Living through these unprecedented times, with the future so uncertain, nothing was inspiring me to write. The only thing that sprang to mind and felt appropriate was the word “loss”.
Foremost there is the loss of life, totally devastating. Loss of jobs and income, very frightening. Loss of freedom, frustrating.
Then, I thought of the word “renewal”.
Renewal of the planet. Each year, air pollution contributes to millions of deaths worldwide and, incredibly, the world lockdown, with its decreased industrial activity and car use, has led to substantial reductions in air pollution caused by emissions of CO2, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. The London Air Quality Network reports that levels have fallen to their lowest since recordings began in the year 2000.
China reported that following lockdown, their greenhouse gas emissions had reduced by a quarter by mid-February. Unfortunately, by mid-March, coal consumption and nitrogen dioxide pollution in China returned to normal levels but recent satellite images of Paris, Rome and Madrid are showing clearer, less-polluted skies, a blessing for all those who suffer from respiratory disorders.
This unexpected pollution reduction shows scientists how things can be changed, affording them the opportunity to advise governments that now is the time to make a sustained effort to permanently cut down on emissions and to find a future balance between nature and mankind.
Renewal of nature. In Venice, the waters have cleared, mostly due to the lack of boat motors that churn up the bottom of the canal. The sandy bottom and shoals of fish are visible which has led to cormorants and ducks moving in to replace the tourists!
Animals have been venturing into man’s habitat with shaggy mountain goats roaming the streets of Llandudno in Wales, coyotes appearing on the streets of San Francisco and geese walking down Las Vegas Boulevard. Wild boars are appearing in towns in Spain and Italy and even around Lagos here in the Algarve. In New Orleans, it is not so good as rats are appearing in the streets in their search for food now that the restaurants are closed!
Renewal of friendships. Old friendships are being rekindled and new ones made in a spate of solidarity. A couple of times a week, a group of us are getting together online (on Zoom app) to see each other, chat and connect. We are so lucky that this pandemic has happened at a time when it is possible to keep in touch and get together without leaving the safety of our homes.
Renewal of family time. People are taking this opportunity to talk (virtually) more often with older family members. Parents are home schooling and, therefore, doing more quality time activities with their children. They are also becoming more appreciative of teachers! Never before have people had so much time to connect with each other. But, be patient too, everyone is feeling the stress and tempers are bound to flare sometimes…
Renewal in community spirit. The clapping for health workers, which started in Italy, spreading to Spain, Portugal and the UK, is overwhelmingly emotional as are the videos of the Italians singing and playing music on their balconies as they endure the long lockdown.
Here in Portugal, numerous people are offering their empty holiday homes, for free, to doctors and nurses who are worried about returning home to their families, for fear of inadvertently infecting them with the Covid-19 virus. Local councils and complete strangers are offering to shop and run errands for the vulnerable and to help in any way possible.
In Eastbourne in the UK, hundreds of volunteers have signed up for a telephone befriending service for their community. A phone call does wonders for lifting someone’s spirit, so call a friend or neighbour, check on them every few days … they will be so grateful to be remembered and so happy to have someone to talk to.
I hope that when all this is over, people will continue to help each other in the community and to appreciate everyone’s efforts.
My friend Victoria Steffens is a retired intensive care nurse and having researched the best materials for face masks (cotton tea towels and vacuum cleaner filter bags), she has been ‘mass’ producing them for all our friends and families, posting them all over the Algarve and abroad. Her husband Rick has gone from being a highly acclaimed bass player to a ‘professional’ material cutter for their little production line.
Renewal of precious time. There is now more time to listen to and watch online concerts and plays, to take virtual tours of museums or to work out to the many online exercise classes. I am lucky as I can lose myself with my writing as my husband does with his music. My daughter is completing all the long overdue tasks around our farm, mending fences, building pens, clearing cupboards, etc – she is amazing! My son recently qualified as a cabin crew member and was looking forward to flying all over the world to see exciting places. Instead, he has been bringing home from Africa stranded Portuguese nationals, with no time for sightseeing! I am very proud of him.
Every couple of weeks I go shopping, feeling like a bank robber with my face mask and gloves, my hair under a hat. On my return, I wipe over the shopping in case the invisible spikey virus is lurking on the packaging. Clothes go in the wash, I shower and only then can I relax. It is exhausting!
In just over a month, the world as we knew it has changed, becoming unbelievable and surreal, like we are part of a film set. When it all started in Wuhan, it was distant and unreal. Now we too live in this unreal world, except this is reality and will be for some time. I am proud of Portugal, they took things seriously from the start, appealing to the population and trusting them to follow the contingency and lock down rules which seem to be making a difference.
Historically, there have been many pandemics. Did you know the most deadly was the Spanish flu of 1918 which caused up to 100 million deaths and infected one third of the world’s population. Covid-19 has literally stopped the world and its economic repercussions will be felt for a long time. However, like all others, this pandemic will also pass…we just have to be patient, follow the rules, stay positive, stay home and stay safe.
A big THANK YOU to everyone working to save lives and to keep the country running.
So now you know …
By Isobel Costa
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.