For Diego, my older, wiser brother
Mexico City Subway (Reuters)
This morning, as Carmen closed the door behind her, she looked at an empty street. The sun shined so brightly it hurt her eyes. She stood immobile for a few seconds until the sounds of an anxious lock grinding behind a heavy metal door shook her out of her inattention.
She started the long way from Polanco, the posh Mexico City neighborhood, to her home in Valle de Chalco, a municipality on the eastern outskirts of the metropolitan area. She felt happy because her patrones told her she would be with her family for several weeks due to the shelter in place and anxious because she received only two weeks worth of her salary to support six souls through the crisis.
As she walked onto Calle Arquimedes towards Metro Auditorio, she crossed a thin and pale woman carrying a small plastic bag with some groceries. An overused sky blue face mask made her swollen eyes seem sadder. She walked bit by bit as if she wanted her errand to take an eternity as if the empty streets away from his small apartment protected her. ‘Que tengas un buen dia,’ Carmen kindly whispered, not to be heard.
At the subway station, Carmen bought the $5 pesos one-way ticket and took Linea 7 towards Tacubaya. Twenty minutes later, she walked through interminable corridors to board the Linea 9 towards Linea A in Pantitlán. After she arrived, she hopped on a micro, a corroded smoggy white box van, and paid the $11 pesos fare to get to Chalco. Once there, she was able to convince a young moto-taxi driver to take her to Santa Cruz for $15 pesos. It was a short and pleasant trip for Carmen standards: a little more than two hours without the usual pushing, cramming and sweating inside the bright orange subway cars.
When she finally got to her little town, she felt relieved. The main street felt alive and buzzing like any other Sunday. It surprised her to see Rosa seating on the sidewalk watching her kids chasing a football. Rosa usually works on weekends at a mall in Mexico City. ‘No tengo trabajo desde hace dos semanas,’ she said without waiting to be greeted. They embraced and agreed to meet during the week.
As she reached the small grey brick house with a metal roof, la abuela greeted Carmen with a lengthy hug. A handful of dogs of different sizes and colors ran around them in celebratory barks. Since Carmen could remember, Doña Lola always knew when something was off. Her hugs brought peace and comfort. Her kind smile lifted the spirits of everyone in the family.
Valle de Chalco, Santiago Arau
It doesn’t matter when you read this, women, especially poor women, are more vulnerable than ever during this health and economic crisis. They often face a cruel life and death choice of health, security, and subsistence. Some of them, carry the weight of supporting a household of children and elders. Others face danger in their own home. Any given morning around the world, women struggle.
If anything, this pandemic should bring perspective to our problems.
How am I doing? Not good. I’ve lost sleep. I work too hard. I hate homeschool. My family and friends are either anxious or depressed. My business partners are fighting to keep their businesses afloat. The world is falling. I feel impuissant. Like you, I’m scared for the health of my loved ones. My father, a stubborn 75 years old Frenchman, thinks the Coronavirus is much ado about nothing. ‘C’est une hystérie collective!’, he proclaims.
Still and all, you know what? when I think about Carmen and Rosa and Lola and the rest, I’m embarrassed. This young-ish affluent white male surely can’t complain! I’ll be fine. Even in the worst scenarios.
Calle Madero, Centro Histórico, Santiago Arau
As it happens, I’m still on social media. For sanity, I tell myself. Like most of you, I want to know everything I can about the wicked virus. I enjoy the distraction of watching the video of a middle school teacher in Wales showing dance moves and the Italians cheering incoming Cuban doctors and the Washington Post TicToc guy and the occasional smart tweet.
I’m just less patient with my techy privileged microcosm. So, don’t ask me to empathize with a Peloton delivery delay. Don’t expect me to congratulate VC investors for doing their freaking job from the comfort of your home office. Don’t urge me to join the data skeptics, the political complainers, the casual epidemiologists, the know-it-all technologists, the overconfident economist or the vane activists.
“Say less, say it better, and say it from the heart. And when you don’t know, say you don’t know. This is not a time to wing it.” — Paul Bennett
It must be hard for you too, but you will probably be okay. This will pass. And when it does, our world will be in terrible shape. Yet, the earth will be more ready for positive change than it has ever been. Let’s think about how to make it, a kinder and fairer place. If you are an economist, use your brain and excel for good. If you’re a corporate leader stop whining and start leading. If you’re a politician, be a positive force or get out of the way. If you’re an entrepreneur, this is your moment to change the world. If you are a doctor or a nurse, please, keep being that hero.
When Carmen finally got to bed. She felt the warmth of the bodies of her daughter and son already asleep on each side of her, forming a hill of cloth and love. Inside her body, COVID-19 had already started spreading. Unaware, she looked at the rusty ceiling and prayed.
‘Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo, santificado sea tu Nombre; venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo. Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden; no nos dejes caer en la tentación, y líbranos del mal. Amén’