June 2020: The New Normal

ECHO June update:

June has been our first month back at sessions following the gradual easing of lockdown in Greece.

We haven’t started all of them yet; we’re currently up to eight out of our pre-COVID eleven. Some may never restart; the pressures of this time as such that some community sessions have shut down indefinitely.

Meanwhile, new restrictions imposed by the government on groups working with refugees means that negotiating partnerships and paperwork delays our return to some government administered camps. Nonetheless we’ve been excited to get going with loans – read on below for some thoughts on ‘the New Normal’.

Thoughts on the New Normal

There’s been a lot of talk of the ‘New Normal’ to describe how life has evolved or been interrupted as a result of the spread of Coronavirus. The phrase has been used to describe everything from regularly wearing masks on public transport, to avoiding large gatherings or shaking hands, working remotely and countless others. In some ways it’s a useful idea: a tool to help settle into the long-term repercussions of the virus; even a way to continue to take care of one another. 

And, of course, at ECHO we have our own New Normal. We’re running sessions following new guidelines to ensure the safety of our library users and volunteers. We wear masks, as one of our younger readers creatively illustrated in the above image). We have hand sanitiser available at all times, keep physical contact to elbow bumps and limit the number of people entering the van to browse the shelves. Our readers have been understanding and if anything, limiting the number of people inside the van leaves us more time for a chat while waiting. 

But while this resumption of the library service can provide small moments of delight and novelty for our readers, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what should, and more importantly shouldn’t, be considered ‘Normal’ in the context of the ‘New Normal’. The term implies a relief from the restrictions of lockdown and a return to regular life, albeit with a few ‘New’ changes. For our library-users, and their friends, families and communities in the camps, the Covid-19 lockdown was simply a continuation of the restrictive, isolated and unsafe conditions in which they were already living. 

Similarly, the end of lockdown provides no moment of release or return to a tweaked ‘normality’. If anything, conditions at Malakasa, for example, have become worse and more over-crowded; likely a result of the Greek government’s evictions of island camps. 

So as we progress into this so-called New Normal, it’s important to keep sight of what we are unwilling to accept as status quo. Life is looking more like it was before the virus hit, but this should be a cause for urgency rather than relief or complacency. The need for safe, secure accommodation, proper life opportunities for refugees in Greek society and freedom of movement are of as much importance as ever, and until they are achieved, we should not accept any New Normality that comes our way.

By George Kafka and Keira Dignan

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