ISTANBUL, TURKEY - Last Saturday, my partner and I hunched over my laptop to talk to my family members in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New York over Zoom.
Everyone was healthy. My cousins’ children were going to school online; their biggest worry was that the kids were lonely in quarantine, without normal social interactions.
On Sunday, his family called from Libya. Shrapnel from a bomb had ripped through a nearby residential neighborhood and a friend’s child had died. The boy’s name was Yamen and he was 9 years old.
My partner wasn’t angry at my family for having problems that are far less tragic than his. But he was angry. He told me that people everywhere should be thinking about their children’s emotional health as my cousins were -- not about whether their children will survive the next attack.
“People in Libya are worried if they can feed their kids at all,” he added.
I went back to my “office” which is really just the only other room of our place, while he drew this:
War amid virus lockdown
His home city, Tripoli, has been under attack for over a year. Recently, bombs could be heard from his parents’ neighborhood every day as families braced for what is now a 24-hour-a-day curfew for the coronavirus.
Two weeks ago, a hospital was hit by bombs, and then an attack on a water company cut the supply to the city. People panicked. Hand washing is the main way to fight the virus but they were only allowed to leave their homes from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Some people had wells, but others traveled to and from mosques to fill large plastic bottles with water. They had the rest of the afternoon and evening to fret and fear.
“Imagine you live in a place with blind missiles falling and you are asked to stay at home,” he said yesterday.
Or worse, he continued: What about poor families who need to keep working in order to keep eating? The price of many basic food items has doubled in recent weeks, and about a third of the people earn barely enough to survive.
“Imagine you have to choose to stay at home and starve your family, or go out and bring home COVID-19,” he said.
When I started thinking about this story, I thought it would be about how his family struggles with being separated at this time. The airports in both Istanbul (where we are) and Tripoli are closed indefinitely, and there is no way to know when he will see his parents and siblings again.
I asked him how he felt about this, because he’s never brought it up. I thought that was because he didn’t want to make me feel bad.
But he said no. The war, the financial crisis and the virus are plenty to worry about. Chatting with family over WhatsApp instead of in person wasn’t such a big deal.
But he does worry all the time. He spends hours every day on Twitter and Facebook, reading news articles and posts about the war back home.
On a good night, we watch TV shows and play cards, or I watch as he cooks elaborate Libyan-style dishes. On a bad night, his phone rings constantly, with his friends and family discussing what happened. Who was hurt? Where? What weapons were used? What countries were those weapons from? What does it mean for the war?
When the internet or the electricity is cut in Tripoli, he goes back to social media to follow the most recent crisis.
Last week, he was happy, because Tripoli forces had captured an area from the other side in a single morning.
“People were joking online,” he said. “They fought so fast so they could get home before the 2 p.m. curfew.”