January 9, 2021
Pearl River For a change of pace, let’s talk about the different worlds of Covid-19 globally. In the US, it’s impossible to pick up a paper or listen to the radio without hearing people speculate about the permanent changes the pandemic. People talk about whether they will always work remotely, whether restaurants will come back, whether mass events will be scheduled and attended, the clothes they wear, the jobs they had, and everything else under the sun.
These are fair conversations as people try to come to grip with the historic nature of the pandemic and their place in it. At the same time, I hate to break this to everyone, we are not the world, and it’s worth being honest about our myopia. In fact, even in the midst of this pandemic, much, perhaps most, of the world is pretty much going about their business as they always have.
Recently I had my regular Skype call with our organizer who supports most of ACORN’s operations in Africa. She had returned right before the holidays from Cameroon, where she had been for almost six weeks. I asked her how the pandemic was being handled in Doula and the country generally. She answered pretty flatly: no change. Bars and restaurants were full. Streets were crowded as always. Our local group meetings and actions were the same as they had always been. The government had treated the pandemic with indifference. In Cameroon, she said, “there is no pandemic.” Yes, in some offices she might run into the random masked person, but once you were on the street, there is no way you would know that December 2020 was any different than December 2019. Reports from Kenya are much the same with the asterisk being that many international NGOs and global headquarters for the UN and others are there, so their pockets of the city pay passing attention to the pandemic, while for most, it’s same ol’, same ol’.
On my regular calls to ACORN’s team in India, it’s much the same. Public health experts believe that the death toll there is likely even higher than the registered total in the United States, which leads most reports. People have to survive. There are over a billion people living in the country, often in the megaslums and informal settlements where we organize. The majority of workers are informal. Health and sanitation have always been a critical issue. Most are daily wage earners, meaning that if they don’t work, they don’t eat and often have tenuous shelter as well. The old normal is the new normal. In China, with an even larger population, and where the virus originally surfaced, all reports indicate that life is basically back to pre-pandemic conditions.
This isn’t exactly news, but in many cases, it highlights the divide between North and South, rich and poor countries, often with huge populations. The vaccines won’t get to many poorer countries for years as North America and Europe move to vaccinate everyone. In many of these countries, people just die, and in our tunnel vision, only seeing just past our noses, we are unable to acknowledge the mono-cultural, limited world view that often stops at our curbside.
It may be hard to come to grips with this, but they are the normal, and we are the privileged exceptions, blinded by our limited perspectives and unable to define reality in our myopia.