Welcome to a brand new series i’m calling ‘Life during Lockdown’.

i invited some of my Facebook friends to respond to four questions related to their time so far in lockdown as we hit Day 31 in South Africa. First up is Debbie Hutton, who i went to Teacher’s Training College with about a hundred years ago:

My name is Debbie, I am a mom and a pre-school teacher. I live in a multi-generational home with my elderly parents and two teenagers in the southern suburbs of Cape Town.

Question 1: What has your experience of lockdown been so far?

My experience of lockdown (it’s day 26) has been mostly positive albeit with some frustrations, challenges and dissappointments to overcome. I am very fortunate to have all my physical needs met, enough financial resources to support my family and a comfortable environment in which to pass the time.

Initially it was a mind-shift and there was a need to think out of the box and be flexible but nothing that was too much to overcome.

The first challenge was work-related. I was retrenched at the end of 2019 and had just been offered a job about 3 weeks before lockdown was announced. I had made plans to visit the school, where I was due to start teaching in the second term, during the last week of the first term to familiarise myself with the routine and get to know the children – very important in Grade R. However, those plans were dashed when the school had a parent test positive and classes were discontinued 2 days before the official day for early closing of all schools.

After lockdown was announced and the online/distance learning probability became apparent I came to the realisation that I was going to have to start teaching children I had never met via online means, which for grade R aged children is already a challenge! This process has now begun and is going well so far even though it feels strange that we’ve never met in real life, we have been able to communicate and start building some sort of relationship via WhatsApp chats and video messages!

Another challenge was that my daughter’s 14th birthday was during the first lockdown period and I had to do a mad scramble to buy some presents and a birthday card for her as well as make sure I had all the ingredients for a birthday cake and her dinner of choice on the day! Minor problems in comparison to what others were dealing with.

A major disappointment was when my daughter’s Matric dance was postponed, months of excitement and so much build up in preparation for it all for nothing.

Other than these few challenges and disappointments we have coped well with lockdown and it has become easier and easier to make do with what we have and not rush out for rolls when we fell like making burgers, for example! We have learnt to be resourceful and plan ahead.

I am fortunate to have children who are mostly introverts and are happy to be at home. Although they do miss their friends they are fortunate to have wifi with which to connect with them on various social media platforms as well as Netflix on hand!

Question 2: What are some of the ways that you have felt connected to people?

I have used social media platforms to stay connected to family and friends. WhatsApp for family and close friends and Facebook for connecting with the wider community. I have also used email for work purposes.

My parents (78 and 80yrs old) have used mostly WhatsApp, email or phone calls.

My teens have used WhatsApp, TikTok and Instagram

Question 3: What are you most anxious or fearful about right now?

I am not a very anxious person, I try to be practical and positive as much as possible, however this is an unusual time of extenuating circumstances and I, therefore, do have some underlying concerns or worries.

The first one would be Matric! I have a daughter in Matric this year!! It is such an important year and for someone who is not the strongest academic learner, a disruption like this is devastating. However, we are fortunate to have a supportive school that is on the ball, we are able to connect to teachers with wifi if necessary as well as complete tasks required. I have confidence that the school and education department will find a way forward and remind myself often that we are not alone! There are thousands of students in the same position and we have it pretty good in South Africa’s context.

Another concern is employment, I am the only person earning a salary in our household of 5. I’ve already been unemployed for 3 months and this new job came just in the nick of time. I feel more secure than some other industries right now but education is not exempt as parents who lose their income will no longer be able to afford fees thus impacting the school’s ability to cover its own costs. Once again I’m in a “last in” position which is usually the criteria used for retrenchment.

Lastly, health. In general we are a healthy bunch, however my parents fall into a risk category purely because of their age. They can self -isolate quite easily but the girls and I will have to go back to school when the time comes. I do worry that we will contract the virus and bring it home to them. We will likely be fine, possibly even asymptomatic but they might not fare as well.

Question 4: What is something that you have found inspiring or uplifting during lockdown?

As is always the case in a crisis there is a positive, uniting response as well as the negative, divisive one. I try to distance myself from the negative, divisive element and focus on surrounding myself with positivity as much as possible. I have found the “cheering for frontline workers” movement uplifting as well as the many organisations – big and small who have rallied around the most vulnerable in our society to help them. It shows that we can pull together if we have to (or want to) and reminds us that at the end of the day we are all human.

I have also found it uplifting how, at least where I live and at the shop that I go to, people are listening to the new social distancing rules, queueing without complaint (most of the time) and adjusting to the “new normal”.

It has also been inspiring how big companies have shut down their usual manufacturing and begun making things like sanitizer and PPE. It has also been uplifting to see how within communities, large and small, people have mobilised to get fabric to someone with a sewing machine who can make masks. Also how school communities have come together to provide data and devices to those who don’t have so that they can do school.

Just like with the water crisis and load-shedding South Africans from all walks of life have shown an amazing resilience and have just got on with it and adjusted their lives accordingly.

Another more trivial element that I have found uplifting is all the memes, parody’s and jokes that have been doing the rounds on social media. It helps to remind me that pretty much every person on the planet is going through the same thing, many in more trying circumstances, and we can still have a sense of humour about most things and see the irony or the funny side of the current situation.

One page on Facebook that has also been helpful is called “View from My Window”. People post the view from their window during lockdown from all over the world – New Zealand to Alaska, Japan to Iceland it has been amazing.

The flipside of all this is the sheer flood of suffering that we see happening in many places and very much “on my doorstep” – it can be overwhelming when it’s all you see on TV and social media. I have decided that I cannot save everyone but I can help someone and make a difference on a small scale. I therefore help the two families who work for us (1 who no longer does but we still support him) and chose one charity to donate to, Peninsula School Feeding. In this way I feel I am making a difference in someone’s life.

A bonus piece of advice to your fellow South Africans?

What I would like to say to South Africans at this time is: this too shall pass. Easy coming from me, someone who is privileged to have everything I need. But it’s all relative. We have weathered many storms and we are a resilient nation. I am confident that for the most part this will be a unifying “event”, it will bring communities together. The “haves” have realised what it’s like to not have, many of us have realised that it sucks to do housework and have a newfound respect for our domestic helpers. This pandemic has turned out to be a leveller. Yes there is struggle and strife and it will not disappear overnight but I think (hope) that society will be better for it in the long run.

Thank you Debbie for giving us a bit of a glimpse into your life during lockdown.

[To hear some more reflections, this time from Juliet Paulse, click here]