Since June this year, I’ve been boldly asking people I know – friends, family and colleagues – to talk to me about their experiences during the pandemic so that I could share them with the rest of the world. Most of those I asked, agreed.
The idea came about not that long ago, on a fairly ordinary Friday night as I chatted with an old friend who I hadn’t seen for quite a while over a few beers. I listened as he told anecdotes about going into lockdown in the US where he had been transferred for work, while the rest of his family was still living around the world in India and the UK. It struck me that we each have our own personal stories of the pandemic, of how we were affected, how we lived through it; and that these stories are inevitably tied to our location. After all, whenever discussing a world event (September 11, Elvis’s death, the moon landing) isn’t it the first thing anyone asks you?
So where were YOU when the COVID-19 pandemic hit?
The second thing I realized was the uniqueness of my situation. I work Expat with people from various parts of the world, and therefore have direct access to a bunch of different stories from very different locations. When the pandemic really exploded in March 2020, many people I knew became stranded at various locations around the globe; while others, like myself, were stuck at work on a remote island off the coast of West Africa
I am truly thankful to those that agreed to share their pandemic experience with me. The stories are by their nature highly personal, and it’s not easy to effectively bare your soul when you know it’s going to be posted online (even if it is only read by a handful of people). Some stories contained details considered politically sensitive and in no way did I want to leave people exposed to criticism or vilification just for the sake of publishing their story, regardless of how important I believed it that their story be shared. Others contained details which individuals hadn’t yet fully shared with their own families or friends, in an effort to shield them from the true reality of their own situation. Telling the truth publicly now could leave them with some explaining to do.
Listening to their stories, I was intrigued by how willing people were to just talk, without the need for me to ask provoking questions or lead them down a particular path. While they may have been nervous when contemplating what would actually be written, the words seemed to flow easily and in some cases could potentially have gone on for hours. For many the exercise appeared to be somewhat cathartic. I hope that was the case.
My other hope is that in sharing these stories I have helped to highlight the extraordinary effects that this pandemic has had on our lives. That these stories will help us to find the similarities between our own experience and the experience of others. That they will help us to understand and cultivate empathy for what others have been through.
Ten stories – when it comes down to it, nothing more than a drop in the ocean. There are, of course, many, many more. These ten are only a handful and there are inevitably lots of gaps. Even within my own sphere, there are locations that I would still like to highlight, demographics that I’ve missed. While the stories I’ve shared so far are certainly diverse, they remain largely skewed towards two categories: 1. from those working Expat and therefore in positions often considered relatively privileged, and/or 2. from Australians. It makes sense, given I am, after all, an Australian Expat.
There are more stories I could tell. But as we head further down the vaccination path, though the world remains mired in uncertainty by ever-changing lockdown rules, mask requirements and complex travel restrictions, pandemic fatigue inevitably seems to be setting in.
Is it time to close the chapter and let this whole thing fade into history? To focus our collective gaze forward instead of behind us? And what about those stories still yet to be told? Should they be forgotten, remembered only in pieces by those that actually lived through them?
Who can really say?
Yet I know we still have pandemic experiences here that could be shared. That should be shared.
Oh, and I guess there is always my own.