One of my recurring fantasies is that I walk through an imaginary city in which it is up to me to decide the neighborhoods, monuments, streets, languages, the weather, the friends I want to visit… That imaginary city is the sum of a thousand corners from other real cities. I do not really create anything, I just build a kaleidoscope with the memories and experiences of places like Sarajevo, Barcelona, Maputo, Quito, La Paz, San Salvador, Lima, Luanda, Cape Town … I walk through Ferhadjia in Sarajevo. I turn right and I am in front of a huge park bathed by the Madre de Dios River of the Bolivian Amazonia. I enter into its greenery and come out on the Plaza de la Independencia in Quito. When I cross the immense Plaza I catch a glimpse of the corner between Julho 24 and Julius Nyerere in Maputo and its constant air swirl, the cashew sellers… Then I take a Paceño cable car to go higher … it is an infinite journey, everything is friendly in my imaginary city, it is full of acquaintances whom I can see just by wishing it.
Imaginary Cities – Drawing by Tristan Pauli
Psychologists say that confinement sharpens fears and can bring out the worst in us. I take refuge in my imaginary city when the walls narrow, the oxygen is lacking and there is an excess of screens. As the days go by, this fantasy becomes more acute. I am perfecting my imaginary city: I add smells, glows, flavors, oxygen levels … I can spend hours on that trip looking in my neural agenda for the voices of the people who live in those corners and that, like me at the moment, are locked up in their houses, asking themselves endless questions. And at times I feel that this confinement of almost half of the planet’s population makes my imaginary city more real. I think other people, the ones I love, are also on their mental journeys, also dreaming that with a single click they can see themselves anywhere on the planet … I feel that I am closer to all of you, now that we all have to live the same reality. I close my eyes…
And I see Jasmina going out on the balcony to smoke a cigarette. The sky is deep blue, a beautiful spring day. She leans on the railing and in front of her building she can still see the remnants of shrapnel on the neighboring facades. Sarajevo has a trauma, more than four years of siege. That means thousands of days locked up at home, Jasmina thinks. The current situation reminds her of those tragic days. Look around you: the city in the valley, surrounded by a chain of wild mountains just a few hundred meters away. Nature, she thinks, is giving us a signal, warning us and perhaps threatening us. She feels like we forgot about her for a long time and now she throws a wake-up call. Silence, the city breathes silence. Restaurants, bars, shops, schools … everything closed. At night, curfew. More similarities with war. And the future, without perspective, without income.
Locked in their houses, she thinks about the women for whom she works. Some may be shut away with their assailants, others in the safe house. Jasmina moves slowly around the balcony while thinking that difficult times are coming but, as always, she knows that the people of Sarajevo will pick themselves up … grenades, bombs, crimes failed to prevent it, a virus will not either. She comforts herself by rocking in her fantasy, as simple as it is endearing – again, we will have a coffee together, laugh together and create a better life. She thinks of us, of our children and all the people in need who, after all, matter more than we do.
When I leave Grvabica in Sarajevo I take the Suada and Olga Bridge. I breathe a deep smell of humid forest and a tropical air brings me resigned sighs. A country sighs, Ecuador, which was already facing a deep crisis in these times, after ten years of growth and distribution.
There goes Catalina with her mother to have a coffee on the porch of her house in beautiful Loja, Ecuador. She feels that the peace of that rural environment is the antithesis of the catastrophic news blitz. Look straight ahead at the vast meadows, the houses in your environment that tell you so much about how people live. Life turned us around, she thinks, the planet itself has imposed this indefinite, uncertain, strange pause. The casualties that the newspapers announce make her skin bristle, there are no borders, ages, ethnic groups, social classes … although in Ecuador, as in all of Latin America, inequality will take the poorest first, who will not be able to endure a quarantine that will simply leave them without food on the table. This half-cooked State leaves many people in the gutter. Just a few weeks ago, they were still taking measures to get rid of public workers, many of them health workers, who had joined the State in recent years.
The advice from and deals with the IMF and the World Bank came at the worst of times, and in Ecuador they had eager ears to listen to them after years of accolades to the financial structures that have consolidated neoliberal globalization. Cities have responded, Cata thinks, as much as possible. Cities have not fought each other for centuries. States have not stopped doing it. Humanity is in the cities, in my neighbors. She talks and talks with her mother, they dream that this is the end of a world and that the one who comes will be less ostentatious, simpler and more conscious. They remember other crises that devastated their country, the “Bank Holiday” and the massive migration of hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians. That seemed like the end of the world, but still, it was the end of one world, the beginning of another.
I go out through the backyard of the Loja country house, and walk down Riberalta’s Beni Mamoré Avenue. I still manage to find fragments of the statue of Hugo Chávez scattered everywhere. On October 20, some residents demolished it, at the same time that 13 years of Evo Morales government collapsed. More than a decade of the most significant social progress in one of the poor children of Latin America, Bolivia, disappeared in just a few hours.
In suffocating heat, María Angélica and her daughter Ámbar take refuge in their home. Despite being Venezuelan, María Angélica feels 100% Riberalteña. She has tramped around every neighborhood in the Amazonian city. She remember the surveys they did, house by house, to find out how people lived, what their residences were like, how many pregnant women, how many old people, and how that marked the health of their people. How useful that information would be if the government wanted to alleviate the damage to the poorest! María Angélica has Riberalta mapped on her head. She does not stop making mental numbers and estimates that more than 70% of the population lives from informal work. What they earn that day is what they eat that day: motorcycle taxis, Brazil nut manufacturers, domestic workers … The people are starving and street protests are beginning to emerge after 10 days of measures … and ther are at least 15 days left. She reads the news from Europe. In Bolivia, confinement is even stricter. Depending on your ID number, you can go out just one day a week to make purchases. 8-year prison terms for breaking confinement. There is a debate between the lack of freedom and the absolute awareness of having a weak health system that could not bear an avalanche of cases. She feels fear.
The lack of humanity is evidenced in real cases: dead people who cannot be cremated due to lack of money from their relatives, corpses that cannot be given peace…. She reads the press, watches TV in the company of her daughter and mother. Three generations live together in these times of confinement; they talk about their lives, their past, their fears and illusions. She knows this is a gift she will never forget. She watches her daughter playing with dolls and telling those inanimate pieces of plastic to wash their hands before playing kitchen games. María Angélica, who knows how parasitic diseases kill thousands of children in her region, dreams that this crisis may change habits that save lives.
One last walk. I step on streets of Amazonian red earth and continue towards the outskirts of my Babel, towards the Xai-Xai beaches in Mozambique. From a bird’s-eye view, I only see the warm chaos of a city in an African province. When I enter the house, I find Violeta and her family, and a guest who is there to stay – fear.
Violeta knows that she was raised in a country that is barely 45 years old. The State today is a mirage of what it tried to be. Only the symbols, flags, hymns, speeches that speak of the people and a wild economy that forgets the majority have remained. Her critical mind does not stop questioning everything that comes from the hand of this virus. She is African, and she knows how the disease kills unequally and how business and health exclusion also come hand in hand with the disease. She reads news about private clinics in Maputo announcing hospitalizations to treat the virus worth 2,500 Euros. In a country where the majority of the population lives on less than $ 1 a day, only the elites will be able to survive. She does not understand how in Mozambique they intend to take the same measures as in some European countries. The virus is the same, the realities are not. She walks up and down her dining room while she watches her son and asks herself every time she hears the “fiquem em casa”, what house are they referring to? Thousands of people live on the street and, in other cases, their houses are nothing more than a tin roof under which families of seven or eight members live, hundreds of thousands of people who work on the street and what they earn today, that’s their bread.
She is afraid of coming layoffs, altercations, social chaos, ultimately more deaths. The last days she went to work she heard on the streets that the disease is sent by the devil, or perhaps God. They talk about miraculous remedies to cure the new virus: mixing water with hair that has been preserved between pages of the Bible. Despair knows no bounds. She has a recurring dream: now that they cannot go to foreign countries, she fantasizes that the wealthy classes of Mozambique use the public health system so that finally they feel what it is to belong to the people. And why not dream that this will be the case in the future? It would be the best indicator that we have really built a system for everyone.
I walk along the Xai-Xai beach and see the Barceloneta in the background. A few more meters and I am home. Sounds of pans come to me, screams, whistles, applause. My eyes are wet. I join the ovation. May this recognition of those who care for us never end. I open my eyes.
This notebook has been possible thanks to the reflections of Jasmina Mujezinović (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Catalina Arrobo (Loja, Ecuador), María Angélica Rojas (Riberalta, Bolivia) and Violeta Bila (Xai-Xai, Mozambique). Hvala, thank you, obrigado, my friends, and keep fighting for a better world wherever you are. I hope to be able to meet face to face with you soon.
Director of International Relations
Translate by: Frederique Vilter and Francesc Alvarez