Every week my Kiswahili teacher asks me what I’ve been doing, and each time my answer comes with what’s become a useful phrase: I stayed at home, kwa sababu ya corona. I didn’t go to the office, kwa sababu ya corona. We can’t go to restaurants now, kwa sababu ya corona. My new phrase explains a lot: because of the coronavirus.
His reaction is always similar: a look of surprise and a shake of the head, as he concludes: Maisha ni magumu Uingereza: life is difficult in England. In Tanzania, my teacher says, people aren’t wearing masks and they aren’t avoiding crowds. Life is as normal because there is no corona in the country.
The shortest day of the year usually falls around 21 December. This year, as one Twitter user put it recently, “it’s the 296th of March”.
His comment summed up the bizarre limbo that has been 2020. The rules and restrictions, the depressing and often surreal headlines, and the attempts at making real-life events and celebrations somehow as meaningful from behind a screen have all continued in an apparently never-ending loop of sameness. Recent vaccine success – a brilliant achievement – is a big step forward, but it still doesn’t offer a clear end point, or any transition in most people’s lives, yet. We mask up, we wait on.
I’ve been writing diaries on and off since I was about seven years old. Lately, it’s been more ‘on’ than ever.
Not just because, under lockdown, there’s fewer distractions of people to meet or places to be, but also because recording stuff feels important right now.
Countless photographers, writers, artists agree – and so do social historians. I feel somehow happier knowing that they’re gathering people’s experiences of living through Covid-19 – for example inthis project from the Young Foundation, orthis one from London’s Museum of the Home. Universities, archives and historical societies around the world are doing the same, inviting details of the “deeply personal, political, or mundane“, as the US-based ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ project puts it. Ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Continue reading “Note to self”→