Post 24: #Coronavirus and a global perspective

We’re friends and family from around the world, sharing our experiences and thoughts during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 24. Important Note: WE DON’T ALWAYS AGREE – nor do we have to! We post our opinions, and those of our guest bloggers, with no censorship.

Before and After

Samia Madwar, Toronto, Canada

A few days ago I started listening to the audiobook version of Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, a novel set in New York City during the Great Recession. We see the city, and its class divides, through the lens of a Cameroonian couple hoping to get a Green Card and stay in America. Their employer is an executive at Lehman Brothers, one of the firms whose bankruptcy was seen as a catalyst of the 2008 global economic crisis.

Listening to the novel takes me back to that time of uncertainty, when the news was filled with daily reminders of the lives and communities shattered by the crisis, much as it is today. I think about how that period shaped my own outlook; like so many of my peers, I never take financial stability for granted. Now, as I watch others chronicle their experiences—including in this blog, of course—I try to imagine what stories we’ll tell about #COVID-19 in a year from now, or five, or ten. How will we remember this time?

I try to spot some clues in the stories people are telling now. Amid the regular updates, breaking news alerts, and various epidemiological studies, I’m reading about how pandemics have shaped human history and how this one fits in, or how living in isolation comes hand in hand with another epidemic—that of loneliness.

One of the best essays I’ve read recently was written by a friend who has had to practice self-isolation for years due to a health condition. In a beautifully written piece, she urges those complaining about physical distancing now to gain some perspective.

Remember that what you’re coping with now,” she writes, “is what a whole lot of people have been coping with for years and years and years.”

I’ve also been buoyed by the stories artists are crafting. Some designers are fashioning face masks (like this one and this one), poets are writing—well, poems (here’s one by an emergency physician)—and illustrators are capturing their impressions and mirroring ours, too.

Whenever I hear people refer to the “before times” and speak of a time after “all this” passes, I hope they’re also paying attention to the present—the “during.” Because that’s where all our stories will happen.

Closings and Openings

RJD, Beirut, Lebanon

Today I spent the day rummaging through what is left of my closed-down business. 

As I took things out of closets and drawers, flashbacks of happier days  came to me. The day I opened my business, the day I saw it mushroom into a bigger space, the day I moved to a larger location, and the day I felt on top of the world for my accomplishments. I believe I am now at the “acceptance” phase of mourning this loss. 

Then I thought of all the people who are facing the same predicament I had to face. My predicament was due to a black hole called the Lebanese Economy, which led to many small and medium-sized businesses to cease to exist. More than 800 restaurants have closed countrywide.

Many people the world over are facing dire economic decisions, and many small and medium-sized businesses might have to close due to #COVID-19. Let me tell you, it is a very difficult decision to make. 

Some of my dilemmas were:

  1. Having to lay off people and increase unemployment in Lebanon.
  2. Being an entrepreneur and hoping that the dark cloud will just move over and brighter days will come.
  3. Building for so many years and with a witch’s wand all is gone overnight; the customers, the team spirit, the magic.
  4. Being unable to sustain the standards and quality I worked so hard to achieve. 
  5. Dealing with suppliers who fail to understand that we are all in this together.

…and much more. It took me from October to February to make the decision. I was holding on with every bit of determination and resolve I had! Come March, I spent many days crying. Hell, sobbing. To see my 23-year-old baby on its death bed was very difficult. 

Then one day, I woke up and I was ready. I took the leap and found myself on the other side. Things began to fall in place and I became happier. Looking back, I wish I had contemplated less and acted more. 

To those considering the fate of their business, as hard as you might imagine things on the other side, please take the leap. In retrospect, having been burdened with a tormenting decision like this, today I feel liberated and ready to go on opening old drawers and shredding the past while holding on to its beautiful memories. But I’m looking forward, because the future cannot be all that bad. I have to have faith in that.

The Clash Understood

RafifJ in Malaga, Spain

Dear Self,

This year will be 17 years. SEVENTEEN YEARS since I co-founded my small business. It’s been 17 years of hard work, client relationship management, and near-constant recruiting. This little company is almost as old as my eldest son, and just may have caused me more anxiety than his Terrible Twos, Defiant Fives, and Morose Pre-Teens ever did.

In 17 years, we’ve fired a few clients; retained many, many others; and worked with fabulous consultants. In those 17 years, we have enjoyed tremendous successes, helping our customers win billions of dollars in new contract awards. We’ve retooled organizations and created efficient processes. YAY.

We have also made knuckleheaded mistakes. One of them is a major lesson (future entrepreneurs, DO NOT DO THIS): we put literally everything we have into this business. FAIL.

For 17 years, we have found ourselves swinging back and forth on the business pendulum. And then we come back to the same old question when things are down: should we stay or should we go (in or out of business)?

Now with the #Coronavirus, our small business is at risk. It’s not that we can’t work remotely – we’ve been doing that for years. But now quite a few clients are penny-pinching as they too fend off impending financial disaster.

We’re here at that crossroads again, asking ourselves whether we should stay in (as we literally have to do) or go out (as we literally are not allowed to do). Dear Self, we need to make a decision…so you gotta let me know: should we stay or should we go? If we go there will be trouble, and if we stay it will be double.


Anxious Small Business Owner

Where have you been?

Letter from Tina F. in Fairfax, Virginia, to her clients:

Hello my friends!

It has been months since you have heard from me. I am truly sorry. I know that this #Coronavirus has disrupted a lot of people’s lives and I am no exception.

The month of January was rather busy for me with corporate events and headshots. I took some time off during the slow month of February and was looking forward to March so I could start marketing and catching up with my photography business.

No one would have ever predicted that within the first few days of March, #COVID-19 would be declared a pandemic, sending the stock markets crashing. Or that schools and businesses would close and countries would limit travelers at their borders. Or that people would be asked to stay home and cities would go into lockdown, virtually bringing the world to a halt. No one would ever have guessed.

So where have I been? For a few days I was paralyzed. I had been contemplating the effects of all this on my small business. I have been thinking of ways to stay afloat. Should I offer online classes or a virtual class? But I’m not a teacher. I don’t have anything that can be boxed and packaged and mailed to clients. It’s not that easy when you are a portrait photographer. My career relies on photographing groups of people at weddings and office parties. I take pictures of families and newborn babies. I need to connect to people and look them in the eye, or touch their hands, so I can place it in the right location. Keeping social distancing would not work well at all.

I was reminded of my younger days, when street photography was a big part of my life. Human interaction as a street photographer was limited for me. I was just a voyeur and I wanted to keep my distance. I think I should go out and do that again, but it’s not worth the risk.

So where do I go from here? Well, there are two parts of my photography that I have kept mostly to myself. My first is a passion for photographing architecture, landscapes, and nature. And another passion is for manipulating photographs in Photoshop. And those do not require anything but me, my camera, and my computer.

Therefore, until the world goes back to some semblance of normalcy and I can once again engage physically with my clients, I will use this time to catalogue and categorize my own photography and even display some of my previous work to you all on a regular basis.

I hope my photos make you smile as you travel vicariously through them.

Stay safe, my friends.

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