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The Force of Possibility in the Time of a Pandemic

In this collaborative text, Deyanira Clériga Morales, Aldo Ledón Pereyra and Pável Valenzuela Aramburo (WP5) write about the situation in Chiapas, Mexico regarding Covid-19.

About how we started in this small corner of the world

We write this down, from these high lands of the south of Mexico, where we have learnt to enjoy the smell of damp earth and firewood burning on the stove. From this part of the world we look at the pain, the dignified battle and the rebellious resistance of thousands of people. From this trench where many things keep on moving, and others remained static and kept in home.

It was the first week of March, and we were preparing ourselves for unforgettable 8M and 9M days. We felt it as a unique moment in Mexico’s life. We flooded social media, the debates at home increased, we filled the streets with purple, we gathered with female friends and sister comrades, either acquaintances or strangers. An indescribable effervescence fluttered in our stomachs when we found ourselves between millions of women going out to shout together: “Enough with the violence against women!”, “We want to live freely, happily and without fear!” We cried for those who are no longer among us and we swore to honour them in our daily walk forward; we felt the collective force of our fists held up in the air, of our defying scream; we lit up many lights, visualizing the patriarchy burning.

Those were the unique sensations we were experiencing when, five days later, they came to tell us that “safe distance” had started being applied in our country, telling us that said virus that suspended the celebration of the Chinese New Year, and which generated pain and death in Europe, had arrived with more power into our country.

We were then in front of the very emergence of women’s revolution, one that caused agitation at all levels. Their revolution, of women who shouted “Justice!” in a unique, energetic way; women who made the stories of battle and devastation come back to life, devastation that Mexico is going through and has historically suffered.

From these mountains in southern Mexico, we shouted, “Nevermore a world without us women!” It was then, in the middle of everything, in the middle of different Latin-American crises, when a new one was added to the list. The one about surviving a virus that seemed to be generated by the most privileged classes around the world. Social inequality reappeared in scene, but this time it came to generate discomfort from the spheres of the non-poor, or at least those that thought themselves to be that way.

The comfortable, unequal and unfair “normality” that we used to have

Then, we began to inhabit the new life… an unknown life. And then the questions with no answers came to us. And then came the winds, that never before walked as lonely. Then came the anguish for other women and other men. Then came the indifference. Then came the crisis management. Then, without permission, the bugs with small crowns arrived, they highlighted an uneven and unfair social system. And they taught us the multiple fragilities that we have as societies. They demonstrated, once again, the privileges of those responsible for the privatization and dispossession of the world. They made us underline the way not everyone has the same right to live.

Safe distance? Staying inside? Stop working? Here, where sixty per cent of the population has no formal job; here, where the majority of the population survives day by day; where stopping the work means not being able to eat; here, where only a few many have the economical capacity to massively buy and accumulate; here where many people have no options of others to take care of their children or their adult relatives. Here, where we know that not every house has internet signal and thus both labour and academic virtuality are not real solutions.

How to stay home if you don’t have one? When, as a migrant, you live on the run of what used to be your home, when you were deprived of it by the paramilitary, and now you live in the woods, dodging bullets. How to stay home and wash your hands? When there is no water, when there is no electricity, when there’s no possibility of keeping food in good conditions. How to stay inside? If inside there are the oppressors, exacerbating all the time the risk to go through even more physical, emotional and economical violence? How to do so?

And how to draw a normality in the face of an abnormality in which the indigenous communities and non-indigenous villages have developed their life for decades or centuries? In which way can we try ordinariness when it has always been structured on segregation and contempt?

Health is not always a right

What if we get sick inside the communities? How are we going to run to a doctor when we know there are no doctors, no medicines, not even highways nor appropriate transportation to get to the hospitals? Do we just assume death like a daily possibility? Might be, but when we know that death is caused by both historical and social determinants, we can’t help but be mad; because those deaths are unfair and because they remind us that health is not always a human right.

Ever since approximately three decades ago, we have been in the presence of the public health system dismantling, not only because of the privatisation, also because of the corruption of people that have spent years displacing the funds that were destined for public health. Additionally, we know in this region one can die in the indigenous communities for having a simple diarrhoea.

And then some answers reappear. The capitalist, patriarchal, colonial system perpetuates inequality and, with it, the possibilities of living, because the ones that are the most vulnerable are the indigenous populations, the black populations, the urban peripheries, the people that live of precarious jobs, the domestic workers, the sexual workers, the migrant people, the people that pick up the trash, people that make food…

On top of this, we have been reminded that in Mexico we have had a public health crisis for decades, and we are surrounded by obesity, hypertension, diabetes, tobacco use and other health affections which supress the immune system and make us weaker for COVID-19. Why do we have these illnesses? Because we have been flooded with industrialised foods; because our fields were filled with agrochemical poisons; because our sources of water have become black and our rain grey; because we learnt to eat rubbish.

The right for health is an imperfect ideal, to which majorly impoverished populations will have no access. It is a dream, a possibility, that when granted in the middle of all these deficiencies, would seem to be an indicator of wellbeing. Truth is, this is nothing like it. Public health, just as other different sets of rights, is a privilege that nowadays resonates, but other populations have learnt to live without it.

What to believe in

What do credibility and trust mean in times of COVID-19? There are the ones who believe the virus exists, that it is somewhere out there, that we need to take care of ourselves. There are ones who panic and begin to hate everything. There are those others, who believe it is an invention of the devil or the government. There are those who believe in it, but don’t care about it anyways.

Maybe it was because the information took long in arriving appropriately, approachable, in all the indigenous languages around the country. But it’s also true that too much information arrived, much of it false and that promoted hate speeches and varied violence.

We started witnessing in fast motion the global pandemic that stopped human life. The news of here and there were streamed on the screens on the storefronts. The scientific studies, the rumors about dogs and cats; the conspiracies; the laboratory-made virus; the unnoticed war; the inflation; the closed frontiers; the curve’s flattering; the garlic, lime and ginger; the immunity of the herd; the urgent need of masks, the ventilators and the tests for COVID-19.

Some of us read it all, others decided weeks ago to stop doing it, others preferred to cover their ears and close their eyes. What has been real and what hasn’t? Sometimes it depends on the moment of the day in which we choose to pick up the truths and the lies. Either for mental health, or for faith. Why believing, or not? What happened to us at some point in history, that some people decided the virus does not exist? Maybe we feel disappointed by institutions? Maybe we lost trust in government, school, church, communication and social media? What to believe then?

Should we believe in the nation-state? In their leaders and institutions that have failed us hundreds of times? Will the current organisation of countries still be valid? There are yet too many questions about the viability of the ways to cover all life’s dimensions: health, economy, labour, the emotional and environmental impact in the territories… Will it be possible to locate the needs of each space, considering all factors, answering all particular necessities? How to make the national measures from the centrality of governments to respond to the complexity of territories?

What we have witnessed are many local responses. The states, the municipalities, the sectors and communities have been acting as they can. In some places, with more police and military force; in others, with less or non-existent forces. In some indigenous rural territories, where we work, they generated strategies of communal organisation in order to take care of themselves. Many measures were energic, others didn’t take any measures at all, and there’s still a lack of the proper information. In the meanwhile –as we were told by the experts of what was going to happen– the infections and deaths increase; and with them, the fear, pain and uncertainty.

We believed then in a possibility of this pandemic placing us in uncomfortable places, in order to recognise ourselves as privileged; in order to make it possible to generate consciousness and direct actions from society to try to change the way we recognise one another; of finally being a community that is worried and proud of who inhabit this world.

And the world kept on spinning

We locked ourselves in, and we tried to stick to what we had to do: not to put ourselves or others at risk; and we closed offices, we suspended activities, many of which are basically about being close to one another. And it hurt to ask ourselves when we were going to get back together with the families that look for their missing migrants, to ask until when we were going to be able to look for the ones that have not come back, until when were we going to find our female comrades, to dream again with them on how to take down the patriarchy, until when were we going to sing and film videos with the youth, until when were we going to test the organic compost for harvesting the land with the farmers.

And we stayed home, and from the windows we stared at the fragility of the daily life we used to have. We thanked the possibilities we have; how lucky we are. We start to question the certainties, while we start to learn how to inhabit uncertainty.

And we invented for ourselves a virtual –privileged– life. To attempt to do what we do. We found ourselves tired of so many screens, we get frustrated for feeling we are not doing enough. We look around and stare at a ceiling, a water tap, a light bulb, a sure salary; and then comes the guilt, and we do not give ourselves permission for exhaustion, because we know that there are others who have it worse.

Then it comes back again, the race to be present and whole, as if none of this was a global crisis, but a contest of productivity. We look at the media, with those new cooking recipes, new dance moves, exercise routines, books read, abilities acquired in times of pandemic. And people are saying “Take advantage of time!” as if the mind, body, heart and spirit felt only peace. And then we question again, why the rush for productivity? Why our urge to do, analyse and create future projections? Why the logic of always being willing to do and undo? And we gradually discover that we need to be patient with ourselves, and that everyone is doing as they can with what they have, but then questions comes back: What if we are not doing enough?

Living the experience of a pandemic

How to digest the bunch of feelings we experience? How to explain the good times, the sad times, the anger and fear? The frustration and uncertainty taking place in cycles during the day? How to name the new emotions that we perceive? Because they are not the same fear nor the same sadness we are used to; they are new words that we should invent in order to describe what is happening to us. How to admit what we have got and not feel guilty for it? How to feel joy and be optimistic? How to stop wanting to explain all of this to ourselves, and let go of the search for terminology? How to let it go, let it exist? How to stop looking for answers?

How to get connected to write down analysis of the context, projections, strategies? How to fill the blank lines of the prologues, of the unfinished texts? How to get inspired in the middle of uncertainty? How to assume what one can and cannot do?

Could it be that it is time for a change? Maybe we need to ask ourselves about the way we built cities and invaded forests, about the way we dispossessed territories from other world beings. Maybe we need to question ourselves about how we produce foods and how we consume them. About how we generate waste. About the social organisation of homecare and its uneven responsibility. Could it be that 2020 will be remembered as the year of change? That we truly will succeed to modify our ways of relationship with life? What if nothing happens and all stays the same? What if we find ourselves once again orphans of possibility? What if we don’t come up with anything? If New Normality looks a lot like the old one?

New Normality

Now we ask, how to build the new future if we don’t even know how to inhabit the present? How so, if the news change everyday and we don’t know how to react? How to put our bets on social, political and communal organisation if we are locked up and far away? To those of us working with people and accompanying the collective battles, it hurts not being able to go out to transform all of what hurts us and to create what gives us hope.

How to emphasize that everything will be alright, that everything will not be the same, that we don’t want it to be the same? How is New Normality going to invite us to build other ways of being us and being present? How to invent something new? Where does one find the energy for creativity? Will it be all about inventing something, or about regaining what was lost? About looking at the memories of grandpas and grandmas and their ways, different from ours, of inhabiting life; about recovering what already exists and that has survived for thousands of years. About looking at all different resistances, that have always been there between the branches of the trees in the fields, between the concrete grounds around cities.

How to dare to look out, at how life rises again? The way food grows patiently, emerging from a tiny seed sowed into the soil. How to take back again the medicinal plants that heal the body and the heart? How to become curious again to observe the behavior of the animals we have been trying to domesticate? How to accompany the pain isolated in homes, hospitals, cemeteries? How to be present in distance and through screens? How to show affections, tenderness, kisses and hugs and caresses? How to feel the energy and connection with those who are loved and far away?

How to recover our spirituality and our ancient memory to connect through times and distances? How to forget about the Gregorian calendar to invent ourselves with other rhythms, with the necessary pauses that allow us to breath and rearrange ourselves in the world in different ways?

The force of possibility

Time to keep on asking questions to ourselves, to dare to accept that we don’t have the answers. What we have left is holding on to that which gives us hope, to express as many times as necessary the love we feel for others, to tell each other that we are here and that we honour their existence and that we embrace their lives.

Time to be patient with ourselves and, at the same time, to take action with passion, knowing that we have the power to resist just like thousands of years ago, and that we will be better when we know where our heart is standing on, where our ideas are and when the energy is vigorous from the inside, to defend what’s fair and worthy.

Also, time to heal the lumps in the throat, the tears; to accept the fragility and the naked forces. Time to keep ourselves strong to embrace others and to accept weakness when we want others to embrace us. Time to always choose the chance to subvert and, as a female friend used to say:

Construir los tiempos que no han llegado, mantener la fe y el poder de la esperanza que nos apapacha, toca buscar los hilos necesarios para tejernos de nuevo con la sabiduría de la humanidad que cargamos a cuestas.

[To build the times that are yet to arrive, to keep the faith up, the power of hope that «caresses the soul», time to look for the necessary yarns to knit ourselves back, with the wisdom of humanity which we carry on our shoulders]

Time to regain the listening of the silences, to feel the spoken and written word of wisdom, time to look for the chants which shivers down one's back. Time to revise the legends of the past. Time to laugh and enjoy while we still fight. To hold on to the old and the new dreams. Time to keep solidarity up, time to search around and to search ourselves in the accomplice glances of the deep love that moves us to take care of others and take care of life in all of its dimensions.

Nowadays we are in front of real changes in which human relationships are taking place. A moment, possibly, to determine our moving forward as societies towards the emergence of new, necessary ways of looking at each other as equals; of looking at tragedy as the possibility of new structuration, from a vision of the human care and the value of being.

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