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Coronavirus and a three-year-old

 

A three-year-old, two minutes, a mic and no warning: Welcome to Finia Fridays.
In this first interview, we talk COVID-19, social distancing and the locked-down state of international air travel. Kind of.

Me: Finia, what’s in the air and what are we scared of when we touch each other?

Three-year-old: Um, coronavirus.

And what is coronavirus?

You can’t touch things.

Why, what does it do?

It’s do get corona on your hand.

And then what?

Then what. You have to wash your hand. Huh?

Mmm-hmm.

And then you have to … mm, don’t touch things.

Why, is it because, does it make you sick?

Yeah, stay.

Makes you sickie. And then what.

Then what. Then what?

Do you have to go to hospital?

Yeah. Have to go to hosiple. Hmm?

And then, what about all the planes in the sky?

All the plane is gone in the sky co’ we can’t go on plane co’ we can’t reach the plane cos all the plane in the sky so we can’t fly in the plane. Everyone fly in the plane, now we got no more planes to fly in. That why it’s really sad.

And are you, do you miss seeing anybody?

She buries her head in the sofa. Ok, now she’s looking sad and she’s told me she’s not doing any more talking. Ok, Finia, thank you for the interview.

Huh? What?

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Blog

On running and crying

 

There’s a part of my running route, a short and gentle uphill climb that turns a right corner at the top, where the path curves round a busy set of traffic lights. 

I’ve come to remember sections of my runs by what I was listening to when I trod each section. Or maybe it’s the other way round – I remember pieces of podcasts and news stories, reports of global events and snippets of heart-warming anecdotes when I think of the places I’ve run. The beach in Queensland that is all about Turing and sentience, the corner of summertime Munich that now reminds me of alien invasion, the Kenyan elections unfolding alongside a corn field in west England. 

Maybe it’s the rhythm of my jogging, or the fresh air, or the lack of distraction, but I have a curiously vivid memory of those places and their soundtracks.

The path has got a lot busier than usual, we’re allowed out of lockdown for exercise and the gyms and beaches are closed in this part of Sydney, Australia, so everyone seems to have taken up running, or walking with their families, to escape the four walls of home. I tread from the pavement to the road and up again, skirting around prams and masked couples where I usually pass next to no-one. 

And as I tread the warm tarmac, sweep around roadworks and pass boats parked on trailers alongside the golf course, I listen to news from America during the Covid-19 crisis. My runs have become 

That’s what I was doing as I approached the small hill a few days ago, and that’s how I learnt how hard it is to run and cry at the same time.

I’m listening to a story about a woman who is barred from visiting her mother who has ALS and lives in a hospital and, with coronavirus spreading, the woman worries about never seeing her mother again. She stumbles with grammar, her syntax muddled by the overwhelming reality that, if coronavirus reaches her mum’s ward, it’s very likely she’ll die. She lives across from the hospital and can see her mum’s window. She’s forced to ask questions she never imagined she’d ask – will she have to stand in the park as her mother dies, and imagine what’s going on behind that glass as she looks up from her safe distance?

And I think of my own mother, in a high-needs unit in a care home in England. She has early-onset dementia and is hoisted from her bed into an armchair and back again each day. Because of the virus, she’s not allowed to leave her room or to have visitors, so, even if I was to somehow abracadabra my way through aeroplane-less empty skies to Covid-ravaged Europe, I’d get no further than looking up at the double-glazing in her window, too. 

My chest seizes up as the woman describes her dream of getting her mum the fuck off planet earth and how irrationality sometimes takes over – could her mother’s ventilator be given to a younger, more potentially fruitful patient? She has no breath of her own, and no chance of taking another breath, after all. 

It’s happened a few times, now, as I run and listen to what sound like dispatches from a third world country. The hospital worker in New York City who couldn’t be with his wife as she died at home. The immigrant who, sick with Covid-19, is sleeping in his car because he was thrown out of his accommodation by his scared, pregnant landlady. 

I struggle for air, my throat clamping down and my chest feeling like it’s buckling under a heap of sand bags. I can’t breathe. I imagine asthma attacks as I try to keep moving. I hear a whimper – it’s me. I stop, fold over and catch my breath as tears merge with sweat, pricking my eyes.

I leave the green of the park behind me and run towards the ocean cliffs. I lean on the railing and suck in big lungfuls of salty air, the foam churning 100 feet below and, in the distance, with the land, people and the virus behind me, I look to the calm, grey horizon.

The accounts go on – ventilators puffing and emptying broken lungs. The suffocating coughing, the good samaritans and the thought of so very many, locked down, locked away and locked out. I miss you, Mumma. I’m not running, so this time, when the tears roll and my face crumples, I can breathe.

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Bedtime, Bondi

The Southern Cross sits above the avocado tree and the slow, steady flap of a bat beats rhythm into the shrill electric static of the night’s white noise. Crickets, frogs, the bite of a motorbike revving as it pulls up, up, out of the bowl. Mosquitos leave nothing unpunctured, their leafy homes alive with the fecundity of late season heat and deafening storms. There’s a mango tree that doesn’t bear fruit and baby banana plants, their soft, pale green arms pushing through a corner where, when we arrived, a pigeon lay dead and defeathering. Windows all around, lit by yellow insides of homes I hear but don’t see, look down onto this pocket; Ruby’s parents, the TV-addicted girl, the Frenchman and James and his silent housemate. Their lives – or the private bits of it, at least – are strangely familiar to me now, part of the soundtrack of my languid Bondi evenings.

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To Aqaba: Live sheep exports

When my family and I lived in Jordan in the Nineties, we went exploring every weekend. Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, Damascus, Jerusalem – it was three years of wonder, cardamom-scented coffee, vehicle check points and beer in teapots.

Back then, Amman was small and dusty. Our front garden was rimmed by young jasmine bushes and scrubby cats leapt out of the stinking wheelie bins every time we drove past and lobbed in a bagful of rubbish. We ran across a six-lane highway when we wanted the best shawarma in the neighbourhood and we bought trendy Airwalk trainers from a market that sold UN-donated clothing. We were invited to the fanfare-filled opening of the country’s first McDonald’s and our school bus driver stopped to pick up fresh, steaming hobbes bread as his round neared its end.

It was the Australian lamb – big, fresh legs of lamb – that amazed my Australian mother. Dirt cheap and direct from pastures my mother trusted, the meat was available at butchers all over the city. She loved the connection to home. And when we went on our weekend trips to Aqaba, often several times a month during the summer heat, we understood more about that connection.

We saw the massive sheep ships dock, packed full. We saw the trucks, stacked high with twitching brown fur, ply the bumpy highway from Aqaba through the desert to Amman. We knew that with every ship’s arrival on Jordan’s tiny stretch of coastline came a great white shark or three. They followed the ships, taking advantage of easy meals every time a carcass was thrown overboard. It put us off – even when we had no idea how many sheep died or how they were treated in their short lives.

That was 22 years ago. Every time I’m visiting family in Dubai, I see Australian lamb in the supermarket fridges, its stamp of origin bleeding into the white fat and still far cheaper than what we pay in Australia. We avoid it these days, knowing what goes on further up the chain. But most don’t. They trust, I’m sure, that lamb from Australia is treated ethically and tightly regulated. Few understand that some (thought not all) of those vacuum-packed cuts are butchered in the Gulf only after surviving a truly ghastly journey. After all, do you know how the last meat you ate lived and died?

But this is not about those lamb eating expats and Arabs. This is about the silence of those who know and sit back and make money and who are content not to rock the boat, so long as another country’s lax ethical codes can be exploited. It’s meat, it’s Australia, it’s what Australians do, right?

So, my mind leaps back to Aqaba’s coral diving and fish restaurants, its fort and the shambolic Alcazar hotel, which split in two with us inside it when the 1995 earthquake struck. And down at the port, those ships, those sheep: arriving from a country where lamb is a cultural king, but where morals are shovelled onto crud-caked racks, stacked 20-deep in the stifling, dark heat and allowed to perish at sea.

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