In the past two years ever since Covid-19 became a pandemic, life has changed irreversibly for many of us. Living under lockdowns, the temporary (or, for some, permanent) end of a working life, a drastic reduction of human interaction, mental and physical illness, the loss of loved ones - we have all lived through this unprecedented time and still the disease may be here to stay.
Living in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in London, I have seen how the wealth gap matters in a pandemic. I have witnessed that the economically and socially disadvantaged are suffering a lot more, both physically and mentally. If you were economically and socially isolated before the pandemic, your isolation would most likely have tripled during it.
Not least in our borough, but across the country, ethnic minorities are more prone to catch the disease - many of them being front-line, low-paid workers enduring high infection risks working in the NHS, care homes, catering, hospitality and other industries. Covid deaths are higher among ethnic minority Britons than among their white counterparts.
When the government asked everyone to clap for the NHS, what was never talked about was the marginalised people, unable to access healthcare like most white Britons. The NHS, like the rest of society, is ridden with structural inequalities and deep-seated prejudices which have been exposed during the pandemic. These inequalities in healthcare and other services are particularly prominent in a sharply class-divided neighbourhood like ours.
Throughout 2020, my partner Dave and I struggled living under the Covid outbreaks and lockdowns. We both had symptoms which indicated developing health problems, which led us to request tests and scans from the NHS. It was an unnecessarily long process, made doubly painful by the pandemic. At midday on the 10th of November 2020, after waiting and pacing up and down for two hours at the Royal London Hospital, we were given the news that neither of us was prepared for: Dave was diagnosed with stage four cancer.
"Oh dear, I am sorry," Dave said as he turned to me, as if to apologise for the prospect of his shortened life. I was shocked into silence. The news felt unreal. "Let me wake up from this nightmare," I screamed inside. When the consultation was nearly over, I burst into tears. As we left the hospital, we cried together in the street.
Dave's diagnosis crushed us and sent us into places where we had never been before, where we were led along by the randomness of fate. "I don't want to die. I want to be with you," Dave said to me one night. Heartbroken, we went into a cycle alternating between denial and despair. How do you live your life when you are told there is an end point coming sometime in the near future?
But over time, during 2021, we managed to find hope, because we desperately needed to hope. We discovered new strengths - and developed the strengths that I never knew we had. We have learned to deal with the multiple misfortunes that seem to rain down on us; we learned to drastically change the way we lived our lives - yes, we take long walks every day and have turned ourselves into healthy-eating freaks. Apart from Dave's chemotherapy, we explored various treatment options and sought advice on surgery.
Then, in February 2021, after a long process of demanding scans and waiting for results, I was diagnosed with an illness, too. Unlike Dave, I am an introvert and have chosen not to talk about my illness and its medical details in public. Suffice to say the problem was caught early enough and I'm going to live - as long as it doesn't come back.
This time has taught us so much about ourselves. It has truly been a self-discovery process for me. In adversity, I have learned to understand what's important in life and have become much closer to family and friends. I have regrets about things that I should have done in the past - visiting my family and spending more time with them, and talking more to friends. One of these friends was Larry Herman, a good person and a brilliant photographer whom I didn't see throughout most of 2021 because of Covid, until our last coffee together that December. Larry talked about organising dinner parties and looked forward to doing work again when the pandemic was over. Very sadly, he passed away, a few days after Christmas.
I'm turning my many regrets into action for change. We have re-established our relationship with our neighbourhood and our local area, and got to know it a whole lot more. Strange to think that all these years when I had been away for work, we had forgotten that there is so much to discover about the East End where we have lived for many years...
Here, I'm creating a photographic diary of our lives in the past few years in the East End, during which we struggled with the pandemic and battled with our illnesses. What we have and what we do in our local area have kept us going all this time. We're fighting on.