In quarantine with Tasnim Ahmed
Where in the world are you/Are you currently on lockdown/Are you alone, or with others?
I'm in New York and am taking care of my parents as we're nearing our 7th week on lockdown.
How are you keeping yourself busy/occupied?
During this time I've been reading a lot, staying touch with my friends, cooking and cleaning everything in sight. I'm also the proud new owner of a Nintendo Switch lite and am fine-tuning my island on Animal Crossing.
What are you finding the easiest/most difficult aspects of social distancing, lockdown?
This has been a bit of a difficult transition for me, personally. My parents live in Manhattan and I used to live in Brooklyn, and because of cultural reasons and my paranoia of my parents not taking care of themselves, I moved in with them temporarily at the beginning of lockdown. I moved out of my parents six years ago because I felt I needed to be my own person, and so reconciling with the momentary loss of that has been hard for me. Some days are good, and some days we clash.
I've found it surprisingly easy now to take each day as it comes. I was definitely not that person before, always planning, making schedules and lists.
Do you have any positive thoughts on what’s happening?
This experience has really taught me the importance of making the most of the moments you spend with the people you love, and pushing our capacity to love beyond its bounds.
With regard to the pandemic in particular, it was difficult to feel positive living in country with a group of madmen at its helm, but then I read about the true heroes on the frontlines, the essential workers, delivery workers, postal workers, and those volunteering their time and resources to help support unsupported and economically fragile communities, and I think, wow, that kind of unconditional love and care is incredible. I feel blue and then I think of that and it fills my heart.
What new things are you learning during this time?
I'm learning the art of doing nothing. Since I moved to America nearly ten years ago, I feel like I've been constantly ricocheting, as though my life would be meaningless if I wasn't doing "something" or being "someone". It was also counter to my inherent nature as an introvert. So now there's no place to be, not all that much to do, and an acceptance that I don't need to be "someone" for anyone other than myself, and I'm learning to be okay with just that.
In your opinion - how will this period change our lives in the future?
This makes me both sad and hopeful. I think New York will be forever changed, the future of so many institutions that brought happiness and comfort to so many is all up in the air. Racial and class disparities have already widened, as we see studies of how the virus has impacted Black and Latinx communities due to health and income inequities, and a huge part of these communities of colour are also essential workers. In New York, many of those with the privilege to stay home aren't doing so, and the lack of compassion juxtaposed with those risking their lives so that we may be safe is startling. In some pockets, humanity has fallen but in others it prevails. Community organizers throughout the boroughs are organizing to provide basic necessities and more access to minority communities. There will be more of this in the future, people coming together to support and uplift one another, and that gives me hope.
Are you planning on making any life changes when the virus eventually disappears? A new career-path, focus, or hobby?
I definitely plan on not taking life and time for granted anymore. Mostly, I want to pick up my life where I left it. I can’t wait to be able to be back in a classroom, complete my education, and - fingers crossed - begin teaching. And writing! Many publications have curbed their freelance budgets, and I would just like to write. I’m realizing I’ve had a pretty fulfilling life, I just haven’t always seen it. However, something that has piqued my interest has been farming, and I’m sure most people who know me would think I’m joking, but studying food supplies has really interested me during this pandemic. Urban farming, sustainable systems and making food more accessible to low income and communities of colour is something I’d like to learn more about and work on.
What can we do to help those suffering the most?
Donate! Time, money, resources, kindness, anything that you can put forward helps. America is a very individualistic society, but I grew up in Bangladesh, by upbringing heavily influenced by my grandmother, who would rush to the side of anyone facing any kind of hardship. Even though she had very little, she would donate money, send groceries, and cook food for those in need. And she always called and rolled up her sleeves; if her pockets were empty she would drop a line or run errands. This is definitely a time when we need to focus more on the community than are self interests. There are so many ways to help, we just need to do it. And at a very fundamental level, we can help those suffering the most by doing our part: respecting physical distancing rules, wearing face masks, and staying home if we have the privilege to do so.
What could be a new mantra to emerge from this with?
This is less of a mantra and more words to live by, “Compassion, kindness, and consideration.”
Books by David Sedaris. I read Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” in one sitting when I couldn’t fall asleep one night, and it was an incredible experience. Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, and the autobiography of Malcolm X.
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Philip Glass. Alice Coltrane. Robert Wyatt. Sun Ra. I’ve recently been listening to Mamman Sani, a West African avant-garde electronic musician who made terrific music in the 70s.
“The 400 Blows” and "Day for Night" by Francois Truffaut. “Black Girl" by Ousmane Sembène. “Cleo from 5 to 7” and “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quaint du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”. Twin Peaks!
Lots of dark chocolate.
Burning a hole through my stomach with coffee, and then thinking I can remedy it with ginger tea.
I’ve been cooking every day since lockdown, and for my parents too, and it’s been an exercise on patience, compromise, and making the most of whatever is left. I’ve learned how to make South-Asian style rice pudding (in Bengali we call it Payesh) from my mother. I’m also happiest eating a bowl of quinoa, cooked greens, spiced sweet potatoes, and soft boiled egg with black sesame on top. Ramadan began on the 23rd, and while culturally we eat heavy and fried foods, I like to eat things that are gentler and more nourishing.
Between doing a lot of nothing, I’ve found manic cleaning helps me when I’m feeling crazed, as well as yoga every now and then, and chatting with my loved ones.
Tasnim's quarantine diary 'Nostalgia':