Coping through coronavirus: We're collecting voice memo diaries from Australians in isolation. Send us yours.

Source: The Feed

During the coronavirus pandemic, The Feed is collecting voice memos from people all across Australia. We want to hear who you are, where you are, and how you're getting through this. Call 1800 The Feed (1800 843 3333) to leave us a message and get involved.

In Sydney's CBD Sonia Mehrmand works from her apartment, waiting out the Covid-19 pandemic that tore through her family's homes of Iran and Italy shortly before it reached her own doorstep in Australia.

Meanwhile, Geraldine Buzzo's mother finds herself in Peru; what was intended to be a short holiday to visit family has become a precarious long-term stay amidst a nation-wide lockdown.

During an unprecedented pandemic, the internet has gifted us with the double-edged sword of minute-by-minute updates; both necessary and simultaneously anxiety-inducing. As the news changes hourly, so too does our understanding of the coronavirus, and our uncertainty around our personal livelihoods and our global future.

These fears are oddly unifying, at a time when isolation is the key to a flattened curve.

With this in mind, The Feed offers you intimate stories of hope, humour and resilience. Recorded as voice memos and sent to us by people around Australia and the world, each story is a small diary, a missive from a person telling us who they are, where they are and what gives them hope in the time of coronavirus.

As part of this ongoing project, if you have a voice memo you would like to share, record it on your phone and email it to Alternatively, call 1800 The Feed (1800 843 3333) to leave us a voicemail. We won't publish your story without your permission, so make sure to leave us a way to get in touch. 

On the 5th of April 2020, Zeinab Hamade Dib's father Hussain passed away. At age 92, he died just two weeks shy of his 93rd birthday.

Zeinab's father moved to Sydney from Maroun Al Ras, Lebanon in the 1970s. He had moved in search of a better life for his family and worked hard for it. He bought an old weatherboard house in Bankstown and renovated it himself. He worked at the Harrington Factory and raised eight children.

His wish was to be buried in the hometown he had grown up in. But as travel restrictions tightened and the borders closed, his family were unable to bring him home to his final resting place.

"In our culture, in our Lebanese culture, we also have a three day mourning gathering where all relatives and friends say our condolences and pay their respects," Zeinab said.

"It was very unfortunate that we could not hold a proper funeral for him. There are 30 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren who missed out to say their goodbyes."

Murtaza is a year 11 student who moved to Australia less than two years ago. As an Afghan Hazara, his family fled in order to escape the persecution of his people.

Murtaza's father had left for Australia on a boat eight years ago in search of a new, safe life for his family. It was not until Murtaza came to Australia that he was able to see his father again.

Coronavirus has presented Murtaza with both challenges and blessings. He is able to spend quality time with his father and the rest of the family, however, not being able to have a face-to-face teacher has meant that schoolwork issues, especially concerning English language, are not as easily addressed.

"COVID-19 pandemic was traumatic, but we have to note that we have been through worse than this, because, everything we have faced, all the bad things we have fought, and all the fears we have overcome," Murtaza said.

"So now, this is also our challenge, and we have got to solve it all together because individually we are a drop, but together we are an ocean."

Before the pandemic hit, Meriem had plans to fulfill one of her life dreams during Ramadan of 2020. She was going to do a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and visit the Al-Aqsa mosque.

"Jerusalem and Al Aqsa mosque have a deep spiritual significance for all Muslims around the world, and have a deep connection to the Islamic tradition," she explained.

Meriem works in the community development sector for Benevolence Australia. Since COVID-19 her efforts have shifted to maintaining community engagement despite social distancing measures.

"It does break our hearts that as a community we won't be able to practice our congregational prayers with one another," she said.

"Although we are not physically gathering, we are definitely keeping contact with one another through different online activities.

"We are staying positive as a community, I am staying positive as a community member, and I look forward to seeing everyone healthy, happy very soon."

Ann Huang and her family have worked in the restaurant industry for over 40 years. Her husband is a chef and she has done everything from waitressing to washing dishes. When the restaurant industry took a hit, Ann and her family had to look to new ways to make ends meet.

For Guadong and Hong Kong people, Yum Cha is an important tradition, particularly for elderly people. In missing out on Yum Cha, more than just a meal is lost. In an attempt to give people the opportunity to still have Yum Cha at home, Ann and her family now make Dim Sum and deliver it to people's homes.

"There's a lot in life that feels hopeless right now," she said. "But we share a heart as a family and the strength of our unity is powerful enough to cut through gold."

Melbourne-based Ronald Hay never thought he'd be a stockbroker, though he ended up working as one for 55 years.

Raised on a farm on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait, when his family sold the farm he went searching for a new career and found himself working at a stock-broking firm in London.

Nearly six decades since then Ronald has seen the ups and downs of the economy over the years; the Poseidon Boom of the 1960s, Black Monday in 1987, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the buoyant intervening years and now, COVID-19. The economy, he says, adapts. We have seen this in the wake of the internet, and he expects we will see it again now.

"Based on the past, I anticipate the share market will recover," he said.

"That gives me cause for optimism."

As a school teacher, Mehar Ahmad is no stranger to the disruptions brought about by the coronavirus. As her daily teaching has been disrupted, so too has her ability to practise her religion as normal.

"This is the month of Ramadan where Muslims all around the world fast for 29 or 30 days depending upon the moon," Mehar said.

"In previous years, we attended many Iftar dinners that brought on a beautiful sense of community, where we enjoyed a variety of multicultural food, sharing meals together, meeting people, making new friends and listening to keynote speakers."

With COVID-19 disrupting this sense of community, Mehar has joined "Recipes for Ramadan", an online recipe sharing website where people from all over Australia cook and share recipes for food they cook during Ramadan.

"Even though I can't host people at my place, I hope by sharing my story and recipes we'll somehow still be connected over the love of food," she said.

Sydney-based French horn teacher Chris Howes' father fought in World War II. He was faced with the harsh reality of war when his best friend died by his side. Howes' grandfather fought in World War I, having joined the campaign after his brother died in battle.

This family history has meant that for Chris, ANZAC day is a time to reflect on the impact of war everywhere; what it means for those who fought, died, and lived -- or continue to live -- with trauma.

Chris saw the COVID-19 restrictions as an opportunity to bring ANZAC day back to its meaning, and encouraged his students to play the Last Post, Reveille and 'Abide By Me' at their driveways.

When Virgin Australia announced it was going into voluntary administration, it left some 16,000 jobs in limbo. Cabin crew member Rebecca Bahmad was one of the thousands left in the lurch, now working two casual jobs to make ends meet.

"These are not jobs that are easily replaced," Rebecca told The Feed. "These are dreams that are being crushed."

As the curve begins to flatten, Rebecca is hopeful that the tourism industry will be able to pick back up again soon. "I just want to go back to living my dream," she said.

"I'm the sort of person who struggles with uncertainty, I struggle with change," Perth-based Peta Gava told The Feed, on a day when she should have been at work but was at home instead, snuggled up with her pet cat, Marta.

Peta has made a personal decision to try to see the benefit of her struggle with change during these uncertain times. "I think that that perspective is a gift, and I intend not to lose sight of that going forward," she said.

Jamie Lim felt horribly sick -- he had all the symptoms of coronavirus, but didn’t fit the testing criteria.

Figuring that the inevitable advice would be to stay home and self-isolate, he decided to go ahead and do just that.

"Being viciously sick like I haven't been for quite a long time, it makes you really take the virus seriously, whether I did have specifically corona or not," he said. "The jury is still out, never got the test, never qualified."

Right now, Jamie's experience is probably not uncommon. "I wonder how many people there are out there in my situation?" he mused. The answer to that, we simply don't know. 

Right before coronavirus took over the world, Marni Newman started going through a divorce. She moved back to Victoria from New South Wales to be closer to her family. Then the lockdown happened, and she found herself isolated from her family anyway.

On top of isolation and a divorce, Marni, like many, completely ran out of toilet paper. Relying on anything that worked instead -- mostly tissues -- Marni was going for a walk one day when a Quilton toilet paper truck pulled up outside the corner store she was passing. Finally, by chance or miracle, she was able to buy a four pack.

The second week of April marked the beginning of the Jewish festival of Pesach, or Passover. Typically, a Pesach will begin with a Seder; the whole family gathers around a table at home to tell the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. Together, they reflect on what it means to be free.

Despite Seders not being able to go ahead in their traditional form due to COVID-19, families around the world have turned to online portals and forums to connect and read from the Haggadah together.

"My family has certainly observed the Seder for as long as any of us -- well, long before living memory," 23-year old Joshua Kirsh said of the significance of a Seder to him. His family turned to Zoom to observe an online Seder this year, and in doing so found a way to connect with family members no longer with them, like Joshua's grandfather, who passed away in 2012.

Joshua's grandfather was a Holocaust survivor who spoke seven languages and used to lead the Seder in rapid-fire Hebrew before his passing. Using old videos of his grandfather reading from his Haggadah (a family heirloom) Joshua's family was able to include him in their Seder once more.

"I think to know that he had a family that was keeping those traditions alive after what he went through, I suspect that was really meaningful for him," Joshua said.

In early April, Japan's capital city Tokyo declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus. Nationally, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned about the risk of "business as usual", but did not enforce stringent lockdown laws like those put in place in neighbouring South Korea and Taiwan.

For English teacher Karina Zic, who was until recently based in Japan, this is concerning. Footage sent to The Feed by Zic's friends in Japan makes the "business as usual" mentality glaringly obvious: trains are packed, children play on playground equipment in public parks, and groups of friends gather in public for the cherry blossom season.

When Karina sent her memo to us in early April, the number of COVID-19 cases in Japan sat at around 4,000. On the 14th of April, this number had jumped to over 7,000 in less than one week.

As Australia's hospital systems prepare for a potential influx of coronavirus patients, many non-essential and elective medical procedures have been halted or postponed. That includes most IVF and fertility treatments, which comes as a difficult blow for those undergoing these procedures.

Fertility struggles carry a heavy emotional weight at the best of times, and pausing an IVF procedure is a daunting prospect that could set plans for a family back years. For older women, pausing IVF treatments indefinitely could mean the end of their fertility journey for good.

One woman whose treatment is on pause told The Feed she's getting through this difficult time by counting her blessings. Even the simple ones, like the ability to breathe.

While many of us are going through our first experience battling a viral outbreak, this is not the case for Melbourne-based Leah. A Singaporean expat who now lives in Australia with her young family, Leah was a university student in Singapore during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

She describes it as a nightmare. "Everyone was scrambling to find out why people were dropping dead. Why people couldn't breathe." Her experience living in a country brought to its knees by a viral disease has only reinforced her belief in the need for social distancing, and the individual responsibility of each person in a community when facing the coronavirus.

In an effort to keep isolation engaging for her three kids, Leah has put on online Harry-Potter themed talent shows, encouraged them to practise their Mandarin, and started a vegetable patch.

"Australia, what I really want to tell everyone is we're doing great. [We should] continue to fight this virus just by staying apart from everybody else."

Melbourne-based Win MacDowell has taken time during lockdown to think about - and be grateful for - his privilege.

"The coronavirus has made me feel hypnagogic - it's like a dream, it's surreal," he said.

Win, like many, is scared for his family but cannot overlook the good fortune he is in. He has a house to isolate in, clean, running water to wash his hands, access to medical supplies and is lucky enough to still have a job.

What gives him hope during this time is humanity. "Being able to see how nations have constantly shifted their thinking to a holistic level just to help one another - it's insane, like we're all in this together and now more than ever we need to help each other to make a change for everybody involved."

When the coronavirus first started to break out in January, Perth-based ceiling fixer Chen Li was 900 kilometres from Wuhan.

A Chinese immigrant to Australia, he was on holiday and visiting family in Fujian Province as news about the virus broke. Returning home to Perth was a relief.

As more and more Australians are diagnosed - and die - of COVID-19, Chen Li now looks to the slowing of the virus in China as a point of hope.

Sonia Merhmand was raised in California and now lives in Sydney's CBD; her family are Italian and Iranian. This familial proximity to two epicentres of the coronavirus pandemic has given her heightened anxiety of late.

Through these uncertain times however, her Nonno has given her hope. Diagnosed with the Spanish flu in Italy when he was nine years old, he survived and went on to live "a full and wonderful life", even becoming a doctor. He saw Italy bounce back from both a pandemic and a world war. It is this resilience that gives Sonia strength and hope.

Right before a near quarter of the world closed its borders, Geraldine "Gerry" Buzzo's mother went to visit family in Peru. Then, across Latin America, lockdowns began.

Gerry faced a great level of anxiety around her mother's wellbeing and the shared uncertainty of what would happen next. After consulting with professionals, it was decided that her mother would stay with family in Peru.

For now, Gerry has surrendered to the fact that the only thing she has control over is her mind. "[The virus] can take my body, it can take my money, but it can't take away my mind," she said. "So the way I react to this disease doesn't mean that I am not going through moments where I don't break down and cry... But the only control I have over this situation is the way I respond to it."

Anna Saxon is a first year graduate teacher, teaching at a small school in Western Australia's Wheatbelt region. The prospect of school closures in a regional area creates unique challenges around educational accessibility -- ensuring that students have a reliable internet connection, for one, is tricky.

In spite of the ongoing panic buying and desperate stockpiling, however, Anna's school community has shown solidarity in an unusual but useful way; surprise toilet rolls that people gift each other in office pigeon holes, snack boxes, and bookshelves. It's giving her hope that her community will get through this -- that we all will.

Want to add your story to this project? Call 1800 The Feed (1800 843 3333) to leave us a message and get involved.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don't visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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