Trying to live in color: Transitioning between 2 urban environments during covid 19

This project is a comparison of space living in a one-room apartment underneath a townhouse with three other family members and two dogs in Jersey City, New Jersey, and a three-bedroom, Three Bath apartment with four other family members and one dog in Brooklyn, New York. the comparison is through Hand-drawn Mind Maps of both environments. Comparing the two mind maps allows viewers to understand mobility within both spaces, especially adjacent to the urban cities they are situated in. My sketches originally were in black and white, but in an effort to try to live in color I went for a more therapeutic method by recreating the scenes in watercolor.

This quarantine taught me how to stretch… Stretch my mind, my happiness, my attention span, and my suitcase. Having to move and adjust to two new spaces in less than a month not knowing when things would go back to normal forced me to learn how to be ok, when mentally and emotionally I was not.. But I am alive. I am breathing. But it is still hard.

I started my quarantine in Jersey City. Rather than going home to Georgia immediately , I wanted to stay closer to Trinity in the event that we were cleared to return to campus, or if I had to return to gather my belongings. My aunt, uncle and I moved into my cousin’s apartment to separate essential workers from those who did not have to leave the house. As a result, the living space that was intended for one overtime came to accommodate four humans and 2 husky puppies by the name of Lookie and Luda.

I slept on a couch in the living room that served as my classroom, chill space, dining space; everything space. Coming from a school where I had a variety of spaces for different functions, the shift was doable but not easy for my mental health. The best thing about the Jersey apartment was outside. There were not a lot of opportunities for sunlight inside, but the backyard allowed me to soak up as much sun as the sun would allow me to. I found myself trying to do as many assignments outside as possible, which weren’t many. I quickly learned the sun and laptop do not work well together.

Over the course of time, my uncle and cousin renovated the old fence with the spare time they had and we used the dry wood that was woven in the old fences for the fire pit. We had enough for two nights worth of good music and old stories. I will forever remember the good memories, they really helped to cut through the hard times.

The first half of quarantine was also during lent, which meant a lot of canned fish. I will be okay if I don’t see another can of tuna for a while. I cooked a lot of my meals before my aunt joined us so I had to re-learn time management balancing cooking and schoolwork. Every night after dinner we would gather together by the television and watch a few episodes of a series to end the day with family time.

The days, for the most part, followed the same structure: cooking, zoom classes, more cooking, homework, checking emails, zoom meetings, dinner, another zoom class, shower, family TV, sleep. Repeat.

I almost got used to the new structure until I had to move to Brooklyn.

My suitcase and I are now New Yorkers. Here I live with another aunt and uncle, two cousins, and one shiatsu by the name of Champ. I have a third cousin who is usually home, but given that he stayed on campus I was able to sleep on his bed.  Staying in Brooklyn has been a lot more colorful. My older cousin is an artist and we have had many creative conversations during my stay here. She was actually the one who inspired me to try my hand at watercolor for this project instead of the black and white sketches.


With the amount of change that was happening, there were many times where I felt like a robot following a routine while pressing buttons on a keyboard and adjusting my eyesight to focus on my laptop screen. It was not till halfway through quarantine that I realized I could use an HDMI cord and connect the old computer screen to my laptop to act as a second monitor. Doing that really changed the way I was able to work. I was able to gain more structure and difference in space, something that this apartment allowed that the other did not.

I did not have the opportunity to go outside as much. We were on the 5th floor and so the only time we went outside was when we had to go grocery shopping. Most of the time, it would be my uncle given that he already had to go outside for work. Here I have the option of cooking which allows me more flexibility in my time and priorities for the day.

My days were not too often the same. Many times, professors switched their teaching style which, in turn, altered my schedule. Overtime I just understood school as a stick of juicy fruit gum, slowly losing its flavor and consistency over time. I also learned the importance of communicating and being direct when I need help through this whole experience.  With a new understanding on how to navigate the situation I was able to reach out to the appropriate resources and get help with schoolwork, life, and the process of transitioning from college life to COVID-19 life.

The highlight of my time here aside from family has been the moments of solidarity. Every day at 7 on the dot, the neighbors bang pots and pans to show appreciation for the healthcare workers. On some days, the passing cars would also honk.

Even though the situation is not Ideal and there are days when I am really down, I have been able to have more stability and flexibility living in Brooklyn despite the location and the inability to be outside in the ways I was able to in Jersey  Family has been the thing that has allowed me to get through this time. The moments of going over old photos, having the time to have the “transitioning to adulthood” talks,  and the I love you texts from my mom everyday really brought warmth to my heart during these hard times. I could not be more grateful for my family.

 In my days before Covid I would incorporate color through my clothes, food, and language. With having to move so quick and live off of the means of others, my color is not quite the same. I recognize my color palette will no longer be the same, but with every conversation, time of reflection, and new experience I have had, I gain the pigments to reimagine the colors I choose to live in. 

About the author(s): Sonjah Dessalines, Urban Studies Major, First-Generation Haitian-American student at Trinity College. Promoter of difference and inclusion of diverse thought and personal narratives.

Copyrighted by Sonjah Dessalines. Editorial assistance provided by Beatrice Alicea. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.

As the creator of “Trying to live in color: transition between 2 urban environments during Covid 19”, I agree that this is my original work, and that I retain the copyright. Also, I grant permission for this work to be distributed with my full name to the public, including formats such as print and the Internet. Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my work, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial—NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (BY-NC-ND). This allows the public to freely download and share my work, but only if they credit the creator, use it for non-commercial purposes, and do not make any changes. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses at