Are we a World Covided?

Yesterday my blog kinda exploded a little bit [in the very best of ways].

This week had seen me share 6 different stories of people who have faced and survived Covid-19. They all had decent engagement, but nothing special. Until story number 5: Enter Nicola Date, stage left.

On the first day of her story it had just over 500 views, which is a good post on my blog. By the end of the second day it was over 2000 views and i knew we had something special.

We started posting it in a few different groups where we thought people might be interested – South Africa groups, health groups, some story-sharing and mom groups.

The original post on my Facebook page had 12 shares, and then 36, and suddenly more than 60…

Someone who had faced down Covid-19 not once, but TWICE, and was writing from such a raw and vulnerable space – one in which Nicola shared how her cousin, who she was very close to, had died while she was busy writing her story for my blog.

This was not a drill, this was very definitely NOT the flu and it was not a conspiracy. The pandemic was real, and with it came seemingly never-ending fatigue, extreme pain, concerningly low blood pressure and the lack of capacity to do a whole lot.

By the third day, Nicola’s post overtook the most views my blog had had on any one day in close to ten years of existence. It passed the 4200 magic mark. And then doubled it. By the end of the day Nicola and i were bouncing back and forth on the numbers as it quickly raced to break the 10000 views mark.

Not only were people reading and sharing the story though, they were also commenting on it. People were resonating deeply with Nicola’s story and also being shocked into committing to be better with their safety precautions and decision-making, and this was evident in the comments and feedback.

World covided Nicola Date Covid-19 survivor

A World COVIDed

At the moment, Nicola’s post has been read more than 12 thousand times and only one blog post has fared better here [although SPOILER ALERT: i have no doubt she will overtake that one later today].

One of the other top posts on here has also unsurprisingly been about story-sharing along a very different topic, that of race and anti-racism in South Africa [and around the world].

A few years ago, i ran a series titled ’40 Tips for white people asking ‘What can I do?’ with regards to race and racism in South Africa.

Looking to address a very different but real pandemic that has been going on here for centuries, i started sharing practical ideas that i had been trying in my walk of anti-racism to be and do better.

They began as a status on Facebook and then moved to posts of five tips on my blog, starting with these five fairly easy ones to start focusing on:

  • Read some books written by local South Africans who speak about race and don’t look like you.
  • Call people by their name [and get it right!] or the name they choose to be called by.
  • Interrogate your words and stop using ones that hurt and divide and belittle.
  • The concept of ‘the better black’ – don’t expect people of colour to assimilate to your spaces
  • Invite a person of colour out for a coffee and ask them if they would mind sharing some of their story with you.

i am now busy creating a video series working through these, now 50, tips and practical ways in which we as white people can work against the overt and subtle forms of racism that have become a part of us. You can get connected to that series by watching the first ten videos over here or by jumping on to my Instagram over here where the videos drop every week.

But back to Nicola. Despite her fatigue and struggle to find the energy to work, she has been pushing through and creating a little show slash live performance that she is calling: A World COVIDed, which will be happening this Thursday [14th Jan]. i offered her ‘Covid in a world of Maskholes’ which was pretty fun, but when i saw her title on the poster, i realised why we were leaving the funny and creative stuff to her. It is going to be a time of story-sharing and comedy and also the chance to have some live Q and A time with a two-times covid-nominated survivor.

Nicola Date show a world covided

A World in Turmoil

The world is a very divided place. We have seen this through the conspiracy-theory and anti-masking crowd who have aggressively campaigned against and ridiculed those of us who are trying to follow the science and listen to those who are working desperately to find a cure for Covid-19.

We saw this in the violent and terrifying storming of the Capitol in America last week, which i captured to some extent through the Twitterer commentary that happened both during and after.

We watched this early on in 2020 as in the same week we witnessed both the horror of the public execution of George Floyd as Derek Chauvin exerted pressure on his neck for a devastating and seemingly eternal 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and the more subtle [yet equally violent?] weaponising of race in Central Park as a white woman, Amy Cooper called the police on a black bird-watcher, Christian Cooper. Both of these incidents i tried to capture in this short poem: The Weak That Was.

Meanwhile, back home we had our own insidiousness exposed with the murder of Collins Khosa in the townships and the blatant difference in the working out of the law as black citizens were shot with rubber bullets and tear-gassed for lining up outside a supermarket, while white surfers who were on the beaches illegally were asked nicely to please pack up and go home.

The Pandemic didn’t break the world but it did help magnify just how broken and disconnected we are. 

Will Story-sharing save us?

In the midst of the chaos and the pain and the death, a comedian, writer, costume designer struggles against the lingering effects of her disease to create a show that will hopefully bring people together once again. To laugh and be challenged and inspired to be part of a world that builds and grows and creates and celebrates more than it tears down.

Early on during Lockdown there was the story of a group on Facebook called Cape Town Together which saw the creation of Community Action Network groups or CANs firstly across Cape Town and then spreading around the country. People in neighbourhoods connecting and collaborating to feed and visit and look out for neighbours and the most marginalised.

Connecting with churches and businesses and community groups and organisations like The Siya Kolisi Foundation, these CANs started having a literally life-saving effect within their areas.

Meanwhile, other story-telling spaces were emerging all over, such as this delightful initiative as a group of actors and improvisers and others came together to create a YouTube channel called ‘Character Stories for Children’. Dressed up as different characters, they brought a collection of old classic fairytales, local African-themed tales, completely improvised and collaborated stories of adventure, energy-filled isiXhosa narratives, and even some well-known children’s songs.

Heartlines, the non-profit i work with, was also hosting some incredible story-telling sessions, which somehow managed to survive and thrive in the necessary Zoom spaces most of us had been forced to operate in. If you would like us to host a FREE story-telling session with you and your community members or staff or organisation, let me know.

Stories started to draw people together in so many different ways. They started to slow people down and cause them to listen and to reflect and be able to declare: I see you! Perhaps through story we begin to rediscover our humanity and that of the people around us, especially those who seem on the opposing side of the battle lines we have hurriedly drawn up. Maybe they become a way of us realising that more often than not we have far more in common with our neighbour, than that which divides and causes us to tear apart.

One of the gifts that Lockdown gave me was the time and inclination to start writing poetry again. To see if i could address the chaos and brokenness and pain of the world around me in words that might help them to pause and reconsider.

Poem Just Us
poem Just Us
poem Just Us

A New Normal

Homepocalypse times also gave many of us [those who sit with privilege] the opportunity to experiment and try some new things.

Apart from my first ever attempts at shortbread, roast pork, and chocolate cake, i also had the surprising and astonishing experience of having some of my words put to music in the most creative way as evidenced by our joint song Assumptions on the Monogene website. Which actually came about through another session of story-telling as i met my chief collaborator, Shabazz, and his friends through an online conversation i was invited to with some now great mates in the UK around race vibes.

And we heard this phrase ‘The New Normal’ bandied around a lot as systems and structures and ways of doing things, that had perhaps seemed so unavoidable in the past, had been held beneath the spotlight and found wanting.

What kind of world do we want to be a part of? is a question that so many of us have been reflecting on, talking about, reading up on, during our times of homeboundness this past year and as we move into 2021 with no immediate end in sight.

And perhaps this is a good place to end off, for now. i do hope that you will join me on Thursday as we get to meet Nicola face to screen to face. To hear some more of her story. And to hopefully grow our empathy and compassion even more.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. Please jump into the comments and share some of your reflections on the power of story-telling as you have experienced it. And give this post a SHARE to help give it some more eyes. Consider Subscribing to the blog if you’d like to see more of this… and make sure you go and visit some of the links i have scattered through this piece.

Perhaps check out some of the other Covid-19 stories you may have missed, by clicking here.