It’s been nearly eight weeks since I started quarantining now, my social distancing endeavour having begun slightly earlier than the official lockdown.
I have had extra time on my hands during these weeks, enjoying what has felt like some sort of early retirement experiment. I have taken great pleasure in how the days have stretched in front me almost worry-free, and in the feeling of safety I’ve had in these weeks. Yes: my experience of the lockdown has been very different from that of so many others.
While the world has been turned upside down, and outside in, by the pandemic, I have enjoyed stability and calm for the very first time. Growing up a migrant child, as I did, can in fact instil a peculiar and long-lasting sense of un-safety, both outside and inside the family home. It certainly did for me.
Rainbow near our house, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
Swans in Syon Park, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
A row of houses on one of our walks, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
Outside, because many things in the world are unknown or feel different from what you know, you are misunderstood and misunderstand often, and there is so much that is or feels hostile in your surroundings. Inside, because the solitude of migration creates tight bonds among those that live through it together, but can also engender deep resentments and wounds.
The psychological and emotional effects of migration outlive the actual experience, and often undermine the feelings of safety you might be able to build later in life. Life in the outside world is hard, and the place where you find comfort is also at times where you might find anxiety, anger and profound sadness.
Money tends to run low in migrant households, and there is often nobody external to lean on for support. You have to be a parent without the help and knowledge of previous generations, without the comfort of your life-long habits and friendships. You have to be a child without the presence of your larger family and as much as adults try to shield you from family struggles, without ever really being carefree.
Food we’ve cooked during quarantine, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
My mum’s pizza, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
My mum’s apple cake, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
I was caught by the pandemic in what started as a temporary living arrangement at my parents’ place. Our household has migrated twice, most recently to the UK. Our family’s situation is different now from what it was in the past: money doesn’t run as low anymore, we have reunited with some of the larger family, and we now have good networks of support.
By some funny trick of life, at the age of thirty the lockdown has given me what feels like a second chance at childhood. It has provided me with the opportunity to spend generous amounts of unstructured, unexpected and relatively carefree time with my parents: a rarity in adult life.
Countless days over the last few weeks have felt like childhood weekends, minus the frustration of adults at having to take on all the chores, and the resentment of children at being bossed around. As we planned activities and meals together, we have deeply missed my sister, who lives abroad. But I have had the precious and new experience of spending quality time with the people whom I owe my life, in a situation of physical, economical and emotional safety.
A basil plant we’ve revived during quarantine, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
Basil blossoms, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
Basil flowers, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserves
It does feel unfair that I should have had such a positive experience of quarantine when so many people have fallen ill, have lost loved ones, and are struggling with the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic.
I hold these contrasting feelings in the palm of my hand and I observe them. I am not trying to resolve the contradiction, as such attempts have always failed me in the past. What I can say, is that I am aware every day of the combination of privilege and sheer luck that we have had: so much of the former has been acquired so recently that I have not yet learnt to take it for granted.
Family can mean many things: mine is made up of my blood relatives, but also of the people I have invited in it along the way. What it has never meant is easy, and I would be lying if I said that’s the case now. But the opportunity to spend quality time with my parents as an adult who is able to take care of her own needs, as well as of theirs on occasions, has been priceless.
Travelling to work with gloves on pre-lockdown, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
Syon Park, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
Family shopping, 2020, Sara Gvero, All rights reserved
I have been able to have conversations with my parents that are free of the need that they meet my expectations of them as their now adult child, which had been the case in my early, and sometimes also late twenties. I have been able to put down boundaries that I wouldn’t have dared to attempt when I was younger.
And, among the difficulties this situation has engendered, I have had the opportunity to get to know them much better, outside of the grief, longing, loneliness and practical worries that overshadow our past.
Many people, maybe most, don’t get second chances at building a positive relationship with their families, and the pandemic might take forever away this possibility for some. For the time I have been able to spend with my parents, and the strengthened bond I now have with them, I will be forever grateful.
Cover image: Mum smelling flowers on one of our lockdown walks, Sara Gvero, All Rights reserved