Life and Love in the time of Corona
By Rehad Desai
Today I start taking my own advice about surviving these times and start a blog, its going under the title of the new film we have been busy for the last few months, A Gift From The Dying, more on that later. I have been prompted to do so by the self quarantine at home in Johannesburg, that a recent trip to London has now imposed on me. Its a blog as opposed to a diary because I am hoping by sharing my thoughts and opening up my heart it will help others overcome their isolation.
Here I share some snippets of stories as that is what I do best.
I am in day 4 of lock down and woke up this meaning feeling very emotional and in need of self expression. My heart began to swell when I heard my partner Anita talking on the phone to our grandchildren. I have not laid my eyes or hands on them for nearly two weeks now, and it is really tough because they are such an important part of our lives and and I know vice versa. I ended a fb post the other day which got huge amount of shares, it was signed off with Love in the time of Corona.
Why did it resonate, because it spoke deeply to what it means to be human, what make us human. The last 9 months of my love I have spent my spare time reading as much as possible around the climate crisis and being as active as possible in Extinction Rebellion as I can. I soon twigged that I needed to confront what the existential threat means at a personal level, yes embracing the grief. Being and staying human.
How do I live in the time of so much uncertainty.
So there I was giving a public talk on the climate crisis I September of last year, I was explaining the staggering figures when it came to the loss of species on our planet and all of a sudden I found myself tearful, needing to find composure so I could continue. I realised then that I was grieving and I needed to come to terms with what was going on with me emotionally. I had start to confront what this means for how I live my day to day to life.
Let me digress a little my reading by October of last year had taken me to the understanding that momentous climate events ‘shocks’ are ahead of us maybe sooner than later (hey COVID maybe one of them) and that I may very well not live live to the age tthat my parents did. This required a re -examination of what are the things I consider to be important in the face of an existential threat.
Fortunately, I had the space to do so, because I was working out of Brussels in December, working with my friend and editor Geert Veuskens, who gave me his flat in the middle of the hustle and bustle.
I turned inwards, kept myself to myself for night after night week after week, watched hours upon of sci-fi on Netflix, much of it utter crap, read academic climate stuff, and most importantly watched videos on you tube that involved conversations with truly progressive minded people, engaging each other on a deep and often spiritual level about living with so uncertaintity about what the future holds. I knew I was not alone and there was a way out of what people are describing as climate mania (a head long rush into activism to distract yourself from the reality of climate induced societal collapse) more on that another day.
I was beginning to learn to live differently, placing more store on my relationships with my nearest and dearest, reconciling, being me forgiving and kinder to myself and in the process others, in short engendering a radical self- compassion. Working out what I could relinquish to simplify my life. All that life affirming type of stuff and everything felt much more bearable. I soon felt able to continue to involve myself in activism around the climate crisis. In Extinction Rebellion (XR) parlance I started to practice in my life the 4 ‘R’s as expounded by Jem Bendell.
The COVID test centre
So yesterday morning I follow the protocol as rightly outlined by our government and go and get a test. I felt excited that I was finally going out, self quarantine gets to you man . I arrive to the local private hospital, they provide me with a decent mask and whisk me of to fill out the forms, get my check form a very jackedd up nurse. She touched my neck, checking my lymph glands, it felt to so so good to be touched. I was reminded how important being touched is, how we are essentially social animals and how difficult this will be for all of us.
I spoke to the staff about keeping the chairs outside the testing tent a reasonable distance from one another. They did not seem impressed. I did not want to argue with anyone, particularly these people, those who are working at the coal face of this disease, the real heros of the monent. I asked one of the nurses were they enough testing kits and she responded with a no, I replied was it because those of who are wealthy enough are getting tested and she said exactly. Testing apparently is only useful in the early phase of the epidemic, really?
The test involved having a swab inserted deep into your nasal passage, the nurse held my head while she was busy with the process, again it felt nice, but the discomfort soon negated that feeling.
It had been over 10 days since anybody had touched me. Anita and I are both waiting for results and we rightly behaving as we are both infected, which requires physical distancing – a very difficult way to live, But hell we have a relatively large house and small garden. Thank god, becasue they have now apparently shut the parks in Johannesburg, why I don’t know.
Back to London the epicentre of the UK epidemic
I was swapping intimate stories with Jess Search about what had been happening to me regarding the lows and highs of being involved in climate work in a Pub in central London last week Thursday following a 4 day climate story telling lab, her and doc society’s work continues to inspire me, hence my decision to go to London to participate in the workshop. In the course of this discussion my back bag was stolen that included my UK and S African passport. I was stuck in the heart of the vipers nest for a least another few days – my stress levels shot through the roof, would I be able to get back home. My good friends and comrades Bruce and Sarah provided a safe haven for me while I struggled to get an emergency travel document to travel.
The anxiety that I was feeling about travelling to London was only confirmed when I arrived on the 9th March. The news that night required a focused reading between the lines, but it was clear that the proverbial shit was about to hit the fan. Social or rather physical distancing, that is what we should be calling it, kicked in, we knew why we doing it because by protecting ourselves we were protecting the vulnerable. In the UKs case that was mainly the old and those who have underlying conditions.
I was fuming, people were told to stay at home if they showed any symptoms and phone the NHS hotline, they were proceeding of stay calm and carry on, it resonated with many as it connected with the stoicism that the Brits are known for. No mass testing, no talk of closing the schools or shutting down business, this policy of ‘herd immunity’ smacked of the survival of the fittest, social Darwinism. The delay in imposing on what is required will cost many many lives and chickens will come to roost for the Tories.
Let me get back to my story, On Weds night this week my youngest son Nico, who is living in London who had just found himself a decent job following his first class pass for his Masters phoned me, he was made redundant three weeks into his new job and was clearly worried, it led to mixed emotions from my side , he as no longer forced to travel on the vectres of the COVID – London Transport and work in a large office at the epicentre of the UK epidemic, but how will he survive?. Gratitude for the fact he has Anna, a wonderful vivacious partner, who still has her job and that I still have two brothers and many nieces and nephews in London and a mother who can help him financially. He will not go hungry. He will not be without shelter, I – we are privileged.
My eldest son Ravi, a TV drama editor based in Johannesburg will in all likelihood be laid off during April. He has our house he can always move back into with his kids, that’s if keeping food on the table and meeting the bills for his new apartment becomes an issue. Please see the video of my grandson, it made me cry – I am such a cry baby these days. He is the pride and joy of my life and here he is explaining the Corona Virus, I yearn for the solation to be over so I can hold him and his younger sister in my arms. Anita my partner has just told me her test is negative – another swell of emotion.
I am a political animal, let me leave you these words. If you read the government legislation it is scary, but they are doing what is required by the science, not enough but at least they are being proactive at an early stage of the epidemic. The problem it is a very top down and what we need know is a bottom up approach that mobilises hundreds of thousands of volunteers. South Africa will need it, we have proportionate to the size of our population the worlds highest number of people with diabetes, TB and HIV. This means millions will need our collective help. This In the worst case scenario and we have to plan for the worst.
One immediate example, XR activists in Johannesburg took the initiative to start making bottled containers of liquid that can be used as hand sanitizers and trundled down to the taxi ranks with materials in hand. They were white and female and got a hearty welcome. Despite assurances from the government that taxi cleansing is happening in a rigorous manner everywhere in our province, to date this is not true. As of yesterday, nothing was going on at one of our biggest Taxi Rank, Bree Street.
Work with the state, difficult as it maybe, but don’t leave it there
If there one thing we do know, it is that we must get out there and all become community organisers. 35 neighbour hood teams set up in Cape Town following a civil society initiative two days ago, that has now become national.
I leave you from some words my big sister Zivia sent along to our family Whats app group, she now is self-isolating herself because of a serious health condition. She and my younger brother Che are dealing with this so positively, I don’t know what I would do without them.
‘’And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.”
"And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
"And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed." ~Kitty O'Meara
Let work together now in an urgent and rational manner to make sure we get the fairy tale ending the people deserve. Social Solidarity can win. Respect the science and do what is required even if hurts the economic elite. Pragmatism must take second place to what is required.
Stayed Tuned – will be posting out the link for the blogs – hoping to do this daily for the next ten days at least. I am busy with a number of initiatives around COVID in my sector and nationally – will be telling some stories about that.
Next blog will recount a heated and emotional discussion I had with a young South African MP whom I have grown close to over the years.
Lots of love and compassion and solidarity to South Africa, Africa and the wider world in the time corona.
Rehad Desai is an independent film maker from Johannesburg. Following his return from political exile Rehad worked as a health and safety/media officer for a chemical workers union and as the head of a HIV prevention unit. His films include Miners Shot Down and Everything Must Fall. Reproduced with the author's permission.