Focus On Donisha Diagne: Ultimately, We’re Going to be Ok

For the last 11 years, Donisha and Alie Diagne have made Westport their home and where they’ve raised three children, Bilal 9 and Leyla 7, and Gary (2018 Staples graduate). Donisha describes the Diagnes as,  “a resilient, small, close-knit family,” for which she credits her heritage and history as well as that of Alie. Born and raised in Connecticut, Donisha’s family migrated here from the South during the Great Migration and Alie emigrated to America from Senegal. 

“There is a level of resilience that comes from our backgrounds and a level of understanding of how much energy we put forth and how we interact with others. For my family, coming up from the South in the industrial boom times and being able to build themselves up has been helpful to us in our ability to think. Not just in the present, but about the future and how we navigate from this environment with its scary levels of uncertainty. It’s about how do we continue to look toward the future, understanding where we are, and knowing ultimately, we are going to be ok. 

Most people in town know our oldest son, Gary who is 20, from the YMCA. Alie and I have had opportunities to support A Better Chance of Westport in different capacities. When you see us, we are often with our younger children Bilal and Leyla at their school or sports events. Although we have lived here for more than 10 years, we are still discovering the town. 

Juggling between work and homeschooling is the biggest change to our professional and daily lives now. Finding ourselves working from home full time – with a full house – definitely requires an adjustment. Previously, we worked from home one to two days a week based on our family needs. We find ourselves being more intentional about our daily calendars, syncing meetings, and working together to ensure one of us is available for Bilal and Leyla when the other is in meetings. We are also trying to find our new normal by sticking to a new schedule and switching to “family time” at the end of the work day. 

As a financial regulator, the content of Alie’s work has not changed as it relates to COVID- 19. However, he has joined the videoconference revolution! He uses video chat check – ins to stay connected with his team. I am a business psychologist working in HR with a focus on employee engagement, development and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although my role remains the same, the content of my role pivoted slightly to include a focus on helping employees to increase their effectiveness while working virtually and providing leaders with the tools to manage remotely. 

Gary is helpful in taking the kids outside for breaks from homeschooling and being another adult in the home. After work or homeschooling ends, we go on walks, read, listen to music, dance, and cook together. We’ve always had a lively home; however, we’ve stepped up the energy during this time. I’ve also started running again now that the gyms are closed. 

Overall, the community is doing well coping with the crisis. We appreciate the daily updates from our town leaders and schools, as well as the opportunity to engage with other members in our community via social media. We are looking forward to meeting individuals we have met online in person once the crisis is over. It’s really impressive to see how the town has rallied together in support of the retail businesses, local hospitals, and first responders. We couldn’t be prouder to live in Westport at this time.

We’ve always had a lively home; however, we’ve stepped up the energy during this time.

Our greatest hope is that we will continue to work together to reduce the impact [of Coronavirus] to our town and extended communities. We also pray that a useable vaccine is discovered quickly that reduces the impact to everyone’s lives to the greatest extent possible. 

We are connecting with our friends and family frequently and making ourselves available to offer support and an ear to listen. For our community, we have reached out to our neighbors to offer grocery shopping and support, as needed. Sometimes it’s just calling to say hello.” 

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On Alisyn Camerota: A Comforting Morning Presence

Journalist Alisyn Camerota is the anchor of New Day: CNN’s morning news show. She has lived in Westport for seven and a half years with her husband, three children (ages 13, 15 and 15), and Savi, their beloved longtime nanny/house manager, who helps control the chaos. 

While the family is following stay at home orders, as a journalist, Alisyn is considered an essential employee and gets a special dispensation from the city to go into Manhattan to do her job. 

“COVID-19 has certainly impacted my work. Our New York City office looks like a ghost town as we all are forced to keep our distance from each other. My producers, writers, bookers, camera crews, and makeup artists are no longer in the building.  My co-anchor and I are normally share an anchor desk, but now we’re both alone in individual studios. It’s strange. I continue to work and report on the situation, hoping that my reporting is helpful and my daily morning presence is comforting to viewers.  

When reporting on this story, it would be impossible for me to pretend that it isn’t hitting close to home. I don’t feel the need to try to insert artificial distance. My town has been hard hit. I’m talking to neighbors everyday who are anxious and confused. I think the proximity to the story gives me more understanding and makes me a better reporter.  It reminds me of reporting from Ground Zero after 9/11. There was no way not to feel close to the story and I accepted that it was ok to feel personally frightened and devastated but still able to get facts and information out.

Westporters seem to be heeding the warnings to “socially distance” from each other. Even walking our new dog, neighbors stop to say, ‘Hello,’ but stay six feet apart.  Shopping and dining out have ended. The library is closed. I think that once Westport realized it was a hotspot, residents became vigilant about trying to flatten the curve here. 

[At home] we’re doing our part to contain the virus. And we’re thinking of anyone who is sick and battling COVID-19. We can’t wait to see everyone out in the world again.  

We decided this would be a good time to finally say, ‘Yes,’ to the kids’ desire to get a dog. Knowing the kids would be home from school indefinitely, it seems like they’d have a lot of time on their hands to walk her, train her, and get to know her. She’s been a godsend. It’s fun sharing this stressful time with a super enthusiastic little being. 

My hope is that once these challenging days are behind us, we can preserve a bit of the family time we’ve experienced. I’ve enjoyed the Monopoly marathons and Scrabble nights. I hope this moment helps us scale down our hyper-scheduled lives and appreciate some good old-fashioned reading and Yahtzee-playing.” 

My hope is that once these challenging days are behind us, we can preserve a bit of the family time we’ve experienced.

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On Diane Lowman: Things Will Mend

Diane Lowman is a yoga instructor who has lived in Westport for 23 years. Last July, Diane was named Westport’s Poet Laureate and shares observations of daily life through the haiku she posts on Instagram. Unlike a lot of people, she’s self-quarantined completely alone—“no pets, no people, no nothing”   

I didn’t like feeling of being at home alone, but now I’ve learned to make friends with it.

“I noticed that before this I spent a lot of time outside of my house because I didn’t like feeling of being at home alone, but now I’ve learned to make friends with it. I’m practicing yoga at home, and making meals for myself. I’m trying to create structure and learning to appreciate the process of making peace with myself.  

My sister lives in town as do my ex-husband, his wife and their 10 year old son. My  25-year-old son has also come to live with them. I have a lot of family around me and earlier in the social distancing process, my ex and his family have been gracious about having me over. My sister has had an autoimmune condition so I’m careful about not being with her. I fully feel what it’s like to be alone– but it’s not all negative. There are times when I crave conversation that isn’t electronic, or the casual touch of a hug or saying hi.  

 This time in isolation and dealing with crisis reminds us that we are more similar than different. It reminds me of 9/11 and how differences dropped and we felt united. I’m seeing this every day. I hope that feeling  lasts–including having us all pitch in to help so many of us who aren’t fortunate. My biggest fear is what will happen to folks who are less able, financial, mentally, emotionally, physically, socially. How will we work to get them through this? I know that the economy will come back but I worry about those who will slip through the cracks until it does. 

Writing poetry now is different for me. Over time my haiku has evolved as a journal for me. It’s triggered by what I see which may or may not have to do with how I’m feeling. But now it’s very introspective, in terms of isolation and the larger situation. I have store of photographs that I’ve taken for years even when I was living in abroad and some resonate so well with the feelings of today—like gargoyles from church carvings–that didn’t have a sentiment before but now really work.   

There are silver linings in all this – the slowing down. The kindnesses. Things seem very broken right now but this is finite and while the world will be different it will mend  

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On Nathalie Laitmon: On The Virtual Frontlines

Nathalie Laitmon has lived in Westport for 15 years. The writer and mom of three contracted COVID-19 at “The Party”.  One of the earliest sufferers of a mild to moderate version the illness which she describes as “still being like the worst flu feelings one has ever had at once”, Nathalie came forward on social media to share real information about her experience to try to allay community fears. She has already donated her blood plasma for researchers at Mt. Sinai Hospital working on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.  

“Westport has an air that is big enough that you don’t have to come forward to say anything private, but small enough for me to feel incredible responsibility to the town. I never once thought about keeping information to myself especially since the real-time misinformation without context or hindsight is creating a cognitive dissonance with the reality we are used to experiencing.  I feel like I’m on a virtual frontline in terms of sharing information and trying to be an advocate. I’ve had a lot of very private conversations with people I will probably never speak to again just to give reassurance. 

Even though I’m an extremely private person, I felt incredible responsibility to constantly check in with people who were at that party. I felt we had a collective illness and if someone pulled through that raised the spirits of everybody and made it seem it more likely that everybody would pull through. 

That being said, people who were quarantined didn’t want to come forward with false hope until they cycled through all their symptoms. The backlash we saw in these Facebook groups talking about the party was a little scary, and off-putting. There is an undercurrent of fear and panic but it’s up to us to reassure one another.  

It’s feels like we’re in an old-fashioned era for which you are not prepared except for watching Little House On The Prairie reruns. I feel like this is all something we’ve read in history books about tuberculosis and scarlet fever when the fear was unprecedented. 

Doctors told me to assume it’s been through my house completely now. There were many, many days where we had to wait for tests and we were still learning about social distancing. During that time everyone in my home had symptoms. We were ahead of the curve of what everyone will be going through in the next few months. I’m most concerned about the idea that there are asymptomatic carriers out there. I wonder if people are really listening to their bodies. [For example] now it’s being reported that losing smell and taste is a sign. I had been talking about [my experience with that] for weeks with doctors and no one had an idea of what I was talking about. 

Part of me wants to abandon this responsibility and focus on my household and homeschooling my kids–but it’s just not possible for me to see people panicking and not have a conversation with them. 

This is a real exercise in being present. This is a reality check for everyone on planet.

I think that the reality of the world has changed and I’m hoping for my town that social distance doesn’t mean emotional distance. In my opinion the “end of the world” is a mindset and not an event. The time I spent worried, I’ll never get back. This is a real exercise in being present. This is a reality check for everyone on planet. Before this, I was complaining about all of my sport and dance mom responsibilities. I hope some people can ease the panic, resist feeding into the drama and instead force themselves to enjoy their time with their kids.  

We could all take a lesson from the kids right now, I think we are all surprised with how amazing our kids are through all of this. They are programed to care, which is something I, as a parent couldn’t not have done on my own–the educational system of Westport creates a genuine desire to be good students and good citizens.” 

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On Nicole Gerber: Staying AWARE of What Matters

Nicole is the co-director of AWARE CT, a volunteer run non-profit that works to make meaningful improvements in the lives of women and girls locally and worldwide. Since the quarantine, Nicole has shifted her focus away from running the organization until the social distancing ban has been lifted.  

“I am now focused on ways AWARE can support our community through this crisis. We will be highlighting individuals and organizations that are working to support local businesses, first responders and people who are at greatest risk or in need.  

I have had to develop a new set of routines for myself and my children. I am now spending the bulk of my day helping my children stay focused on their schoolwork and maintain a healthy schedule that balances academics with exercise and social time.  

I am blown away by the number of individuals and organizations that are springing into action!

I am blown away by the number of individuals and organizations that are springing into action! I truly believe that Westport will get through this crisis and will come out the other side a stronger, better, and more empathetic community.  

Like everyone else, my family is struggling to define a “new normal.” We are all very human, and reacting to social distancing in our own ways. However, we have also made a group decision to view this situation as a gift. We’re really getting to know each other, learning to listen and react with empathy, using our individual strengths to help each other out in moments of weakness, and finding humor in the stressful moments. There have been more than a few of these, but we are finding our way, and a lot of laughter. 

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.