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Anna, 37, New York, USA


You can read the original article in Hungarian here.

A Hungarian 37 year old under quarantine in New York - A Report.

I wake up at 8:30. As soon as I turn off the alarm on my phone, all the possible notifications of all my social media apps appear. As I was sleeping, more and more people reemerged from my past asking about how I was doing. I was messaged by old acquaintances with whom we had absolutely no contact for several years. They read the news and they are worried.

I also read the news and I am also worried. I do not have much contact with the external reality other than this, apart from the Empire State Building that I can see from my window, simulating the rhythm of heart beats in red and white. The idea was that this light installation represents the heart of America saluting the superhuman efforts of doctors and nurses. I must say it turned out to be quite dramatic even by American standards.

After reading and answering every message I get up, I feed the cat and the fish, and go to the side room for a half an hour for yoga. In the meantime, my husband is making coffee. We have breakfast and discuss what we are going to do today. Then we realize we have no more fresh vegetables. I become truly excited as this means we are going to leave the flat today. Sometime in the evening. As if we were trying to organize some kind of burglary, as if it would matter at all whether we step into the shop, an ill-ventilated closed space, where it is guaranteed that everybody has already touched and sneezed upon everything, at midday or in the evening.

In the happy knowledge of something grand happening today, I sit down to work. Last year, I didn’t have a valid work permit for seven months because of my green card application, it was just a month ago that my freelance designer career really took off. I work on four or five projects a day; I can hardly cope while I am extremely grateful that I have work at all. Some eighty percent of my friends lost their jobs over the past three weeks. Unemployment, particularly if the situation is so hopeless as it seems to be now, is very difficult everywhere, but New York is one of the most expensive cities of world, where people frequently spend half their paycheck on rent. I know virtually no one with any savings at all. Most of my acquaintances had health insurance through their employers, so from one day to the next, they lost not only their work, but also their insurance. Congress voted for a non-recurrent emergency assistance: every American taxpayer, who earned less than 55 thousand dollars in 2019, will get a cheque for 1,200 dollars in April. This cheque could be tremendous help in the middle of Kentucky, in New York, however, it is no more than the monthly rent for a room. I have friends who have not been able to pay their April rent. The situation is past hope: there are eight million people living in an area about one-a-half times that of Budapest, and as there is no general health insurance, many have no insurance at all. If they become sick, they do not go to the hospital fearing the costs. Today, I read a tweet by a doctor, saying that a patient of his, before being put on the ventilator asked only who is going to pay for this. There are not enough tests, people inadvertently keep on infecting one another; this place is so densely populated that even the greatest precautions are not enough. According to the optimists we will be under quarantine for another six weeks; in my optimistic opinion, these six weeks will suffice to prevent cycling back and will force people to take steps towards Medicare for all because the current system is clearly not working. 

Soon it is 12:30, we set out to cook. I have never been much of a domestic goddess, and after moving to New York, I almost fully gave up cooking. (For a year, I lived in a flat which had no kitchen at all, but had a 25m2 private roof garden instead.) Here it is simply not worth to cook at home for two people, unless you make huge portions, which you can then eat for days. Food is so expensive that it is cheaper for the two of us to eat in restaurants. (A lettuce costs three dollars, half a liter of yoghurt is six dollars, but you can have a main course for 10-13 dollars in a nice place.) It was roughly on March 13, when Brooklyn decided it was time for quarantine. Then, we set out to shop with eight shopping bags; in my mind I tried to reconstruct my great-grandmother’s pantry, who had to run out from the cellar with a small knife to have a go at a dead horse during the war, and because of this trauma, she always had a store full of all the basic foodstuffs till the end of her life, just in case. Flour, sugar, salt. This I remembered. Potatoes.

We entered the shop, I must have been directed by some kind of a third generation World War II trauma, but we managed to get together quite sensible things. Apart from the box of ice-cream we ate as soon as we got back home. Standing at the checkout, I watched what the others gathered for the next few weeks. These were the things that I saw in the basket: humus, veggies, chips, cereals, milk, coffee, toilet paper.

I sit by the aquarium to watch the fish for awhile – I do this suspiciously frequently since the quarantine. Then I sit back to my computer. My husband is at the table beside me; he takes out the game console and switches on Fortnite. He plays two-three hours a day, while I silently rejoice that somebody invented it after spaghetti and tampons. In the first four days of the quarantine, I thought we would drive one another crazy. We have been closed together quite a few times, we travelled as a twosome for half a year, that was not the problem. What was maddening was the way that we reacted to the current situation. In relation to the virus, I found that I can look ahead and resolve things for a week, and I was just not going to bother with the rest subconsciously. I guess, I switched to survival mode. At the same time, my husband, as soon as he opened his eyes even before putting in his contact lenses, went to read the news on his phone. How many are dead, how many are infected, what did Trump say, then he sat on the couch in a nervous spasm all day panicking about what is going to happen. He panicked, clearly expecting my commiseration, but after five and a half years, we have to realize this was the situation in which I just could not say what he wanted to hear. Anything I say would only add fuel to the flames. I, however, was absolutely freaked by his panicking. It was a truly tough situation. On the sixth day, grinning and smirching, he confessed that he ordered a game console. My 40-year-old husband. First, I didn’t know what to think of it, but then I guessed it was not very sexy either when I was staring at the fish with bulging eyes for hours. Then the console arrived, everybody calmed down, we were through the tough part. We both do our things, and have accepted one another’s survival strategies.

We cook dinner, we talk and there is only one more item left on the program, we watch three episodes from the current series. I have never in my life watched so many films and never with such an unimpeachable alibi.

But not today, because today there is adventure and change: we go for the veggies. Mask on my face, alcohol spray in my pocket and we go.


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