GSBTB: the quarantine diaries

Based on where you are in the world or your circumstances, guidelines on social distancing and what a “lockdown” constitutes can vary. We asked some community members across the globe to send us an excerpt of how they’ve been feeling during the Corona crisis, what their days look like, and what they’ve been reflecting on. Read some entries below, including photos showing glimpses into a life spent in quarantine.

Ibrahim

Palermo, Sicily

I am 20 years old and I come from Conakry, Guinea, where my younger brother and mother still live. That’s the family I’ve left behind.

I left my city at 14 years old for many reasons, knowing that my first responsibility was to take care of my family — even if it meant that I had to start doing that from a very young age.

During my “journey of hope”, I’ve stayed in both  in Algeria and Morocco, where I spent 2 years working in extremely difficult conditions. Despite the difficulties, this allowed me to earn enough  money to send to my family and to reach Europe. This seemed to be the only way to make my dreams come true.

I really wanted to study, so I could have new opportunities for my future. 

Mural entiled ‘Black Jesus’ in the Ballarò district of Palermo. Source: Private.

So I ended up landing in Italy on the 5th of November 2016. I began doing everything to build a better life for myself — starting from studying Italian, so I could find a job. I was working in an African restaurant, and a community centre where I would do tours taking people around the city, giving them an up-close perspective on how migrants live in Palermo. I’ve now done everything from being a bartender, pizza chef, waiter, cultural mediator, tourist guide, and even a dancer. Out of all of these things, dance is my biggest passion.

I have been here for four years, but my boss had to fire me in January because he didn’t make enough money to pay me. Then the Corona crisis hit and all tourism in Italy stopped. I lost my job at the restaurant, and there were no incoming tourists to take around the city, so I lost that source of income too. Everything from bars to restaurants have been affected, so finding a job is all the more difficult — now I don’t have a job to pay rent, or to help my family. I ended up losing my apartment, because I wasn’t able to afford rent; fortunately, I have a friend here who is hosting me for a while. 

Every day, I dance for several hours in my room. Dancing helps me to stay sane — but I can’t say it’s making me happy any more.

I hoped I could study one day and find a good job here, but I’ve realised that this is not the right country to do so. All my hard work over the last couple of years hasn’t been paying off. In the face of such a crisis, it became even clearer to me that immigrants such as myself would continue to struggle here, without receiving any kind of help. 

I have always liked Germany, and I see it as a welcoming country, with many job opportunities. That is why I want to move there. I am already studying German, and every day I surf the web in hopes of finding any kind of recommendations and tips that may help me find a job there one day.

I really hope that day is soon. 

Sasha

Lisbon, Portugal

Man, life is weird these days.

I have no idea what day of self-isolation it is. I know that on March 10th my partner Vasco and I went to see his little siblings and everything seemed completely normal until we took a tram home. It was one of those beautiful old wooden trams usually packed with tourists. It was completely empty, speeding through the empty city, squeaking and shaking. The window I was sitting by had no glass, so I kept stretching my arm out, feeling the warm wind against my skin (and seriously bothering Vasco). That was the last time I felt carefree.

I know that on March 11th I still went to an event — it was an important meeting with some government officials — and I remember feeling really unsure about whether that was a good idea. Inside the government building, everyone was already freaking out. They said everything would shut down the next day. I still went out for dinner that day, feeling uneasy, and ended up taking an Uber home instead of the bus. I felt quite selfish. That must have been the last time I left my house without absolutely having to.

Quarantine-time food adventures. Source: Private.

By the end of that week, Vasco and I had decided we were officially staying at home. We had been buying groceries online for a long time — ever since I’d discovered this magical (and free!) service and refused to ever set foot in a supermarket again — so we were going to just do our usual shopping online. That didn’t work, of course, as everyone else had also discovered the magical service. Instead, we went to a couple small shops around our house and bought what was available there instead. Our wine store sent us an email saying they now deliver wine. For free. Oh the dangers. There have been no masks, hand sanitizer, or alcohol in pharmacies here since the beginning of March, so we nominated soap to be our main hope. We both work from home, still have our jobs, and have no kids, so it doesn’t get much more privileged when it comes to the reality practical implementation of ‘staying the f**k at home’ or ‘working from home’.

This is the tricky part: we have to normalise the situation so that we are able to carry on with our work and household tasks, but at the same time we also must not forget that nothing about this situation is normal — so that we don’t drown in guilt over not being super productive all the time.

Cooking has proven to be quite effective in our house – it takes my mind off the news, allows me to be creative, and has concrete, tangible (and delicious, if all goes well) results. Cleaning, on the other hand, has not become very popular around here, even though in normal times I used to engage in stress cleaning quite a bit. I guess there’s a time for everything and right now does not seem to be the time to organize closets. We all have the same task: staying healthy and sane. But we all go about it differently, trying out various things and hoping to find what works – and that’s completely fine.

Ritika 

Bremen, Germany

Be mindful. Be grateful. Be kind. 

It’s crazy how much you begin to discover when life slows down. The multiple less-taken paths from your apartment to the water that you somehow never knew about. The time of day when the first rays of sunlight make it on to your balcony. The little green caterpillar inching her way along the sidewalk and her trusty shadow sidekick. The kaleidoscope shapes dancing under your eyelids before you open your eyes for the first time in the morning.

Encountering my green friend. Source: Private.

The past four years of my life, I spent every waking moment at work, at school or thinking about one of the two – that is, when I was not “trying to relax” in front of the TV or at the bar at the end of the night. Somehow, it took a global pandemic and life as I know it ceasing to exist, for me to finally live in the present.

I rediscovered my love for E minor while practicing the piano for the first time in over ten years. My grandmother and I chat every morning without fail. Cooking has become a passion, instead of a dreaded task. I buy groceries for my neighbors who aren’t able to themselves. My loved ones will finally receive letters from me, after years of my talking about it. YouTube taught me how to knit and I now own another pair of fuzzy socks. Yesterday, I danced around my living room naked and had the best laugh with myself I think I’ve ever had. 

Re-learning the piano on my balcony. Source: Private.

There are also days when I can’t get out of bed. I cry while reading the news. Lying awake thinking about everything and nothing at the same time has become a common occurrence. I often feel guilty for the luxuries that I have right now. And my most valuable takeaway? All of this is normal and, more importantly, okay. My feeling good, even during a crisis of this magnitude, is okay. My feeling like crap, even though I have nothing to want for, is okay. 

I have never been more in touch with the world around me. I have never been more grateful for everything that I have. I have never been more kind to myself or those around me. Thank you, Corona — for teaching me how.

Elia

Islamabad, Pakistan

Every thought is prefaced with a gloom I can’t quite put my finger on. Time has collapsed into an indefinite line. 

Waking up, I dread something and then I walk my dog so the day is over, and I am in bed once more. 

It feels like one of someone else’s making. 

I hate the word ‘writhe’ as it pops into my head.

The question of the day, once a daily revelation, was answered before it was asked. There is nothing more to be curious about. Bleakness has always been enduring for me, so much so now that it slithers into fear. 

Taking Luna out on a walk. Source: Private.

Someone I love told me it is much harder to be mean in person. When people in their orbits were at their farthest from me in mine, calling texting, Facebook- and Twitter-ing, somehow pushing them further, I would look for a way to touch them. Please, I thought, soften when you look into my eyes.

But the day is over, just like the last one, and the one before — uneven and uneasy. I wonder whether it is worth frantically messaging someone who has become so significant in this moment for no explainable reason to tell them that I am sorry if I ever hurt them. Whether that would make the distance I’ve suddenly perceived between us less daunting. 

I write it out. But I know myself. I’ll want the look. 

There’s that hollowness again.

Abeera

Berlin, Germany

Life has changed a bunch since I last wrote anything to myself. Or perhaps it was always like this, and it’s only now that I’ve stopped to realise it. 

Maybe we’ve collided with some alternate dystopian reality which is seeping into our new one. Or maybe this is how shaky things always were — it took a virus to stop rabid, fast-paced global capitalism and bring the world to a screeching halt. Borders have shut down, people cannot travel. Jobs are being lost all around. But the sun is shining outside, and I see people roaming about without a care in the world. The leaves are slowly turning green, and flowers are blooming — pretty shades of white, red, yellow, and pink. I notice them when I take lonely hour-long walks through my neighbourhood. In the background, the stock market is crashing, and we’re apparently entering a financial recession — but spring is here, and it’s as if it wants everyone to know it.

Things you notice on lonely walks. Source: Private.

As the days get sunnier, outside seems to be suspended in a state of semi-normalcy. Except the abundance of face masks, people darting around you on the street (always struggling to maintain a 2-meter distance), it’s as if everything is half-normal. Sometimes, I even forget we’re experiencing a great, overwhelming shift in the way we function. My mind tricks itself into believing that I’m not in the middle of a great historical event. Then I’ll be doing something routine, like washing a plate, and the realisation will hit me. Or I’ll have a dream about sitting in the park with my friends, swapping food, exchanging stories; a normal Berlin summer, spending day after day in a careless, warm haze. Often after these exceptionally mundane dreams, I’ll wake up with a jolt — the moment my eyes open, I’m confronted by reality. Those are the most daunting days.

I described it as a ‘cabin fever-themed dream’ to one of my friends. Complacency is something I usually associate with the privileged West, but since I live here now, I feel I’m part of this privilege. During my yearly visits to my hometown in Pakistan, the first thing that would get to me would always be the lack of free movement. The absence of sidewalks; the need for a car to get anywhere; lack of safety; or even societal scrutiny preventing you from freely walking around (because good girls don’t exactly go walking around alone in the streets). I’ve gotten used to just being able to leave whenever I wanted without worrying about anyone or anything. Independence — that’s what it is, right? But when I go back home, I always feel my independent self diminish a little, even if it’s through the simple act of not being able to go on a walk whenever I want. This anxious little ball of restless energy would start growing within me; I’d feel like I was constantly pacing around the house, fidgeting, getting more irritable, doing anything to feel some sort of movement. That feeling of being trapped inside an invisible box — that’s what I feel during this time. It’s not even that I can’t leave, it’s the feeling that I shouldn’t. The familiarity of this feeling is uncomfortable and unsettling —  and to be honest, pretty exhausting.

Watching a sunset from inside. Source: Private.

So my advice to myself (and everyone else) is this: take this time to be compassionate, not just to others, but also to yourself. Being caught in a constant whirlpool of harrowing headlines, spiking numbers, and distressing news — it gets draining. Sitting in front of screens and constantly listening to disembodied voices can be pretty tiresome. Watching a semblance of structure slip away with each passing day can bring up feelings of guilt for not being “productive” enough — but this situation is strange and unprecedented. It makes you feel both connected and separated — so take this time to feel your emotions wholly, in all their greatness and heaviness.