Grade 9s share their thoughts on being under lockdown
AYALET MILSTEIN, JAYDA SACK AND MEIRA CROUSE
Home sweet humans
Five weeks ago, I noticed a sudden change in the atmosphere. The members of my family were acting differently. I sensed anxiety, uneasiness, and frantic behaviour, but I couldn’t ask anyone what was happening. Piles of toilet paper and groceries were appearing faster than I could bury a large bone.
Mornings were generally quiet at home after my human parents and siblings went to work and school. They would wake up early and get dressed while I was still exhausted. I can’t tell the time, but it seems as if the mornings are starting a little later. I looked forward to them coming home at different times of the day, now they don’t leave the house.
At first, I was unsettled by the change. It felt like they were cramping my style as I would be in charge of the house while they were out.
My human sister, Ayelet, usually goes to a place called school for most of the day. I’m not really sure what school is, but apparently we do homework together after school even though I contribute very little to this activity.
I do know that when Ayelet was told school was cancelled, she seemed upset as she enjoys learning. I have heard her say that she attends ‘’virtual classes”, but she just sits in front of her laptop all day. My parents often thank G-d for something called Zoom. I’m not sure what it is, but it seems to be important. My sister says the whole world is watching Zoom. Maybe it’s a popular series on Netflix!
Since I couldn’t ask what Ayelet is doing, I decided to take matters into my own paws.
I spent two whole days devising a plan to find out what she was staring at. I’m going to jump up on a chair next to her. Maybe while I’m there, I’ll take a nap, just so that she doesn’t become suspicious of my agenda. Then, when she least expects it, I’ll jump on her lap and see what she’s doing.
Today’s the day I put my plan into action. She has been on her laptop the whole morning, and I’m about to see the truth.
I can’t believe my eyes! Did I wake up from my nap? Am I still dreaming? Familiar faces are smiling at me, and I hear my name being called. People are laughing and saying how cute I am. These are Ayelet’s friends! I haven’t seen them at my house for ages. Where have they been?
Now that I think of it, no one has been coming to our house. It feels as if the world has come to a halt. Everything has just stopped. Where is everyone?
On Ayelet’s birthday, no family or friends came to our house to celebrate. Instead of the massive cake that’s usually served to hundreds of people, the cake was tiny, and eaten only by those at home. They were huddled around the laptop, and I heard “Happy Birthday” being sung.
This is all too much for my brain to process. I’ve decided not to use too much energy to work out what’s going on. I enjoy having my family around, and I’m grateful for each day that they spend at home with me.
From prison to pandemic
In 1945, I regained my freedom, only to be stripped of it again 75 years later. When I exited the gates of Auschwitz, I left behind the feeling of being trapped, the uncertainty of whether I would live to see another day, and most importantly, I departed a world of fear.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus, I couldn’t help but panic. But the panic I was feeling was different to that felt by my children and grandchildren. I wasn’t worried about the fact that I couldn’t go to school or how I would entertain myself during the lockdown. I was scared that history would repeat itself.
What if they blamed it on Jews? What if they sent us away again? As these thoughts whirled through my mind, I felt myself transported back to a place I never wanted to see again.
Sitting in a cattle cart surrounded by far too many people, the stench of human waste and decaying bodies potent in the air, I can feel the immense hunger and thirst taking over, and suddenly everything goes black.
I wake to the sounds of strong German accents and barking dogs. We are yelled at to get out of the cart, but my legs are too weak. I feel myself being hoisted up by stronger passengers, and I’m tossed into the outside snow and sent to the shower. The scary man in the white coat, aptly nicknamed the “angel of death”, says it’s to get rid of our Jewish “diseases”.
Shaking, I return to reality. I quickly phone my son and tell him to buy as much food as he can afford. He tells me that I’m being paranoid, but he has never felt the gnawing hunger I felt in Auschwitz. I made a promise to myself as I was exiting the gates of hell never to experience such severe hunger again, and I plan to stick to my word.
Suddenly, my ears fill with the all-too-familiar sound of anti-Semitic slurs shouted at us as my mother and I walk down the streets of Warsaw trying to collect the meagre rations that us “vermin” are permitted. We return empty handed.
My son arrives an hour later laden with groceries. I feel a bit more at ease, but there is still much to do. I need to check that my passports are in order in case I need to make a sudden escape, and I plan to visit the bank to extract enough funds to survive should there be an emergency. My son hugs me tightly, and wipes away a stray tear from my cheek. “Don’t worry Ima, you’re safe here.”
Waving at his disappearing car, I subconsciously touch the tattooed numbers on my arm, 329832, the testament of my survival. As I’m walking inside, I glance at the smoke rising into the air from my next door neighbour’s braai. My breath catches in my throat at the all-too-familiar sight. As I walk through in my front door, I glance at the pictures of my family plastered across the wall and it hits me once again that I’m a survivor.
Maybe it’s the similarity to the circumstances of 1939 that revives the trauma, but just as I survived the Nazis, I plan to survive COVID-19. It will be tough, but I’m determined to take this relapse of history in my stride. I’m a survivor.
Schools have closed, shops are letting in only 10 people at a time, the roads look as though the Dead Sea has overcome them. Our whole world has shut down!
At first, there’s a feeling of excitement. No more school! No more tests! No more work! But then there’s boredom. An endless list of things we could or would probably be doing if we weren’t locked in our house all day and night hiding from a threat that can’t be seen, an invisible danger we don’t see coming or going.
I’m going mad! I honestly don’t know what to do with myself at times. I find myself wondering in Wizards’ castles or on adventures with hobbits, dwarves, and elves more than I’d like to admit. It’s easier to escape reality than to face it, but it’s hard to escape when reality is all around us.
TikTok is everyone’s new addition, Netflix is a great way to pass the time, and meme making seems to be the solution to quarantine. Everyone is occupying themselves with something exciting, and I want to do the same. I just can’t think of anything I could do to bring excitement to quarantine. I’ve tried TikTok and my post didn’t go viral, I’ve watched everything on Netflix, and I just don’t seem to be talented with memes.
With nothing else to do, I call my friends to find out how they are holding up, only to find that they are all busy. Yoga was next on the list, and then I could learn to play the piano. After two hours of trying to turn the thing on, I notice the big button on the side that clearly says “on/off” and by then, I don’t even try anymore. I think I’ve lost it – if I’ve ever had it before. I’m not quite sure what “it” is either.
I’m waiting for the day we can go back to school, when the world wakes up, and we can leave our warm comfortable houses to go hiking in the hot sun and ice skating in the cold rink. But until that day, I guess I’m going to be so bored, I will have no choice but to do my homework. Of course, that’s what I was going to do until I decided to leave my room and converse with my siblings. It’s true what they say, siblings are annoying, but they aren’t too bad. I think I’ll stick around a little longer. After all, my homework is only due tomorrow.
- The school’s English department has sent voice notes of pupils reading their lockdown stories to Read for Hope, which will be distributed to senior primary school students who may not be able to access online learning.