TESTEMONIES COVID-19 diaries from Wuhan: Looking for human connection in isolation
The following post is the second in a series of diaries written by independent filmmaker and feminist scholar Ai Xiaoming and feminist activist Guo Jing. Both are living in Wuhan at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This second installment was written between January 29 – February 4, 2020. The original Chinese diaries are published on Matter News.
Many people are worried about their jobs. The Chinese New Year holidays were extended to Feb 2. However, if this infectious disease keeps spreading, how can we feel safe to return to work? The big companies might have sufficient financial resources to keep their operations going. However, for those small companies and businesses, the extended holidays will bring serious financial stress as their businesses generate less profit while they still need to pay for rent and their employees’ salaries. It would lead to the laying off of employees and females are usually the first on that list.
As for individuals, we have to ponder whether we should risk going to work. Some may have the pressure of paying their mortgage. Some may have family burdens. How to deal with all these issues?
It is against human nature to live in such a meticulous manner.
I am tired of spending so much time on guarding myself from the disease. I need to ventilate my apartment everyday. However, as the weather was cloudy and cold several days ago, I was worried that I would catch a cold. I am a carefree person and pay little attention to triviality. I lived in the countryside when I was a kid, and my attitude toward food is “the cheap food is good for our health.” Neither do I care about my outfits. If I do not go out, I can keep my hair unwashed for several days. But now, I feel I am a bit obsessed with housekeeping and feel uneasy as I did not mop the floor yesterday and today.
What I cooked for dinner yesterday is porridge and fried potatoes and eggplants. I did not pick up my chopsticks upon cooking. I felt very tired and lost my appetite. The tiresome feeling comes from feeling powerless.
After the lockdown, some hospitals in Wuhan started making public calls for donations and many volunteer groups mobilized citizens to collect and deliver medical necessities to these hospitals. Later, the government took over the work and claimed that people might be cheated (by fake volunteer groups). The government then designated five official organizations to coordinate donations. However, there are only about 60 staff members in the Red Cross in the province of Hubei, and they are assigned to work with all hospitals in the Hubei. [Editor note: Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei, and the city alone has 128 hospitals.]
The Wuhan Benevolent General Association has received a 5 billion Yuan donation from more than 40 million people, but till now they did not spend a cent to help ones in need. Regarding those medical necessities sent from overseas, customs will keep the goods on hold until Wuhan Benevolent General Association or the Red Cross reaches out to them.
This morning, I noted that the calendar on my desk stopped on Jan 22. I cannot do any planning now. I do not even know what will happen tomorrow. I can only do my best to carry on my life everyday.
I went to some hospitals with a volunteer group on Jan 29. We had 15 private cars, and we went to 21 hospitals and organizations. In total we delivered around 6500 protective suits.
If I go to a hospital, I wear a N95 mask and use a medical mask to cover it. After I return home, I do not throw away that N95 mask. I boil the N95 mask in an electric kettle and dry it above an electric heater. It is indeed very funny to wash a single-use mask, isn’t it? But think again. It is difficult to buy a N95 mask now.
The medical doctors in those hospitals that we visited also told us that if we did not give them that protective gear, the doctors and nurses could not do the ward rounds anymore. They cannot afford to throw away the disposable protective gear and the doctors usually use UV light to disinfect them so that they can wear them repetitively.
If the lockdown extends, it will become more and more difficult, because more and more people will face the shortage of necessities. What if the elderly people run out of their medicine? We do not know if the hospitals can still prescribe those drugs. If we do not have masks and delivery services, it is very difficult to imagine how we can get through it.
The food for my cat is running out, and the cat food that I ordered was not been delivered to me yet. Our status is in a fragile balance.
The problems and crisis brought by panic is more dangerous than the disease itself, because panic isolates people. Yesterday, I saw this news: an infected father was put under forced-quarantine and his oldest son, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was left alone at home and died several days later. In this kind of sociopsychological condition, I feel this dead child with cerebral palsy is a metaphor for the current social psychology — it is the kind of tragedy that could happen in extreme isolation.
Going out every day becomes my important routine. Actually, it is not necessary for me to go out, but I stubbornly keep this routine.
What do I insist on this? This city will not stop lockdown tomorrow. The world outside will not change overnight.
This action is my private resistance. I am looking for real information when information is blocked. I am looking for connections with others in isolation. I am looking for something certain when everything is uncertain.
Several days ago, I saw a friend’s message on my social circle. She wrote, “Many men become very irritated in these days after the lockdown. Can they imagine that many women have been living this kind of life year after year?”
The lockdown, to some degree, let the men experience the feeling that so many women have experienced: the lack of public life. Many married women are trapped in their families. Even if they have a full-time job, they need to wash clothes, take care the children, and do a lot of housework. Their public life has been shrinking. They have less time to talk to their colleagues and friends. They pay more attention to their families than to themselves.
Tonight I chatted with friends. Yesterday there was an earthquake in Chengdu, so we talked about the Wenchuan earthquake back in 2008… We discussed aspects surrounding collectivism and heroism. When facing a tragedy, we tend to see the act of self-sacrifice as heroic and look down on so-called ‘selfish’ behaviors. However, people also rely on these seemingly selfish behaviors to survive. Collectivism has a strong influence on our emotions, and sometimes it can spread antagonism or even hatred. For example, [nationalism has] antagonized Chinese and Japanese people. Such sentiment makes us ignore other aspects of humanity.
I am glad that today when we praise medical staff we see their fragility too.