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Remembering Life ‘BC’

 Written before the lock-down in Israel

It's March 15, 2020 and I can barely remember the days BC – before Corona. Not even a quarter of the way through the year 2020, a year that many of us who were born in the 50s and 60s thought of as merely something from an episode of Star Trek, a year when we'd maybe be flying to the moon for our holidays or asking our personal robot to make us a cup of tea.

Personally, I started the year 2020 on such a high note. Having had a few really bad years of questionable health, I was now in good health, having recently been cleared of a possibly nasty disease, and I was now on my way to a very much brighter future.

If you ask me today what I did in January and February, a mere six or seven weeks ago, I couldn't tell you without checking my diary. And on checking my diary, I see that I've already forgotten, in the midst of all this madness, that I had the most wonderful week with my sister, quality time together that we have hardly ever had in our whole life. How could I have forgotten that – because it was BC and everything BC is today just a hazy memory.

There's a vague memory of my birthday, a mere one month ago on February 15 when all the family was together, prior to Mark and I going on a brief long-weekend to Cyprus.I remember talk that week of this new virus coming out of China, and people perhaps taking more precautions when travelling.

That's when the real-time memories kick in.I have the whole packing thing down to a fine art; I can easily pack for several nights into a small carry-on and a couple of rucksacks. This time, apart from our usual packing list there were additional items – disposable gloves, sanitizer hand gel, Dettol wipes and face masks.

At the airport on the night of departure, there was one person in a very busy departure lounge wearing a mask and not one person on our full flight.

On arrival at our hotel in Cyprus, we wiped down the door handles and bathroom, as we'd been advised. We also put the "do not disturb" sign on the door and after that we forgot about the outside world and any threat of danger.

On checking into the airport in Cyprus after three days it was like entering a different world. There were several people wearing masks and several more who hadn't a clue how to wear the masks – took them off to speak, sneeze or touch their mouths and noses!On the plane there were plenty of "familiar" faces from the journey out, but many of them we recognized by their eyes only as the rest of their faces were covered with masks.

We hadn't listened to any news over the weekend but it turned out that the majority of our fellow-travelers had, and they were visibly worried about the news coming out of Italy. This was more than an unknown virus from far-flung China, this was something much, much bigger and it was now coming from nearby Italy and many of the people carrying it were from all corners of the globe, including Israel.

We arrived home and breathed a sigh of relief that we were back on home territory. Soon after, the news was aired that all travelers returning from Italy were to enter immediate 14-day quarantine.How easily that could have been us – we could have just have easily decided to go to Italy that weekend as Cyprus. We were truly grateful for our decision and our safe arrival home.

Over the coming days the news grew graver and graver, the numbers rose higher and higher and we began to worry more and more about what the future held. However, life continued more or less as normal, or as normal as it could be, when we were watching every day for the updated numbers of affected people and waiting for the epidemiological report to be released by the Ministry of Health to check that you didn't have to enter quarantine, because of having come into contact with one of the affected people.

Cyprus, February 2020
Jackie Benson_with husband Mark in Cyprus, February 2020

In that time, we attended a wonderful jazz concert, and an amazing concert put on by Lionel Richie, without really thinking about whether we should be mixing in crowds of that size.Indeed, the night after the Lionel Richie concert it was announced that gatherings of no more than 5000 people were now allowed and there were certainly more than that the night before. How lucky were we!

Things started to move very quickly after that, and I found myself glued to Facebook or the news waiting for the next update, which was inevitably more restrictions. Gatherings further reduced to 1000 then 100 and now it's 10 – who would have thought in the space of literally two weeks that we would have gone from a free-moving nation to one where we are scared to move out of our front doors.

In the space of two weeks children have gone from being fun-loving and carefree to being cocooned in their own homes following the closure of all educational facilities from nursery schools to universities. The older ones are looking after the younger ones or parents have had to become work-from-home home-schoolers dividing their time between work, if they are lucky enough to still be employed, and keeping their children occupied.And as for businesses, many offices have now set their workers up for working from home – both Mark and Yoav now fall into that category which makes my work environment now a busy office. Others, unfortunately, have been forced into unpaid leave of undetermined time or have been laid off permanently.

Whilst travelers are still returning home to Israel, entering an unconditional 14-day quarantine period, tourists have been almost entirely locked out of the country. Unfortunately, there are many who feel that this is all one huge conspiracy and they shouldn't have to be forced into this self-isolation period, and have subsequently jumped quarantine. Thankfully the authorities are onto many of them, tracking them and arresting as many as they can, but it's an almost impossible task to get all of them, and whilst they selfishly languish in their laid back attitude more and more people are being infected simply by having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Today our new normal is making an online shopping order which may be delivered in a week's time, watching some news, reading some Facebook posts, doing some work, watching some news, reading some more Facebook posts, and so it goes on in a vicious cycle of soul-destroying, depressing living day to day.

In the last week I also contracted pneumonia.I have no way of knowing if I had THE virus – I wasn't tested; my doctor wouldn't even allow me to attend the surgery to have my lungs listened to.He relied on me to give him a list of my symptoms and based on that he prescribed antibiotics and a cough syrup.I'm obviously very in tune with my own body as, halfway through the course of antibiotics, I'm very much better and even managed to get out for a walk today in the fresh air in our beautiful local forest.

The question has to be though why wasn't I tested and the simple answer is that they don't have enough test kits yet, and unless people fall into the categories of having returned from overseas within the last two weeks and have a temperature and cough, they are not eligible for the test.I had returned from overseas two weeks and two days when I developed this hacking cough but I didn't have a fever of higher than 37 degrees.

So I've been in self-imposed partial quarantine but most of my family have been in contact with me during that time and could easily have caught something – I guess we'll sadly know in 14 days' time.

Now, as we wait for the next round of restrictions we realize that the news is just too depressing and we have to take ourselves away from it as much as possible. We exercise, watch films and soon we'll start cleaning for Pesach – ah yes, Pesach – just around the corner, and a festival that usually marks the busiest time of the year for me with the majority of my clients coming in for two or three weeks and the demands that entails preparation of their apartments. I've now spent the last two days telling my various service providers that all of these bookings have been cancelled. That potentially means a lot more people being laid off from work as there just won't be enough to keep them going and that's if anyone is even allowed out of their houses by then as we face a potential national lockdown.

All of this makes me question the bigger picture and how and why we reached this status quo.

We live in a very materialistic world and there are a lot of very entitled people out there who don't think twice about money and how it's spent.We're a nation of people who crave entertainment and who love, and in many cases, live the good life. There's a huge divide between the haves and have-nots, from those who are living from hand-to-mouth and those who are luxuriating in their multi-million-shekel apartments. The harder you work, depending on your profession, certainly does not show itself in where or how you live here.

There is so much taken for granted, whether it be the home cleaning help, child-care, luxury holidays abroad, or the vast array of food providers that we never stop to think twice about - who provides it and where do they come from. We don't stop to consider if they themselves have enough. There are plenty of complaints about the money cleaners charge, but put in the situation of being without work a very small percentage of people would even consider for one moment doing that kind of work.

This all leads me to wonder at the bigger picture.Is G-d trying to rein us all in and make us stop to take stock of what we have and appreciate what we might lose; or is there something even greater out there?

My religious son tells me that we're preparing for the coming of the Moshiach. Some will belittle him and dismiss this as pure religious fervor, but he might just have a point – none of us is qualified to know whether he's right or wrong. 



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