In the Time of Corona 2: Sustaining

Today was the first day of teaching online, and between the many online meetings with students and those with research team members here, there, and everywhere I spent the entire day at my desk, facing my small screen!

Into my day, and my house, passed a number of people: a delivery person dropping off a package. The BT engineer who was tasked with fixing my jittery broadband, who alternated between crawling around under my desk and pulling out wires from the cabinet at the corner of the block. My friend, who is a builder and was finishing the tiling and carpentry in my kitchen. Into my house they come, still working (because still needing to be paid, and because the jobs were still on their docket). The engineer asked me at the door, before he came in, whether anyone in the house had the corona virus. No, I said. Well, as far as I know. That I didn’t say. He washed his hands before he left.

My friend finished his work swiftly, drank a cup of tea while I sputtered on Skype and then vanished with a wave. His wife is home, but his work can’t be done remotely. In usual times, he renovates fancy kitchens for clients in Kensington and Chelsea. This week, he’s mostly sorting out the jobs for friends that he usually fits in on evenings and weekends.

Picking up my daughter at school the head teacher is nervous. He is not a nervous man. There has been no information he said, on when they are to close. The school is half empty, with many staff at home, already unable to come to work because of failing immune systems or sick relatives. He’s worried about keeping them safe, about continued access to the right equipment and supplies to keep the school clean.

As my work shifts to being undertaken in different areas of an 11-inch optical screen, these men sustain the physical, digital and social infrastructure of my life. And in the current moment they put themselves at risk to do so. We think of caring work as women’s work, but sustaining infrastructure, caring for the physical environment and the strategic level of the social environment is also care. And right now those carers are at risk.

On the other side of the world, my brother is taking unpaid days off from work, to avoid being on building sites and in busy buildings in his immune-compromised state. Is he too a care worker? In his case, the risk seems too high, for this virus could kill.

Care, risk, sustaining. These acts, these jobs, these responsibilities and relationships seemed so easy to take for granted. Before.