoying the seafood, the music, and the sunsets of Ghana and São Tomé. I sometimes logged in to Twitter or Instagram throughout December and kept reading unsettling posts from friends in China about a severe illness.
I returned to Canada in late-January. I planned to spend time with my parents before taking on my next job overseas.
I was more than halfway through the recruitment process of two potential contracts, one in Cyprus and another one in Eritrea. I had made it past several interviews, a few tests, a couple of more interviews. I knew I'd be offered both. I started reading about Nicosia and Asmara, knowing I'd get to call soon either of those capital cities my new home.
I remember a morning in mid-February when I was shovelling snow and felt my phone vibrate. I received a couple of emails letting me know that recruitment was suspended and that I'd be informed about new steps soon.
It was around -15 degrees Celsius but the sudden chill I felt inside my own body is still something I can't quite describe. I knew things were about to change.
"It's never the changes we want," writes Junot Díaz, "that change everything."
Less than a couple of weeks later, I was notified that both positions were cancelled. Five days later, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus as a pandemic.
My in-between-contracts home, my parents' house in southern Alberta, became my new home. Amid so much uncertainty, fortunately, a couple of months later, I got a job with a Canadian non-profit based in Ottawa that allowed me to work remotely.
Frantic handwashing, physical distancing, facemasks, and lockdowns became part of our daily rituals.
In The Atlantic magazine, Ellen Cushing writes:
"I have […] an immune system and a set of neurotransmitters that tend to function pretty well, a support network, a savings account, decent Wi-FI, plenty of hand sanitizer. I have experienced the pandemic from a position of obscene privilege."
But she admits, "I feel like I have spent the past year being pushed through a pasta extruder."
I feel the same.
I know I'm incredibly fortunate. I have health, financial stability, and (my healthy), loving parents.
But I've changed.
I'm increasingly finding myself with sore, strained eyes, more headaches than usual, and an increased neck and shoulder pain as my screen time has skyrocketed.
I used to adore spending leisurely hours online, coding or getting lost in long-reads. But since January, I don't spend time in front of a screen unless I have to.
I recoil when someone stands or passes too close. I wince when I hear someone cough or sneeze.
I feel anxious when I see crowds in restaurants, movies, or stadiums. I get upset when I see people without masks and annoyed when I see people wearing masks under their nose or chin.
I no longer trust others to care about their health, much less mine.
The world hasn't stopped reaching horrific milestones and death counts. I realize the situation in each country differs. Millions living in countries with obscene economic disparities couldn't afford to stay home to limit the virus' spread. Some leaders worldwide downplayed the risks of the illness, while a few others downright denied the virus's existence.
However, in many places, people's failure to do simple things in the face of countless suffering and death – limiting socializing in large numbers, keeping a safe distance when going to places like the supermarket, wearing a facemask – waned my confidence in humanity.
Even when we do reach a point when the virus is not a threat, what experiences, what lessons will the pandemic leave us with that we'll carry in its aftermath?
Will I stop wincing when someone coughs or sneezes? Will I enjoy going to a crowded jazz bar like I used to? Will my lingering misanthropy eventually subdue?
Maybe I won't even notice when these changes happen. Or, perhaps they’ll be novel and enjoyable experiences.
However, when the coronavirus is controlled, I'd like us to move from the hectic, stressful, unequal, discriminatory, abusive, dysfunctional, destructive, greed-fueled systems and structures our societies have endured.
But, are we going to have a choice?
I want changes. For all of us. Big ones. Those that move us forward and upward for the better. Changes that encourage us to build a common good.
P.S. Let's try to be kind to ourselves and others. ❤️ Please wear a mask. 😷
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