Writing for UNICEF # 4

On May 18, 2021, participants from Kenya to California wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. This week we share writing from Tom Sigafoos, Margaret Coen and Bernie Condon. You can still make a donation – our fundraiser will remain active until June 30, and you can donate directly to vaccinaid.org at any time.

HEROES WITHOUT BORDERS

Tom Sigafoos, Kinlough, Co Leitrim

Image credit: “You Are Not Alone” by Samira Mammadova, Azerbaijan

samira-mammadova-azerbaijan-1There’s an old trope in Hollywood movies: when humankind is threatened by a common enemy, we all put our differences aside and work together to save ourselves. How many stories have been contrived around that idea? For openers, there’s War of the Worlds – Orson Welles on the radio in 1938; a movie in 1953 and then a Steven Spielberg version in 2005. In the over-the-top foolishness of Independence Day in 1996, the President of the United States – Bill Pullman, in this case – flies off in a jet fighter plane and shoots down a flying saucer. If you’re a 1950’s sci-fi movie buff, you’ve probably seen The Day the Earth Stood Still, with its sinister intergalactic password KLAATU BARADA NIKTO – not to mention When Worlds Collide, This Island Earth, and The Man from Planet X. The core of the stories didn’t change – when the chips were down, humankind pulled together.

But now in 2021, in the face of a genuine worldwide threat, what’s happened? We’re all at each other’s throats. Who’s going to get the vaccine? And who’s going to get it first? Who’s going to see the idea of wearing a surgical mask as a low-impact, sensible public-health measure, and who’s going to vilify it as a sinister intrusion on personal freedom? Who’s going to look for ways to share the vaccines and PPE, and who’s going to look for ways to make a buck?

Maybe the grand union of human purpose has always been a fable. Reality has provided gritty material for writers and artists, as in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, where the man who grew rich selling war materiel, like the supplier of the Grenfell Tower cladding, is exposed as a conscienceless corner-cutter. Arrival comes close to a counter-heroic narrative, as the national armies of the world grow suspicious of alien visitors and prepare to destroy them – and each other – until the aliens help human beings learn a new way to think.

Is there something we can learn from Covid viruses – something about adaptability and endurance – that can help us re-think our heroic myth?

Tom Sigafoos, May, 2021

LOCKDOWN

Margaret Coen, Ireland

Image credit: “Wild Imagination” by James Moonan, Ireland

james-moonan-wild-imagination-ireland-1It’s so difficult. What do I do? I can’t go anywhere, just sit here staring out of my window. They said two weeks. What is it now, six weeks? Six months? A year? I honestly can’t remember. The days merge into one another. I had such plans, travel, art projects, good times with my nearest and dearest. But that’s all out of the window. 

God! Is it my fault? When I was a kid I wanted to know what it was like to survive a really awful situation. I used to make plans for a nuclear bunker and how to store my supplies away. Would I be able to kill and eat any animals? Would I be able to catch them in the first place? Maybe my wish has come true! It’s like being in a bunker, almost, when you’re not allowed out of your house except for shopping or a 2km walk. 

But I really shouldn’t complain. So far I haven’t had to kill anybody’s pet to keep starvation from my door. Tesco delivers. The weather wasn’t too bad over the summer and making Christmas crafts filled the darker months. 

And what will all of this do to the world? Maybe we have become a little more compassionate and certainly we must all have learnt to appreciate the work done by those most often taken for granted. How could anyone ignore the sacrifices made day after day, hour after hour by the staff in hospitals? My great hope is quite a simple one. I hope everyone who hasn’t before, remembers to wash their hands before leaving a bathroom. That could stop a lot of diseases spreading around. 

I think we must all have learnt, in the more affluent countries anyway, to do without a lot of things we thought so essential before, and realised we can live a simpler life. We can see now the importance of communication. Contact with people on the most basic level is essential for the well-being of everyone. And we must know that wherever they live on this insignificant lump of rock we call Earth, all people are our own people. If they are not in a good place, then neither are we. Someone coughing in China can, and has killed people in my town. The cliché “The Global Village” is coming home to roost. We cannot let whole generations or categories of people die, because they don’t matter to us, they don’t affect us. I say with Donne, “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”

THE FACE

Bernie Condon, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Ireland

Image credit: “Healthcare Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal

muzzamil-mughal-pakistan-1

I don’t recognize the face in the mirror looking at me.
A face that looks exhausted, a face that should look younger perhaps.
Two startled eyes showing fear are covered with goggles.
I keep looking at this woman, yes, it is a woman, once upon a time a fresh faced young girl,
now, she is lined with worry and confusion.
What has she been through? What has she seen?
I notice her beautiful shaped eyebrows, her long eyelashes, can beauty be found amid obvious trauma? A tear rolls down my cheek, when I look again, a tear rolls down her cheek.
The penny drops, it is me I’m looking at, it is me.
Bathroom break over. I silently leave and go back to the Covid warzone.

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