There’s a vegetarian restaurant in our town. We don’t eat out very often and not at all during the pandemic, for obvious reasons. It re-opened a week or so ago and we decided to get a few pizzas as a small reward for completing our dietary detox. I took the van down the street to pick them up and saw an acquaintance at the bar.
While talking to her for a few minutes waiting for my order, the inside of the restaurant began to gradually filling up. Soon, it was almost completely packed. No one was wearing a mask besides me and the workers. Right before I left, the acquaintance saw a couple she knew and introduced me to them. I felt awkward but resolute in not giving dos besos.
After leaving the restaurant, I realized how unready I am to “go back to normal”, to forget any semblance of social distancing or precautionary measures. My quarantine circle has expanded from just our household to one other couple with two children, and another friend. We know they all take it seriously. But this is as big as our circle gets, probably for quite a while.
Luckily, having a van, preferring the outdoors, and not eating out frequently allows to go on vacation without needing to think three steps ahead to prevent contact or crowds, other than the occasional market.
A silver lining of the quarantine, the intentional go-slow of the Earth’s populace, is the chance to see something new in the everyday. A quotidian walk becomes utterly fascinating if I see the neighbor’s kitten in a tree, whose hunter’s gaze is fixed on a bird out of range. Or the new colors in the horizon at sunset that I haven’t been aware of or seen yet. Moving here in mid-autumn, every week has brought changes to the monte, the agricultural activity of our neighbors, and my feelings of staying put.
I tested out my microphone yesterday, recording a little bit to experiment in Ferrite. I plugged it into my phone, used Røde’s Reporter app, and used the normal white earbuds as monitors. Strangely, I don’t mind the sound of my voice, only the occasional cadence it takes. But talking to myself down in my basement is something I’ll have to get used to. I do want to have conversations with others as well. We’ll see what comes out of it. I’ve decided on the name Left Abroad. Hopefully a short episode #0 introduction will be released in a week.
There have been rebrotes, new outbreaks here in Spain. The Alcoa plant in Lugo is shutting down, en plena pandemia, laying off over five hundred workers. There is an uprising across the United States. I have a tendency to be digitally swept up in the fervor. But I have to remind myself to stay grounded, even in uncertainty. The future will be strange. But I’ll keep enjoying the new colors of blooming flowers, the shape of the clouds, and the warm air at night, because I’ve gifted the circumstances to be near to them.
It’s my Saturday today. I’ve been out on the terrace, watching the fig tree away with the breeze. There are more insects buzzing, snails crawling up the stone walls, and birds darting between the electrical and phone lines that surround our house. I’m also playing around with the vintage camera app Vooravo for some retro-looking photos around the house. I’m bored of photographing the same trees from the well-worn paths of the monte.
This is one of those weekend mornings that reminds me of my years in Sierra Leone; the unhurried day, the privilege of watching time and life of the village pass by from a veranda, the warm sun on my body, the ability to read as much as I want to.
Grateful and guilty, which has been a recurring tension during the lockdown. Grateful to have had the privileges and opportunities to organize my life in this manner, and guilty knowing that not everyone is so lucky. But I know I’m in my head a lot, and that guilt will lead to paralysis or unnecessary suffering.
I misread a quote from some article a few weeks ago. In my head in went something like;
The best safeguard to life under late capitalism is withdrawing from it.
But it actually wasn’t that, at all. It was a critique, that the privileged ones, the ones with an inessential, work-from-home job are the ones who can safeguard themselves from coronavirus.
I recently talked to a friend, a madrileño musician from West Africa with a similar practical philosophy. He mentioned the protests in barrio de Salamanca and the incessant material desires that nag certain classes of people in the capital. It feels foreign, otherworldly. That wasn’t always the case, but a product of half of my life, maybe started after they extubated me. Who’s to say. But I think it’s possible that most can come to the conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is illogical.
We can thread the needle, withdraw from the capitalist mentality without completely withdrawing from society like Christopher McCandless; plant a garden, reduce costs and discourage consumption habits, prioritize immaterial experiences, read books, go for walks, re-valorize the countryside, or enjoy voluntary frugality in the city. Flatten the curve of coronavirus and of climate change by socially distancing and driving less, flying less, removing animal products from my diet, eating seasonally and locally. Prefigure a better world by thinking, talking, and planning other ways of organizing life and social relations. Want less, need less, and perhaps work less because of those priorities and that organized withdrawal.
For now, I’ll “do praxis” by non-participation, as much as I can, and theorize by writing into the void, ruining conversations with family and friends by talking climate, and reading Bookchin in my hammock. And I’ll never forget to enjoy the conference of the birds on the phone lines.
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. — Arundhati Roy
The weird thing about a paradigm-shifting pandemic is many of my habits haven’t changed significantly but how I feel about them, and pretty much everything else, has shifted. Every morning, I take a walk with my dog up the road. We pass the sign of our village’s name with the diagonal red stripe through it, the castaños, up until the small pig farm. Often I’d throw in an earbud and play whatever podcast I had been listening to the day before, but I’ve stopped, preferring the sound of the birds and maybe the wind rustling the trees. The town comes into view on the right and from our elevated position one can see it in its entirety. Sometimes, like today, it is shrouded in a thick fog, the small peak behind, whose name I’m unaware of, protrudes out.
I have bad habits. I wake up early but then use that time unproductively for at least an hour or so, reading news or scrolling through Twitter, a place increasingly fraught with melodrama and uninformed commentaries on events we cannot control. I occasionally put off my exercise routine until after my classes, when I’m already worn done and my body is tight from sitting in a chair. Most days, I get closer to beating these. Small victories, sure, but still.
Before meeting Patricia, I had a terrible grocery shopping philosophy. I would fill my basket with things that looked good and when I arrived at the checkout, I realized I had purchased snacks rather than ingredients for a meal. Then I’d come home, eat the snacks, and toward dinner, walk to one of Nouakchott’s restaurants for shawarma.
I was once enamored by the latest and greatest Apple products. Now I cannot stomach the thought of buying new things while my current tablet works fine. I am grateful for hand-me-down iPhones from family regardless of the broken speaker. Technology podcasts or Apple’s price tags for computer wheels further remind me of how materialistic I once was, how I’ve changed. How we can all change to better adapt to what many of our most brilliant minds, away from the political class, are telling us what’s coming.
Our success or failure, individually during this quarantine, and as a species and planet through the next decade vis-à-vis a very probable second wave of coronavirus, our vampiric capitalist realism, the fast-approaching climate tipping points, will depend on our self-discipline and willpower. Our bad habits, our biases, some of our conveniences, our lack of knowledge on things like agriculture. Individuated mobilization starts now.
“The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.”
Chances are, many of us in the West will not be governed by an authoritarian regime so soon. Or if we are, it will have an air of nominal liberty. Our ‘freedoms’ and political inaction, the hard questions needing to be asked, the work that needs to be done, will climatically doom those in the global South. No one will tell us what to do.
Só o pobo salva ao pobo
Only the people save the people