Transnational family life in the times of Corona
One of the first things I do in the morning, after getting myself a glass of water, is chat with my sister in law. Most days it is not really chatting, since she will have written her mesages to me at 2:30 in the morning (CET) and I will write mine around 8, when she is already busy again preparing lunch. My sister in law lives in Calcutta and I live in Berlin, both born and raised in the countries we live in. The 4 hour time lag between those adds to my privilege if you see it as such, since I usually receive her messages first and start my day feeling connected and blessed by the emotional support of a family member whom I also call my friend.
Although it doesn’t happen at the same time, I always imagine her sitting at her dining room table alone, having her tea without milk, enjoying and sharing the magic of this early morning hour with me and some other cousins and in-laws, while my breakfast is simmering on my stove. Usually the first thing we write to each other is „Good Morning“. This has become a cherished ritual for me. It sets the tone not only for the following inquieries about the weather, other family members‘ health, the tasks we are going to spend the rest of the day with, the occasional cat and dog videos, but also for the day as it unfolds in the offline world.
One of these days, right after „Good Morning“, she sent me a chart with the stages of mourning. In these last months when the news were full of this global threat, we had a lot of common things to think and talk about. Whether and how to go shopping for vegetables, whether to visit older relatives on their birthdays, salary cuts, lockdown rules and the like. Sometimes we chatted a lot because there was a lot to catch up on, sometimes we wrote very little to each other because there was not much good news to tell. Sometimes I don’t write much because sending positive messages does not seem very thoughtful or helpful. I do feel that this problem we all have in common now separates us more than it unites us, or makes us feel our separation in a way that is not easily bridged by feelgood quotes.
Even now I feel that it is hard to write about the current situation with Covid and economic crisis without making myself or anyone who will read this feel worse than before. The load is so huge and it is, as always, distributed so unevenly. We are both living and observing the situation in our countries from places of privilege, but here fear is almost over and there it is really coming closer. We both have access to medical treatment, but I’m not surrounded by people who don’t. We have both experienced lockdown, but here it was relatively soft and easy to comply with (if you have a home to stay in, that is). We are both worried for our aging relatives, but not in the same way. We are both making plans for the case of a bad economic crisis, but not with the same urgency. I don’t feel the need to go into mourning.
If I mourn for anything, then I mourn the feeling of connectedness which came in large part from family ties, deeply felt love and friendship and common interests and values, but in part also from forgetting, if only for some minutes each day, how differently life and history challenges us and our communities. Forgetting how easily governments can close borders between us. Forgetting what our privileges protect us from every day and how different that is.