from Nike in Katerini, Greece: Greek Orthodox Easter

On Easter Saturday at midnight Christ’s resurrection is celebrated in Orthodox churches. Not this year. The resurrection service of midnight mass was brought forward to 9 pm so the curfews could still be in place.

Last night our curfew was lifted from 9 pm to 11 pm. Honestly, it felt as if we’d been liberated after being long-term hostages. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder as I was actually outdoors after 9 pm.

There were police aplenty but this time not one of them was stopping anyone to check for documentation or to check on where we were going or if we were wearing masks properly. They all stood back in spite of the blatant breaking of, and frankly impossible to maintain, social distancing. Everyone was out on the street heading to church, even the non- believers, just to partake in the ritual of resurrection and rebirth.

I wasn’t going to attend: I was too busy because we can have up to 12 people to our homes if we are sitting outside. Our apartment is too small but my aunt who lives on the fifth floor has a penthouse which is twice the size of an average house and has a balcony as big as most backyards so we will be probably dining there even though I’ve set up the dining room for her. I’m doing all the cooking and preparing because no one can come and help me and the two old ladies just can’t cope any more with such activity. So, I was too busy.

But a wonderful neighbour called me and said, ‘Come on. Let’s get out of the house and go bring the holy light home.’

the holy light

I was wearing a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms. To stop, shower and refresh and change into a suitable outfit would’ve taken too long and I was in the middle of my work so I just threw a light overcoat on top of what I was wearing, grabbed a candle to receive the light, and went.

Do you remember the old barrel organs the organ grinders used to wheel along the streets sometimes with a performing monkey? Occasionally, you still see them here in Greece. They are called laternas. They are festooned with all sorts of blooms, ribbons and in general made as colourful or as gaudy as possible. Last night there were two types of women attending the ritual of the holy light. Those, like me, who pulled an overcoat over their work clothes and dashed out to participate.

It was only my politeness that stopped me from taking photographs to show you some examples but there is one set of massive bright orange tasselled earrings so long they hit the shoulder that are still fresh in my memory.

The holy light comes from Jerusalem. Every Easter Saturday from deep within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a light is said to spontaneously combust from beneath the marble that covers the rock which is said to be Christ’s tomb. We can argue the origin of that light for a long time but the point of this tale is to tell of how the light reaches us. How it originates is a secret the monks keep. And they can keep it.

The light arriving

The Prime Minister of Greece sends his aeroplane to Jerusalem and a guard of honour comprised of all the armed forces. As that church is primarily governed by the Greek Orthodox church, they are given direct access to the first emergence of the light and then they all get back on the plane and fly straight to Athens.

When it arrives, it is given the same honours given to a head of state with full military greeting, bands, processions, everything. It’s quite a spectacle.

But not this year.

The light arrived at 6 pm. It wasn’t able to be distributed to every city by 9 pm so the other cities further away will have had to compromise. Perhaps they can have a chat to the monks who guard the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as to how they create spontaneous combustion.

In spite of the drastically changed circumstances, my casual attire and the curfew it was the most moving Anastasi (resurrection service) I’ve ever been to.  I confess I did shed a tear. I’m far away from my adored children and grandchildren for whom I usually make these Easter feasts. I still don’t know when I’ll be back in my home in Australia but I have so much to be grateful for. I’m sending you some photographs but I don’t know that they can capture the atmosphere and emotion of the night. We’ve all suffered during this pandemic.

As I was leaving, I heard a man’s voice in the apartment next door. That man caught Covid-19 and spent three months intubated. He then spent a further three months in intensive care. He is home now so there’s a resurrection for you. On the other side was gloriously happily married couple with four amazing children, they both died within days of each other just last week, from Covid. We can’t relax yet. Another mini resurrection which means the world to us here in Greece, after literally months and months and months of lockdown, is that the cafes will open on Tuesday. I’ve never wanted to have a cup of coffee so badly. I’m going to dress up my two charges and take them out for the first time in seven months. I’ve been able to leave the house and do the shopping and minor chores those two ladies have not.

It does feel like a rebirth is happening it’s slow, cautious, but it’s happening.

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Level 3 Lockdown

December 29.

author: Louis van der Merwe. PhD, Strategy process consultant and executive educator

An emotional President Ramaphosa last night announced a return to level three lockdown to combat the second wave Covid-19 currently raging uncontrolled through SA. Hotspots isolate cities and specific communities while super-spreader events, mainly teen music-driven rage events, act as incubators and catalysts for infection of families and communities by returning teens. A further surge is expected when holiday-makers return to their city and town communities. A general disregard of mask-wearing other than to gain entry after which masks are discarded. Other safety measures such as sanitisation and self-distancing have with a few exceptions fallen by the wayside.

President Ramaphosa announced last night that we had passed the 1 million confirmed Coronavirus cases.

“Nearly 27,000 South African are known to have died from Covid-19. The number of new coronavirus infection is climbing at an unprecedented rate. More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.” He announced. The Covid-19 variant called 501.V2 appears to be spreading faster than the first wave of infections. Excessive alcohol consumption is driving up the trauma cases, including a spike in gender-based violence, in hospitals, putting an unnecessary strain on the already stretched public health facilities. During the month of December 4,630 public sector health employees contracted COVID19 bringing the total number infected since the start of the pandemic to 41,000.

Pitiful cries for help from doctors in the front line. They cry out; “Our hospitals are FULL, No oxygen points. Private hospitals are full. No beds anywhere. And we have not yet reached the peak. Unless we act now and act decisively the number of new infections will far exceed the number of infections in the first wave and thousands more will lose their lives.”

The National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to put the country into Level 3 from Level 1 with immediate effect. Several of the level 3 regulations have been strengthened while trying at the same time to keep the economy open.

  • All indoor and outdoor gatherings are prohibited except for funerals and other limited exceptions such as restaurants, museums, gyms and casinos
  • Funerals no more than 50 people with social distancing
  • Every business premises must determine maximum number of staff and customers permitted at any one time
  • Nationwide curfew extended from 09:00 pm to 06;00 am
  • Non-essential establishments must close at 08:00 pm

In an open letter to President Ramaphosa, Prof Thuli Madonsela reminds him and his cabinet that “People’s resistance to colonial and apartheid laws has taught her that when a law is unjust, violating it is not only justified but legitimate-it is exalted as heroic.” She goes on to state that any regulations must withstand the test of social justice and reasonableness, both protected in our constitution. Public policies must not only pass the test of reasonableness in a court of law but also in the court of public opinion. She warns that more people will push back against perceived excesses since parliament has been missing in action during the pandemic.

Food parcels are delivered randomly in a process tainted by corruption. As the ANC loses its moral authority as a result of duplicity, factional friction and lack of unity its ability to lead and demand compliance also declines. Modern government is built on the rule of law, accountability and capability. The leadership of President Nelson Mandela provided a  glimpse these foundations, not to be seen again since those heady days and the promise of a rainbow nation. President Ramaphosa must feel like the captain of a ship in stormy waters where the helm has become disconnected from the rudder, as the ship of state drifts inexorably towards menacing, submerged rocks.

The best he can do is light a candle at midnight and pray for the best outcome. May God bless him and his cabinet.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Waiting for the Second Wave – and a journey North.

The Australian. August 14.

August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections.  On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.

The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.

Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.

From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.

Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.

Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.

In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.

Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.

Western side of the ancient Flinders Ranges

We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.

I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.

https://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs/case-studies/sa/witchelina#:~:text=At%20just%20over%204%2C200%20square,by%20the%20Nature%20Foundation%20SA%20.

We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.

from SA State Library: a camel train near Farina, South Australia

https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/farina.htm

Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).

I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.