Tag Archives: #Corona

Corona Chronicles

I have a confession to make: secretly, I was kinda happy when India went into a total lockdown on March 25. Come on, I was feeling only what your average overworked, stressed out middle-class working woman felt. The disease was bad, but I was happy to take my staycation.

But I was not going to laze through 21 days. I had plans – house cleaning, writing, being the light of my family, getting lighter … all that good stuff. 

Day 1: Woke up with a sense of awe. We were witnessing history! Realized that there was no newspaper. Worse, no housemaid. For 21 days. An icy hand clutches my internal organs. A week, I can get by, but three weeks? 

Upside: Had a nice long nap in the afternoon. Felt really rested.

Day 2: My mother was absolutely right – housework never ends. No point in slaving, you have to do it all over again … in an hour’s time. New rule: no one allowed to walk on the floor or change clothes. And if anyone wants to eat the rice, sambhar, rasam, veg fry, and curds, they could use their fingers and palms only – no plates allowed. 

Upside: Have started watching re-runs of re-runs old shows.

Day 3: A day of realizations.

  1. My neighbor’s baby has colic. My neighbor has a baby. Really? Just exactly, who is this neighbor?
  2. A family that stays at home eats too much. I have to cook often and in large quantities. Ergo, more dishes. Aaarrrrgggh!
  3. Love my family. I just don’t want them around all the time.
  4. Eating healthy when confined to the home – an oxymoron. Also, how long will my stash of snacks hold out

Upside: Discovering the joys of binge-watching.

Day 4: I hate housework. I-HATE-HOUSEWORK. Once this lockdown is over, I’ll burn the house down. Finding it hard to binge-watch Friends and Big Bang Theory while wondering – ‘Who the h**l is doing their dishes and cleaning their apartments when they are at that d***n coffee shop or the Cheesecake Factory?’ This thought sucks the fun out of watching the shows.

Upside: Begun reading a book … more than a page at a time!

Day 5: Going to commit murder. A man in the next building keeps singing off-key and loudly along with his stereo. Hoping his family will do him in themselves. If they can’t, I volunteer.

Hearing about immigrants in cities trying to go home. Terribly sad for them. Okay, I’ll admit – my suffering is small potatoes. By the way, do I have enough potatoes?

Upside: Gave myself the day off. Read a wonderful thriller.  

Day 6: Dying of housework. Wiping all the torches, electric lamps and burned out bulbs, even gas stove – but no genie. I now know who I love the most – the maid. If anyone offers to bring my maid back in return for my family … well, I guess that’ll never happen (sob).

Sick of Friends. For just how long did this show run?

Upside: Today, a resident set things up so that we get veggies and milk packets every morning. Yay! 

Day 7: Today, my husband went out, as a volunteer for shopping for our apartment complex. I suspect he was just itching to get out of the house. When my hunter-gatherer returned from the mythical land called Outside, I made him give a step-by-step account of the entire half-hour trip. It took 45 minutes. A highlight of today.

Huge Upside: Husband took over the dishwashing duties. 

Day mmm-hmm: Missed a few days of journaling. Hell, missed a few days of life – got my dates wrong. I cheered when I found we had a couple fewer days to go of the lockdown. I have gone from being merely grouchy to being depressed as well. 

Upside: ?????

Day something or the other: Today, my husband got another chance to escape … needed salt! Bit down hard on a pillow and stay that way to prevent myself from asking him to buy a ton of snacks. 

Day sometime-during-week-two: Am all weirded out. Vocabulary stunted as we use only the words Corona Virus, Covid-19, lockdown, self-quarantine, shut up, and how the hell should I know. Still hate housework, but we now have a truce going. I’ll sweep, but the corners have to fend for themselves. If my boss can’t deal with it, she can do the work herself. Oh, wait, I’m the boss. Dang it.

Upside: All of us are healthy. We are all home, we are together. Watching TV footage of all the migrant laborers trying to get home – heartbreaking. Hunger and uncertainty in the camps – scary. And sick people in overflowing hospitals and the deaths … at least we aren’t going through that.

Day end-of-week two: Identified new syndrome – Lockdown-Induced Writer’s Block. Wonder if people will still be interested in the same things post-COVID. Still can’t get over the unreality of the situation. Is this lockdown a waste of time, or the best idea ever?

The mood around town is strange too. Most people are taking it as a time to relax. Some are going out anyway, once or twice a day. There is some seriousness but it’s not all gloom and doom. 

Summer is in full swing. The heat is killing. It’s enforcing the lockdown better than the fear of Coronavirus.

Upside: Birds are singing like gangbusters. We’re seeing bulbuls and parrots far more than before.

Week 3 beginning day-(Name starts with M or something like that): Conflicting feelings:

Happy because I’ve Corona eyes – dark circles are completely gone.

Upset, because I’ve Corona hair – shaggy and roots are showing.

Day Wed/Thurs. Week 3: Yay, only one more week to freedom. I am feeling far more upbeat than before.

April 15: India’s lockdown extended until May 3.

Hell, I’m putting all activities on hold as I concentrate on saving my sanity.

Good luck to you too!

Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Words to Art: What Are You Feeling?

As the recent lockdown hit, my community art space in Arlington, Virginia, Studio Pause, closed to the public. People asked me to take our weekly writing PAUSE sessions online, shared links for bookmaking videos from my website, and even quoted my Instagram posts on their social media. I did phone calls with worried children who had made art for me, their art teacher. I got emails from seniors asking what creative things I do to stay calm. At the studio, I had experienced people’s discomfort during the two federal shutdowns we had in Washington D.C. Then there was anger. Now there is panic.

In early April I got an email from Special Projects Curator for Arlington Cultural Affairs Cynthia Connolly asking for “a super-fast and fun art project.” I had previously worked with Connolly on Columbia Pike Recipes for You, a community book arts project, and Words to Art: Art on the ART Bus, where I collaborated with bus drivers. I created a new version of Words to Art asking the public to collaborate this time. Connolly decided to bring four other Arlington artists into the project. Words to Art Spring 2020: A Community Art Project by Sushmita Mazumdar & Arlington Arts, which would run for four weeks.

Every Monday, this online project invites the public to share one word expressing their feelings about the COVID-19 quarantine. Artists select a word from the submissions and create artworks inspired by them. The public follows their creative process through the weekend via social media as the artworks are shared. The finished works are posted at the Arlington Arts website and at my Studio Pause website. 

For Week One, I picked the word Non-Essential to work on. It was submitted by Rosendo Escareno. Describing my artwork I wrote, “I love the power conveyed by thick strokes of Chinese ink, so I used it to write the 2 Ns in ‘non’. As I wrote the word ‘non’ over and over with water-soluble crayons, I thought of how many of us were suddenly declared ‘non-essential.’ Yet in my home, I had decided that I would be the only one to go shopping for groceries. I had made myself essential! I even swapped some ‘non’ for ‘mom.’”

Chastened, submitted by Frank Higgins, was rendered by David Amoroso. Speaking to Arlington Magazine, Amoroso notes that since the pandemic, he’s had major paradigm shifts. “Now, everything and everybody feels a little like the enemy.” Art has always been his therapy, he says, bright colors and pop culture subjects. However, there is a distinct change in the look of the art he created for this project—they are black and white. “The words I have selected so far—chastened and broken—really speak to what’s going on inside me.”

Survival was submitted by Lloyd Wolfe and rendered by Maribeth Egan, a mixed media artist and arts educator. Her collage includes a visual bombardment of natural forces threatening to obscure the word. A cartoon hand in the background suggests a route to survival: wash your hands. She uses collage, ink jet, gouache, and embroidery floss on paper to create the desired effect. Maribeth firmly believes everyone should learn to value creativity, make art, and is happy to support that effort. In her art practice, she combines a variety of materials with paint, investigating what rankles or delights her at a given time.

Stuck was submitted by Leigh Bailey and rendered by MasPaz, who spends the majority of his time traveling, teaching and painting murals across the world. His digital illustration represents people who choose to not leave their homes in order to protect their family, yet do not have enough money to feed their children. In his home country of Colombia, those in need of help, hang a red flag outside of their homes. 

I used the artworks as visual prompts for my writing PAUSE sessions, where studio members craft short free-writes inspired by art. Kori Johnson was immediately drawn to Stuck. She wrote, “In Colombia, you hang a red flag outside your door to signal you need help. I wonder if that would work here. Would anyone hang a flag? Would anyone come to help? What red flags would we wave if we could get help without judgment? What flags do we ignore, even when they are right in front of our faces?”

An excerpt from studio member Mary Louise Marino who took a poetic approach: 

“… 

an unsafe outside 

and insecure inside

unable to stretch

and grounding our feet

in the foundation of our home

we become heavy lines 

stiff and stuck”

Lonely, submitted by Colleen Moore, was rendered by Kate Fleming, who has spent her isolation making oil paintings of toilet paper – a playful, yet poignant nod to one of COVID’s hottest commodities. In response to this, studio member Ruben Villalta wrote, “I would like to write about the picture of the toilet paper, to think about something happier than the disastrous COVID-19.” Villalta remembered attending an art talk in El Salvador by Antonio Cañas, who discussed his Warhol-style painting of Daria, the popular 90’s MTV cartoon character, with rolls of toilet paper behind her. It was a symbol of protest against the status quo of societal consumerism.

Enthusiasm grows. People loved the statements the artists were sharing, and also the photos of them working. I am excited to see this project help us express our emotions and feelings in different ways and make them visual. I am enjoying the public response and present a new question to explore—is the artist essential? 

Sushmita Mazumdar taught herself to be a writer and book artist, writing stories from her childhood, after a 15-year career in advertising in India and the US. Encouraging everyone to share their stories of home, heritage, and migration through art, she opened Studio Pause in 2013, mixing community voices into her own work, allowing cross-cultural collaborations and dialogues to inform her creations.

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

Worlds over, the COVID-19 lockdown has brought out the creative potentials of millions of the people. Numerous anecdotes have been shared in the media about how migrant workers were returning to their homes on foot walking hundreds of kilometres, a mother from Telengana making a solo motorbike trip of 1400 KMs to Nellore to bring back her son stranded there, and a host of similar experiences. Our family had one such real-life experience to share. 

My brother’s daughter and her husband are residents of Australia and living in Melbourne. She was expecting her first child by the end of April 2020. February 2020, her mother left for Australia to be with her daughter during the period of delivery, as many of us have been doing for our children living abroad. In Australia, the parents of my brother’s son-in-law had gone to Sydney where their elder son was residing. They were also awaiting the happy news of grandparent-hood. Come COVID-19, the whole world appears to have come under a single-command universe. All around the world, there were lockdown of all shops, malls, offices, and advising the staff to work from home. Social distancing has been on everyone’s lips. Wearing a mask has become mandatory. A uniform pattern has been emerging in fighting this COVID-19.

On 22nd March 2020, I received a WhatsApp call from my brother’s wife. I wondered if her daughter’s delivery date had advanced and she wanted to share the good news of the newborn baby girl. 

“Hope, the delivery was OK!” I asked, as I was trying to cope with my onslaught of thoughts.

“No, Mama, I have come back to Chennai and so have our son-in-law’s parents. We traveled together from Australia.” 

“What about the delivery of the child? Why did all of you come back?”

“In view of COVID-19, the Australian government as an abundant precaution has advised those foreign nationals who are above 50 years of age to go back to their respective countries. So, our son-in-law and our daughter expressed their concerns that if we fall sick under COVID-19, our medical expenses will not be covered by the insurance policies and the hospitalization expenses will be prohibitive. We decided to return, leaving both of them to manage themselves during this critical period,” she reasoned.

I was shell shocked. My thoughts raced back to my childhood days. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, childbirth events in our home used to be facilitated by a mid-wife visiting us; she would help the woman in labor pains delivering the child. Later, this system was replaced by a nurse doing the same tasks. Slowly, taking women to hospitals became the norm. But, almost in all these cases, the entire support system will be from the girl’s parent’s side, everyone chipping in to reduce the rigor of the tasks. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a child’s delivery in the absence of this familial help. 

“Hey, in your absence, who will take care of her?”

“Don’t worry, Mama, she is a real courageous Mumbai born woman. They are confident in handling the events themselves. Fortunately, COVID-19 has made both of them quarantine at home and they have stacked their house with staples and vegetables for one month. The hospital is just a ten minute drive away from their home. So, let us hope things will turn out good for us.”

“Offer your prayers to our Kula Deivam (family deity) and keep a ten rupee coin tied in turmeric water-soaked cloth. Keep me posted. I will also speak to both of them.”

“OK, Mama. I will do as advised by you.”

On 27 April 2020, my brother phoned up and conveyed the happy news that his daughter has delivered the girl baby at 08 09 hours. Both the mother and the child are safe. A cute photo of the child was immediately shared through WhatsApp with our family members.

Adversity is a blessing in disguise and it brings out the best in us. These young couples have proved it. While COVID-19 has affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers, it has a flip side too. It makes one stronger. See, my brother’s daughter is the first woman in our family who has delivered a child and managing chores without any support from the parents. Hats off to this 21st Century woman and her newborn girl.

Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, I studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College. 

When You Can’t Send Money Home

Parents of migrants live alone denied the presence of their children in times of need.

Their children, immigrants in another country, send money home to ensure their parents are not wanting for food and help. Often migrants leave their own children behind with grandparents or family members as they seek a living in a foreign land, promising to return with treasures for both parents and children.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one out of five workers are unemployed and many have their wages reduced, threatening to cut that lifeline of support between child and parent.

The inability to remit money home because of job loss or a decline in wages endangers the reliability of that support. A drop in remittance means that a migrant’s family back in their home country won’t be able to afford food, healthcare, and basic needs. As the money dries up, the pandemic will unleash unrelenting poverty and an unexpected pandemic of hunger for some families.

The number of people dying every day due to starvation will overtake the number of dead as a result of COVID-19 and the “hunger pandemic” will bring “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, warned UN World Food Programme (WFP).130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic ramifications.

At a webinar on May 8th organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, to examine Covid-19’s Impact on the Developing World, experts reviewed trends as the pandemic spreads. Demetrios Papademetriou, of the non-partisan, Washington-based think tank The Migration Policy Institute, stated that the true effects of this pandemic would be visible in the next 3 months. Unparalleled economic devastation, the kind we have never ever experienced, not even during World War II, will reveal its true form.

Dulce Gamboa, a Policy Specialist at Bread for the World, discussed the impact of Covid-19 on malnutrition and famine in the developing world and the need for a global response to a new pandemic of hunger. COVID-19 could cause extreme hunger to double, she said. Malnutrition weakens peoples’ immune systems and children who are malnourished face long-term health and cognitive consequences. Bread for the World is urging Congress to expand health and humanitarian programs, strengthen the global food supply chain and social protection programs, and allow U.S. funded school feeding programs around the world to serve children while schools are closed.

The United Nations food agency reports that at least 300,000 people will die every day over a three-month period as a result of the outbreak and its economic ramifications as the catastrophic coronavirus chokes off cash lifelines for hard-pressed households in poorer countries.

Globally in 2017, an estimated $625 billion (USD) was sent by migrants to individuals in their home countries, according to economists at the World Bank. These remittances are important economic resources in developing countries. According to a 2016 World Bank report, remittance flows into these nations are more than three times that of official development aid. For instance, Nepal received an estimated $6.6 billion in remittances, equivalent to 31.3% of its GDP, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of World Bank data for 2016. In Sri Lanka, where seven percent of the households have a migrant abroad, remittances form 8% of the GDP.

Remittances, once considered more stable than other kinds of external capital flows, are now in danger of drying up as all countries have been hit at the same time with the same pandemic.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 will be catastrophic for families and nations. COVID-19 has shown us how globalization spreads contagion of all kinds.

We have little visibility into how bad, bad is going to be, but for now, the song that once played at the Sri Lankan airport is silent.

“After much hardship, such difficult times
How lucky I am to work in a foreign land.
I promise to return home with treasures for everyone”

Ritu Marwah wrote this article as a fellow of Ethnic Media Services.

 

They Found A Way To Say I Do

The owner of Silver Spoon, Vidya Gurikar, listened in horror as Governor Gavin Newsom effectively shut California down. Her son’s wedding, set for April 18th, was exactly a month away. The threat of cancellation now hung in the air. Her son, Shreyas, whose wedding it was, worked in the business with her, a small business that – wait for it – catered weddings.

As a high-end gourmet catering company, Silver Spoon faced cancellation of all client celebratory events. The company must pivot if they have to survive.

Vidya stepped up her takeout business. Their small business had a mortgage on the commercial kitchen to pay, and staff to keep employed. Spring harvest celebrations like Ugadi and Gudi Padwa have prescribed sweets and dishes. Client orders poured in. Vidya took to scouring grocery stores very early in the morning to gather ingredients, sometimes going to five different grocery stores to cook one takeout menu. Shreyas’ wedding had still not been canceled. March threatened to roll into April and the end of the shutdown was not in sight.

Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27 promising small businesses like Silver Spoon some reprieve. Potentially forgivable loans were available at low rates of interest. However very few saw the money before the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was exhausted. Crowdsourced database COVID Loan Tracker showed that only about 5 (or five percent) of those who applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan say they’ve received one. Less than 9 percent of the Protection Payment Plan monies went to the small businesses in food services.

Distribution of Protection Payment Plan

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government’s big initiative to aid small businesses and their employees during the coronavirus lockdown, ran out of cash within two weeks of funds opening on April 3.

On Friday, April 17, at a Zoom briefing update on the Pandemic Impact on Ethnic Populations organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation—Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th District in the heart of the Silicon Valley high-tech hub where Silver Spoon’s customers live, spoke of the need to increase help to small businesses and workers in essential businesses. “In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote,” said Representative Khanna.

“This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.” Along with United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Khanna has made a proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. They have requested that the next coronavirus relief package to pass Congress must include the policies in the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

Congressman Khanna and Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio, also have introduced the Emergency Money for the People Act to provide additional cash payments for hard-working Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-time payment under the CARES Act does not provide nearly enough support for American families like Vidya Gurikar’s.

There are a number of undocumented workers working in the food industry. Panelists at the EMS briefing feared that undocumented workers, who have long been understood to be a backbone of the California restaurant industry, will receive no relief if they have no social security number.

Regardless of their immigration status, workers should be helped said Assemblymember David Chiu. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will provide $125 million in stimulus checks to undocumented workers. The PUA benefits are payable if you don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in California or another state, and also do not qualify for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave benefits.

California will give 150,000 undocumented adults a one-time cash benefit of $500 each with a cap of $1,000 per household. Undocumented workers, who are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, form nearly 10 percent of California’s workforce, said Governor Newsom. They are “overrepresented” in sectors that have been deemed essential such as healthcare, agriculture and food services, manufacturing and logistics.

Since the pandemic hit California, other grassroots financial assistance programs have been created for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19-related job losses in San Francisco and Sonoma County. A relief fund for local migrant youth was launched in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Alameda counties, and recently reopened its application process.

The question that remains unanswered though is how does an undocumented worker get the monies. This is not yet clear. The state’s funds will be dispersed through regional nonprofits who have experience serving undocumented communities, and personal information from undocumented workers will not be required.

Vidya and her son Shreyas have decided to go ahead with the planned wedding. It will be a quiet ceremony in the backyard.

Orange flowers, traditional color for a Hindu wedding, festoon the metal pagoda set up beneath the tall pine tree. Fragrance of the peach-tree blossoms drops down onto the blades of lemongrass. Mint shoots sparkle green. Wooden figures playing traditional musical instruments line up under the tree, guests at the family-only garden wedding.

The bride, resplendent in a red saree, looks worriedly at the images of her parents’ Zoomed in from India. The groom, handsome in a long golden sherwani coat adjusts the turban on his forehead as he sits on an orange and black chair beneath a curtain of marigold-orange flowers. Flowers, red, yellow and orange, sway in the breeze. It is a celestial wedding remarked a guest in India later that day, when she saw the photographs.

Outside the house, colorful sweets peep out of the windows of the red sweet boxes nestled under the cherry tree. Yellow mango burfi fudge, white milk balls with black crispy crusts soaking in sugar syrup, a caviar of fragrant, sweet chickpea boondi droplets, a cloud of white, milky sweetness, encased in a pillow of white rasgulla cheese sponge, – the sweets are for the friends of Silver Spoon.

Armed with bells and Bluetooth speakers that blast out celebratory music, masked friends of Silver Spoon and its owners drive by waving to the newly married couple who appear at the door, flanked by the groom’s parents. Standing six feet apart, some friends break into a spontaneous dance.

Resilience is the hallmark of the immigrant. In the face of all odds, pirouetting small businesses will spin to the post-corona economy’s dance-tune. Governor Gavin Newsome, Congressman Ro Khanna – you are invited to join the dance.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.