Thoughts on Coronavirus and Kashmir

“This feels a little like déjà vu.” It was Sunday afternoon, March 15th and a text had just arrived from our kids’ school district saying school would be closed next week. That kind of message was all too familiar during our years in Kashmir.

The next day someone at work asked me how our kids felt about the school closure. I answered,”Well, they’re kind of used to school being suddenly closed for unknown periods of time.”

During the time our kids went to school in Kashmir they had school closures mostly for anti-government/anti-India protests that could either be spontaneous one day closures, or possibly a few days in a week if it turned violent, or even almost 5 months long when the protests were really intense like the summer and fall of 2016. We also experienced school closings from a massive flood disaster that shut things down a couple months, and even a swine flu H1N1 outbreak that kept things closed for a week or two. One of the most common questions our kids would ask us at night was, “Is there school tomorrow?”

While the coronavirus and its risk to the community where we live in America is different from the risks that were around us in Kashmir, there are some things about it that remind us of life in Kashmir.

  • Checking the news much more frequently than usual for updates on what may be happening and what else might be getting closed
  • Sifting through the various news, rumors and stories on the street to determine how bad things really are and how bad they might get
  • Having to think ahead about shopping for essential supplies like groceries and household items and being uncertain if certain things will run out of supply
  • Wondering if it’s safe to go out to visit people or get some shopping done (virus spores on surfaces at Walmart or someone coughing on you now being in the category of a stone throwing mob or militant gun fight with the police)
  • Finding activities, chores, and hopefully school work for the kids to do at home when they get restless and want to be able to see their friends or complain of being terribly bored
  • Going to work and wondering how your business may be affected by all of this, what might be some worst case scenarios, and how can you keep operating in spite of all the challenges
  • Praying for wisdom for those in various levels of leadership as major, difficult decisions need to be made that can help or hurt many people

I feel like my experiences in Kashmir helped me enter this new uncertain situation without getting too stressed out. In some ways it feels familiar and our family knows how to adapt and adjust. However, I don’t think I expected to experience this type of societal uncertainty in America.

There are also differences with the coronavirus situation compared to what we experienced in Kashmir. I think two main differences are 1) normal, high speed internet access and 2) the whole world is going through the same thing.

Restrictions to school and life in Kashmir almost always meant restrictions with the internet as the government would either shut it down completely or slow it down greatly to prevent locals from using it spread information. That made things a little more difficult. There wasn’t always easy access to news and info online, or even streaming movies/TV/music/games to escape for a moment from the situation. Kids didn’t have the option to continue school online like so many are able to do here in America. Employees couldn’t so easily work from home and still be connected to their office.

While Kashmir was often locked down, the rest of world wasn’t affected or probably didn’t even know about it. You felt more isolated, more like no one knows or cares about the tough things going on. When Kashmir made international news it didn’t last for long even though the protests or crisis continued inside Kashmir.

A Kashmiri friend in Srinagar sent me a WhatsApp message saying things were getting bad there as they also are getting locked down due to coronavirus. I feel for him and many of my other friends and hope things don’t spiral out of control. Kashmiris have already had so much uncertainty and change since last August.

I pray for God’s provision and protection for my Kashmiri friends, for their jobs and businesses to not be completely lost, for their children to again enjoy learning at school, for wisdom for their community and government leaders to make good decisions, and for hope and peace to find its way into their hearts. This time my prayer is also the same for my American friends.

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