When global bridges falter

Screens and masks are complexly intervening in Courtney Anderson's particularly globalised life. Quarantined in southern France, she can seem almost dangerously close to her students in China, but has never felt further from her parents across the Atlantic. What can we salvage?


My cough bounces off the white walls of my bedroom like an echo chamber, reminding me that I’m self-quarantined because I have Covid-19. Or at least, I think I have Covid-19. All of my symptoms match the description but a testing shortage in France has left me, and many other people, guessing. I snort and hack over and over to try and get everything out dangling in the back of my throat, like an exorcism of negative thoughts. But like the consistent dripping of mucus, those thoughts and questions persist. What about the people on an ICU bed, without an ICU bed, or jobless with kids to feed? What if my parents get sick? When will I not be contagious? Could I reach my family in case of an emergency? Will I be able to re-enter France?


Illustration by Amelia Akerhielm


I was born and raised in the U.S. state of Montana, surrounded by prairies that rise into pine trees and peak into rigid horizons. Now I live in southern France, where lavender fields meet crooked stone houses framed by pastel shutters. Both are beautiful; both are over 8,000 km (5,000 miles) away from each other. I’ve never felt farther away from home than I do now, though, with the Covid-19 closing borders and my entire family across the Atlantic.


I think most of us have become accustomed to the benefits of globalization. I was raised with the internet, commercial flights, flip phones, and the relentless romanticism of travel. Then, 8,000 km away didn’t seem so far. Back then, the biggest barrier was the fluctuation of flight prices. These globalization bridges bring us all a little closer, but what happens when those bridges collapse?


I called my siblings to discuss who will go first to take care of our mom and dad, who both have been smoking for most of their lives. Our parents are almost in their 70s, with my father recovering from a surgery and my mother now working from home for a hospital. A hospital where masks and other necessary medical supplies are in-stock, for now.


Masks are running out in France. Members of the National Assembly said they were supposed to have the best protection to prevent the virus, FFP2 masks, but have about 150 million surgical masks instead. The production of the FFP2 masks have been outsourced to China, and ordered only on a need-by-need basis, which poses a logistical problem considering China has been in lockdown since January.


'Worldwide integration has made us care more about one another; as one nation succumbs to the damage of the virus, others feel it too.'

It’s curious that something so small can threaten our health and slip through fortified societies to imperil a globalized economy. Worldwide integration has made us care more about one another; as one nation succumbs to the damage of the virus, others feel it too. Day to day, I look forward to working, which I am privileged enough to do from home. I teach English to Chinese students online, many of whom are also quarantined. I feel more connected to them than ever, as France is also under a lockdown. Oddly, I am still able to work and they are still able to go to class thanks to globalization.


At the same time, the global 'optimization' of business has left us exposed — literally without masks. And many of those who are exposed continue to work amidst the pandemic, becoming even more vulnerable economically and the most vulnerable to the virus. How can we keep the parts of globalization that bring us together and create a sort-of global citizenship, while maintaining boundaries to protect each other from dependency and optimization?


Over a Skype-like application, I often ask my students how they are doing and if their family is OK. Sometimes my cough slips out during class, and my students look at me wide-eyed, until they quickly remember that there’s a camera between us.


They often ask if I’m OK.


This story was shared by Courtney Anderson, who is a journalist and an English teacher from the USA, living in France.


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