What I learned in the Face of Covid-19
John Liebeskind specializes in Legal English and teaches Business English, General English and preparation for Cambridge and TOEFL tests, as well. He completed Trinity London CertTESOL ESL teacher certification in Prague in 2017. For most of his professional life John worked in law and holds an American Juris Doctor degree as well as a Masters (Ll.M.) in Intellectual Property law. A natural interest in technology led him to become certified as a software trainer in legal document review software and he spent many years training attorneys, paralegals and others in the use of these platforms. John has taught English online and face-to-face in the United States, the Czech Republic and came to teach in Bratislava in December of 2019.
This is the original version the author submitted without any editorial interventions.
When asked about what the Covid-19 crisis has taught us, I thought to myself “wow, where do I begin?”. The list of lessons learned is a long one and, surprisingly, much of it brings positive and productive ideas from a negative and frightening experience.
I learned quite a few good things about myself. Those of you who do not know me well might be surprised to be told that I am, by far, my own worst critic. We were all placed in a sudden and unfamiliar position requiring a great deal of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. I am not bragging or patting myself on the back when I say I am proud of how I handled the onset of the Covid-19 scare.
In March of this year when everything came to a crashing halt, I was a newcomer to Slovakia. My arrival was a mere 3 months earlier. I do not speak Slovak and I had no idea how to make a mask or what to do when there were no disinfecting agents available in the stores. But I learned how to make a mask. And some very helpful individuals told me the names of products that were previously unfamiliar to me (like Savo). I made a hand sanitizer out of high proof vodka, aloe vera gel and lavender essential oil. And I was still able to find bottles of Listerine in the shops. I went online and researched what materials I might already have at home and discovered that kitchen towels are some of the best textiles for keeping out the virus molecules. Scissors in hand, needle and thread within reach and plastic ties next to them, I began cutting up one of my IKEA kitchen towels. I was impressed with the result, and this makeshift mask provided the freedom to grocery shop and ride on public transit. My friend at home in Florida told me via online chat that my new homemade mask made me look like a terrorist!
As I rode on the tram or the bus and saw others wide-eyed with that initial look of fear, I realized I was not alone although thousands of miles from home. Soon I began to see random acts of kindness as I waited in line, properly distanced, to go into the supermarket. There was a man in Tesco who was responsible for dispensing hand sanitizer and checking masks and he was friendly and kind at a time when everyone was slightly terrified as these new measures were put in place. Gradually we settled into our new routines of staying home and venturing out as little as possible only to restock supplies. I was fortunate to have had experience with online teaching and training and enjoyed offering tips and seeing my less experienced colleagues rise to the challenge of learning a new skill. And they did so quite cheerfully and with enthusiasm. Thankfully, at least for a short while, a few online lessons a week kept our minds off of what was happening
As time progressed my thoughts wandered to times in the past such as World War II when people in my country joined together and did without. I realized that in the past, for instance, I had been interested in what my grandparents experienced with ration books and unavailable items. My grandmother still had booklets of partially used coupons. But then I realized with kind of a jolt that rationing shoes and tires and doing without ice cream and other staples and luxuries was a whole lot better than what was happening at that time where I now live – here in Central Europe! I honestly do not think that most Americans are completely cognizant of the horrors. We have certainly studied history but perhaps modern forms of entertainment – movies and tv shows – have desensitized us a bit. Being limited to small amounts of butter, sugar, eggs and other items sure sounded good by comparison.
Another thought that came to mind was that this Covid-19 scare was really the first time when the entire planet came to a grinding halt at the same time and all at once. Regardless of what corner of the globe we inhabited, we were all staying home and adopting serious measures unlike any before. How strange that realization felt! We even started to regain our senses of humor when I made jokes with friends and family about how lucky we were in Slovakia to live in a land when toilet paper was plentiful! My poor friends and family in the U.S. were not as fortunate. I needed no more details than that!
I even became a bit teary when I saw posts by friends around the globe showing people on their balconies coming together creatively while properly socially distanced. Human ingenuity really knows no bounds and we are resilient and flexible. In no time we were adjusting.
We seem to have now settled into a new normal. With that said, I fear that some have become complacent and try to find comfort in the mistaken belief that this is mostly over and that the worst is behind us. I must say that I dearly hope that this is true, but I also must say that we should not drop our defenses or lose site of the cost of discarding simple procedures. When I see people without masks or with their noses hanging out, I shake my head wondering how they think it is worth risking lives (and I also move away with haste!) I am horrified by the reports of my own countrymen who are so actively resistant to wearing a mask claiming their civil rights are being violated. They seem to believe that they are, however, entitled to violate everyone else’s right to not contract a deadly virus from some imbecile who refuses to wear a mask! Please do not think badly of my country. We are going through a rough patch and we find that, almost inexplicably, the tail is wagging the dog.
On a more pleasant note, I learned another valuable and impressive skill. As borders closed and my food issues were more difficult to satisfy without frequent shopping adventures in Vienna (I am vegetarian plus seafood for 10 years now but also have a lot of likes and dislikes that make food preparation an exact science!) I taught myself how to make bagels. Ok, now I AM going to brag and pat myself on the back because I make amazing bagels! And, for the record, the quality and selection of food in Bratislava is excellent but slightly limited (seafood, for instance). And as I learned the art of bagels, I discovered spelt flour. Spelt is not a common ingredient in the U.S. I now adore spelt flour.
To close this rambling stream of consciousness about what I have learned from Covid-19, I acknowledge that I have not perfected tolerance of others or any particularly noble traits. Those remain a work in progress and I remain hopeful. What I did learn was of practical significance and it gives comfort. I reaffirmed my ability to be self-sufficient when necessary. I found camaraderie in a shared experience with relative strangers. And I picked up some fun and entertaining skills to keep the boredom at bay as I waited alone in my fun little one room apartment. I sincerely hope that, as we have all discovered how to conduct practically every human activity “virtually”, we use this newfound adaptability to become more environmentally focused. I reflect on how fortunate I am up to this point to remain among the living. I regretfully mourn quietly over those we have lost – unfortunately, a few I knew, personally. And I wish everyone a safe and healthy existence as we continue to confront this strange and unique development in our lives.
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