Since the coronavirus outbreak began in March, New York, the city that never sleeps has become an authoritarian state. It’s not one dominated by a military regime, the army or the police – it’s dominated by a virus. COVID-19 has taken over everyone’s thoughts, actions, just about everything. Shops, restaurants, salons, schools are all closed. The virus is dictating our lives.
The city that never sleeps is in deep slumber. I have been sitting home for over two months now. My room is both my classroom and my work space. When I arrived here in September 2019, New York was buzzing with a mix of everything. Culture, food, music, and arts-it was full of vibe.
Now my life consists of washing my hands frequently and wearing a mask to go to the store. There are restrictions everywhere to prevent the spread of the virus. The warnings reinforce the new codes of behavior that dominates what was once a vibrant, buzzing and multicultural city. Now social distancing, avoiding crowded spaces, avoiding family, avoiding friends are the new orders. Our normal lives are gone.
The streets are blocked off. Schools and businesses are closed. Cinemas and restaurants are shuttered. Even the city’s lovely Time Square is empty, lonely and deserted.
Almost 30,000 in New York alone and over 100,000 have died from the virus nationwide.
The doors of my university are closed and my courses restricted online.
The social and psychological shift that’s taken place under COVID-19’s regime worries me more than the government’s temporary restrictions on our movements to deal with the public health crisis. When fear becomes a prime motivator for people, they lose touch with the better angels of their nature. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I sneezed in public people looked at me with suspicion and ran away.
This is not the first time I am facing a dictatorial regime. In the 90’s, while living in my home country of Sierra Leone, I witnessed a military regime with brutal restrictions. Five years ago I faced the Ebola virus. Both were brutal. But I was not expecting another like this in New York, the buzzing capital of the world.
Since COVID-19 struck, I have seen people lose jobs, family members abandon their sick loved ones. I have seen people buried in body bags, their families unable to participate in giving proper burial rites. I have seen marketplaces increase food prices because everything imported is more expensive these days. I have paid my fair share to the virus regime.
I came close to the virus myself. A source I interviewed for a university assignment tested positive two weeks after our meeting. She survived. A black African who owns a shop close to my house on Staten Island succumbed to the virus. His shop is still closed and RIP written on it.
When I started reporting on COVID-19 in New York for my classes months ago, I never thought it would devastate the city and the world like this. The world is on a lockdown. All because of a dictatorial virus.
Barber shops and hair salons are closed and my bushy hair reminds me that these are not normal times.
I have turned to watching movies, reading books and watching television shows that occupy my time in isolation. I too am succumbing to COVID-19’s state of sadness or dictatorial tendencies.
But I am trying to make up for what I’ve seen I want to replace bad energy with something positive. I’m playing my part as the dissident in COVID-19’s dictatorship.
Just like I survived the other dictatorial regimes in the past, I am hopeful that I will survive this because this too shall soon pass.