Saturday, April 25 – I’ll Keep It Up Until My Fabric Runs Out

By Harriote Lampe MONTREAL, CANADA

Quiet Streets in Montreal

My name is Harriote Lampe, and I live in Montreal, Quebec. I am a proud, Inuit woman of 30 years. I spent my childhood in northern Labrador, moved to Nova Scotia as a teen, did some traveling, and have now been living and working in Montreal as a cook for six years. It’s typical springtime Canada, sunshine to freezing rain, hail, snow, sunshine again every half hour. It’s a lovely time to quarantine.

My morning routine usually consists of waking up to one of the three cats meowing bloody murder. Then the obligatory kitty snuggles until my roomie wakes up, and we make a bunch of coffee and roll a joint. Once we’re settled in the living room, we Skype with a few friends, share what news we’ve scrolled upon, memes that gave us joy, video game goals we’ve achieved, and the occasional “today on Jess’s cooking show!”. We usually depart from Skype to each make lunch. Having a roomie helps us make an effort foodwise, at least a little. Making a nice meal for two just feels more worth it than just for me. Dishes, am I right? I haven’t had any trouble getting specific items since our first grocery trip. Eggs, rice, pasta, pasta sauce, and toilet paper were hard finds for that first week in March. The only real shopping stress now is the lineups. My grocery store is part of a small mall, and there’s almost always a huge lineup. Luckily, here in Quebec, we have depanneurs everywhere, which are basically convenience stores that sell beer and wine, and can sell everything you find at the grocery store. My roomie and I call ours “The Big Dep.” It’s run by a sweet little family, and there is never a lineup. We almost exclusively shop there. Only downfall, no pierogis! We must get them delivered from another grocery store…we get the ‘rogi hookup from a manager friend: next day delivery.

I’ve been working and saving for years, so initially being told my restaurant, Elena, was closing the dining room for two weeks back in March wasn’t entirely upsetting. Three of our bosses had just come back from Italy, and the emergency quarantine was implemented after their return, so we had a quick meeting with just one of the owners. Then we had our last dinner service. For a high volume restaurant, it felt like a big deal, and even bigger when other big restaurants, like Joe Beef, were closing their dining rooms as well. Less than two weeks later, we were told the restaurant wasn’t opening for another month, and today we have no idea when it will open again. This news rocked my world a little: numbers were starting to come in, and things were getting too real, too fast.

Echos of old stories I heard of the Spanish flu decimating my ancestors in Labrador, the obvious lack of resources for my people even today, the spread of misinformation from every direction, fear, and anxiety loomed in the air. Friends saying they think they have it and need to get tested asap. Everyone worried about next month’s rent, or should we rent strike? Where is the government?! No one knew what to do for a good three weeks before benefit programs were offered to the public.

The whole benefits thing was a huuuge frustration for me personally. I had applied for employment insurance just before the nation was directed to isolate, and I was told it was just for two weeks, so that was all I applied for. Then, I was told it had been extended. Now how does one extend EI? I spent an entire week trying to get through, 80 calls a day, just constantly hitting redial, feeling like I was losing my mind. I kept hitting a weird error, trying to sign into my government accounts online. After giving up on the phone, I frantically researched online because someone else has got to be having this same problem. Boom, success, access granted! Inspect every tab and make sure my information is in order! Yaaaas Queen!
I filed my report, signed up for the CERB, bada-bing bada-boom! My friends all did the same, and two days later, we were all screaming on Skype, “The government works! The government works!”
Then we ordered groceries and smoked a fatty.

A couple of the friends we regularly Skype with are immune suppressed and have to take precautions in regular life, let alone pandemic times. My roomie and I help by delivering groceries and doing laundry runs, as laundromats aren’t an option. Mask making was on my mind, but I was hesitant to start research. There didn’t appear to be any demand for them, people were still wearing scarves, and I thought I’d just end up starting another sewing project that I’d never finish. One day after Skype coffee hangs, I had fresh thoughts of mask making and was tidying up a few things when I came across some cute kitty cat fabric I hadn’t touched. The label reads 100% quilters cotton. Hmmm, isn’t that what works well for mask making? A sewing itch began in the outer corner of my right eye, quickly spreading into my brain, wriggling its way to my heart and finally into my hands. I struggled to make my first few, trying to over-complicate the design for no reason what so ever. More research, scrap complications, and figured it out! I think. 40 minutes to make one, start to finish.

As a cook, I thrive on efficiency, so I know I can figure out a faster way. More research. More fabric scraps. Then I saw a post in a Facebook group, The Revel Alliance, a video of someone’s mask design, no sewing needed, just cut, fold, and a filter can be added between layers. That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for! I immediately sketch out a pattern, cut it out, try it for myself, and its pretty damn near perfect! I dug through my mass of fabric for whatever stretch cotton I could find and pumped out 16 masks for my boyfriend to bring to work as poutine is apparently essential. My back hurt from sitting on my floor, my knees ached from crossing my legs, and my neck hated me for slouching over my project. Time for bed.

The next day I gathered my purse, washed my hands, grabbed masks from the dryer into a clean bag, got my kitty cat mask on, and delivered my boyfriend some masks. He and his team were grateful. Now its factory mode, I pump out as many masks as I can, 40 one day, the next day another 40. I get those washed and borrow the boyfriend’s food saver vacuum sealer and get these bad boys in their own, individual, safe little pockets. A few weeks ago, someone had started a Facebook group for our street, Solidarite Hogan, where we can post if we need help with anything, local info, etc. my roommate is bilingual, so she created a post sharing that we had ready to give masks for anyone interested. I made little slits in the bagged masks, so they just hang on our fence outside, and anyone can take what they need without contact with other masks or people.

Others have asked if we could mail them, we even brought some to our favorite Big Dep to give to customers, and the owners have expressed people’s gratitude when we pass on through. So many people thanked us, offered gifts, and posted masked selfies after grabbing their own. I was glad my hard work didn’t go to waste.

Satisfied and feeling proud of my work, I posted myself on my floor once again today and punched out another 45 masks. I’ll keep it up until my fabric runs out.