Technology in the Time of Corona Virus

  I don’t care that the Times is printing articles about Zoom Fatigue. I’m still charmed.

Tuesday Centering Prayer usually takes place in the neoGothic sanctuary of St Thomas More Catholic Church here in St Paul. For over a month, we’ve been centering via Zoom. Others – from Minnesota, California, Nebraska – have also joined.

Two weeks ago a group of friends from the convent, some of whom had not seen one another in 50 years, met for a Zoom visit. We all told one another how great we looked, though later some of us probably said to ourselves, “I wouldn’t have recognized —–.” Anyhow, by popular demand, we’ll meet again this week.

And a few days ago, the Retired Teachers Monthly Luncheon metamorphosized into a lunch-less Zoom meetup. I was mildly nervous the teachers (including me) would talk too much, but our facilitator graciously moved us along. I’ll bet we’ll do it again sometime.

But by far, the technological gift that’s offered me both the most heart-satisfying and heart-rending moments has been Zooming classes with some of The Melissa Network, based in Athens. These women, most of them young mothers, would normally be gathering for class in one of the generous spaces upstairs or downstairs. Or weather-permitting, we might be having class in the the garden of  Melissa’s gracious  old house near Viktoria Square.

“Melissa” is Greek for honeybee, and consciously or not, the name describes the low buzz which would emanate from groups of these migrant women,  mostly African and Middle Eastern, as they gather most weekdays for companionship, as well as classes and therapy of all sorts. They’ve nearly all made the sea voyage, a sense of which a brilliant young American writer, filmmaker, and Melissa teacher taught them to capture on film.

The women would have a hot lunch, and before or after that, French Press or tea; their preschool children went to daycare downstairs.

These days, as I say, we Zoom. We started with grand intentions (mine), dividing into Farsi-Arab-French-speaking ESL students; then I added an advanced conversation group; after that, a basic ESL, and eventually, a Melissa Moms’ English-speaking group, to which Elizabeth, has brought her Hong Kong expertise as artist and facilitator of other Zoom groups.

But things happen, don’t they?

I’ve let go of the Basic ESL, and I’ve merged Farsi- and French-speaking ESL students. I’ll probably merge some more next week. This week and also last week, two women wrote me to say they were now homeless, so wouldn’t make it to class. Another has lost wifi, and yet another has moved to a place without a connection. They can Zoom on their phones, most do, but Wifi is the great issue. When you borrow your neighbors’ signal w/o mentioning it to them, you fade in and out. When you change apartments, it takes awhile to get a SIM with WiFi capabilities. Some never will.

Sometimes I think of starting a Women’s Wifi Collective (JK).

But back to Athens — because Greece responded quickly and strictly to the pandemic, some places in the city are now starting to open. The mothers we met with today, though, aren’t at all sure they trust the city. To make the point, one of them sent me this video from outside her neighborhood market: social distancing outside, and a few masks, but not so indoors. We’ll see what next Thursday’s meeting brings to the discussion. And the Thursdays after that.

Melissa English Class back in the day.