For years I have felt overwhelmed with the responsibilities that come with life. I have been so focused on school, extracurriculars, family and friends that I never felt like I had time to breathe. I focused a lot on being grateful during those moments I felt overwhelmed; I had a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a loving and supportive family. I understood my privilege of living in a country where these were my biggest issues. Nevertheless, when Governor Kate Brown released the stay-at-home order, I felt guilty for being relieved that I would now have a bit more free time.
Although I still feel stressed about the global pandemic and the fact that the U.S. is so unprepared, Spring Break during a pandemic turned out to be one of the most relaxing weeks of my life. In past years, I either spent Spring Break in Seattle or Canada visiting close relatives or studying. But for the first time, I decided to ignore my school books for a whole week.
As a child, I had multiple nicknames, although my favorite was “bookworm.” My parents used to take me and my older sister to the local library and let us select a few books every week. Sometimes during large family gatherings, if I got bored of playing with my cousins, I would go find a book to read and soak up. If they could not find me during lunchtime, one of my aunts or uncles would call out: “Where is Ihsaan?” and one would inevitably reply, “Don’t worry about Ihsaan, she’ll eat the pages in her book.” As family does, that joke has still not been archived. But I used to laugh so hard as a child when they said that, which is probably why they continue to repeat it to this day.
But since last summer, I have not found any time to read books for fun. School and life have consumed my every minute. So for the first time in a long time, I gave myself time to sit down and rediscover the things I used to enjoy in life. The first book I reread was “Homegoing,” a story that followed the descendants of two African sisters separated by the slave trade. And then I reread “Americanah,” a book by my absolute favorite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And then I reread “Emma.” All of my favorite books from past summers were taken off my bookshelves and dusted off, including the heartbreaking “In the Time of the Butterflies.” I was so excited to finally relax and enjoy one of my favorite pastimes.
I was not the only person who had finally discovered the time to pick up old hobbies. My younger sister began baking again and my mother held four (four!) Ethiopian coffee ceremonies in one week. Instagram was full of people rediscovering their love for their family and hobbies. But this is not an attempt to glamorize a horrible world situation. It is an attempt to reveal the cracks in our society and government.
These cracks are not just the gaps in our leadership, but the gaps in our society as well. The main reason we are in quarantine is that the head of the U.S. decided to not take action against a risky disease in time to minimize the damage. What does it say about our country when the only reason some of us have time to actually ‘enjoy’ our lives is due to the failure of our leaders? What does it say about us when the only reason many are beginning to rediscover old, fun hobbies is to distract themselves from the fact that they are in financial danger, whether from job loss or COVID-19 expenses? This virus is revealing more than just the weakness of our leaders, it is showcasing the structural inequalities built into our economy. Due to the U.S.’s capitalistic roots and goals, productivity has become the only trait that is valued, despite the most productive groups being the most underpaid. We overwork ourselves for a system that is skewed to benefit those who are already privileged, and strip everyone else of basic needs and wants.
At this point, it should be obvious that there needs to be major change in this country. The government should be for the people and by the people. Social programs should be expanded, and basic human rights such as access to adequate education and proper healthcare need to be put into place. And as we have seen in the past few weeks, funding can no longer be used as an argument against this (bailing out the airline industry without even trying to enact a rent/mortgage freeze to help Americans, really?). At this point, many Americans are merely surviving, ironically in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. We are not here on earth to survive — we are here to live. We should no longer live in a nation that runs on the belief that it is every man on their own. Reform is required, and COVID-19 has shown us just how desperately it is needed.