Chapter 48: Generation Covid

My sister never liked bananas. They still disgust her; their mushy consistency make her gag. When we were younger, my mum would often tell us the dramatic story about how she bought bananas for my sister back in the days when concrete-grey Plattenbau were still as subsidised as Marxist ideologies. It was the time my sister came into the world and the iron curtain still divided my home country into East and West Germany. Since I am a 90’s kid, I never saw what it was like to live in East Germany under Soviet leadership; neither did my sister because the Berlin Wall came down before her memory became reliable. But our parents grew up being conditioned to a communist system during their entire youth until the fall of the Berlin wall teared down Eastern-bloc bricks two months prior to my mum’s 26th birthday. Thus, my parents had a cassette’s tape of stories about former Soviet oddities and commodities to share.

The banana story is one of my mum’s classics. On a spring day, warm enough to bask in an allotment garden, work colleagues passed my mum inside information about the exclusive whereabouts of bananas at their local cooperative shop. You must know that bananas were traded as rare goods in East Germany and people seized them at the shop as if they were D-marks or a Westpaket*. Like Westpakets, bananas shipped in from the West, the enemy’s territory. The fruits therefore rivalled the scarcity of public criticism directed at the communist system – though opposed to bananas, the latter was officially censored and shut down by the state.  

Because bananas were mongered as gold nuggets amidst the fruit isle, people obsessed about them, so much that they would sacrifice hours of their day to queue for the edible luxury. On said spring day, my mum was one of these people who joined the long queue for some brown-freckled starch, hoping to scoop a yellow-peel bargain. The odds stood in my mum’s favour. For one, she had the advantage of working half-day shifts which allowed her to freely go the shop at the middle of the day, as opposed to her colleagues who were still under the surveillance of their clock cards. Soviet Germany did not have many trumps to play against its Western twin but the state’s benevolent childcare entitlements were certainly stitched on its strong suit. For another, my mum was fortunate in securing a few precious bananas from the store.

*a care package sent from family in West Germany containing sought-after products that were unobtainable for East Germans in the GDR.

My mum carried the bananas home as if they were a prize she won. She immediately prepared them as a special treat for her beloved baby girl. But her efforts and patience at the store were returned by ungrateful, puked banana mash a moment later. Watching her baby, my sister, disgorge the expensive rarity exiled her into a shocked outrage over this disaster. How could her baby despise bananas?

I could never fully sympathise with my mum’s fuzz about the banana incident. It was an entertaining story to me nonetheless, and I loved listening to it even for the hundredths time. Though, for my mum it seemed to be more than a mirthful anecdote. The experience was apparently so minting that it stuck with her for years. My mum remembered all the details as if it had only happened yesterday. The German division and the conditions under a Soviet government notably affected the everyday life for my mum as well as many others of her generation. It is thus not surprising to see traces of former communist Germany wired into her personality, even decades after Germany’s reunification.

Every generation shares their own batch of historical events which characterises them in a distinct manner, setting them apart from other generations. It is like an unmistakable badge hanging from their shoulders of time-bound, unique experiences. I remember how bewildered I inspected my granny’s pyramids of bread and condensed milk under the stairs leading up to our attic. She stockpiled dry foods in the same fashion as rodents cache for the winter, and her supplies of these basic plate-fillers never seemed to shrink. Once when I sat at the kitchen table with my parents, I pointed out my granny’s odd habit of hoarding. They seemed not surprised at all considering that my granny was reared by the stale smell of war and the deadly taste of famine. With more rubble from bombings than food available, my granny learnt an essential lesson from post-war misery when she was only walking in toddler’s shoes: keep emergency stocks at any time to prevent starvation from severe supply shortages in the future (when the next war rampages).

I wonder how the current pandemic will spread into our life, mind, and routines in the long run. What aftermath will Covid incubate in our psyche? Will Generation Covid become germophobia-ridden? Will the scare over viral infections ban the public display of affection and thus forbid hugs, kisses, or holding hands? Will hand sanitisers become a purse essential and will face masks stay around as a fashionable accessory? When people sense symptoms of sickness, will they stay at home more readily due to a newly developed awareness over the responsibility we have to keep others safe and healthy, especially the most vulnerable?

What stories will we tell our children, the new generation that does not know what it means to implement social distancing? I imagine myself giving account of the raging despair over queuing in front of a supermarket – not for bananas but for toilet paper which claimed the rank of the rarest good during the first blow of Covid-19. I am sure my children would find my toilet paper anecdote amusing although they would probably not understand the fuzz about some white sheets for wiping your bum. I would also tell my children about the many two-meter-distanced walks I went on with people since there was no other way to meet and speak in person.

Even after the pandemic has reverted back to normality, I hope to continue the tradition of catching up with friends by going for a long stroll where we fill our lungs with fresh air and our eyes with the neighbourhood’s finest nature and architecture. What do you think? Which quirks will generation Covid become known for?

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