Shan is a citizen of a dictatorship run by two children and three (small) dogs; resuscitated by the humid embrace of home when on Fijian soil (and so frankly, overly optimistic about acclimatisation to English winters); lost for words except when teaching science; claims to love travelling the world but mostly ends up in New Zealand, via multiple airport transits.
We have cajoled Shan to write for us at The Platformm and share with us her lovely outdoor garden in London after the lock down. In return we have offered her her own Republic, where she sets laws and rules to her heart’s content; at least until the final clicks of her keyboard; when she then re-enters her country of furry canines and exceptional little humans.
31st May 2020
My lexicon as a 9-year-old was first jolted, out of my parents’ dining room and into 18th century France, by the boldly inked headline ‘COUP D’ETAT’ across the Fiji Times draped between my dad’s hands, as Fiji catapulted from democracy to sovereign republic in May 1987. As the revolutionary kaleidoscope turned, the colourful silhouettes of financial and human capital, foreign investment and trade, tourism and the sugar industry gave way to translucence. The year ended with a thirty-three per cent devaluation of the Fijian dollar and my 10-year-old’s sense of accomplishment at having learnt to correctly drop graphemes from my first French word: coo day ta.
My children added the words ‘pandemic’, ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ to their vocabulary in one fell swoop in March this year when schools closed under UK lockdown. Soon after followed (capitalised) ‘Teams’ and ‘Zoom’ when online schooling began in earnest. ‘Homework’ duly faded away, two syllables too many to fit into quarantine life. My 9-year-old son was inspired in a Zoom English lesson to write a poem about COVID, which I must confess is catchy (pardon the pun).
Closing schools, cafes and parks
A virus that targets without leaving marks
Opening more hospitals overnight
Coronavirus takes humanity and gives it a bite
Almost a quarter of a million it’s taken worldwide
While we wait for the right vaccine to put up a fight
By the last week of school in situ, discussions in lessons recurrently turned to coronaviruses, mortality rates, transmission rates, bats, and the efficacy of hand-sanitisers in the fight against viruses skulking around school desks (the image of the young males who used to hang around parking meters catcalling females in Suva town ricochets at me from my teenage memories, proving the power of word association and retrieval). We discussed superior immune systems in flying mammals, effective alcohol content in hand sanitisers (enough to negate the richest of hand emollients in my experience), and the value of exams, pandemic or not. Was the glooming pandemic a get-out-of-looming-exams-free card?
Ten weeks later, the dust has settled around centre assessed grades, with the deadline for submission to exam boards around mid-June. In my morning Chemistry lessons, sleepy Year 10 students perk up and offer me technical support for seamless Teams meetings. The lower year groups continue to charm me with their appetite for extension tasks: sometimes I wonder who has gets more satisfaction, me designing the quests or them rising to the challenge. The Golden Ratio of teaching and learning, no doubt.
My children have grown accustomed to a life of remote learning. There are far less routines or barriers to mid-lesson snacking. The much sought after participation ratio from my teacher training year has diminished in my lessons, as I have observed the awkward pauses it to in theirs too where teachers are waiting for a sign,any sign. As individuals we have adapted to the constraints of a lockdown, even as my children lament the absence of peer interactions and I, their school lunches. As a family we have adapted even better, challenging ourselves with jigsaw puzzles, building tents and forts, and getting better at joining when not winning the battle against iPad usage is unbeatable. I can recommend Muppets Most Wanted but be warned the world of marionette puppets is a labyrinth and you could watch muppet films for days.
As a species we have tempered the spread of the virus with a sliding scale of political and community responses. The RO number, then the R number, became the new reference point for how fast economies could restore themselves and people meet once again. If lockdown were a grandfather clock, the R number is its pendulum padded up. Time ticks on, unimpeded, changing livelihoods, future of businesses, and oblivious to the race against it for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
Time has simultaneously managed to stand still for families that cannot meet freely, children’s academic gains and their social development. Time has been cruel to those who have lost a beloved overnight under unimaginable circumstances brought about by the pandemic. Time is teaching us to cope, and because we tread in a time of uncertainly, we constantly seek help and reassurance.
As I write the last couple of paragraphs (bear with me), two astronauts have docked on the International Space Station and are preparing to board the International Space Station in a historic and proud moment for America. In the same week America is more torn over the racially- divisive tragic death of one George Floyd than it has been over the 100,000 COVID deaths and counting since the start of the pandemic. I searched the night sky for a flash of the Crew Dragon last night, like an auspice.
In my meanders online, I came across the Internet of Good Things, which I felt was giving me the message to protect, not hide. Open dialogue, honesty, being supportive, being able to say, “I don’t know”, and encouraging compassion irrespective of background. I shared with my children what I remember about the May 1987 coup. Apart from my brilliant start in French, I recalled the way in which my parents helped others affected by the political events, be it neighbours or delivering food and messages of hope to political detainees at Borron House. My parents remained strong and kind, open and honest. They led our family like Jacinda Ardern in unprecedented times. Whilst they did not invest time in my French education and I remain to this day unable to parle Francais, I can suggest a good use of lockdown downtime is sharing your language, childhood stories and culture with your children.
> < Shan
- Image of lady on bus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/petermmeijer/50016399951/in/dateposte
- Image of Child on comupter: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nenadstojkovic/