By Carol Devine, Humanitarian Practitioner, Writer and Researcher
*The main image is plastic garbage Carol collected on a Cleanup Svalbard expedition*
A short story on biochemistry:
I’m on vacation. It’s lockdown #2. I only have two meetings (which I don’t count as “work” as rather it feels like I’m helping write a new series on the planet. We’ve no idea how it ends.) I work for two hours. There’s only me to blame.
Zoom call. Email. Coffee. Whatsapp call. Email.
Lunch: Sumptuous. Take-out with my teen daughter. Veronica discovered the place online. She drives us to pick it up together. “Let’s switch things up, it’s a treat,” I say.
Driving there she opens the windows (it’s -3 degrees with windchill) and tells me again I need to use real, not natural deodorant. She puts on her mask. Laughs.
It’s Lebanese. Greens, pomegranate, marinated yellow cabbage and a delicious sesame avocado.
A friend doing keto told me last night that champagne has low carbs. In the restaurant pickup zone is a seven-dollar small bottle of prosecco. Just larger than an airplane bottle size. I buy it.
Inside, the few people and I are in masks. –––––– Six metres. Hand sanitizer.
A wonderful lunch made by someone else’s hand, a mysterious talented chef I didn’t see. In the beforetime, you didn’t often see the cooks or chef either, but now you see nearly nobody.
(I really can’t complain during the lockdowns, I’m so lucky.)
My first Lebanese restaurant: Paris, named after the owner, a woman. I was 20-something. A gorgeous place in a boxy set of empty streets of stone buildings near a statue. That night, my friend Aline who took me there was breaking up with her boyfriend. Fattoush Salad.
The second Lebanese restaurant: Melbourne with Deirdre, a South African colleague and friend, at an AIDS Conference. Labneh. I remember another friend, Kik, photographing our pop-up Museum of AIDS in Africa. The friendly Ukrainian women living with HIV’s emerald-green handiworks for sale in a booth next to ours. That pandemic: So many dead, needlessly. Unjust.
What did we learn?
This pandemic: 2.7 million dead, needlessly. Systemic injustice. What have we done? We’ve no choice but to try harder and use our memory to survive as people.
COVID. Climate. Conflict. Cascading. Kibbeh.
After lunch, I go for a chilly walk with the dog along the lakeshore. At one stage, I can’t see as my hair crosses my face in the wind like drapes. There’s no pancake ice today. It has melted.
I automatically walk a bit to the left on the sidewalk as someone walks towards me. He also moves, to the right. The COVID-19 square dance. This is how we walk outside now.
Even in this time (lucky as I am to have a home, awesome kids, parents and family, healthcare, my job, incredible friends, my relative safety, and Halley the dog), and even though I worked a bit today, somehow knowing I’m ‘on vacation’ makes the day languorous.
“When listeners enjoyed the music more, time seemed to slow down.”-Kellaris (1992)
“The more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took.”-Eagleman (neuroscientist)
After dinner, I have this feeling: Do you remember that subtle sensation of anticipation when you have guests coming over? Is the food ready? What time will they actually arrive? But I remember, no guests are coming tonight. They very rarely do these days. I am receiving a scheduled package delivery. How banal. It’s that same feeling of expectation for a visitor I am unaccustomed to of late.
That feeling is accurate but disrupted, time-warped, mutated. I forgot, but remembered, paused by a year of living a bit dangerously, nearly all in lockdown, seeing mainly one other person a lot – ode to Veronica – and a few friends and family a bit, afar. The young people are asked to sacrifice so much. Too much. But it’s intergenerational love. Six metres. Masks. Wash hands with soap.
There are still days in this elongated day left. I’ll take a shower. I sip fermented carbonated grapes.
Carol Devine works to add a climate, environment and health lens to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders’ response, including the cascading COVID-19 crisis, and advocates for health equity and access. She’s also a polar researcher (on hold, what isn’t) and paddle boarding lover, mom to two awesome teenagers and a rescue dog Halley (who rescued her too). Carol has fond memories of a spring and summer working in Bucharest for CONNEX with Karla, the fresh and hard work of launching a mobile network in the quite newly independent Romania, and catching the scent of wild roses while running through the city.