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Knuckling down during coronavirus lockdown

Luis Dias

I feel like I’m living through one of the medical thriller novels of Robin Cook. Remember him? His bestsellers were all the rage not too long ago, with many of his ‘hits’ turned into successful films. I particularly remember ‘Coma’, but there were also ‘Brain’, ‘Fever’, ‘Outbreak’, ‘Vital Sings’, and so many others.

Perhaps someone with real clairvoyance could have foreseen the rapidity with which the coronavirus pandemic and the frantic measures to control it and to keep it at bay have swept the world. Rich or poor, literate or illiterate, there must be very few people alive today who are still completely clueless about our predicament, it has permeated everyone’s lives in small or
large measure.

Who could have thought it would have such far-reaching consequences? I have a few students with one parent working overseas or on board a cruise vessel, and through them I hear of the anguish of enforced separation, of worry on both sides of the divide. Thank God for Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime, and other wonderful means of staying in contact, even in visual contact.

For many long-suffering São-Tomé-ites, particularly those of us close to the riverfront, the lockdown has had the welcome side-effect of turning back the clock to the pre-casino era. All of a sudden, one doesn’t have to circle one’s own house in search of a non-existent parking spot; there are no casino vehicles, no rent-a-cars, no out-of-town vehicles, no boom-boom window-rattling din from ‘pleasure’ cruises or late-night parties or insensitive car stereos turned up in the wee hours of the morning. Yes, I’m aware of the downside in terms of the economy, but perhaps this is also a quiet wake-up call to our state to think of alternatives that do not disrupt the lives and well-being of residents and locals. Tourism has been doddering for some time even before the coronavirus pandemic added insult to injury.

We at Child’s Play had scheduled another piano recital by Karl Lutchmayer on April 3, 2020 as part of our ongoing tenth anniversary celebrations, but decided to cancel in the interest of public health.

Another aspect to the lockdown for those of us who have school-going children is the school closure. A necessary step, for sure. But it means that children have to stay home. For those parents who are also having to work from home, either because they did so anyway or because their workplace has recommended that they do, it means children have some adult supervision. But what happens to children of daily-wage workers, or whose professions (doctors, nurses, hospital and paramedical personnel, fire services, police among many others) just do not permit them the option of working from home? Not every family has another responsible adult, perhaps an able-bodied grandparent to take on the role of guardian. There is really no easy solution, and each family copes as best it can.

That aside, what are children supposed to do with the unexpected, early-onset, extended holiday? Play-dates are out of the question, again for health reasons. So are vacations, in terms of travel. Even a stay-cation has the limitation of avoiding public spaces, libraries, most of the usual places one would have taken a child to during the holidays.

So it’s down to playing in a backyard if one is lucky to have one. Card games and board games if one has handy playmates nearby. And all activities have to be punctuated by frequent hand-washing, and avoiding face-touching. Easier said than done.

There’s reading, of course. It’s a God-given opportunity for children (and adults if their non-working hours have suddenly been extended) to catch up on all the books on their bucket list. Even if one can’t visit libraries, there are so many e-books available for free, especially
the classics.

It’s the perfect time to brush up on a language. It could be school-syllabus Konkani, Hindi, Portuguese or French, or cast the net even further. For those with internet access, there’s tons of study material and YouTube videos to help.

We live in a dangerous time, but from an epidemiological, a journalistic or diarist’s point of view, it’s also a unique and therefore exciting time to be living in. Hopefully, if we survive this (and the odds suggest that most of us will if we take sensible precautions), we will not live through another pandemic in our lifetime. A diary or blog whether written by child or adult will serve as a vital record for posterity, a first-hand account of what it was living through a lockdown from day to day. A child’s viewpoint will add a very different perspective to that of a grown-up, and when the child grows up s/he will value
the archive.

For those of us, of any age, who play a musical instrument, this is a silver lining in the cloud. We should have been practicing anyway, but now we have no excuse. I’ve given our students practice charts, which they are filling up with gusto and with much competitive spirit. For all but the more advanced student (who should be devoting much more), an hour of focused practice can accomplish much, and is not much to ask.

A big lacuna among all music students is the lack of serious listening, and there has paradoxically never been a better time to address this. There’s anyway so much available in terms of internet radio (Classic FM, BBC Radio 3, NPR). But now, with concert halls and opera-houses shutting down at an alarming rate (with terrible economic consequences to performers and the music industry in general), several are magnanimously offering unlimited free access to concerts online. The Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall and the Metropolitan Opera are two prominent examples.

Likewise, many museums and art galleries (for example the Musée d’Orsay Paris) are offering digital access to their trove or art and artefacts. Perhaps it will inspire some of us to get out our pencil, paper and paints and unleash our inner artist.

It’s an opportunity to hone skills at, for example, chess. My son uses Chess Titans,, but there are so many more. There are interactive phone apps where you can choose the level of difficulty, and get useful tips along the way.

Could there be a better time for children to learn how to make themselves useful at household chores from cooking to gardening to just helping at tidying up?

It’s also a time to reflect on how fortunate we are. The poor and frail are always hardest hit by any disaster. At a time when ‘social distancing’, hand-washing and ‘work from home’are the new mantras, try telling that to our multitudes who live in overcrowded cramped conditions with no access to running water and to daily wage workers whose families will starve if they don’t turn up for work. It’s also a time to think of populations around the world who have had lockdowns (and internet shutdowns as well to add insult to injury) imposed upon them for reasons other than public health. I needn’t spell it out for you.

Stay well, stay healthy. This too shall pass.

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