Crisis Coronacast: Live Mourning Radio

An email sent to some partners on this project in April, that seems worth revisiting as I prepare the first podcast that marks the beginning of ‘Fugitive Radio’ (it could be that Barraca do Sound System becomes one aspect of Fugitive Radio…let’s see how things pan out).

I’m now in Berlin, and the conversations I’ve had with people here in the time of Corona often acknowledge just how privileged we are. After checking the stats and listening to the popular Coronacast with Christian Drosten with my housemates (and keeping an appropriate distance), I spent some time yesterday exchanging messages with friends around the world. I’m self-quarantining and I noticed Berliners seem pretty at ease with it. Maybe it’s the weather? The last couple of days have been superb. After dealing with my health care paperwork and applying for some emergency funds, I had an exchange with some friends in Bangladesh. A Channel 4 news report circulating on Facebook discussed a leaked government document that projected up to 2 million COVID-related deaths there. It mentioned poor but vibrant neighbourhoods that I visited when I was in Dhaka in February, and where friends are running long-term community-focused projects. A dear friend, A, an artist, activist and journalist, told me the city has been evacuated. Many of the businesses are closed, but not all, and some people are forced to keep working. His office is closed but he continues to work long hours from his apartment because people rely on the news. Him and K, another friend in the chat, were both alarmed by the Channel 4 segment, and we scheduled a conference call later in the week. I checked in with a Bangladeshi friend in Berlin and asked her how I could support and she replied that she is simply collecting money and donating regularly to organisations there that she trusts.

Later in the evening a friend in Colombia checked in on me. C wanted to know if I’d arrived in Berlin OK. She was visiting family when the pandemic hit. The state went into total lockdown, even citizens were not allowed back in. C and her family were at that time visiting relatives in Mexico and had to rush back. All seventeen of them were forced to stay in a small apartment where they could register on arrival. Police perform regular check-ups so they have to remain there. She said it was better to do so, because when people get scared and anxious the violence also escalates. Last night she messaged to say she had moved to another apartment that was free for a fortnight. Her brother drove her across town but she had to hide in the back of the car because they would otherwise be pulled over. In Bogotá the lockdown laws are strict. Other than accessing medical services, people were only allowed out to shop for groceries, to walk a dog or for short bursts of exercise. Furthermore, the days you are allowed out are determined by your ID card number. This had proven to difficult to manage, and the mayor recently announced that this process would be from now on determined by gender: females on one day, males on another, couples on a third. Obviously, this significantly affects gender non-conforming people, who were already the target of police harassment and violence. C said aside from those working in essential services, people with press passes were also relatively mobile. Many of them were now organising food drops and running errands. C brother’s drug dealer is also a bus driver and thus an essential worker. He could get you anything and then would deliver it to your door in uniform.

I fell asleep thinking of other friends around the world with whom I’ve been checking in lately; folks in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brazil, Spain and Australia. All of them in lockdown and often trying to get to places with better infrastructure or facilities, or isolating away from urban centres. My mind kept re-working that well worn cliché: ‘the pandemic is everywhere, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ Before waking I dreamed about ‘Kimberly Crenshaw’ — not the Kimberlé Crenshaw — but the host of a popular Canadian talkshow, ‘The Crenshaw Connection’. Friends were sharing her live webcast on social media. I’d never watched her program or even knew what she looked like. Her partner had suddenly died in the last 24 hours from the Coronavirus. He was not a celebrity and he was Black. She was broadcasting her breakdown live and people were sharing it as a kind of collective grieving.

I woke up and wrote down what I could recall and began to think about a live radio project that would connect and collect these different experiences of the virus. I made a list of people I know, making connection across much of Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia.