A Personal Reflection on a Himalayan COVID Experience in Queens

February 2020, Jackson Heights, NY, celebrating Losar, Tibetan New 12 months. My household, (from left to proper: me, my youthful sister, my mother, my older brother, my dad, my niece, my older sister, my uncle, lacking: my different older brother and his spouse) we dwell collectively in Queens. For Losar, we prayed for blessings, peace and good well being for all, in lower than a month, everybody in my household was sick with COVID.

Seven weeks in the past, I left my graduate research at Oxford and traveled house to Queens, New York.

At 3:00 pm, I opened the door into our front room to discover a tranquil house. Like many immigrant households in Queens, we’re 9 residing in a 2.5-bedroom condo, starting from toddlers to octogenarians; and occupancy is ten once I’m house. Although we’re 9, everybody lives on a special schedule: some work nights and a few days. So, quiet could be very uncommon. I noticed two figures mendacity on the lounge ground, which has change into an extension of everybody’s bed room and my niece’s play space. 

I cheerily exclaimed “Hellooo! Everybody’s favourite sibling is right here.” The 2 figures on the lounge ground moved barely and groaned. My mother was one in every of them and obtained up on her toes, struggling much more than the final time I noticed her. Coughing and crouched with aches, she went into the kitchen, began making me a cup of Tibetan tea.

My brother Tenzin serving to my dad arrange a gaggle prayer and meditation session with neighborhood members utilizing Zoom. Throughout regular occasions, my mother and father go to the Tibetan Neighborhood Middle in Woodside and the Sherpa Neighborhood Middle in Jackson Heights, a number of occasions every week for prayers and neighborhood occasions. Since, we’ve at all times been historically nomadic and now exiled in trendy occasions, shifting to a digital social surroundings has been a lot simpler for my mother and father, in comparison with their American counterparts.

I discovered my two-year-old niece, Mila, leaping excitedly whereas her cheeks had been burning pink. I hugged her and felt her operating a excessive fever; nonetheless, she needed to indicate me the brand new dances and songs she had discovered from YouTube. She appeared completely different from the final time I used to be house. Her every day routine of going to parks, library and napping together with her grandparents, has been interrupted with eight adults towering over her all day. 

Mila led me to the mattress she shares together with her mother and father. I discovered her mother and father coughing and laying on their backs. Mila’s mother, Shanti, is a nurse at a metropolis hospital in Brooklyn. She has been caring for COVID sufferers. Mila’s dad, Tenzin, is my oldest brother. My two brothers, Tenzin and Tsering, are NYC yellow cab drivers, they had been nonetheless choosing up unmasked passengers from airports and shuffling them across the metropolis till their leasing firm determined to shut the week of March 23. 

My youthful sister, TenDechen, sat up on her ground mattress and began taking a piece name on affected person updates. She is a analysis coordinator at a most cancers hospital in Manhattan, and she or he goes into the workplace each different day now. TenDechen put her name on mute and informed me our older sister, Tashi, a Nurse Practitioner at one of many largest metropolis hospitals, has been remoted in a household buddies’ basement as a result of her signs had been worse than others. Tashi had been caring for COVID sufferers, working 60+ hours every week whereas commuting an hour every approach on the subway between Queens and Manhattan.

I discovered my dad and uncle of their closet-sized bed room, which additionally doubles as our altar room. My dad is 79 and my uncle is 80. They every gave me uthuk, an affectionate Tibetan greeting of urgent foreheads and requested me about my journey from London to New York. As youngsters, the 2 had been Tibetan guerilla warriors who made the decade-long harrowing journey, preventing Chinese language troopers on foot and horseback, from northeastern Tibet to Mustang, Nepal, and at last making a house in a refugee camp close to Kathmandu. So, all my journeys pale as compared. They spent their nomadic childhood shepherding yaks and sheep in Tibet, their younger grownup years guerilla preventing on the excessive plateau, their grownup life portering items up and down the mountains of Nepal, and now of their last act of life, they confined to this 6 x eight ft room with a small window in Queens, NY. 

As I sat down for tea with my mother, holding her arthritic, sandpaper-like palms, she informed me that the older couple on the Higher Westside condo’s she cleans 5 days every week, had informed her to not come to work anymore. She then confirmed me a pile of medical payments and late discover funds beneath my dad’s identify, attempting to grasp what this all means. My 65-year-old mother’s traces have deepened on her face since I final noticed her.

Queens is a borough constructed with small immigrant companies. We purchase our greens from the South Asian grocery store, our rice from the Chinese language grocer, and our meat from the Halal butchers. Three of the 5 groceries in our fifteen-block radius have closed indefinitely as of April 20. The closed signal just like the one above is salient. Those which might be nonetheless open have 2-Three hour wait traces with costs gouged and provides low.

My mother remains to be in denial that we’re all sick with COVID. She grew up in 1950s Tibet, when a 3rd of her village in Dingri, together with her siblings, died from a small-pox outbreak. The ailing are shortly excommunicated from the village; rituals are carried out to out the malicious omen, and illness is seldom mentioned exterior of hushed tones. The stigma of sickness continues to seep into our every day lives. Everybody had pretended that all the pieces was regular till I arrived house.

Rising up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal, contracting and evading public well being hazards had been a part of our ceremony of passage. 1 in 5 youngsters in my neighborhood college had tuberculosis (TB) an infection. TB charges within the Tibetan refugee neighborhood is 5 to eight occasions larger than the worldwide common. I used to be heartbroken when my mother and brothers had TB. Loss of life was imminent and illness prevalent. 

My mother bears the load of all this extra closely than the remainder of us. She nonetheless can’t think about shedding any extra youngsters as she has. She copes by spending most of her day in prayers or on her smartphone. Residing within the exiled-Tibetan diaspora, my household is used to constructing a digital surroundings for themselves to remain linked with their siblings in Nepal, Tibet, India, and everywhere in the United States. My mother and father’ fingers at all times look uneasy and shaky after they maintain a pen between their fingers, however when they’re on their smartphones, it’s easy. 

I spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to file for unemployment for my mother and brothers, meals stamps, and social safety complement for my dad. It’s been seven weeks since I suspended my graduate research at Oxford, and since then I’ve been ready for our calls to be answered.

A group of people in a room

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My mother, dad and niece in our altar room, which additionally doubles as my dad and uncle’s bed room. My mother and father are performing Chöd, an indigenous Tibetan tantric observe, which precedes Buddhism, tapping on worry and selflessness to comprehend final vacancy.

My household is among the few fortunate ones in our neighborhood to outlive this pandemic with all members intact. Now we have all examined optimistic with antibodies now. A lot of our neighbors have misplaced family members. We gentle butter lamps and pray for them every single day. TenDechen, Tashi and Shanti are all again on the frontlines. We joke that nursing is the Himalayan-American dream, fulfilling our cultural precedence of training compassion whereas securing a pathway to middle-class America.

My older sister, Tashi, is a Nurse Practitioner at one of many largest metropolis hospitals in Manhattan. After being bedridden for every week with COVID, she is again to work together with her staff. After weeks with out PPE, her staff lastly has the correct safety to proceed their work safely.

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