Looking Outside of the Bubble
I miss my family. I want to see my son and his girlfriend, and I want to see my sister—who was due to visit from Canada but then had to cancel her trip because of lockdown and quarantine and all-things-Covid. I feel like I’m living in a bubble, much of which is not terrible, but there are snippets of life that I sorely miss, and people who I love are some of them. I also want things to be normal again, and I’m not sure they ever will be. I don’t much like living in a bubble, do you?
If I look further beyond my bubble, there is India. Do you ever wonder what is happening there now? All our news is as Covid-dominated as our everyday lives, and news from outside of England has been hard to find. But I know people in India, I have walked through the slums, and held babies, and giggled with children on the road outside a brothel. What has happened to them during lockdown—do you even care? Will you let me show you, for a few minutes, what is happening outside of your bubble?
I want to show you Samir. Actually, Samir isn’t her real name, I have no idea what her real name is. She is a girl, caught on a photograph during one of our trips to India when we went to see the work Tearfund partners were doing among the poor. Look at her for a moment. She’s clearly having a laugh, teasing someone who’s inside the house. Someone has tied back her hair, found her clothes—but not shoes. Look at her poor feet as she walks through the discarded rubbish of her home. She captured my imagination with her dancing eyes and zest for life, and she’s the screen saver on my computer, and when I’m feeling fed-up, I look at her and remember that some people laugh when they live in a dump, children giggle even when they’re hungry.
There are lots of poor people in India. They make their homes from what they can harvest from the society around them (okay—they probably steal it—I suspect building sites regularly lose stacks of bricks and sheets of corrugated iron). They live by what they can earn day to day on the streets. They clean the homes of rich people (that’s us) and they drive taxis, and they have food stalls, and do laundry, and a whole myriad of other jobs that allow them enough to feed their families. I love India because everyone seems to be busy, everyone is scurrying around, trying to improve their life.
But then came lockdown. The government suddenly announced everything was closing, people had to stay at home. If you think there was panic-buying in England, you can imagine what it was like in India. The initial restrictions were eased, and people were allowed out to buy essential food, but the shock, the severity of the situation, smacked into the poor of India with no warning.
In England, we had to stay at home for our lockdown, and could only meet friends online, and our activities were reduced to screens and books and going out for exercise once a day. Look beyond the bubble for a minute, and see what lockdown meant in India. They don’t have screens in the slums, or books. . . or food. Those people who have left their villages to crowd into the city because they can glean a living working among richer people, suddenly had no work, no income, no food. So what did many of them do? They realised they could either stay in their make-shift homes and starve, or they could take their families back to their villages—where at least they could try and grow food. And so they set off, in their tens and hundreds and thousands.
But there was no public transport due to the lockdown, so they walked. At first, they walked on the roads, but when the police came to turn them back (because a mass exodus from cities meant a spread of the virus) they used the train tracks. When people were killed on the tracks, they took to the fields, wading through rivers when necessary, with their possessions, and elderly relatives, and children. Desperate people will always find a way. Other people opted to stay in the cities, but the aid agencies that provided a meal every day could no longer operate in the same way, the fabric of their lives, their means to make a living, had all but disappeared.
Gradually, things are being organised in India. Aid agencies are finding ways round the rules, the government are trying to provide what is needed—but people are still falling through the cracks. The slum I visited had water barrels outside each building, because water was only available at certain times of the day, so they would fill the butt and then use it throughout the day. Homes didn’t have toilets—there were buckets or shared facilities in the street. Whole families crammed into a couple of rooms. How does social-distancing work somewhere like that? How can people wash their hands regularly when there is no running water? How do they escape a virus which will probably devastate them because their health is already worn down by malnutrition and TB and other illnesses? Yet these people are unlikely to be the first on the list when a vaccine becomes available. These are the forgotten people. . . we don’t even know their names.
Please will look with me for a moment, beyond the bubble that has become our lives? I know that you are tolerating your own hardships, your own struggles. But there are people beyond the bubble who still need the help of others, who struggle to survive and are constantly knocked down again. We might not know their names, but if we try, we can still see them, they are out there, beyond our bubble. Please will you try to see them? Please will you help? A few pounds might just help my little photograph-girl to have some dinner–even if we don’t know her name.
Please reach out of the bubble, and click the link below. Be part of something. . .
The next chapter from Counting Stars will be posted on Wednesday.