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Student Stories

Student Stories

Blogs and vlogs from students of the University of Edinburgh

Photographic memories…

Reading Time: 4 minutes

…by Emma / from the United States / studying PhD One Health Models of Disease / 1st Year

I think everyone has an internal clock that started ticking the moment their personal lockdowns began, or when the “new normal” was introduced. Most people start counting from the middle of March, or maybe specifically from 11 March 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

My personal counter started on 13 March 2020, when the University of Edinburgh announced it was closing. I had just finished a week of dogsitting a sweet half-pit bull, half-Staffordshire bull terrier named Berry. I have a video of her from the day before, 12 March 2020. It is 08:01 in the morning on our first walk of the day. Berry has her purple harness on, I’m holding her red lead, and we are surveying the lightly snowy path in her favourite park. Berry is looking forward, intrigued by a figure in the distance. The snow on the pavement has mostly melted. As I pan from Berry towards the river, the green grass peeks from underneath the dripping white coverage. In this 7-second video, I can hear the ever-present Edinburgh wind. I remember taking this video to show my friends the snowfall before it was gone, an attempt to preserve a memory that was already steadily fading, drop by drop, into the river.

That is the last video I have of our “old normal”, or what I sometimes refer to as BC (Before COVID, haha). Of course, I had no idea that that would be the last video I took before going into immediate, indefinite lockdown. I am fortunate because I was prepared to do my Master’s online, had been accepted for further postgraduate study, felt comfortable in Edinburgh, and had a secure flat with 3 good friends. But it was strange suddenly having movement restrictions, experiencing supermarket shortages, and being acutely aware of my race as an Asian woman during a public health crisis that has been pejoratively called “kung flu” or “Chinese virus”. I wrote about these experiences in a different blog post.

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, a new way of working and living and being. Recently, I saw one of those cheesy Facebook posts that reads:

I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I want, now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have

As cringeworthy as that post may be, I think it is as accurate as it is corny. Many of us had big plans for 2020. For me, this was going to be the year that I would graduate, in-person, from my LLM in Medical Law and Ethics while my family and friends watched from the crowd. I was going to travel with my friends, one last adventure before we moved away or started new jobs or pursued further study. It is the year my brother graduated from high school, a ceremony that I never intended on missing.

But this year I also started appreciating everything that I built in Edinburgh: my social relationships, my academic career, my adult life. BC, I took pictures sporadically when something really funny happened, or when something novel happened, or maybe to post on Instagram. But since March, I have been trying to take at least one photo every day, originally to remember what I did each day and to prevent the days from blurring into one. Now, I am remembering to find joy in the everyday, and, when I look back, to discover moments that I thought were ordinary at the time are actually extraordinary upon reflection. As a result, from 01 January to 12 March (71 days), I took 205 photos and videos, about 2.88 per day. From 13 March to today, 01 December 2020 (263 days), I took 2,018 photos and videos, or about 7.67 per day. That is almost 3x more photos per day than BC.

There are some great memories stored in my camera roll:

  • a blanket I knitted from 6 different skeins of yarn
  • a spooky-looking St. Giles cathedral with 0 tourists
  • a bright day in Inverleith Park
  • my plants growing green and healthy in the dearly-missed spring sun
  • a perfect omelette that I made for brunch one day
  • a birthday cake
  • a shakshuka dish
  • A deserted Edinburgh castle
  • a day I got surprise flowers in the mail from a friend
  • the Dalgona coffee trend
  • a run to Braid Hills with the yellow gorse blooming
  • new yoga poses
  • a walk to Portobello beach
  • eating Five Guys along the canal
  • braiding a flower crown
  • attending the Black Lives Matter protest
  • temporary tattoos
  • dancing in the kitchen
  • spotting peacocks in the Prestonfield Golf Club
  • climbing Arthur’s seat
  • getting bubble tea
  • walking along the Water of Leith
  • making pizza from scratch
  • going to Longniddry at sunset and making a fire on the beach
  • finishing my dissertation
  • doing Muay Thai in the park
  • starting the first day of my PhD
  • the Botanical Gardens
  • charity shopping with a friend
  • a bubble bath
  • watching a busker in the Meadows
  • a yellow leaf in fall
  • painting my flatmate’s face on Halloween

Today, my flatmate and I met up with a friend and we did a gift swap in Victor Hugo cafe. While I took some great posed shots of my friend for her Instagram, what I will remember most when I look back on this day weeks, months, years from now will be the laughter we shared, how early the sun set!, and how fun it was to keep everything secret before finally revealing our surprises to each other. Today, at least for a little while, I was not internally counting the days since we left our ‘old normal’.

I hope that one day soon I’ll be able to reset my internal clock from 13 March 2020 and start counting from the “day that the pandemic was controlled” (I don’t think it will ever be ‘over’) but until that day comes, I’ll just keep taking my photos and finding the beauty in the daily.

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