By Carys Shannon

Week one: It's day seven of the national 'lockdown' in Andalucía, Spain. Life changed overnight with the rise in cases of Covid-19. The government had to act quickly with new legislation to protect residents.

I've lived in Andalucía for nearly seven years and I'm lucky to call the city of Córdoba my home. Yet, I never would have imagined that I'd be sent home from my teaching job with all my books, sitting here with my partner waiting to listen to the President's speech.

A week earlier, my students had been regaling me with stories of the virus. The teen groups were especially scandalous, and no sooner would they sit down in the classroom than they'd start talking about the latest news. They were excited, something was happening somewhere and they had new mobile phones for Christmas so they could follow the news. But at that point, it was still far away enough for it to be the kind of threat seen in films, one that wouldn't touch them. How did we all get so naive?

Week two: As I woke in week two of the quarantine, I heard birds in the city for the first time. Not just the odd coo that we hear off our balcony, but a full symphony of birds making their morning calls to each other. It was beautiful.

Anyone who has ever been to Andalucía will know that you cannot get away from  the noise. It's not bad noise, but a low level hum and thrum of life; of animated conversations, traffic, shutters going up and down, glasses and plates clinking in bars, the odd moto piercing your ears, children and dogs. A cacophony of life. It's both reassuring and overwhelming, especially at times like Holy Week or Feria when most of the city is raucous in the street until all hours.

So the absence of noise on that first morning after quarantine was both peaceful and surreal. Andalucía, Córdoba is its people; they are the warmth and life of the city; an unstoppable energy that goes to bed at 2am and can get up again at 7am for work. I'm often in awe of people's stamina and the insatiable need to be with other people outside; in bars, cafés, terraces, parks - life here is lived outdoors.

So, taking the majority of people off the street over these last nine days - the absence of noise is noticeable and has added a lovely peace to the quarantine. But there are moments. Moments for people to express themselves outside - on our balconies at 8pm we all go out to applaud the workers that cannot stay at home. It is jubilant. Neighbours in surrounding flats, who I've never met, now smile and wave every evening. Living in a city is sociable, but you tend to have 'your' places, the café or bar for breakfast, the fruit shop, market, the neighbours in your building, the bar below you; it's possible to be greeting people all day here. Yet, all those faces on the balconies are unfamiliar to me. I've been wondering if we'll recognise each other in the street after all this (if we're lucky enough to make it that far.)

The atmosphere has also been subdued. We're all scared and unsure. But slowly an untameable spirit is coming back - the applause at 8pm has got longer each day followed by emotional shouts of ¡Viva! and ¡Viva España! People play music and call to each other. There is solidarity; a sense of being in it together. Today I heard friends shouting from the street to a balcony; there was joy in those words; the jaleo and buzz won't be away for long.

But what about the silence? I have heard owls at night too and this morning a blackbird was perched on the terrace singing. It hypnotised me. I've never seen one on our balcony before; in the park yes but not in the city. And that is what's happening in so many places - nature is taking steps towards us. An entire flock of geese waddled across the Arenal bridge today and were uploaded to social media. We hear the canals in Venice are clearing. What other beauty is there to come from our absence? How long will it take for the concrete to start greening and will anyone really want to stop it?

It feels like a wonderful secret; that although for the terrible reasons we are at home - the wilderness is coming back and it doesn't take long. Can we bear it? To take a moment to breathe in and know that we are not separate from this in the same way that we are not separate from each other? Can we turn towards it knowing what we have done, knowing it isn't looking to forgive us, simply to envelop us in the net of symbiosis that we have opted out of. Will we remember to listen in stillness to the birds when we go outside again?

Week three: Going out. I’m going to leave the flat for the first time in three weeks. I can’t believe it has been that long; between working online, checking in with loved ones, reading the news, reacting to the news and constantly disinfecting my partner as he comes back from work, it has all gone by in a surreal, sometimes peaceful yet anxious whirl.

Today is the designated day for buying more food. We made a list and checked if we really do need to go out. Talked about the difference between needs and wants. There is caution for ourselves and others. I read an article today about the importance of masks in reducing transmission of the virus. I tell my partner that it feels important to wear one. He listens to my argument and agrees. There’s a video on YouTube about using just two elastic bands and some material to make one. I stand with him on our balcony, the sun shining on us after a week of rain, folding material and laughing at our bad attempts. And this is it – the strange normality that we all have in the moments when we are not thinking about the virus. Human moments. I make a mask out of a pink pillowcase that ends up looking like a ridiculous bottom stuck onto my face. We fall about laughing. Our life here is about reusing and recycling, we are used to being seen as poor when in fact we feel richer for it. And we are making masks because people are dying, because we don’t want to die ourselves or cause any one else to; yet here we are laughing and taking a picture because we look like we are going to hold up a petrol station.

Ready to leave the house I am wearing, a new improved mask, gloves and hair tied back. I slip on my shoes outside the door and leave my slippers at the ‘disinfection station’ we’ve set up by the front door: a bag for our clothes when we get back, box for the keys, phones, credit cards etc. My glasses steam up; the mask feels heavy and the gloves make my hands sweat.

Then I’m outside. Out listening to nothing but birdsong in the city centre. I cross the central plaza. It is completely empty. It’s nice to be out even if it is like walking through the set of an apocalyptic film. The sound of the birds is wonderful. I can almost forget why my breath is misting behind a cloth mask. I pass a woman with her shopping trolley at a respectable distance. Two women trot through the square in high heels, estilo Córdobesa; wide tan trousers, cream shirts and glossy blond locks; they seem like ghosts from life a few weeks ago. They don’t wear masks or gloves; don’t they know that the virus doesn’t care about social status?

At the supermarket, there is a man sitting in the doorway. A usually busy street with a bar across the road is simply filled with a silence that makes our presence together the more obvious. I say hello, he asks if I have any change and I’m sorry that I don’t and explain that we have to pay by card now. He nods and smiles. He is wearing gloves and has a bag beside him with donations in it. I think of offering the pair of medical gloves I have in my bag and feel stupid. I could offer the apples I just bought. It is rude not to offer anything but I’m nervous about offending him and end up hovering nearby as a young man arrives trailing two Shih Tzu dogs. He stops to tie them to the railing outside the supermarket and the older man calls out to him, "I’ll hold them for you." The young man hesitates, "They’ll bite you," he says and I wonder if it’s true. The older man says he doesn’t mind as he loves dogs, so he is handed the leash nonchalantly. He pulls the dogs closer to him and begins a conversation with them. The delight on his face is beautiful to see. He reaches out to touch the black and white dog and as promised it snaps at him baring its teeth before they both begin barking and yapping as only small dogs can. It makes me laugh and he laughs too. "Be careful." I call out to him, my voice hidden in folds of thick cloth. He looks at me and shakes his head as the dog rolls over and lets him pet its belly. He is in a world where only he and the dogs exist in the pure joy of this interaction.

The young man comes out of the shop. He’s carrying a large can of energy drink which he pops open with one hand. He takes a cigarette from behind his ear and lights it before grabbing the lead off the older man, "Cheers mate, see you." He calls out, music blaring from a mini boom box on his belt as he struts off. The older man is still smiling and watching the dogs as they go around the corner.

I walk home wondering who is taking care of the people that sit outside shops or on benches or in unseen places? It’s a thought I’ve had many times since quarantine began – it begins with "What about…" and there is an endless list; homeless, sex trafficked, abused all the way to animals abandoned by their owners. I worry if I am doing enough and promise myself to find out more ways to help. I pass the bus stop and there are three women waiting, they all wear the same blue and white polo shirt with the brand of a cleaning services company on it. Outside, it doesn’t take long to feel the inequality of it.

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