“ Home schooling is not fun as i can't see my friends and do sports, and also i miss having you as a teacher” writes Kevin, an 8 year old Genevan schoolboy, to his favorite teacher. Each of us is experiencing upheavals in our daily life as a result of the pandemic and we constantly need to adapt, be creative and resourceful.
With shops, restaurants, cafés and schools closed and most people working from home, the town is deserted. As Joanna put it: “it's weird, every day is like Sunday”, and her friend Tom chips in “no, it's much quieter! on a normal Sunday at least McDonald's is open!”
The government has strongly advised people to stay home unless they absolutely need to go out for essential groceries or medication, to walk the dog or maybe for a short stroll. And it seems that Genevans, in true Swiss spirit, are abiding by the rules.
Walking down the street is an unusual and somewhat surreal experience – traffic is at a minimum, once overcrowded buses are almost empty and the few people out are either wearing a mask and gloves and warily looking at who is coming their way in order to make sure they maintain the required 2m distance, or others stride by you quite relaxed. The only place you may come across more people is in front of supermarkets, where the number of clients is limited and you must queue outside. But the crowds of the first days when everyone panicked that they would run out of food and essential goods (such as the much sought after toilet paper roll!) seem to be over.
Parks and the lakeside (albeit without the jet d'eau) still draw people to them – which is not surprising considering the beautiful Spring weather we are presently experiencing - but as grouping together is prohibited and the children's playgrounds have been sealed off, the usually vibrant atmosphere and the ongoing chatter is nowhere to be seen or heard.
At home a major readjustment has occurred as well. Families must learn to live harmoniously together while confined, often in a limited space. Children are used to having a structured school life and playtime outdoors and most parents normally spend the day at work. Home schooling and working from home are a new challenge which calls for discipline, communication and consideration, but, at the same time, this unique situation is allowing family members to become closer and understand each other better.
One of the key disruptions has been the lack of direct contact with others – something essential to human beings. As a result of 'social distancing' and isolation, people are speaking much more on the phone (rather than simply messaging) and coming up with creative ways to come together, by organizing online events such as afterworks, karaoke evenings, dance challenges, exercise classes and many more. One daily ritual which brings the whole city together in an effervescent clamor is the nine pm clapping at our balconies in tribute to the medical staff who are relentlessly working to treat those who are affected by the virus. This situation has also resulted in people becoming more altruistic, for instance by checking on an elderly neighbor to ask whether they need their shopping done.
The number of cases of the virus has jumped dramatically in the past two weeks and everyone is conscious of the seriousness and urgency of the situation. No one knows how long it will last, but many question whether these new behaviors and perspectives on life will outlive the virus and a new culture will eventually emerge.