Ka Mua, Ka Muri: On Hope, (Re) Imagining and Solidarity during Covid-19

Reimagining the shape and form of solidarity amidst the uncertainty of Covid-19.

Tahi: Washing hands in non-linear space

I wash my hands.

My grandmother passed away, days after a fantail kept flying into our whare, over and over again. It’s surreal not to be with extended family and be able to hug them. I feel relieved for my mum, because we’ve been so worried about my grandmother, locked in a nursing home and unable to move, her body static and filled with morphine. It is strange to have a family conference call via Messenger during her cremation, but I keep thinking about how lucky we are to connect in this way. I’m glad my grandmother does not have to go through this and that we are all together. Even if it’s through a screen. My grandmother was always a diva, so of course, she passed away during a pandemic.

I wash my hands.

What happens to the dead in these kinds of situations? What happens when the dead cannot be given funeral rites, and we cannot come together to grieve?

I wash my hands.

I feel my body ache. I’m reading about Italian morgues overflowing with bodies and crematoriums working 24 hours a day, still woefully unable to keep up with the numbers of dead bodies.

I wash my hands.

The cold water slipped between my palms the last time I went to an urupaa. My friend TK said that my tikanga was different from his because I wash my hands before and after. I’m not sure why I do this, nobody showed me. I suppose at one time I copied my father, but since then, I’ve always done it this way.

In the middle of the urupaa is a ditch. I’m told this was a mass grave from the 1918–19 influenza pandemic.

I wash my hands.

Maaori were devastated by the influenza outbreak. It is said that our death rates were eight times higher than that of paakehaa, and a quarter of mana whenua in Ngaaruawaahia died. Entire families were wiped out. All this at a time of deepening sadness, our men locked in prison for refusing conscription to fight in World War 1. Why would we fight for a government who dispossessed and scattered our people, land and resources? The pandemic moved quickly, but it was the secondary condition, pneumonia, that was what really killed many Maaori.

Those who got pneumonia would turn black before they died, as a result of broken blood vessels. Maaori had lower immunity, because of isolation from colds and other respiratory ailments. It goes without saying that the Crown left our communities impoverished, and without access to adequate housing, health care, sanitation, clothing and nourishment.

I wash my hands.

Maaori still have a shorter life expectancy, and we continue to be susceptible to preventable disease, respiratory disease in particular. Given these histories, is it any wonder that iwi have started to close their rohe? This includes Te Whaanau aa-Apanui in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and Ngaati Kaahu in Northland.

I wash my hands.

Pandemics do not just appear out of nowhere, they are a byproduct of capitalism and colonisation. Governments are nothing more than grim executioners.

I wash my hands.

Rua: Panic

Coronavirus has revealed that every crack in our structures is leaking. There’s panic. An impending sense of doom. Cardi B screams CORONAVIRUS. I can’t help but feel this isn’t the end of the world, but a beginning, a signal towards more plural forms of cohesion or destruction. Some of us, the lucky ones, have an opportunity for reflection. What does this crisis tell us about us – about our political and social systems, our histories, our communities and even our own bodies? What will the consequences be after this?

Personal borders close.

Geographical borders close.

Everyone is stressed and anxious and together we are hurting. How do families who have lost their loved ones heal? Communities ravaged by this virus? How do we heal?

Fantails continue to swirl around me when I go outside. I ask my boyfriend if it’s a bad sign and he says no, it’s a good tohu. I wonder if maybe it’s my grandmother saying hello, or my tuupuna telling me things will be okay.

I get mad when I hear that the rich are fleeing the cities and headed into small towns and rural communities. I panic because the infrastructure of many of those communities can’t handle this crisis. Rich people spread sickness to smaller and poorer communities like some people's lives don’t matter. New Zealand ships bringing influenza to Sāmoa and influenza decimating Sāmoa’s population. Sāmoa closes borders. Get the fuck away from us.

Things are not going to go back to ‘normal’.

I wait in a long line outside a pharmacy in Baixa Chiado, Lisbon, wearing a makeshift mask and gloves. I need to get my prescription filled before I fly home to New Zealand. Only three people are allowed into the pharmacy at a time. These queues we wait in represent new ways in which life and time has changed everywhere. Perhaps time has always been porous.

Toru: When I say eat the rich, I really mean eating the rich covered in butter in a haangii pit.

The thing is, people are terrified right now. I’m scared for family members who live paycheque to paycheque and don’t have any savings, who have tamaiti to feed and clothe. Children living in homes with their abusers, their only escape – school – now closed. And the more time you spend cooped up, the more hoha people get. Children, women and others who now have no escape from their abusers – this frightens the shit out of me. I can’t fathom the fear of those in that situation.

Then there’s the elderly with mobility issues, who are isolated and who might not have anyone to get their groceries. Homeless people who don’t have homes to isolate in. Without people on the streets – that’s income, food that they’re losing. Families living in cars, in garages. Crowded houses that hold two or three different families because they have nowhere else to go. How the fuck do you a) distance yourselves when you are living in a confined space, and b) keep mentally healthy when you have no place to escape to?

Not to mention the poor state of housing in many parts of New Zealand. How many die each year of respiratory illness already? It’s one of our biggest killers, and affects people in old and mouldy homes. They’re already so vulnerable. Rheumatic fever is 20 times more likely to affect Maaori and 50 times more likely to affect Pacific people than any other ethnic group in Aotearoa. Crowded housing conditions, poverty and poor access to adequate healthcare are known to cause this. TELL ME THIS ISN’T CLASS RELATED.

I care less about middle-class New Zealand putting up teddy bears in their windows for kids and more about what families who are struggling are going to do, when police have been granted unlimited power, including the ability to break up ‘gatherings’.

That reminds me of an 18th-century satirical piece called A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. In it, the impoverished Irish sell their children to rich English people as food. It’s bleak af, but in times of crises, there is always this recurring theme. In Western societies, poor people just don’t matter. The lives of the poor are expendable.

Comrade Britney Spears calls for a redistribution of wealth. Communion Moves Beyond Walls. Britney tells people to DM her if they need help with food and provisions during this pandemic. Britney has been under her dad’s conservatorship since her breakdown in 2008. Her dad controls her fortune and her business decisions.

I’m a slaaaaaave, for you.

Homeless and minimum-wage workers in India are starving because of a lockdown. Free meals are promised, but the lines are huge, and the food runs out.

I think what it would mean if the wealthy actually gave a fuck and I picture a world that will never exist.

Wha: “No matter how hard we try to foresee the future, there are always these surprises.”

I cannot stop thinking about what’s going to happen to all of the rough sleepers in New Zealand, especially now as shelters close. In Portugal, military-style police are patrolling the streets, ensuring people stay at ‘home’. I don’t know what this means if you don’t have a ‘home’ to go to. I’m worried about the kinds of power police now have, despite Jacinda Ardern urging us to not be afraid of them. I’m afraid of cops.

Please stop praising Jacinda Ardern for doing her job and her utmost to ensure everything returns “back to normal”. Hopefully, it won’t. We need a new system. This economic recession was always coming. We are in the middle of a housing crisis and a student debt crisis.

We must not forget that this government still occupies stolen land.

Give Hana their land back. Give all Māori their land back.

We cannot escape the racialised implication of policing and its legacies within colonisation, especially in Aotearoa or the settler colony, New Zealand. I’m worried about prisoners here in New Zealand. I’ve seen what is happening in the US, Iran and Italy and I’m concerned about the implications of surveillance and enforcement, and who that will affect given that most of the prison population is Maaori.

Despite the PM’s ‘kindness’ brand of government I’m yet to see how this has substantially impacted Maaori, because Cindy lied when she said “I want you to hold me to account” at Waitangi last year. She still hasn’t been to Ihumaatao.

Police having the power to enter homes without a warrant. I think of many Pacific people I know who live in a small and crowded house – three or four in each bedroom. Rheumatic fever. People sleeping in the lounge. Police having the power to enter homes without a warrant. Dawn Raids.

Most surveillance technologies, such as biometric identification technology or tracking devices, were developed to use on prisoners. These technologies were designed to ‘predict’ the future; to rely on predictive analytics from the past to determine the present. A prediction of a crime.1

As Octavia Butler noted, “No matter how hard we try to foresee the future, there are always these surprises.

I’m reminded of the people singing from their apartment windows in Italy last week and the karanga women must have called as they watched the bodies thrown into mass graves during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic.

In this crisis, we have two choices. Totalitarian surveillance and nationalist isolation or empowerment and global solidarity.

There is possibility because the future is not prescribed but inscribed. 2

Rima: Who is the virus affecting?

I feel frustrated by those saying things like “Papaptuuaanuku is healing” or “the dolphins are returning to Venice.” Humans are not the virus. The fact that sediment in the canals of Venice is no longer being disturbed, or that the air has cleared in China has everything to do with industry and exhaustion – Covid-19 restrictions reduce economic activity, thereby reducing pollution.

Whose lives do we grieve? Who is going to be able to survive this and who isn’t?

Boris Johnson and his call for the British people to “prepare to lose loved ones before their time”.

In New York, Amazon workers are striking and demanding that they have increased protective gear and hazard pay as they work through the coronavirus pandemic. Employees tested positive at one of the warehouses, but the building will not close: Amazon responded by firing the affected workers.

Even when this pandemic is over, we will have significant challenges to overcome if we want to dismantle the structures that deny some people elemental dignities.

People panic buying sacks of rice, potatoes, pasta and flour. Cheap canned goods. All the food bought by many who have less, because that’s all they can afford each week. Feeding a family on two-minute noodles. Feeding a family on baked beans. Middle-class New Zealanders buying up the food they’d usually sneer at, emptying the shelves.

Pākehā man films himself coughing on people at the supermarket. DISGUSTANG!

Ono: WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK / The imaginary dichotomy between ‘lives’ and ‘livelihoods’.

I was discussing with my partner the other day how it’s cool that there are options for people to work from home, but (and this is maybe a big call here) a lot of people who have that option are the least vulnerable. They are people who may already work remotely, with cushy office jobs and the like.

What about service workers? It breaks my heart – some people feed entire families from their job as a restaurant server or an office cleaner. Job security already affects our most vulnerable, and this is just another added stress.

I lost my job in Lisbon, which was the main reason I came home. The industry I worked in doesn’t have a union (in Lisbon or New Zealand) and in some cases I haven’t even had contracts, meaning I’m not eligible for sick days or holiday leave (or any rights at all). In one job I was fined hundreds of dollars for things like having a visible water bottle at work, despite not having any kind of salary and working solely for commission and/or tips. My visa was contingent on my working contract, but while working I was constantly aware of other bodies touching me. I couldn't isolate myself.

My boss was unfazed about the need for precautions, he refused to believe it was even a real issue and so I refused to do certain aspects of my job. We had customers from all over the world piling in, and many of them were sick. Even when the rest of the city was shut down, we stayed open.

I’m nervous for my friends without support structures who work in precarious vocations that were already precarious. What are service workers going to do?

So can we PLEASE stop talking about the concerns of middle-class New Zealand?

The portrayal of ‘real New Zealand families’ in mainstream media is just middle-class New Zealanders in nuclear households. It’s easier to pretend poor people don’t exist, easier to pretend everyone’s problems are the same.

High School Musical “We’re all in this together!”

I read something someone wrote today about Covid-19 being a disease that can affect everyone equally, implying that it’s classless, and doesn't differentiate between the rich and the poor. Sure, in theory the virus could infect anyone. But in places where access to healthcare can literally depend on whether or not you have money, is that really so classless? Where poor families are crowded into small spaces, unable to physically distance?

Staying the fuck at home is a privilege.

A supermarket worker in Dunedin was coughed on yesterday by an upset customer. In the service industry, your life – and the lives of those you work and live with – matters less. What if all the supermarket workers went on strike? Who would be villainised?

On my last day in Lisbon, the streets were empty besides tourists and the workers carrying ‘Free Tours’ umbrellas. They work for free and only make money based on the tips tourists leave them after the tour.

Whitu: The real question is, What kind of world do we want and how do we get there?

In this time of terrifying uncertainty, what form or shape could solidarity take? How do we reduce harm? How do we create solidarity with one another when we are in isolation and cannot kanohi ki te kanohi? How does Covid-19 reveal to us the way that these structures are failing? How has it exacerbated systems that were already broken? How do we imagine new structures to replace the ones that we have, which are not working?

Homeowners get a six-month repayment holiday. That’s great. I have family members and friends who have only just scrambled together enough money for a down payment and need weekly income to pay that mortgage. But what about our renters!? Many renters are renting because they can’t afford a home. Renters will be most affected.

Lots of my friends in Europe have been writing on bed sheets and hanging them from their balconies. They say a number of things, such as:








/ Free healthcare / No work / No paying / No debt / Free prisoners /

Everyone deserves safety and a warm home with everything they need to survive


One night in Lisbon I thought I heard an earthquake, but it was the sound of people clapping and applauding healthcare workers. At 10pm in Spain, Italy and Portugal there is the same thunderous applause. My younger sister told me they are going to start doing this here.

Where there seem to be endless impossibilities, there are always possibilities for change.

The real question is: What kind of world do we want and how do we get there?

Even at a time of extreme turmoil and panic, people are being encouraged to stay productive during the lockdown. You can still work. You can still earn. Don’t use this time idly. Make a plan. Make a schedule. Write. Write. Write. Sell your artwork on ig. Start baking. Monetise your crafting hobbies. Another day, another dollar.

Things cannot go back to the way they were.

How can we rewrite our futures? There is potential for revolution. For change.

How can we just accept the ways things are and not challenge the injustices that frame and shape our lives?

Mel C “Things will never be the same again”.

Waru: Gratitude

My body,

a physical organism,

stripped of contact,

devoid of vitality.

I gently touch my own hands.

My hands are sore from being rubbed raw.

My phone lights up.

Without touch, without skin. I’m suddenly so aware of the contours of my body and the way spores and cells emanate all around us, like wormholes in computer coding. I miss the person I love and resent the constant tightness in my chest, which is both anxiety and my bad heart. My hands are sandpaper covered in eczema, I wash them while I sing Kiss me thru the phone three times in my head. I excessively consume digital flows of information to pass the time and obsessively read about the spread of the virus.

The luxury of space.

I go for a run along an estuary past native birds and swans. This was once a place where Maaori harvested food. I run along the beach looking out onto the moana and past the oldest Presbyterian church in Otago. Atoms kiss as they shape together roads, which were demarcated using common English ‘land title’, for ‘industry’ and ‘settlement’ (violence).

I call my nana, who is alone in Tokoroa. She hasn’t seen me in two years, and when I tell her it’s me on the phone, she thinks I’m playing a joke. She says she wants to see me, but I tell her I can’t until it’s safe. She tells me to be safe because I’m young. It makes me laugh because she’s the one who is meant to be staying extra-safe, but she will always put her grandchildren before herself. She wasn’t alive during the Sāmoan measles epidemic, but I wonder if she’s thought about it as she sits alone by the fire. I worry about her but am thankful she has a warm house, relatives to drop her food and neighbours who chop her firewood for her.

Chatting to my dad on the phone. Growing up, he was always quite conservative, but he is softening as he ages. “The renters are gonna be hit hardest, Faith. They need to all stick together, the renters. Stick together in the face of those awful property management companies.” Yes, Papa. SOLIDARITY.

Every time I go outside, I am followed by a fantail. It zooms around me and acts as though it is both flirting and nagging. I keep wondering if it’s my grandma. When it happens for the sixth time, I ask the fantail, “Is that you Margaret?” The fantail flies past my shoulders before zipping away. My mum bakes almond biscuits that my grandmother liked and we drink a cup of tea.

While watching the 6pm news, I feel overwhelmed by the weight of my privilege and the love and gratitude I have for my family, whom I cannot touch.

Ka mua, ka muri

Safe inside my bubble I am safe

inside my bubble, I am inside

my bubble, I am safe.

Kylie Jenner ig bored in the house

and i’m in the house bored

I ask St Rita to watch

over my nana.

I talk to my her in my dream

maybe one day, in this new world, i’ll have a baby &

i’ll name it after you &

when we can all hold hands together

we will walk into the sunlight &

our hearts will be shining

1 Jackie Wang, Carceral Cancer (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2018), 48.2 Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility (London, UK: Verso, 2017), 236.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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