It was bound to happen sooner or later. The virus, I mean. The planet is a very small place, and we are all interconnected – in sickness and in health, as the traditional wedding vow goes.

Take the example of Spain. With a staggering 83.7 million tourists visiting last year, this country is like a revolving door of cultures, money – and germs. Consider next the millions of nationals who work, study and vacation abroad, and then add every single item that is fabricated overseas and shipped here, and it is easy to see how a virus can become a global pandemic.

The New Normal

On Saturday the 14th of March, 2020, Spain declared a state of National Emergency. Together with the rest of the country, Ronda went into lockdown. Schools, businesses, stores, associations and churches, and even their beloved tapas bars shut down for an undetermined length of time. Reluctantly at first, the overly social Andalusians had to learn about public distancing, and though hand washing habits leave much to be desired here, the traditional kissing as a greeting is probably the hardest habit to break for the local populous.

In our little town, police are on the street ensuring that rules are enforced. The Spanish Legion is patrolling outside the regional hospital. Only one person from each family can leave the house for approved errands, such as buying food or medicine, or dog walking, preferably sporting surgical gloves and mask. No other outdoor activities are allowed, except a peak-over-your-shoulder jog to the garbage and recycling containers. Anyone breaking curfew risks being heavily fined. At the moment, this is the new normal.

Now in the second month of ‘house arrest’, everybody seems to have chilled. Most days our entire neighbourhood is in pyjamas and sweatpants. Who cares! If we are going to be at home anyhow, we might as well be comfortable… We are not so worried anymore about what we have accomplished. People are coping as best as they can in their homes, reading, cleaning, cooking, baking, studying, sending jokes on WhatsApp and watching movies. To be sure, most of us are not suffering any hardship. We have roofs over our heads, food in our fridge, electricity, running water and high speed Internet. Although the Amazon delivery guy looks like a character in The Mask, online orders are allowed, mail deliveries have restarted and there are many ways we can chat with friends and family.

Agoraphobia – The Legacy of My Lockdown?

The longer this lasts, the less I want to go out. We limit our food shopping to once a week and eating to twice a day (more than sufficient if one considers my all-time-low daily step count of 39). We avoid excessive news watching, nurturing ourselves by reading instead. If we cannot go places, we can always travel in our minds.

The so-called isolation we are experiencing is probably good for us in more ways than one. There is no end to what one can do enclosed en casa. We witness locals inventing creative ways to stay in touch and support each other. A friend recorded himself playing guitar. A priest has started an online prayer group. Another friend started singing the first lines of a song, prompting others to continue, like a musical WhatsApp chain reaction. People we hardly know send suggestions for movies and documentaries to watch, articles to read and online TED talks to listen to. A Dutch couple we know have created an impromptu gym in their hallway. Others walk the stairs instead of the StairMaster or do walking meditation rounds on their stamp-sized balconies. I bet that our friend Pilar dances flamenco in her living room. Though I am a terrible cook, once I have finalised deep cleaning the entire house with a toothbrush, I might find a step-by-step video to finally learn how to make a decent Spanish tortilla.

What is positive about this communal confinement is exactly that – that it is a shared experience. Though we are in separate homes, we are in it together. There is a growing sense of solidarity. Increasingly, people seem to be less concerned about their appearances and more concerned about the well being of others. While in some places people may have fought for the last package of TP in the grocery stores, here I find a growing sense of empathy, kindness and solidarity. Every evening at 8 pm residents all over Spain go to their windows or doors and clap for the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, police officers and emergency personnel risking their heath and safety to help us through the crisis.

Whether they have a choice or not, or are bound by a Hippocratic oath, it is still a commendable act. And for us, the enclosed masses, we thank them in our simple, yet exhilarating way, by clapping and cheering every night. Hopefully we will also remember the pandemic’s unsung heroes, such as street cleaners, assembly line workers, bus drivers, shelf stockers and cashiers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is an uncertain time for many. I feel for two neighbours who are about to give birth, whom I am sure are not only worried about the safety of the hospital itself, but also what world their new child will grow up in. My heart goes out to friends and family who are living in the epicentres, to people who are sick, and for those waiting for hospital treatments, surgeries or results on cancer tests. What hardship do we have compared to theirs?

A doctor friend was quarantined after being exposed to a patient with the virus. The first thing he did when he returned to his office was to personally call every one of his patients to check how they were doing. Many are older and most were terrified. They know that they are the most vulnerable, yet they are often the least equipped to find out how to protect themselves. So, with all our extra time, we should try to find ways of helping those who cannot help themselves. Come what may, this is something we have to go through. We know that it has gone on for weeks and are waiting for it to come to an end. However, while we shut our doors to our friends and neighbours, this is a great opportunity to open our hearts to others and show random kindness, even if it is over the Internet.

This crisis is a chance to learn to want less and live with less, to be grateful for what we do have and to willingly share our bounty. It is time to slow down, and stop counting our assets but rather our blessings. This is the time to be generous with our time, lending our ears and showing empathy. We cannot hug each other, so a friendly wave or a timely note means so much more.

The virus has forced us to stop in our tracks, giving the planet a break from our incessant pollution. It proves that we can stop Global Warming if we want to, or if we are afraid enough… This is not the last virus that will plague the earth. We ought to be mindful of its lessons so we might be better prepared next time around.

When I walked to the shop the other day, I noticed how rapidly spring had advanced while we have been inside. Yet I don’t consider it a lost season. This time-out is giving us a chance to reflect on what is important in life and to gain knowledge in new areas. As I communicate with friends from LA to Delhi, we all express the same concerns and have the same wishes for the future. We share the same destiny. We all over-consumed, over-lived and over-travelled. We must all change. I hope that humankind will come out of this crisis a bit wiser, kinder and more patient, and that we never forget that something as simple as going outside can be a privilege.


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