Giulia Grimaldi — Turin, Italy; Digital Content Editor
I have been locked down in my apartment since Wednesday, March 11. I live alone, with my laptop, a few cactuses and a stuffed cat. I am on the fourth floor of a used-to-be-lively neighbourhood in Turin, Northern Italy.
On the first Sunday, I woke up at sunrise and sneaked out for a quick run. I hate running. But the urge of moving and watching the city still half asleep was so big I didn’t really think about it. I guess I just wanted to fool myself into believing everything was normal. Well, it isn’t. But going out is not the answer. It is crystal clear now that we have to stay at home. It doesn’t matter if I am healthy and young: I have to do my part and not put others at risk, not compromise the weakened healthcare system.
From questioning reality to looking for a conspiracy theory is a quick step when you spend the whole day sitting alone with your thoughts. I have decided to limit my news reading to a few selected sources and to speak about it only with a few informed people. I am self-isolating myself from opinions and avoiding chit chat over the virus: that’s necessary for mental stability.
My recipe is one hour of trusted newspaper reading in the morning, a news update around 6 pm and, sometimes, wine and talks with friends on the Zoom app. Oh, and I almost forgot, it is important to silence the many WhatsApp forwards.
Once I have made my home safe (from germs and misinformation) I work on my routine like never before. I am finally getting up early, eating a healthy breakfast and exercising everyday. Most importantly, the excuse “I don’t have time” has expired. I have time to read all those books I bought and never opened, watch all the movies on my list, write all the books I have been playing in my head. If I don’t do it now, it feels like I never will.
Some days can be harder than others and it is just fine to take care of ourselves in different ways. I call my grandma every day, and am now wondering why I didn’t do it before. She is in lockdown too, scared and bored, so I ask her to guide me over the phone while cooking, learning a lot and reminding myself why I need to stay at home. Because I want this thing to end soon so she can cook me a proper meal. And I can hug her.
It is not an easy time, uncertainty may keep you up longer than usual at night, but it is useful to meet yourself for real, to understand you are lonely but not alone. And to be sure that when everything is over, we will take care of the things that matter with greater consciousness.
Anjali Venugopal — Paris, France; Home chef
A little over a month ago, we sat on a flight to start life from scratch in the City of Love, Paris. I’m a lawyer who gave up Law to pursue my passion that is food, and my husband, Sriram Govind, currently works with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, headquartered in this stunning city.
We were merely beginning to get acquainted with our freshly-minted Parisian lives when COVID-19 made its appearance. And now, we are in the midst of a lockdown and mandatory quarantine. We are on Day 14 of complete social isolation in our 700 square feet apartment and it has not been effortless. We are allowed to step out for medicines or groceries. However, only one person from each home is allowed to step out at a time and that too armed with a form that must be filled out with an appropriate reasoning.
The police and military have been deployed to take the rule flouters to task. Sriram has been working from home, which seems to be keeping him busy and in reasonably good spirits.
I am a self-employed private chef who is in the nascent stages of setting up shop in Paris. As someone who thrives on the hustle of running a small business, I now realise how much time a day holds, especially when I cannot cook as much as I would like to, lest we should run out of our limited stock of groceries.
Normally, I make elaborate and hearty meals based on culinary styles from across the Indian subcontinent. I used to look forward to cooking something new every day because cooking at home was my practice ground for the work I do. However, now, lunches comprise not more than rice, dal and a simple thoran (a Kerala dish), and sometimes chicken curry. Meals are no longer time-consuming and cooking has now become a chore and that is not something I am familiar with.
But every time I find myself fidgeting, I remind myself of all the instances when I wished for more time. I have been trying to make the most of these days with things that bring me joy — trying out recipes without the pressure of cooking for an audience, working out, speaking to people whose voices I haven’t heard in a long time (thanks to all things new in technology).
New routines such as late afternoon tea dates on the balcony and movie nights with wine are slowly taking shape. Despite the grim atmosphere around, I refuse to forget that this is probably the most time we are all going to be blessed with to focus on things that make life worth living.
(As told to Harikumar JS)
Fran Gillespie — Fortingall, Scotland; Senior citizen
My husband David and I are retired and live in Fortingall, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. With its picturesque thatched cottages and an ancient tree reputed to be the oldest in Europe, it draws thousands of visitors a year.
Now it seems bizarre and unreal to see the place deserted, and everyone keeping to their homes. Our own lives have not changed significantly, we’ve just starting gardening after a long, cold wet winter, and I’m tackling the spring-cleaning jobs I’d be doing anyway at this time.
But we are very conscious of the effect of this disaster on some of our neighbours. The hotel which is central to the village shut two weeks ago, one neighbour had a flourishing catering business, another runs a garden care concern. Now that lockdown has been announced, for them and their families, there’s a grim few months ahead.
A couple of weeks ago, when the government advised the British population to stay at home as much as possible, to keep a minimum of two-metre distance when talking to anyone and to look after the ‘elderly and vulnerable’, my immediate reaction was to call some of my neighbours who are frail and in their eighties, and offer to do shopping or collect prescriptions.
Then we were suddenly inundated by offers from people to do the same for us, and I realised with surprise that as we are in our late seventies we come into the ‘elderly and vulnerable’ category ourselves! It is the first time I’ve been made to feel old.
A crisis like this brings out the best in almost everyone, and the worst in just a few. The hotel owner offered to do shopping for anyone who needed help, as did the girl who delivers our post. Together with others in the village we’ve set up a WhatsApp group so anyone who needs any help can alert the community.
A local bakery, which normally just supplies retail outlets, announced that they would be coming round all the villages in this area with a van twice a week to deliver bread and essentials and would collect anything else needed and deliver it free of charge.
How has our life changed? Visits by our grandchildren during the Easter holidays are of course cancelled, as is our holiday in Turkey in May. We miss the social activities — in my case, the weekly church services, community choir practice, a lunch club, committee meetings for various societies, meeting friends for coffee and chat. Now we phone each other frequently to make up for the social gatherings.
Compared to so many, we are extremely fortunate, with no job to worry about, and a beautiful countryside in which to take solitary walks.
(As told to Nahla Nainar)
Elena Coello-Muscone — Valencia, Spain; former Travel industry executive
I resigned my job in New York City and came to Spain to attend to family matters. I am not working currently, and I live alone with my dog Theo in Valencia, the third-most important city in Spain (after Madrid and Barcelona). Here (unlike in the US), working from home is kind of unusual except in large multi-national companies.
The country closed down on March 13 and will be shut till April 10. All businesses are closed except markets, supermarkets and pharmacies.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, my life was quite active. I used to give private English classes to children between the age of 10 and 14 years, walk on the beach and travel a lot within Spain as well as abroad.
After the state of emergency was introduced, the only thing I am allowed to do is go out for 15 minutes through my block to walk Theo, and nothing else.
The first thing I do when I get up is to take Theo out for 15 minutes (we walk three times a day). Then I do some exercise and yoga. The rest of the morning is spent in housekeeping.
After lunch, I take a nap for about an hour (since siestas are kind of mandatory here in Spain). Then I do some reading, and talking on the phone with family and friends from abroad who are interested in the development of the events here. After dinner, I watch movies or series on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. Local television is impossible to watch as the channels are always talking about COVID-19.
Employees have been sent home to collect “unemployment” which is paid totally by the government. I have spoken with my former co-workers in the New York travel industry and they are all working from home. They tell me that the only calls they receive are to cancel travel reservations for the whole year.
(As told to Nahla Nainar)
Geetha RK — Barcelona, Spain; Entrepreneur
I watch the lady cleaning the restaurant’s entrance door with a sense of disquiet. She wears gloves and is rubbing sanitiser liquid to parts of the door. Then, when my husband requests the waitress to serve our pizza cut into slices, she politely declines. Touching food is not allowed once food leaves the kitchen. New rules.
That was the last time I dined at a restaurant. The next day, the Spanish Prime Minister announced a fortnight of quarantine where social and economic life as I know it, ended.
I am now in the second week of quarantine. How has my life changed? Well for one, I’m washing hands frequently. Lady Macbeth would have learnt a trick or two about it from the numerous WhatsApp videos.
There are fewer clothes to wash and iron. Meal times are a family affair with the entire family sitting down together. Chores become jobs. There are runs on the supermarkets initially, but the madness has subsided and there is no shortage of essential commodities. Supermarket queues and delivery times are longer though. Masks, gloves and hand sanitisers have become scarce and valuable, creating a new class of “haves” and “have-nots”.
The street has become my stage and passers-by, my players — dog owners giving non-owners like me the comeuppance, walking their pets several times a day; the man striding purposefully and joyfully, to the supermarket with his shopping stroller; the delivery boy going about his food delivery; birds strutting on empty carriageways; a rainbow drawing stuck on a window; the 8 o’clock ritual of clapping hands; playing bingo and “I spy” with neighbours across the street; balcony concerts of singing, dancing, music. Life’s joys have become simpler.
Spain’s Internet data traffic is now the fifth highest in the world. This is one time the Internet and social media have shed their devil’s horns. From being stigmatised for keeping people disconnected from the outside world, to keeping us all connected in these dystopian times, it makes me wonder what would life under quarantine be without memes, videos and gifs that make me laugh, reflect, stay informed, be warned?
(As told to Priyadershini S)
Nikhil Prabhakar — Dublin, Ireland; Software engineer
I have not been out during the day in several days, which has been hard because the weather in Ireland has been just absolutely beautiful. My routine keeps me occupied during my solitude. I wake up, I shower, I make my bed, I read the news and I sit down to work.
Lately, I have noticed myself keeping an ear out for the mail slot in my front door — even though the only mail I get is for the previous tenant. So my excitement for the day is to scour the return addresses on envelopes to see who my predecessor won’t be paying this month.
My quarantine is really not that isolating, if I were being honest. I’m on video calls everyday, with family, with work colleagues and with friends. And, on more than one occasion, I have had to mute WhatsApp conversations or tear myself away from Facebook so I can focus on work.
I will watch the odd sitcom while I am cooking or eating but I have not really binge-watched anything, as I would have expected to.
Having recently moved to Ireland, I have procured Dubliners and Ulysses by James Joyce — books I had tried to read when I was in college but was never able to get past the first page. They continue to serve as an inspiration to do almost anything else.
The Health Services Executive in Ireland makes a distinction between self-quarantine and self-isolation. You are asked to self-isolate if you have all the symptoms for the infection. You try to stay away even from close family and generally behave as though it is the 14th Century and you have the plague.
Self-quarantine is a little less restrictive and applies when you are asymptomatic but you have visited a country or been around a person who was symptomatic. You can still go out but you assume that you are infected and you restrict your movements so as not to infect anyone else.
I go to our corner store (Mellons, run by a lovely, sleep-deprived couple with three kids) for milk and eggs, or to grab one of their fresh breakfast breads. I also go out for a walk but I try to be out when there is no one about. Luckily the Irish have been taking social distancing seriously so it is not hard. You never get closer than six feet from another person — so it makes for some very funny-looking, long queues to get into grocery stores.
I miss my daily interactions at work and I miss going out for a drink with friends, but on the whole it hasn’t been too bad.
Sandra Nijhof — The Hague, The Netherlands; Marketing and Communications Manager
Suddenly, we are realising what a challenge it is to be at home given the uncertainty of how many weeks it is going to be due to the Coronavirus! With five members — my husband, three teenagers (15, 18 and 20) and I, we are varied and not necessarily people who want to do everything together, as a group.
I work with the International Institute of Social Studies. First, there is official work to be done on a daily basis: making sure we have the right files at hand, testing new tools for online meetings (that were introduced in a jiffy), Skype calls, IT frustrations and more. Quite a full agenda while also keeping an eye on the news: how is the situation in our country, how is it developing elsewhere? And how are our parents? Now we are not allowed to see them (they are in the vulnerable elderly category) so we sent them presents. Such a relief that at least the post works as if nothing has changed.
For the kids, the initial excitement of an unexpected extra holiday disappeared very soon as the schools re-started within a few days with online classes and homework. But there is also a lot of insecurity and uncertainty over finishing the academic syllabus, the new schedule for exams. One of my kids is not able to cope with that in an easy way. So complaints keep coming up: my throat is aching, I have a headache, is it the virus? So, I constantly have to keep him in good mood and motivated which is not that easy when so much about the disease is still so unclear.
Being all together all the time while you have to get on with normal things can be hard. The kitchen was never used so intensely as it is these days. Only if everybody cleans up their own mess, that would make life much easier. We all have some ways to distance ourselves a bit from the others.
There is time to have a long bath and read the newspaper. I found myself a nice app for some fitness and yoga to do early morning when the house is tidy and quiet. The children brought an impressive barbell with some weights into our little garden to continue with their power training.
(As told to Soma Basu)
Zorana Franciskovic — Subotica, Serbia; Garment industry executive
Serbia has been in state of emergency since last Sunday. People above 65 years are not allowed to go out at all. Schools are closed, and kids from middle school (and as far as I know, high-school too) have educational programmes on TV and online support from their teachers.
At first I was really scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Production at my company, which makes women’s garments, has stopped. We in the administration have been coming in, because we need to finish work from the previous week and also to provide information to employees.
I used to go to the gym four times a week, but with the new rules, I am getting my fitness regimen at home with the help of Shawn T workout videos.
Also, thank God for modern technology, because I can stay in touch with my family with whom I am really close, since the emergency was declared.
We have enough things at stores around the city, so there is no need to hoard supplies. It is very difficult to fit all the things that need to be done until 5pm and to stay indoors for more than half the day, but I hope that people know that if we respect the measures given out by the government, this will pass sooner.
Nicole Antoinette Lewis — San Diego, USA; Teacher and entrepreneur
I recently stumbled upon a quote by Mandy Hale — “When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and cannot find your way out of darkness, remember that this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings.” When I am feeling low, I turn to the cycle of the caterpillar and butterflies for guidance.
California has been under lockdown since March 20. I am used to working 30 hours a week at Digital Media Arts College and also teaching yoga to kids at a nearby elementary, two hours a week.
But for the last week I have been home. I miss my little yogis but I want them to be safe. Even though I am home, I wake up and put on something pretty. I like to look good for myself and always find ways to implement self-care into my daily routine.
I am using this “stay in” time to “go within”. Being creative is my norm, I am constantly dabbling in the arts, but currently, I am crafting candles. I have also started working on my poetry again. I am into aromatherapy and have a passion for herbs, spices, pretty flowers, and essential oils.
The environment is everything to me. I love setting the mood with candles, calming music, beautiful paintings, and food cooking on the stove.
While I live in San Diego, the rest of my family is in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and they are all under lockdown. I speak to my mother three to four times a day. I have always been a germaphobe but I am now obsessive with disinfecting everything after every use. It all seems so surreal.
(As told to Priyadarshini Paitandy)
Vanessa D’Amico — San Francisco, USA; Barre instructor, CRM Marketing Manager
I first heard of COVID-19 on the news around the end of January. I was scared but also felt like it was far away and wouldn’t really affect me. I realised the situation was really bad about two weeks ago when my work shut down their offices and then everything else followed suit like a domino effect.
San Francisco issued a “shelter-in place” ordinance on Monday, March 15, but I’ve been “sheltering” since the Friday before that, when my office required us to work from home.
I know some friends of friends who have contracted Coronavirus and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time when people start to show symptoms. While this can be incredibly anxiety-inducing, I’ve tried to keep busy to take my mind off of the state of the virus.
I’m extremely lucky I get to work from home and that makes the days pass by fairly quickly. My company is heavily impacted by the virus so we’ve been all hands-on-deck, working late nights and weekends. I also try to wake up around 7 am, workout, shower and make breakfast. While I eat, I check my emails. If I don’t have a chance to work out in the morning I’ll try to run during my lunch break to get some fresh air. It’s hard to ‘turn off’ when working from home so I usually work till 6.30 or 7 pm.
I try to make each day as normal as possible —except I wear comfy clothes. I usually walk to work, so to make things a little more normal I sometimes get up and walk around the block in the morning. My boyfriend and I are planning on having ‘date nights’ where we dress up and order in. I’ve also tried to synchronise my ‘virtual’ fitness classes with my in-gym teaching schedule.
(As told to Divya Kala Bhavani)
Nicolas Grandi — Buenos Aires, Argentina; Filmmaker, artist and educator
I live in a pretty, green neighbourhood. Even before the lockdown, it has always been very quiet. It’s a family house, and I have my living and working space in the first floor.
Autumn is already here, it’s windy and still mildly warm. Sound has become the biggest protagonist. Two linden trees are still like guardians, clapping leaves. The train that’s a few blocks away runs once in a while. Once or twice a day, some fragment of a conversation can be heard.
People are allowed to go to the pharmacy or to get food. The rest is on halt. I’m quite a hermit so I don’t feel any anxiety, but I know it’s also due to my privileges. Silence is helping me focus on my writing (thesis). Not having the need to respond to obligations has reshaped fully the feel of the days. I am wearing my lungi throughout the day.
Somehow, by the fifth day of the curfew, many of us felt the need to get in touch. WhatsApp, Facebook, phone calls. Over 30 in one day. ‘How is it going?’ ‘How are you dealing with it?’ ‘What have you been doing?’ I even had a conversation with a friend of a friend of a friend from Bangalore who is married to a Belgian woman. They are travelling in a camper through Latin America.
The lockdown got them in Patagonia, luckily in a wonderful area full of lakes with enough provisions. But they felt the need to speak with somebody in English as their Spanish is of no use, just in case they needed to get away for whatever reason. Foreigners are highly distrusted, unfortunately. But then everyone becomes a source of mistrust.
The questions that come out in most conversations are what will happen after this? 50/50 possibilities of a deep change in our living systems: welfare or The Handmaid’s Tale. So uncertain. But as far as it goes, this halt is making me focus on the present, on my writing, caring of the self and those who I interact with, rethinking priorities. Life first, then we’ll find ways to tackle with the economical disaster once more.
(As told to Aparna Narrain)
Yokina Wu — Guangzhou, China; Homemaker
I first heard about COVID-19 on Christmas Eve. For the next 20 days we thought of it as a form of pneumonia. I live in Guangzhou which is around 1,000 kilometres from Wuhan. Since I didn’t know anyone from there, I thought we have no connection with it.
Around January 20, my husband’s colleague had planned to go to Hubei for the Chinese New Year holidays and found it strange that tickets were easily available. He thought they were fake tickets and asked my husband to check too. The tickets were truly available. But just as he booked them, his parents called, asking him not to come as the situation in Wuhan (in Hubei province) was dangerous, and there was going to be a lockdown. That’s when we got anxious.
When we heard medical teams would come to our province, we were less anxious and went to the nearby hot springs on January 23, as well as shopping for the holidays.
Everything seemed normal till my colleague’s home town Shantou went under lockdown. We heard our neighbouring province Dongguan and ours too might follow suit, so we returned. Guangzhou never locked down but shut down the shops, large restaurants, wet markets and places of entertainment. Mail services were delayed. But supermarkets and small shops were open. And we could use apps to order food and drinks.
A lot of services normally stop during holidays, so we had anyway stocked up for two weeks. My family and I did not go out for eight days. The buses and underground were still operating, though.
The holidays ended on February 8 but people were not allowed to go back to work and all the schools, kindergartens, colleges were shut down. I felt the whole world was slowing down. I live in the oldest business district of Guangzhou and I have never seen the roads so empty.
Our schedule changed. We treated it like an extended holiday and I had more time. My family would not getup before 10 am, so my husband ate his breakfast alone. I would play with my daughter in the garden.
My husband and I watched NBA together. Our television network made a series of songs and stories for kids about the virus and how to protect yourself, and my daughter enjoyed watching them everyday.
I made Japanese plum wine at home, and made a ball for my kid with bubble wrap so she could play all day and not disturb the neighbours. Learning at home with my daughter became our everyday task — online school is busy and messy. She also had music classes online.
As people were encouraged to stay home, there was a discount on orders for delivery. Our government has provided every citizen a QR code that contains record of places travelled to over 40 days and health information. We just show it, and can travel around China except Hubei.
(As told to Priyadarshini Paitandy)
Abdul Qadir+ — Doha, Qatar; Senior Business Strategy Manager with a telecom firm
Though Qatar had no confirmed infections in the beginning of March, the scenario changed as people living out of the country moved back to the capital Doha to rejoin their families.
The company where I am employed has issued ‘work-from-home’ (WFH) permission for most of its staff to increase social distancing. I interact online with colleagues and get tasks done. WFH allows you to relax your dress code, but of course, when it comes to formal video conferencing, I make sure I am dressed properly.
I realised that while working with the TV on was good initially, it could be a distraction after sometime. So I keep it switched off these days.
With no lunches, birthday parties, distribution of chocolates and sweets among colleagues, WFH has become a healthier option, as I find that I can fit in walks and exercise breaks into my daily routine. You can also get a short nap during the afternoon.
I usually call it a day at 5.30 pm, but I can keep going longer if at home. At work, you keep thinking of the traffic snarls and hence hit the road early.
Though working from home has increased my productivity, I miss the warmth of interacting with colleagues, sharing jokes and chitchat in office. I hope things will get back to normal soon, not just for me, but for everyone around the world.
(+Name changed on request)
Vidya Kannan — Singapore; Banker
I am aware of the seriousness of COVID 19, but I haven’t put my existence on hold due to it. Singapore never went in for a lockdown, and the government took up extensive contact tracing and quarantined families of all infected people.
From February 8, I have been working from home. Malls, bars and cinema halls were open and we just got the update about closure of these places from March 25. Transport is fully functional, but people have chosen to tone down non-essential movement.
My five-year-old daughter goes to her school everyday and only extracurricular classes conducted by part-time teachers have been cancelled. My father-in-law’s visa extension process took no more than 90 minutes in a hassle-free manner during this time.
In a way, I like the pace at which my life moves on now. I am not rushing to anywhere, travel time is saved and I spend it for the family, with the family. We get to eat meals with the family. I spend more time with my kid, doing creative stuff such as masks and art work. My husband and daughter have made snakes-and-ladders from scratch and they play this board game everyday. She also plays with a group of children when possible.
I have not missed my weekly music classes, and I have time for 30 minutes of guided meditation these days. Similarly, I do online yoga five days a week with a teacher based in Chennai. I love how I can exercise, meditate, work, spend time with family and give everything more than I used to.
(As told to Chitradeepa Anantharam)
Gayatri Nair — Chennai, India; Photographer
At the outset, I have to say, this crisis has made me acutely aware of how privileged I am. Even talking about our struggles during these various phases, of uncertainty, quarantining and lockdown, seems so frivolous when such a large majority of the population is under threat of being seriously affected, be it their mental and physical health, their wages, their business, their families and more.
I work at a non-profit arts foundation and we started working from home a week ago. Actually, productivity has been good so far. We are thinking of new ways of working. We already worked in the cloud so sharing content has been easy. Since most of our work is community-focused, we are trying to curate digital educational content and organise virtual events.
However, its the non-working hours that seem to be challenging. We live with four dogs, in a house facing the beach, so I really can’t say I’m “stuck at home”. There’s a lot of outdoor space.
But still, like everyone, I feel anxiety and look for ways to keep the mind occupied. I’ve been cooking more, doing more chores around the house. I used to like cooking things out of fancy cookbooks, then I lost the groove. But now, I’m finally enjoying cooking simple stuff. Dal, simple summer veggies, soup, stir-fry, fried rice; the no-brainer kind of cooking, that let’s me play with what’s in my pantry. I’ve called friends and family I haven’t spoken to in months ( a habit I hope will stay). Every morning, my workout buddies and I video conference on Zoom to workout together. I’ve restarted learning German via the Duolingo app. I’ve even started learning to hula hoop watching YouTube tutorials. My count is 10 so far.