Post 39: #Coronavirus and a global perspective on…#freedom

We’re sharing our experiences, thoughts, and uncensored opinions during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 39. 

Freedom and Birthdays

Norma B. Wallace, Bend, #Oregon

Freedom has different meanings for each of us at different times in our lives. 

An 18th birthday is marking entry into adulthood – a perceived feeling of being able to do whatever you want. Yet for my grandson, a young Wallace, he doesn’t get the simplest freedom of going out except for groceries till after the lockdown, due to the #Coronavirus. We will celebrate his birthday via Zoom. Freedom for William Wallace, the Liberator of Scotland [many, many generations before my grandson], meant Freedom for his country. 

I remember that my freedom as an 18-year-old was simply that I could do what I wanted. Yet I lived at home, and in 1962, that meant living by my dad’s rules. When I was asked out on a date, by my future husband, I was told “no” – not unless his aunt went with us. I wasn’t used to that type of reaction, but my father had a preconceived notion that I shouldn’t go out with Bill. We went out with Bill’s aunt, then proceeded to a pizza place on our own. I felt like I got my freedom despite the restriction. Bill and I were married for 54 years.

Freedom, no matter what the freedom, comes with responsibilities. I hope when the lockdown is over, everyone will take responsible precautions so that they are not infected, nor infect others, with this dangerous virus.  I feel that despite the restrictions, we can have freedom. We will need to maintain social distancing; perhaps wear masks until there is a vaccine, cure, or something that science says makes it safe. Your newfound freedom of movement will be precious as you have lost that freedom, through no fault of your own, don’t lose it again.

Be Safe.


Who can we trust?

Tina F., Fairfax, Virginia

The lack of real leadership in the USA is taking its toll on a country that has already been divided by outspoken, bi-partisan rhetoric.

Instinctively we humans either take on the role of shepherd or sheep. For centuries, we have had leaders and followers. Some forcing their way into power with might and others taking up arms against one other. Oppositions to those in power have come about when a group of people form a strong enough movement to rebel. We have seen it in every part of the world. We have seen it in this country when people protested the Vietnam war and demanded change. This is our constitutional right in the USA.

Here in the USA we are proud to be a country of the free. I like to think that after the War of Independence and the writing of the Constitution, we created a civilized country with civil rights and civil liberties. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition; freedom to bear arms; and of course, freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But freedoms need to have parameters. Laws have been implemented as far back as the 10 Commandments because people need direction. Left to our own devices, we would face mayhem, anarchy, and lawlessness.

We are currently experiencing unprecedented conditions. We have been told to shut down our businesses and shelter at home. Our children were sent home from schools to be home-schooled and we all complied.

Here we are months later, sitting and waiting. Placing all of our belief in an already fragile system.

Now Americans have begun to rebel in more than a dozen states. They believe their civil liberties and their personal freedoms have been violated. At first I thought I could see their point. People are losing so much during this economic shutdown. But here is where it all gets complicated. Who are these people? Are they frustrated workers who need their jobs back? Are they organized by conservative groups aiming to bring Trump mania back into the limelight? Why are the right-wing groups and militias taking to the streets with their guns? Do we still call them civil liberties “protesters” or White supremacists? Aren’t those the people who oppose our country’s civil rights?

We look to the president for guidance and we hear him mumble his sympathies to the protestors because he understand that “they were treated a little bit rough.” This raises the question again: Is this a campaign rally for Trump?

This country is the land of the free. We have witnessed governments around the world controlling their people through fear, undercover surveillance, and online monitoring. This is happening around the globe, not just in countries run by dictators. Yet right here in our own free backyard, we have succumbed to the fear and boarded ourselves up to stay protected from this unseen enemy.

The difference is that this is not a US problem. This is a global pandemic. This is a time where the true leaders can make a difference. But receiving mixed messages from our President and the constant barrage of media analysis does not reassure nor unify the American people.


Ayman…Jimena…Rahwa…Raj…

RJD, #Beirut, #Lebanon

Standing on a side street with his wooden cart, Ayman spends the day waiting for a car to stop by to purchase some of his jasmine plants.

My windows were half-closed. I hesitated to ask him if he had potting soil. Ayman was not wearing a mask, no gloves, and of course, no sanitizer in sight. He proceeded to walk straight to the car. He was happy to see a customer and, in his elation, totally disregarded social and physical distancing. For a minute, I thought if the window had been open, he would have leaned into the car…and my OCD went haywire!

Looking like an alien from outer space, adorned with my mask, shield, and gloves, I gently ask him to step back. He smiles. He smirks, actually.

So, we executed our soil transaction and then I decided to take the plunge. I asked him his name and where he was from. Ayman is Palestinian (I was parked outside the Bourj Al Barajneh camp, where many Palestinian refugees have lived here since the Nakba).

I playfully asked, “and why don’t you have a mask and gloves on, ya Ayman?” He again smirked at this mad alien, but with embarrassment this time. He said “Ya madam, I would rather spend the money feeding my children and they don’t do anything to protect you from the Corona.”

And right there and then, my heart was shattered into a thousand privileged pieces. Ayman would rather subject himself to the dangers of #Covid-19 to feed his children, than to protect himself.

I went further “But Ayman, if you get sick, who will feed your children then?” He lowered his head and said “If that’s God’s will, then be it.”

Poverty took Ayman’s freedom away. It also took away the freedom of over half the Lebanese population. Poverty dictates where you live, what you eat, and what water you drink. Poverty dictates that you would rather put your life in danger than to self-isolate. Poverty robs the Aymans of the world of having the choice to a better life.

Another great “advantage” of poverty is that it increases crime. When hungry, one will go to any lengths to feed their loved ones. And when a crime is committed and the perpetrator is caught, he loses more freedom by being sent off to jail. In many countries without a fair trial. And the cycle continues…

When we, in the first world, say that poverty is a violation of human rights and freedom, what are we really doing about it?

It was and is extremely necessary for the world to go into lockdown during a pandemic like this one. It is essential to protect all citizens. But is it viable for the (supposedly) 10%  of the world population who live below the poverty line, those who earn their bread from daily work, those who are forced to go to work while their bosses hunker down in luxury bunkers, not to have enough resources to adhere to the warnings and lockdowns? Is it possible that their poverty negates the advice to “wear a mask,” “shield your face,” “wear gloves,” and “wash your hands.” With what soap do they get to wash their hands?

This is what is beginning to happen here in Lebanon this week: the fabric of this lockdown is stretched to the seams. This week in Tripoli, people are protesting against hunger and poverty. No masks, no gloves, no social or physical distancing, and breaking the lockdown instructions about gatherings. They don’t care. Their freedom to provide food on the table at the end of the day was taken away from them by the government regulations and by a throned germ.

The price of the soil was $3. I gave Ayman LL20,000 (which used to be $13 and now is worth $6) and told him to keep the change. It is not much. But I also didn’t want him to feel like I was forcing charity on a working man. He smiled and thanked me. And I left reminding him to be safe. Knowing very well that what I just said means nothing to the Ayman or Jimena or Rahwa or Raj of the world.


Defining freedom

RafifJ, #Malaga, #Spain

Where does your freedom begin and mine end? It’s a question I have been asking for years, and I haven’t found a definitive answer. I tried to answer it back in 2014, when I was working on the #Syrian Freedom Charter. Along with a team of activists, we tried to define “freedom” and what it could mean for Syrians after the regime collapsed. Freedom of expression, of religion, of political persuasion…these Syrians and their families were literally dying for freedom by defying authoritarian rule and meeting to discuss freedom in the first place.

If I fast-forward to today’s CoronaCrisis, I hear slogans like “give me liberty or give me death” coming out of the mouths of White supremacists and bored, middle-class fools in #Michigan. They had the gall to march to their state capitol building – some of them armed to the teeth – demanding that their governor lift all forms of quarantine, lockdown, or social distancing.

Why? Because they were asked to stay home for a couple weeks? No, Mr. repulsive White Supremacist, you’re not fighting for liberty. You’re merely trying to defy science and common sense. And you’re armed. You don’t get to cry dictatorship or authoritarianism just because your haircut has to wait. Ms. Middle Class, you’re not living under martial law because your nails miss the salon.

Give me liberty or give me death, indeed. Try waving your weapons around a government building while Black. Or Brown. Or Arab. Then you’d learn, very quickly, the “give me death” part. Then you’d learn where your freedom ends.

And yet, as much as I think the Michiganders (and protesters in other states) are idiots, I respect their right to engage in protest. But where does their freedom end; where does yours begin? If you lived in Michigan, would you be worried that those “free” people were spreading a deadly virus? If they infected you, and you were likely to die, would you say your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness had been denied? Where does your freedom begin?

Freedom is precious. Ask any Syrian (or many other nationalities; we don’t have a monopoly on suffering) who has survived torture, or whose relative(s) is still in prison, or whose entire family was blown up when a barrel bomb exploded over the house. Ask the millions of children who have been denied a future because of an authoritarian regime that refuses to step down. Try asking the people who died, and those who are still willing to do so 9 years later, for the cause of actual freedom. Give them liberty or give them death: that has been the reality of their existence.

“Give me liberty or give me death” needs to be the rallying call for people who are truly enslaved. People whose very existence is at the whim of dictators who think nothing of mowing down civilians. Freedom of expression is too precious to be wasted on frivolous chants like “Liberate Michigan!” when your governor spells out inconvenient truths.

But on the other hand….isn’t the beauty of freedom that you get to go out and protest? Isn’t that your fundamental right, whether your cause is just, racially motivated, or just plain ignorant?

I still love the question – where does your freedom begin and mine end – and it will continue to puzzle me. I’ll leave you with a quote from a young Syrian activist:

“I am already free; therefore, I have no need for you to free me. You can imprison me, torture me; you can even stuff me into this pack of cigarettes. I will still be free. Because I’ve freed my mind, and will no longer be enslaved by yours.”

A. in Gaziantep, Turkey

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Post 37: #Coronavirus and a global perspective on… the meaning of “essential”

We’re sharing our experiences, thoughts, and uncensored opinions during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 37. 


Essentially, we need to build a nation

RJD, #Beirut, #Lebanon

Oh, how I would love to tell you that my post-corona essentials will be what they used to be 2 years ago! But for the last 2 years, Lebanon has been an economic ticking time bomb that blew up on October 17. This was followed by government resignations, Eurobonds defaults, rampant corruption unveiled, and billions in looted public funds extracted out of the country to Switzerland and Luxembourg and other tax havens. 

Comes Christmas and the time for giving. The Lebanese were already 40% poorer due to the devaluation of the exchange rate and an unreal inflation of prices. Santa didn’t stop by!

Now comes #Covid-19. More than 800 restaurants closed down permanently. Day laborers couldn’t find work – the minimum wage was $20 a day, if they were lucky, but with devaluation that became utter pennies. Businesses reduced salaries by 50% or shuttered. The snowball rolled down the hill awfully fast. 

So what is essential to most Lebanese today, putting aside the 1% of course?

  1. Food: more than 50% of Lebanese are now below the poverty line due to unemployment and inflation. If it wasn’t for some amazing NGOs and charities distributing boxes of staples to poor families, and the Lebanese army (under the new government) is doing the same, these families would not be able to purchase bread to eat with their tea – a meal in many poor households.
  2. Electricity and water: Almost everyone in Lebanon has to pay 2 electricity bills (regular bill and generator subscription – this is due to the daily blackouts we have had since 2006). We also have to pay for municipality water, water purchases when the municipality fails to provide water, as well as drinking water.
  3. Internet and cellular services: One of the highest bills in the world, the Lebanese have been lucky that the cellular companies that have been robbing us for so long provided free Internet during the lockdown. What happens post-Corona? Will we ever get decent coverage or high-speed Internet?
  4. Healthcare: If you work a full-time job, you have social security that covers some healthcare services. If you own a business (most Lebanese are entrepreneurs), you can’t apply for social security. Then you have to pay for insurance coverage. Or not.
  5. Retirement pension: Again, if you work in the public sector or are employed, you are entitled to “end of service” pension. If you don’t, no official IRA or 401K plan exist, so either your children provide for you, or you keep on working because no one will look after you. Or you starve and become homeless.

The essentials and priorities in Lebanon, with the advent Covid-19, coupled with economic distress, have become eating, having a roof, staying healthy, and staying employed. Staying alive.

For the 1%, I am sure it is the ability to export more of their funds abroad. 

For me, “essential” is not owning a business or starting one; it is not going to the gym, hairdresser, or spa, and not buying more things we don’t need and not spending frivolously because we can. What is essential to me is to help build a nation that I and more than 4 million other citizens can survive in with dignity. I, as a Lebanese citizen, am a red line.


You are essential!

Tina F., Fairfax, Virginia

Here we are one month or so into our “lockdown” in the USA. All businesses are still closed except for those deemed as essential . Did you know that the homeland security has issued a 10-page list of essential businesses? It might have been easier to just list those that should remain closed like educational establishments, retail, entertainment, and sports. All others, just figure it out and make it work.

Obviously, we need the first responders, healthcare workers, police, and army. We need gas so we can fill our cars to go to the bank to access to our money. From there we take a trip to the store and buy our essentials like food, diapers, booze, and cigarettes.

We go about our everyday life without a thought to the process. We take for granted that we get what we need and our lives just run smoothly. Now we are told that if we stay home and only go out to the grocery store this will all work out.

But how does it work? What about all those behind the scenes? Does anyone really think of them?

Let’s take a simple bag of rice. What does it take for that to reach our shelves at the grocery store? We can start with the farmers in California or Asia who grow and water the rice plants. The rice is harvested and dried. It is then threshed, dried again, and milled. All these processes are completed by hand or machine, but mostly by minimum-wage employees.

The rice is then loaded in burlap sacks and placed on trucks. Drivers will transport it to a packaging plant, which will package this rice in plastic bags made and printed at another facility. The rice is then boxed in cardboard boxes that are also made at another facility. These boxes are then re-loaded and taken by different drivers to the distribution centers and put on trucks, ships, trains, or planes to be transported around the world. When they finally arrive at your local store, the boxes are inventoried, unpacked, and placed neatly on the shelves by the grocery store employees. Finally we walk in the store grab the rice, pay, and leave!

So where do we draw the line on essential? As far as I’m concerned, all workers are all essential. Some jobs may seem menial, but in a chain they are extremely necessary.

I hope that after this pandemic we can appreciate those people behind the scenes, those who are under-appreciated and underpaid.


Is recreation essential?

Norma B. Wallace, #Bend, #Oregon

What are essential needs? That’s really obvious because they are food, clothing, and shelter. Once those are satisfied – what is essential? I think all of us who are in this Coronavirus Lockdown are grateful for the absolute essentials. To provide these essentials are the farmer, the transportation industry, the roads so construction, the delivery, the grocers, and clerks.  The list goes on and on. For every essential need, there are hundreds of people providing. Perhaps one good thing that has come from the lockdown is the appreciation for all the people we depend on to provide the essentials. 

After the essentials are met, the next question is, what is important? For me, that is an easy question. Family and friends. Yet, as much as we love them, can we be with them 24 /7? We need to work to have the resources to pay for the essentials. Working 24/7 isn’t enough either. That brings us to recreation and what that is for you. Yes, it is regional, and individual. One definition is refreshment of strength and spirits after work. Another definition is to simply re-create or some form of renewal. So yes, I believe recreation is essential. I love the four seasons and I choose and love the activities in each season. The picture is from one of my snowshoe hikes just a few miles from my house. Each season has special activities for me, and I love them all. Yet, it is not the activity or what I was doing that I treasure. It is whom I was with and how we felt. 

So I have to ask myself the question, what is essential, what is a real need?   I think the real need is love, caring for each other, and having hope. So once again, my last thought is that of hope. I hope each of us will come out of this crises with hope for the future, and love and caring for one another. 


Let there be Internet

RafifJ, #Malaga, #Spain

Gone is the conventional wisdom that “essential personnel” are limited to those in the armed forces or first responders. BC (Before Corona), bullets and tanks could save us, or so we were told. Back then, I’m pretty sure most people didn’t give a second thought to the grocery store clerk or the street cleaner. We know better now.

In with Covid-19, out with the old definitions as we slowly resign ourselves to our new “normal.” The definition of war is changing, since electronic warfare is cooler, and anyway, tanks and guns can’t neutralize the virus. Our modern-day heroes don’t only wear fatigues or capes; they also don their butchers’ aprons, medical scrubs, and firefighters’ turnout pants and jackets. Our wars are localized, and the truck drivers and bakers are just some of the folks we never thought to thank before who are keeping the supply chain moving so the rest of us can social-distance and quarantine in relative comfort.

While we’re redefining “essential,” let’s look at the habits we’ve kept up DC (during Coronavirus). What is an essential element in our day-to-day existence under lockdown? Of course there’s Maslow’s Hierarchy, but a modern pandemic in a modern existence requires more levels of essentials than just the bottom layers of the pyramid.

What about connectivity? Today more than ever, an Internet connection is essential (and should be a human right) if we want to communicate with, um, basically anyone. How else do we commiserate, cry, worry, or share with people who are not in our immediate household? The Internet now where we go to work AND play. Take away my Internet and, yes, you’ll have a revolution on your hands.

Speaking of revolution, I know we like to criticize billionaires and giant corporations. They’re too rich, we claim, and should do more to give back. I have been among those critics. I’ve called for the wealthy to give back more than they already have.

But let’s face it. You’re not reading this post, reading your newsfeed, listening to a podcast, or binge-watching a show because of providence or goodwill. Your online access and social media were not heaven-sent. You can thank, among others, a Gates, a Jobs, and a Zuckerberg. And if you need to do some shopping, Bezos and his team are right there for you. Shouldn’t these people and their teams get some hero credit?

The lockdown has given me a new perspective on who my heroes are and who they aren’t. And why they are and aren’t. My essentials have changed. Have yours?


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Post 34: #Coronavirus and a global perspective on…keeping busy during lockdown

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 34. WE DON’T ALWAYS AGREE – nor do we have to! We post our opinions, and those of our guest bloggers, with no censorship.


All the time in the world

Tina F., Fairfax, Virginia

Although the days merge into one another and the hours seem to slip by with not much being accomplished, I actually have a few daily rituals to help me pass the time.

I try to get out of bed around 7 am and go downstairs to enjoy the peace and quiet since my family tends to sleep in. I love making my tea and catching up with my dearest friends and family across the world who have been up for several hours.

The one thing that I have found so rewarding, and which has brought me solace, is the daily writing of this blog. I never had the discipline to write a blog on a regular basis before, but for some unknown reason, I have found an outlet in these short daily writings.

It’s after that that my day becomes a little fuzzy. If you are a regular reader, you know I like to joke and present a crazy impression of the current situation. I am the “funny one” amongst my friends (a role designated by me). However, I do not feel fun or funny some days; other days, I feel as though there were a lump in my chest that wants to explode. Many times, I sit immobilized, unable to do anything.

It was when I sat down to really think about how I pass the time for this post that I realized how lucky I am to have all so many options.

These are some of the things I do after my I write my blog:

  • I read a book.
  • I scan the Internet for interesting stories and to see what’s new with the Coronavirus.
  • I go for walks with my husband and my dog.
  • I watch British period dramas online.
  • I FaceTime my parents and my friends.
  • I Zoom my Pilates class.
  • I team up with my son and play the interchangeable role of chef/sous chef as we create our elaborate dinners.
  • I team up with my husband as bartenders and come up with fancy cocktails.
  • I look through my old photos and family trips.

Wow! After looking over my list, I feel as though I am on an awesome vacation and I feel better.


Locked up in the car

RJD, #Beirut, #Lebanon

I hate driving, in normal times, in Beirut. The traffic, the aggressiveness, the waste of time, the lack of parking spots, and the double parking in narrow streets are just a few of my personal grievances.  

I also hate the fact that people have no respect for personal space, even for a car. Bumper to bumper, anywhere a toothpick can fit, one should occupy that space. I often wonder, “You moron, is it going to get you there any faster?” 

Avoiding hitting another car is like trying to drive a bumper car, in an amusement park, sans amusement!

The lockdown law is so that certain days are for odd-numbered license plate cars to drive (run “absolutely necessary” errands, as the policeman told me today at a checkpoint) and even-numbered cars on the other days, with a total curfew on Sundays. Like yeah, right. 

So being Lebanese, I take that opportunity to drive the more or less empty streets, blare the speakers, and listen to my favorite playlist. It has become my reprieve from staying at home. I drive along the Beirut Corniche, look at the sea, fantasize about swimming in it (it is one of the most polluted seas in the world), and enjoy the peace.

Today, I did just that. For half an hour. It was heavenly. I don’t leave my sterilized car (you know by now, I am OCD.) 

In a sad way, I am enjoying the lockdown rules and pray that when they are eased, this law of even and odd numbers will remain to reduce the Lebanese air pollution that we live in. Oh how I wish. But if it doesn’t remain so, I will go back to driving on Sundays only! 


Hope for After Coronavirus (AC) 

Norma Bea Wallace, Bend, #Oregon

We have to get through it first.

Yes, there is Hope that life AC will return to a new normal. I’m sure we will not go back to Before Coronavirus (BC) behavior. Thinking about the new normal – we will have to create what that new normal, just like we have had to create what the new normal is after any life-changing event. 

In an earlier blogpost, I wrote about how life has changed for me after my husband passed away two years ago. I had to move forward. We will move forward, AC. But before we move forward, we have to get through the present life with the Coronavirus and how it affects us. 

So what am I doing during this lockdown?

I am fortunate – I can go out for walks and bike rides and keep social distancing. I live a short distance from National Forest Land. As more people are using the trails, I use them less. I have a stability ball, yoga mat, and some weights at home; I am using them.  I look forward to FaceTime with my family and checking by phone how friends are doing. I have a little patch of yard that I am getting ready; I’ll put in containers with flowers in them. A friend has a greenhouse and he has been starting my flowers in flats. What is the stuffed toy chicken named Aurora doing there? A year and a half ago I started a story about a romance between Aurora and Puffin, who you met on my first blog. She (Aurora) lives with the family that’s preparing my flowers. I had forgotten about that story until the other day. So, I am going to dust off that story and work on it.

I have been sewing masks for friends who needed them for work. I am going to start making them for neighbors too, because it looks like we will be needing them to go most places. So I have kept busy. I enjoy seeing and hearing what others are doing, which reminds me of what a photographer here in Bend is doing. 

The photographer was featured on the same local TV station as the mother I wrote about last week. She started going to her portrait clients’ homes. Using a long lens – in keeping with social distancing – she photographs activities the family is doing; perhaps sitting on their porch or working in their front yard. This helps so many people. The family thinks about the activity they want photographed, or the photographer suggests one and they create a memory. Some families were building human pyramids; some had costumes for a play; some were painting outside; and others working in their flowerbeds. The list seemed endless. I am sure that gave others ideas in addition to the family having their experience documented. I know it made me think of my flowers and going back to writing. There were so many creative ideas that I am sure it inspired other families to do something creative.

We will get through this, and as long as we have hope, we will figure it out in our own way. It will change us; let’s make the change for the better. We will have choices; I believe we will learn from this. 

I am forever hopeful. 


Time keeps on ticking

RafifJ, #Malaga, #Spain

During lockdown, time has a certain fluid quality to it. Some days it goes by quickly; other days, it feels like it is simply not ticking. As the Steve Miller Band says, “Time keeps on ticking, ticking, into the future…” and that future is post-Corona. Then, I really do want to fly like an eagle.

Right now, the sad truth is that I plan my day around Clapping Time, when for 1 – 2 minutes, nothing but the sound of applause matters.

OK, 23.58 hours to go!

I find it easy enough to get my work done, clean the apartment, chat with friends and family, and catch up on the news. These activities keep me occupied for most the day. And let’s not forget the excitement of taking out the trash!

In the evenings, ping-pong and social media occupy me for a while.

But what gets me is the anxiety-ridden nights, those sleepless nights, when time keeps on ticking, and I have no answers for the future.


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