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Small stories, big remember

May 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

This morning while walking the dogs I met someone from my neighbourhood whose grandmother had died during the Big Flu. Today it was exactly one hundred years ago.

The beloved with two of our dogs.

She did not allow me to use her photographs or name, but the story is fascinating.

One of the reasons why I document my neighbourhood during the pandemic is exactly to tell personal stories that may in future touch the lives of others.

Throughout my career I have enjoyed telling the smaller stories, because when we see the human being, not the stats, we can relate.

I am fascinated by statistics and I love a spreadsheet. I have read countless articles of the curves during the big flu of the previous century. But meeting this “neighour” from down the road, made the story real.

We need the big picture. I love reading popular, well-crafted articles in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. Yet, any good journalist will tell you: Find the human angle otherwise your story will be dry.

One of the most unassuming journalists out there is called Brandon Stanton. Never heard of him? I am not surprised. But you may have heard of Humans of New York, or HONY.

Brandon began photographing the humans in New York. His hood. Soon he realised that his readers craved the stories, less so than the pictures (his words). I believe it is both. Brandon has that uncanny ability to draw one to the story with a picture, then he punches you with that last line. Mini stories. People. Humans. No wonder Brandon has been flown all over the world by the United Nations to give a face to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, or the homicide Rwanda.

When I was in academia, we looked at the personal narrative vs. the Master Narrative.

My son and his dog

And so, back to my “neighbour”. I am fascinated by archives, by the photographs and artefacts of yesteryear. One day someone will try to learn about Covid-19. The facts will there and will be debated, even then. The personal stories will touch the readers. Why else do so many people read historical novels? We follow one person through a period in the past. She / he / they becomes a guide for us.

Each one of us are contributing to the stories for tomorrow.

Each blog or insta account that documents a personal story does something for tomorrow.

I phoned the author Irma Joubert the other day. I had the privilege of joining her on the marketing tour for Mentje – Kind van Pas-Opkamp. She explained how she had read many personal accounts of the “onderduikers” (those who had been in hiding during World War II). Irma often said: “Imagine how hard it would be to raise children who have to remain quiet and indoors.”

I phoned her up and said: “Lockdown has taught me to appreciate that book even more.”


Who will write the definitive novel of someone living through Covid-19, with flashbacks to the Big Flu?

Small dog, big story