One of the odd experiences of living away from home for any length of time is the childlike, subconscious thought that the world stops in your absence, and realizing that no, it does not. Life continues in very normal ways, even if I’m not there to observe and approve of it. I think it’s how my brain compartmentalizes as a means of self-preservation – I have to be away, but it hurts, and I’m worried about missing the important and the mundane, so I just pretend that nothing will happen at all.
Having lived abroad for seven years, I feel that acutely – the strangeness that normal things happen, kids grow up, your family creates memories and goes on vacation and squabbles about things you don’t understand. Nothing has stayed frozen in my last memory of it; they tore down the Dome movie theatre, completed construction on 680 and all my favorite radio stations are gone to h*ck.
When we started lockdown 12 weeks ago, despite knowing it would not work that way, I subconsciously thought the same false thing – normal inconveniences would pause, God would give us a break because we were already dealing with enough.
The usual pain and pleasures of life would take a hiatus and we’d collectively wait for things to get better so we could go outside again, having been super productive and like, worked on ourselves. The earth would be healed, because we were the virus, and all our instagram stories had made things better. It was going to be weird for a while, but a short while at that. We were just guessing, we didn’t know. There’s nothing to really compare this experience to; the entire world going through the exact same thing, but in different phases and intensities, and we are all consumed by it because technology provides endless updates.
There was a weird pressure to accomplish a lot of ‘extra’ during this time – apparently we’re meant to write our first novel, re-invent calculus, and come out on the other end of quarantine with a smokin’ hot bod from the ‘extra’ time we had to work out. We were supposed to take advantage of the pandemic circumstances in any way we could.
There was so much unknown and stress that it seemed like whatever you did to cope had no consequences. Eat what you like, drink what you like, let the dishes pile up, stop washing your face, yell at Netflix for judging you because um YEAH I am still here watching, I literally cannot go anywhere else.
Maybe it’s because this is week 12 and I’m tired and bored and fraying at the edges of the constant anxiety and unknown. But I’m losing my mind a bit. The other day, not having interacted with a human in three days since I hadn’t been outside, I said OUTLOUD to a fly, “I have already asked you to please go away,” which also lets you know this was the SECOND conversation I had had with a fly.
I’ve started throwing quiet fits about still having to do things like pay taxes (which I have to do in two countries, which is a big annoying), clean the AC unit (which I did yesterday, without reading instructions first, and just threw it in the sink, and then thought “yo, Rachel, my dude, feels like this will be in some electricity later? Are you going to die?” but then that’s actually exACTly what you do), shave my legs once a week (this is generous), and take out the trash.
I know it’s normal stuff, but I kinda expect to be rewarded handsomely for it, because we are in a pandemic. We are in a worldwide collective crisis on top of the many self-induced crises I rotate through on a daily basis, and I still manage to teach 27 fourth graders and get quite a bit of adult done on a regular basis. So I would like a gold star.
Instead of gold stars, I bought a bulk M&Ms package and Yellowtail Shiraz, because one must budget in a crisis, and also my tastebuds haven’t really evolved since senior year of college anyway. And I’m sitting here, listening to a playlist that I’ve made called “late 90s-00s brooding,” which is young adult angst and makes me think of the X Files, and trying to articulate the nonsense that is our lives at the moment. To make a record, mark it down so years from now, when my grandkids ask why I always hug everyone whenever I can, why I watch every sunset I can, why I have emotional reactions to cottage cheese but can’t eat canned tuna ever again, why I hoard toilet paper and flour and eggs and hit elevator buttons with my elbows and haven’t touched my face in ten years, I can send them these blog links.
It does feel a bit like the sky is falling. Things feel heightened and there is so much unknown. The sky has literally fallen on me twice in the last few weeks. I was walking home from taking out the trash, texting, and was aware of a woman standing about ten feet ahead of me, staring. Then she released this painful, loud, keening moan. It sent chills up and down my spine. I paused, because was I dealing with a crazy person? Was I about to be attacked? Did I need to help her with something? I looked up, and she was waving her hands and swaying. “Nooo,” she moaned louder, “nooo, don’t,” she cried at me.
I looked down and saw, inches in front of my next step, a baby bird that had clearly just fallen from somewhere high. He was so young, his eyes couldn’t have opened yet, his head was split open, his wings twitching. I watched him take his last breaths. The woman came closer, she hardly spoke English, and we both just stared at it, her crying, me studying it in morbid fascination. It had nearly landed on my head.
The woman eventually moved on, breaking the spell of our weird connection to the moment, but I felt compelled to stand for about another 20 minutes to watch people almost step on it, yelling out “hey!” when they got too close.
It was one of the oddest experiences of my life.
The second time the sky fell on me was at the park we shouldn’t have been at, with all the other people who shouldn’t have been there. We sat as apart as we could, and spread out our meagre 7-11 picnic, and of course saw a student from our school who interacted with us oddly, as you always do when you see someone out of context. I learned how to play dominoes and the sun set and the lighting was gorgeous and it felt so damn good to be outside, in the light, and in a dress and not in workout clothes, with makeup on, and seeing another human being in the flesh.
And then a frisbee wacked me REAL good on the back of the head. I reacted very well to this, as you can imagine.
Easter still came and went. I was meant to be in the Sahara desert, camel taming and camping with nomadic tribes, but instead I tried to find the ingredients for my grandma’s potatoes (failed) and had two whole people over for a day of crafts and snacks and gossip. I made everyone wear headbands. I wrapped up handwipes as presents. At one point, for drama, we even had a fire, as I went to plug in the fairy lights and blew a fuse that popped in a large flame and I had a tiny moment where I thought I might die. There are no egg dye kits in Hong Kong and even food coloring is hard to come by, so I used cinnamon, turmeric, and leftover coloring drops from the at-home science experiment videos I’d made earlier in the semester for my students. I keenly missed the thrill of egg hunts at my grandma’s house, with plastic eggs with quarters inside. Basket from my mom with razors, hair-ties, new socks, magazines, our favorite candy.
One fun new development of quarantine has been weekly Zoom dates with my family. The time zone difference between me and where most people I love are makes communicating hard – 9am my time is 6-9pm the night before their time, but we manage to make it work with about 14 people in two countries, four states. For Easter Sunday, I collated a bunch of old family photos and trivia questions like “what did Jack name the pebble that had to be surgically removed from the bottom of his foot?” (Patrick) and “Which family members have webbed toes?” and “Which Giants’ pitcher did Rachel have a somewhat problematic crush on?” (Brian Wilson and I would STILL do illegal things to hang out with him).
To keep my mind active and the pants stretchy, I have also moved on from sourdough bread making to tortilla making! I’m always into a food that doesn’t require washing many dishes after – if you play your cards right, you can eat a taco and only have a paper towel to throw away at the end of it. Making the tortillas was easy and fun, so I will leave the recipe here. But be warned – this is DANGEROUS knowledge. Like, this made 16 tortillas and in 24 hours I have eaten
8 10 of those tortillas.
China is starting to send university and secondary students back to school in two weeks, and Hong Kong has had single-digit cases reported for the last few days, so there seems to be some hope in the air that we might get to return to mostly normal life soon. Monday I start teaching online again. I haven’t seen my students since January 22nd. They’ve probably all grown a foot.
We’ve been doing this so long now it’s almost hard to think about what going back to “normal” school would look like. What will it mean to go back on public transportation, to be in groups, to go to the gym, movies, concerts. To let a guy hit on me at a bar and not immediately ask him about his travel history. To not strategically configure all my errands to minimize crowd exposure. To browse through a store for the sheer fun of shopping. To get a fever and not immediately assume the worst. How odd but lovely will it be to see everyone without a mask on, to shake hands when you meet a stranger, hug and kiss and high five and ‘try a bite of this’ ‘try a sip of this’ and kids on the playgrounds again.
Until then. Stay inside. Take care of yourself and each other. And make tortillas.
If I were a food blog, I would start with a haiku about how tortillas make me feel, and a nice long story about when my family immigrated from the hills of somewhere with just one parcel of flour for the journey, and every night the matriarch would gather the children around the fire and magically make a thousand tortillas while teaching them the song of their people. I’m not a food blog, but I did just do that. What actually happened was I really wanted tacos so I looked this up online, scrolled past several paragraphs of nonsense (much like you might have just now) and FINALLY found the actually essential information to make these. I do for you now.
This will make 16 tortillas and takes about 3 hours start to finish, with 2 of those hours being dough settling time, and 15 minutes just straight up destroying a stack of tortillas. Have your butter room temperature ready.
- 3 cups flour from your sourdough days. Those are behind you now.
- 1 teaspoon baking powder NOT baking soda. Learn from my errors.
- 1 teaspoon salt.
- Some butter helps
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 cup warm water
- Put dry ingredients in a bowl, mix it up.
- Add the wet ingredients, and stir with wooden spoon or dough hook from your Little House on the Prairie cosplay. Stir until it’s smooth and in a ball.
- Place on lightly floured surface, divide into 16 equal parts.
- Make those parts round balls (that’s the fun bit) and then smash flat lightly in your palms. (This is when you think of family meals at Chevy’s and the tortilla machine.)
- Let these flattened balls sit under a kitchen towel for 15 minutes until even 2 hours later because you’ve forgotten about them.
- Dry heat a frying pan, medium-hot.
- Rolling pin/water bottle/wine bottle with some flour, roll out your smashed balls.
- One at a time, place on the pan. Wait about one minute, it will bubble a bit and get some brown spots on the bottom side. Flip it.
- 15-20 seconds on the other side and then she’s done.
- Spread butter all over this bad boy and eat it.
- Repeat for the rest, trying to not just eat them as you make them.