#UCTLockDownLetters is a new feature on the University of Cape Town (UCT) news site. Staff, students and parents of students: we want to hear about your experiences of work and life in lockdown. Emails, audio and video clips, prose and poetry are also very welcome. This is your space.
9 April 2020
The task of writing a letter that unmasks my thoughts, feelings and actions during an unprecedented period of self-isolation seems equivalent to that of a therapist asking their client to put into words what lies beneath the mask of sanity.
Surely I am not the only person in this bizarre interregnum who is looking into a mirror of uncertainty and feeling highly vulnerable as I (we) wait for the next presidential briefing, which in turn then gets reworded into a letter from the vice-chancellor and is subsequently followed by a set of instructions from my line manager.
As a relatively new member of UCT staff – I am employed as the senior photographer in the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) – all the shifts in working life (or life nje) disrupt the routines I had only recently got into the flow of.
BC (before corona), my work was primarily to take photographs of university life and events, mostly portraits of people – members of the UCT community who are innovating in their fields of study. In short, I work in the newsroom as a photographer and I also assist in the multimedia unit.
“Surely I am not the only person in this bizarre interregnum who is looking into a mirror of uncertainty and feeling highly vulnerable.”
But now, in DC (during corona), I am left with more questions than answers. What does a photographer take photos of when they are housebound? Do I solely look in the archives to find existing images or are my skills (my labour and time) used in some other ways? Furthermore, when a university attempts to become a remote, virtual space (of work, learning, etc) where does this leave our colleagues who complete essential services such as ground staff and the cleaning crew; what would working from home look like for them?
As a photographer who is interested in documenting social issues, I must admit I am saddened by the isolation. There is a waft of FOMO [fear of missing out] I am occasionally experiencing. Reading articles and looking at images of Cape Town, I can’t help but wish that I could also use my talents to contribute towards telling this story. Being in isolation means not taking that COVID-19 picture. It means not being on the streets and putting my body and health on the line, but it also means missing out on visually documenting a historical moment.
I don’t want to get into why or how I got into isolation – that’s a story for another day; however, I’ve been in lockdown since way before the lockdown! I feel like I’ve been in lockdown for much longer than everyone else. It’s been a few weeks! I feel like this is day 25 or something. Really, I’ve stopped counting. I am also trying not to project myself into AC (after corona) right now. I try to remain present and practise self-care.
“I try to remain present and practise self-care.”
Today, BC, my daughter would have been at school followed by expressive dance, then aftercare until 17:45. She would be picked up and on arrival at home we would check her homework, prepare dinner, eat, have a minor catch-up on the day and then start preparing for the next day, which would have included packing her lunch and snacks, making sure she has her ballet kit packed and then sending her off to bed. My child spent more time with Miss Poppy (her class teacher) than with me, and I spent more time with the CMD crew than with her. We all accepted this as the norm and part of growing up and adulting.
DC I find myself faced with the daunting task of home schooling my daughter and it scares me – nothing has prepared me for this role; am I ready or capable? It seems a bit selfish to ask for me-time or is it? In a small flat, how are personal space and privacy negotiated? This leads me to the next point on how mental, emotional and physical well-being is impacted DC, as my partner keeps saying: “Nothing like a pandemic to test out one’s paranoia/sanity.”
Every day leaves me with different emotions; some days are better than others. Most days I count my blessings and thank the universe for its timing; other days I feel like I will walk out the door with my camera and go seek, but the thought of contracting the virus and bringing it home keeps me put.
I would still like to document how this is affecting people – people who are homeless, document where they are being housed and how they are being treated. Yeah, it would be nice to fly a drone right now. If I had a drone with a licence, I’d fly it from here, just send it out. Aerial documentation. That, of course, has its own set of ethical considerations to be thought through, but I’m just trying to keep my imagination active.
How do we make use of this time indoors? Well, we listen to music, we eat, we dance! We game. We sleep. We watch films (and series). We read. We do our work/school assignments. We do the worksheets. We stay in touch; we try to stay in touch with what’s happening in the outside world. We try to monitor how much we are taking in. We hug a lot – there’s a lot of hugging. There’s a lot of “I love you, I love you!”
We put effort into keeping our house clean. We monitor how much we are eating, so as not to finish our groceries. We skip (and try not to be too loud for our neighbours). We draw, we paint. We look out to the ocean (well, Table Bay). We look out at the streets of Brooklyn, our neighbourhood from our balcony. We look forward to our next grocery shop run … no that’s just anxiety talking. We try to stay in touch with our families who are mostly in Johannesburg and London. We joke. We make space for craziness. We allow space for people to be moody.
The views from our life in lockdown.
All this time also stirs up thought. For one thing, it has been a surprise to me as to what has happened to load-shedding. I mean, a few weeks ago everything was tripping and stopping and scheduled … but now gone! Nothing is wrong. I mean really …
I miss the twins (my nieces), my mom and my sisters. We’d planned to go visit but now we don’t know when this will be. I miss the ocean. I’ve been craving swimming in the ocean. I like being in water. I really like being in water, floating in water, being outside. I miss being outside, talking to strangers, you know when you’re outside and you find yourself talking to strangers, being kind, talking to people, with ease, I miss that. I miss the craving of flying. I love flying! It’s going to be very difficult to go back to that, flying.
[The virus] has already changed the world, and our interactions with it. The flow of people and capital has been interrupted, the status quo has been disrupted, hopefully for the better of humanity and planet earth, but that’s yet to reveal itself. We don’t know.
Can something that is inflicting the death of an unbeholden amount of people be considered to affect the world in a great way? We don’t know. Perhaps it will encourage us to slow down, live with more humility and be more loving to each other. Everybody say: “love and care”.
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