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What can COVID-19 tell us about our habits, communities and culture?

My Grandma has lived with my Grandpa in the same apartment for most of my life. When I was little, I would love visiting – there was a fish pond, a garden with huge trees, and grandma always makes the sort of food that satisfies a craving you didn’t know you had. 

My Grandma gets up with the sun each morning to sing to her plants. She’s not insane, just very in tune with life – she’s revived sticks that I’ve had sitting dead in pots for months, so I’m’ past questioning her methods. She knows the routines of most of the people in her complex; who waters their plants at which times, who sleeps in and who prefers an early stroll, who prefers to cook spicy food for dinners and have to open the balcony doors around dusk. 

She will often tell me stories about neighbours going about their lives in their little bubbles next door. My Grandparents are very social people, but I can’t remember a single time they’ve had a conversation with anyone in their entire complex. 

I called my Grandma the other day to ask her how she was coping. I live interstate, so go see them. She would never admit it, but I can tell that the Covid restrictions have only placed extra stress on an already strained routine. On the day of our call, she had a sore throat, was racially abused on the way to the doctors surgery (my grandma is Chinese), was trying to stay away from shopping centres, and was running out of milk. 

Despite these events, her tone was upbeat. She went on to tell me about how ‘a guardian angel’ had come to her door- a middle-aged woman who introduced herself as living down the corridor – and offered to buy her groceries. 

A couple months ago, my Instagram and Facebook feeds were filled with people enjoying their summer with friends, quirky film shots taken on road trips and influences country-hopping through Europe. Scrolling through my Facebook feed these days is a weird mix of ‘Top ten tips to make your isolation time productive’, a bunch of adds tailored to my internet shopping searches and almost hourly updates from a group I joined at the beginning of quarantine called ‘Proud Plant Parents Canberra’ where everyone basically posts pictures of their house plants and asks questions about why they’re not thriving. 

Social media has potential to further connect us – we’ve seen this through the huge spike in Zoom calls for work meetings, cross-continental family dinners and exercise classes. But it struck me that the ways in which I have been using it have not been meaningful; just added noise. I don’t miss being granted access to private gatherings of friends or acquaintances through Instagram stories, or participating in the validating social currency of dressed-up profile shots. 

Of all the changes Covid has inflicted upon my life, some felt larger than others. But now, a few months on, many of them don’t feel all that significant. My daily walks/runs across the mountain have remained the same. My study habits- also largely unchanged. My housemates and I have fallen into a nice home rhythm, and although my job transitioned online, I still set aside the same time slots each week. The ease at which I have been able to transition into isolation says very little about me as a person, and speaks volumes of the privilege I have. 

We have seen a lot of things change. They have been pitched by the media, and by us, as ‘caused by Covid’. Headlines such as ‘toilet paper due to Covid’ or ‘toxic spread of Covid-19 racism’ imply that these problems emerged with Covid, and will subside when (if) Covid disappears. 

But, we have to be careful about the ways we use our language; Covid didn’t cause a toilet paper shortage, selfishness, misinformation, and individualistic societies did. Covid doesn’t target Indigenous peoples more than non-Indigenous; our health structures fail to facilitate equality in health. Covid hasn’t caused racism; it has brought racial undertones in our society to the surface. 

The many things that we speak of as Covid ‘causing’ really haven’t been caused at all. Covid is surfacing already existing inequalities and societal norms, and is putting a magnifying glass to our society, our communities, our families and our individual worlds. 

Covid may have been the catalyst for these changes in the ways which we live our life, but there are ultimately individuals, communities and structures behind why they have occurred.

Among some of the things that have surfaced for me has been the ineffectiveness of our modern-day ‘connectedness’, and the subsequent joys of getting to know those who also live their lives alongside us in our immediate vicinities; our neighbours, our housemates, our local baristas. We have an opportunity to take this time to observe what has surfaced and brought these critical understandings into the world we rebuild again post-pandemic. 

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