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15. april 2020- Manal Al-Sheikh Iraq/Stavanger/Oslo

15. april 2020- Manal Al-Sheikh Iraq/Stavanger/Oslo

Hvordan er det å være på flukt eller i eksil når verden rammes av en pandemi? 11 forfulgte forfattere rapporterer fra sin hverdag i en digital dagbok. Første bidrag kommer fra Manal Al-Sheikh, poet og forfatter fra Irak. Manal var fribyforfatter i Stavanger fra 2009 til 2011.

Quarantine, curfew and new Corona lifestyle!

By: Manal Al-Sheikh

 A few days ago, a respected researcher and blogger on twitter asked if we believe in life after Corona. Without hesitating I replied “Yes, but our life will never be back to normal again. And by “normal” I meant the routine of life that we used to live.

As a person who was born in the 70s and grew up in Iraq, it was very normal for me and my generation to have a sense of familiarity with terms like curfew, lockdown and isolation in our childhood. This was because of the several wars we experienced, starting with the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), then the Arab Gulf war (1990-1991), and the ten years of economic sanction and bombing campaigns as a result, until finally we witnessed the American invasion in 2003, in which its consequences still haunt the Iraqi people to this day. During these years, we practiced and lived a different kind of lockdown, and even though it bore the same familiarity of the lockdown under Corona virus, when I look back it was truly quite different.

There was fear and panic but at the very least we knew what the reason was and how to deal with it. We used to accept our fate and expected death any time, but we felt safe, too, in many occasions.

When WHO announced Corona virus as a pandemic I was living in Oslo, and was commuting between two cities at the time. My workplace had to close and informed us that we could work from home, as many other places did. Then I came back to my city, Stavanger, and stayed with my family.

As a commuter, I had to think and redo my life routine twice; firstly, in accordance with the new pandemic situation, and secondly adapting to the changes that happened between me and my kids during my absence. Actually, the last one was my main fear and was in itself more challenging. To be stuck with people, even with family members, for a long time is something very new for us in Norway.

Many people started talking about staying positive in these times. Personally, I don’t understand the word “positive” exactly when it relates to the fate of my life or the lives of my loved ones. I can’t deny that I panicked several times when this started, especially when I myself developed some mild symptoms and had to self-quarantine. In the span of those two weeks, my life moved in a new direction that I had never experienced before. Suddenly, all the flashbacks from my childhood where the images of war and chaos were rampant came rushing back. How we used to store food, fuel, money and even water. How we had to stay at home if there was an order of curfew. How we feared the silence after 6pm. But this time I didn’t know exactly what to do, other than washing my hands and social distancing and staying at home as much as I could. This is something I feel we all experienced relatively equally, as the Corona virus situation was truly unprecedented and took us all by surprise.

Following daily updates regarding the pandemic status instead of reading general news became my main obsession. After a while I became exhausted, however. I couldn’t continue to live with the daily panic that plagued every new step of my family’s new daily routine. Besides reading and writing, I’ve tried to explore my passion for cooking. I started to dig in my family’s traditional recipes. For the first time I could bake and taste the iconic local Iraqi stone bread called sammon. From that moment I started considering writing a book about my family recipes, a book talking about why I suddenly started cooking them during this crisis and not before. Focusing on another passion gave me a chance to reconnect with my kids again! Yes, we still have our differences and we argue often, but at least I know they were right about my over reacting, fear and panic.

I don’t have any idea what comes next, but I am still moving and making noise in the world. Maybe this is a cliché and unrealistic to say, and even I don’t know if this a good thing or not, but for the first time I feel that I belong to the world and it belongs to me, a feeling that I never imagined I would experience one day.    

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