Life in UK lockdown for a sandwich generation Mauritian mum: one year on

Diaspora

By Rhena Bunwaree

 In the backdrop of an underlying sense of fear and anxiety, Rhena Bunwaree shares how she managed to keep her family safe, well and out of the hospital, keep the fridge constantly full, whilst also keeping her mental health firmly intact for months on end!

When England went into its first lockdown in March 2020, it also meant that many people from abroad who were working or studying in the country were unable to go home to see their families. Realising I was going to be staying away from home for a while, I decided to keep a diary and start writing about my feelings, as a way of organising my thoughts and clearing my head. Little did I know that the pandemic would continue for a year and that I was unwittingly writing about a historic moment in time.

Commuters walk through the concourse at London Waterloo station in London on Aug. 3. Photo -Bloomberg

A year in lockdown has precipitated scenes never previously imaginable; a disaster in which we all have played a reluctant role. It’s been really difficult. It wasn’t what I expected at all. Twelve months in which I witnessed abandoned city centres, empty motorways, sealed off playgrounds, field hospitals, and makeshift morgues. My only connection with distant loved ones has come from behind a computer screen.

I get a shiver down my spine, reading back my own words, reliving things from those early days of panic buying and so much uncertainty, as the story in London and around the world began to unfold.

Getting ready for the pandemic

The first glimpse of a new world came in the form of toilet rolls piled high in supermarket trolleys. The beginning of lockdown marked the point of rupture with our former way of working in an office. The inhumane strangeness of social distancing and the uneasy collision between my professional and personal life meant I had to settle into working from my couch or dining table. One no longer had that routine of leaving the office or commuting. I had to make the effort to go out for a walk straight after work so I didn’t feel like I was constantly at home. Nonetheless for all the challenges that working from home and home-schooling my 12-year old son Rhushil provided, we did spend more time together. Covid-19 placed our focus squarely on family and loved ones. Where possible, we have taken more time to be with family. Whether that is playing a game online, watching Netflix together, or simply using Facetime to chat. 

Empty streets as businesses put staff on furlough

Over the next couple of months, I witnessed large-scale furloughs putting thousands out of work, property giants cracking down on late rental payments, and retailers cancelling orders from suppliers to reduce costs and protect their businesses from this worldwide pandemic. Some retail businesses were forced to shut their doors permanently. As if the high street was not already experiencing extreme duress last year with Brexit, the most uncertain aspect of the Covid-19 crisis is that no one knows how long it will last. However, not all is lost — opportunity lies in times of crisis. The pandemic caused a significant reduction in greenhouse gasses. But it also highlighted the moderate role we play on this planet and accept that things cannot always go as we want them to go.

A new way of shopping 

There were socially distant queues outside Zara, Primark, and TK Maxx this morning (December 2, 2020), when the Government announced shops in England can reopen under eased lockdown measures. Lots of young people are here, mothers with strollers and some older shoppers too. Some people are wearing masks, but not many. The shoppers are mostly sticking to the new rules and staying socially distant – when they remember. Floor markings indicate a one-way system, every second toilet cubicle is closed, and touch-screen maps have been powered down and seating areas are roped off. But apart from those changes – and a growing queue outside Primark – everything feels rather normal.

Away from home

I found it really difficult not being able to visit my parents and sister as my planned trip home in August 2020 never happened, due to the UK international travel restrictions. Going home was never an option.

I feel like later this year can’t come fast enough as I hope I will be able to see my family and hug them. Though I’m all grown up, even grown-ups want to hug their mum. My parents are vaccinated now which makes me feel better, so I am less worried about them. 

I am a “pretty tough cookie”, but the three lockdowns have been stressful.

A year of exercising in the living room, of teaching my 12-year old son Rhushil maths and other subjects. I finally believe that exercise is good for you and makes you feel better; I actually like it now. 

A year of wearing a mask like it’s an ordinary thing to do. So too using phrases such as “herd immunity” and “flattening the curve”; “social distancing” and “R numbers”.

Nobody can be sure what our long-term future looks like yet, but there is one thing we can all be sure of; that Covid-19 has had a profound impact on every one of us – one which will have undoubtedly changed us all forever. 

I hope it will act as a reminder of what we have all been through, so that future generations will appreciate how precious life can be and how we must never take our medics, our scientists, our health, planet, or freedom for granted, ever again.

I’m looking forward to seeing my family.


* Published in print edition on 6 April 2021

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