12-year-old Rachael Chun looks out at clouds and other skyscrapers from her window in Birmingham.
Everyone is full of people like her who are locked down. In Madrid, 10-year-old Sara Martínez Quevedo is also trapped in a small apartment. Her face is framed by a map of a world that is currently closed to her.
“Were you scared?” Rachael asks when their two faces float next to each other on a zoo call.
“At first I was very scared,” nods Sara. “Especially when I got sick. That was very horrible. How about you?”
“I don’t think I was too scared, I was more concerned,” says Rachael. “I think I was luckier because I never really got sick.”
Although Sara and Rachael are 1,000 miles apart, they both belong to the Covid generation, children whose world has been fundamentally changed by the coronavirus.
Both have experienced a strict lockdown in small spaces, in inner cities on the front lines of the covid pandemic.
While children seem less prone to the virus, they experience other social side effects. Both have had school breaks and struggle with loneliness, sadness and boredom.
“I was also very bored, but I was also very depressed because I couldn’t go out for three months,” admits Sara Rachael.
“The only reason I could go out was because my dad would let me take the trash with me sometimes. But most of the time, I was stressed because I couldn’t go out.” She shakes her head.
“Then I got sick in the middle of it so I had to see the doctor. They did all the weird tests and looked at me and said I had the coronavirus. It was very horrible. I had to wear my mask and gloves to go to the doctor go. “
The Daily Mirror invited Sara and Rachael to zoom in to chat as part of our groundbreaking Europe Talks project.
As the UK nears the end of the Brexit path on December 31st, we are working with German news agency Zeit Online and newspapers in 13 other countries to connect people in 15 countries for one-on-one conversations.
So far, around 17,000 people from across Europe have registered, including 2,700 people in the UK. There will be chats on Sunday, December 13th.
“I’m pretty sure Madrid is the capital of Spain,” says Rachael. “But I don’t know many facts about Spain. I’ve never been out of the country because I’ve never been on a plane.”
Sara has visited the UK several times, “but I don’t really know much about Birmingham,” she admits.
Sara lives with her mother Cristina, an English teacher from Canada, her father Javier, an engineer, and her little brother Andres, seven years old, in the Sanchinarro district of Madrid, an area popular with families. She is in the final year of elementary school.
Rachael is eight years old, with two younger sisters, Rebecca eight and Jessica, six. She lives in Nechells, an area of Birmingham with some of the lowest incomes in the country. Her father Jiayong runs a small Chinese restaurant, while her mother Yung Fang volunteers at a Chinese Sunday school.
Both girls enjoy reading and drawing. Rachel also likes history. Both agree that the worst part about the coronavirus is missing their friends and grandparents.
“During the first ineligibility, we were initially excited because we weren’t going to school, but over the course of the second and third months we got more bored and wanted to go back to school,” says Rachael.
“Even when we went back to school, we had to return home for two weeks to self-isolate because our eighth grade bladder closed.”
Sara says, “Right now I’m in school and two of the classes are closed.”
Rachael says she feels lucky because her local community center has a toy library that borrows books and board games. “Obviously when you return it, they’re going to quarantine it for the next person to have,” she explains.
Sara nods. “We got tons and tons of work from school,” she says. “We had seven hours of video conferencing and it was really weird. Sometimes I would video call my friends, but sometimes I was bored forever. “
In Spain’s second lockdown, it is still mandatory for children to wear a mask to school.
“You have to wear a mask when you are six years or older,” explains Sara. “I’ve been wearing a face mask for so long that it seems wrong not to wear it. You come in at my school, they take your temperature, you put on a disinfectant and then you put on a disinfectant after every break. I have so put a lot of hand sanitizer on that they tell me at school that my hands will one day fall off.
“We have to bring three face masks – one on, two spare masks, then we have to bring our own hand sanitizer and our own water bottle. We cannot make contact at all, we cannot socialize. I am separated from my best friend. If we trying to interact, that’s really annoying. “
She shrugs her shoulders. “The boys in my class like to take off their masks and the teachers let them know.”
Rachael looks surprised. “In the UK, I’m pretty sure that you don’t have to wear a mask when you are 10 or younger,” she says.
She explains how her secondary school works in bubbles and how students only have to wear masks between classes. “We have to disinfect before and after class.”
There is so much that the girls don’t say. They both make the best of their situation and try to cheer each other up. They talk a little about things they know about each other’s countries.
“I don’t know any English food,” says Sara. “Italian food that I know too, pizza and all that, but it’s very famous.”
“Fish and chips?” Rachael suggests.
“Oh yeah, I had fish and chips, they’re delicious, really delicious,” says Sara.
“I don’t know any Spanish food,” says Rachael.
“In Spain there is paella or tortilla, these traditional Spanish foods.”
Rachael laughs. “I don’t eat too much English because my parents are Chinese, so we eat like rice and stuff,” she says.
Then Sara asks what Rachael thinks about Brexit. “I don’t know much about Brexit, but I’m pretty sure Britain was separated from the European Union, that’s all I really know,” says Rachael.
“I don’t think it’s really affecting us too much, you can’t really tell if we’re in or not. I don’t really focus too much on politics. I will sometimes see the news when my parents see it.”
Sara says, “I think it was England or the UK or whatever that was separated from the European Union. They voted and that’s all I know. Before that virus thing, they always talked about” Brexit this, Brexit that “.”
Now both girls agree that everything is dominated by the coronavirus and the hunt for a vaccine. “I think we have to put masks on until everyone has the vaccine so we don’t infect everyone with a disease,” says Sara. “There are many labs and groups working on this vaccine more than any other vaccine, and hopefully we will have it very, very soon.”
Rachael nods. “I’m hoping for the vaccine too because I don’t want to go to school and worry about wearing a mask or disinfecting our hands.”
Sara says, “I just want to go back to normal life without wearing a mask. I want this whole thing to end.”
At the end of the call, they share how important it was for them to speak. “It’s not every day you find a random person to speak to from another country,” says Rachael in Birmingham. “I never thought I’d make a phone call and meet someone who happened to be in the world.”
Sara smiles in Madrid. “I think it’s once in a lifetime. I don’t have a pen pal. When I got the chance to speak to someone, I took it. Goodbye! I hope I see you again and all.”
Rachael waves. “Adios!”
How to join
You can register for Europe Talks here or click on the question above on Monday, November 30th, before 7 a.m.
A series of controversial yes or no questions that are discussed across Europe will then help us to learn a little more about you. For example: what is more important, our health or the economy? And should masks be needed in all public spaces?
As soon as you have answered the seven questions and registered, the Europe Talks algorithm will match you with another European who sees these seven questions differently.
The meeting will take place on Sunday December 13th via video call. You must be free to chat by 2pm UK time that day.
With so many participants having different mother tongues, the organizers of Europe Talks suggested that these video calls be in English whenever possible.