Lock Down; Down Under and Everywhere
My last cycling trip down the road
A few middle aged men in lycra
Wave from a 1.5 m distance
Riding the opposite way
Their faces covered by masks
Headphones tight in their ears
While they push up the hill
Their faces red with exhaustion
Wrinkled with worry
Can their small businesses
And their families survive
COVID-19 pandemic time
The freeway is empty
Even the new petrol station
And fast food stores passing by
The loud music keeps a few delivery trucks
Parked there awake
They work around the clock to keep Supplies in place.
Toilet paper fights are out of fashion
It is now the rush to get your beer and wine
Safely in your fridge
Fridges are out of stock too
And pubs serve fast food now
Next is the suburb that we are riding through
The new houses look empty
Playgrounds are silent too
Still freshly painted flashy posters
Invite you to live in this family paradise
And taste real community spirit
But all I see is a worried young dad
Wearing a mask and pushing a pram
Through the door of his home
With its big welcome sign
that he locks from inside
There's a small group of elderly people
Queuing for medication
That they fear they may not get
Malaria medication is out of stock
Doctors prescribe it to their family members
A few weeks back
It is supposed to cure the virus we all want to forget
And get through
“I need my immunity supplements,” I hear the snippets of conversation
“I am sixty years old and a teacher
We still have a few kids at school
I have no choice, the principal says to carry on
or retire, but I love teaching you know.”
“Is it worth carrying on?”
The other elderly lady asks her sadly:
“You know the older you are, the bigger chance you have of dying from it.”
“I stopped drinking ‘Corona’ beer,” added another elderly man gingerly
“But you know what? I'm happy to wait here with you,
This is the first conversation with another human being I've had in weeks.”
The pharmacy’s door opens and the lady invites them in:
“Don’t you stand in groups. Not even here,
You will be fined, no gathering of more than two people.”
The cycling path is 3 m wide
So we are following the new distance regulations
They nod their heads
Listening to the Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday
After the emergency meeting in Canberra
There will be hard months ahead
Spent in isolation and working from home
If you are lucky enough to still have a job
Otherwise you join the long line in front of Centrelink to get your benefits
Squashed together, these desperate Australians
No luxury to keep the 1.5 m distance from each other
The need to eat and keep a roof over your head
Wins over the fear of the pandemic
Is someone in that line positive to Covid-19?
How can they know? How can anyone know?
The Prime Minister promised that no landlord can evict you
In these difficult times.
He also promised that there will be enough food
In supermarkets for all Australians.
My old neighbour can afford only one weekly shopping day
It takes time for him to start the car and drive a half an hour away
I promise to buy food supplies for him as well
“Don’t forget the toilet paper, pasta and beans.”
I promise I'll do my best, but none of those items are on the shelves.
‘Two items per person’ the leaflet pinned on them informs you.
“Your elderly neighbour needs to come in the morning,
He should get what he needs” A kind cashier informs me.
I search my house for the last toilet roll and a few cans of baked beans
Then I call my neighbour and say that I'll leave it in front of his door.
I know he is lonely but it is the only way.
My son set up WhatsApp for him to hear all the government announcements
and I check up on him there daily, just like on my elderly mother
She is in Europe in her own self isolation
She sent me pictures of the first spring flowers
That bloom in front of her apartment.
She is allowed one hour walk daily and her own kind neighbour brings her own supplies.
“We do not have enough face masks. Nor respirators in hospitals,”
She informs me and I nod. It is the same everywhere around the world.
Then my 75 old mother sent me a selfie wearing her own hand-made face mask with a note that said:
“When times are hard we have to rely on ourselves
Without forgetting about others.”
I agreed: “Sure we do.”
It is the last Sunday of March 2020
The weather is pleasant and sunny
Still warm on this quiet solitary Perth autumn day
I park my bike back in the shed
The sign on every door in our house says:
“Don’t forget to wash your hands.
So I do that in the sink outside,
20 seconds thoroughly with soap.
My friend working with the homeless calls me,
I disinfect my mobile before touching it again.
“I have exciting news from the Department of Communities.
Our homeless will be accommodated in Perth hotels this winter
You know it makes sense as the hospitals can not take them in the time of this pandemic
and the hotels are empty anyway and happy to get a little cash.
Apparently one hotel manager told us
That it is the most rewarding time in the hotel industry that he has ever had.”
I know and she knows that it would never happen in normal times.
Red tape becomes irrelevant.
There is a message from my fellow teacher in Kenya
I was working with her in her village last year.
She is teaching students how to wash their hands
To prevent the pandemic but they have no clean affordable water.
I feel her desperation and suddenly feel very helpless.
We are so lucky here in Western Australia
Even if we seldom realise it.
My Syrian student I was teaching English to in Istanbul calls me
His situation is even more tragic.
After trying desperately to reach Europe he is stuck
In the overcrowded refugee camp with no hope.
“Maybe it is better for us all here if we die in the pandemic,”
He tells me as a matter of fact.
“The problem will be solved for everyone then.
Because we are not human beings anymore, just a problem.”
I would like to oppose him, but I would be lying
So I say nothing and I know he appreciates it.
I put the ABC radio on
The commentator informs me
That we are one great Perth community And that it is a privilege to serve us in the pandemic crisis.
I go back to ‘house cleaning’ and sorting out what I can send off
By the next delivery van to Perth’s homeless people.
Suddenly the radio informs me,
‘Welcome to a carbon reduced lifestyle.
Electricity demand has reduced,
transport's fossil fuel thirst has gone,
emissions have fallen,
the air is clearing,
I stop cleaning and look out through my window
The backyard is still dry from the scorching heat of summer
The last fire burnt the bush not far away
The biggest wild fires in history destroyed our Australia
I listen in silence to nature breathing with relief
I hear birds chirping
I hear the trees leaves rustling while waiting for rain
I sense hope
The governments are taking science seriously regarding the pandemic.
Maybe they'll learn to take science seriously
Regarding our environmental issues too
Perhaps it's helpful that each country's response
Directly affects their own
And with luck
The pandemic should be over
In a few months or a year.
Alas, climate change is not afforded any of these luxuries
Yet I fear it will be more deadly than COVID-19 by far.
In these times of COVID-19
People have stopped wasting their time
and money travelling
When they can work from home
and meet up on-line.
Maybe this reduced carbon lifestyle is something
That can stay with us long after the virus crisis has passed.
Maybe, just maybe…we'll learn something new
From this pandemic once it passes us by