It is 2020, the year we stayed at home. I worked throughout the initial strict lockdown, in the little local surgery which was soon to be closed down. The streets were quiet, I passed very few cars or people on my way. I often worked alone, with the other staff downstairs and it was strangely silent most of the time. There were reminders that life was difficult for many: the queue outside the church food bank, the telephone appointments with patients suffering from acute anxiety, loneliness and isolation. But we were also aware that we were fortunate to have work and to be relatively healthy, and were able to enjoy the time we had together.
Like everyone, else we miss our families. We have all missed so much this year. Birthdays, funerals, weddings, but also the everyday interaction and sharing of family life. I avoid thinking about all we have lost out on, the way I would avoid touching a bruise. All those months.
I was driving recently, and realised I hadn’t seen another woman in hijab for days. I hadn’t been to the mosque in months . As a visibly Muslim woman, I felt my difference more than usual, without the comfortable interaction of others like me. What concerned me even more is that I noticed that my younger children were forgetting the mosque: it had no special significance to them now, after all this time. Our local mosque has rightly taken every precaution to prevent the spread of infection, yet the loss to the community is devastating.
Since childhood, our identities were cemented by going to the mosque. My mother and her friends attended a weekly learning circle in Bengali, while we read or played, and later on we would go every Sunday to a group for teenagers (some of whom are still my best friends today). Almost every evening in Ramadan, we would attend prayers at the mosque and often there would be delicious food sold afterwards. Charity events, dinners, children’s activities and classes were all part of our usual routine, it supported and lifted our small community.
The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on ethnic minorities has been reported on widely, with higher death rates in Black and Asian ethnic groups. This report highlights some of the reasons for this, not least the fear of discrimination and racism in the workplace if they do not comply with often unsafe practices or lack of PPE. However the effects are also being felt in other ways, with a sense that certain communities are being held responsible for rising infection cases in some areas. This is made all the more difficult to navigate while we are kept separate from everything and everyone that holds us together.