“Having to stay indoors created a mentality of imprisonment”, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas told the “Greek News”
New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
We are not in an enforced lockdown challenging the spread of the coronavirus that much to the admiration of other countries, Greece is, but following the latest coronavirus guidelines issued on March 29, all Americans must continue to avoid nonessential travel, going to work, eating at bars and restaurants, or gathering in groups of more than 10 for at least another month, and perhaps until June.
Isolation for an extended period of time is something new for most; it is believed that a biological drive motivates humans to connect to others. Of course, no individual reacts exactly like another, as was clear when the GN asked 5 Greek Americans how they are spending their time during the deadly coronavirus’s shocking attack on life. As Thanos Davelis of HALC wrote, “This current coronavirus pandemic is pushing us into uncharted territory, and it’s safe to say it has upended our lives as we keep away from loved ones and friends in self-isolation,”
Reactions to restriction can evolve during isolation, as did those of Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, distinguished diplomat and currently a professor at Queens College, who wrote, “My first reaction was the thought that I should consider this an opportunity for introspection, to get to know myself better (αυτογνωσια). Very soon I discovered that I was too romantic and idealistic. Tedium took over. Having to stay indoors created a mentality of imprisonment. I soon realized the need to find concrete and practical ways to spend my usually abundant intellectual and physical energy, so I tried to structure my day accordingly. Every morning I take a long, one hour-plus morning walk in the deserted city, with mask and plastic gloves, listening to music and audio books. Then, I spend several hours emailing and talking by phone with my 15 graduate students, practicing distance education required by Queens College. A very rewarding experience! One of the best parts of the day is enjoying Penny’s cooking for lunch and dinner and her company for yet another walk. I never liked long telephone conversations, but I do talk, albeit briefly, to 2-3 close friends every day. On a news–fasting regimen, I try to get only the necessary information, preferably by talking to pleasant, good news-bearing people. We both feel reasonably depressed and somewhat fatalistic while taking the necessary precautions, but without exaggeration or panic.”
Taking an educational trip of the mind, film producer and Greek American Community activist, Frosso Tsouka, who lives in Astoria, told us, “I try to go out once a day, even if it is to the corner store. If it’s a nice day I take a longer walk. I cook and bake. I make my own bread. I do my crafts, and last but not least, I got tired of movies and instead started watching lectures on Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire that I find online (even from universities such as Yale and Columbia). I always wanted to learn more about this period of history and now is the perfect” opportunity. And there is really s great wealth of material online. As for books, with my public library card I can get eBooks on any subject.”
In the Chicago Greek American community, Dr. Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, a professor at North Park University, is taking advantage of the extra time to clear up work while “still sticking to a schedule,” and not going out except to walk her dog. “Since I am now teaching asynchronously online, every day I am able to grade and communicate with my students when I decide to do so. I have also added daily rituals to my schedule which include calling more friends and relatives in the US, Greece and Italy, taking walks with my dog, writing my book, and striving to accomplish those long avoided tasks—deleting tons of emails, word document files and deep cleaning my home. More importantly, instead of feeling overwhelmed, isolated and lonely, I focus my thoughts on the future when this will be over and how I will finally be able to work, socialize, and travel with a clearer mind and an emptier to-do list. Staying busy, keeping a positive mindset and being active are essential in beating the coronavirus blues.
What has impressed Vickie Folias, schoolteacher in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the human element, the feeling of loss and regret others have shared with her, beginning, in a lighter vein, with one of the “biggest complaints: lack of coffee-time with friends.” “People miss knowing what is going on in their friends’ lives, being a physical part of their lives, and being part of their own families, too. The idea of sharing means belonging… missing feeding their grandkids, touching them, being a physical part of their lives, making sure they’re okay, ensuring that they cannot live without their grandparents.”
The work of Thanos Davelis, Director of Public Affairs at the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), helps to bring the community together at this time. He writes, “At HALC, we were always well set up for virtual programming. When the first calls for social distancing were made, we knew we had the playbook to do this well. We see this as a real plus as the organization is helping to maintain the strong sense of community it has built over the years. . Because of our large following and membership, we can reach the community from coast to coast. Our upcoming series celebrates the 2500th anniversary of the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. … While we can’t physically be near one another, the virtual tools available to us are ensuring that physical isolation doesn’t result in social isolation–which is crucial for all of us to get through this. We have to find ways to stay active and creative outside of work. One of the ways I’ve done this is through reading. The second way is music (I play bouzouki), where I’m finding new ways to stay creative remotely with musicians in other cities.”