We all remember how the world changed a few months ago, when the ordinary experience of living our everyday lives went kerflooey. Our means of social connection, our sense of time, our way of organizing the universe – in an instant all these coping mechanisms were cut off by the coronavirus. The ramifications are multidimensional and complex. Simply put, humans are creatures who need order and a greater social meaning. When that intangible Fabric of Everything no longer connects us together, we’re left with one big, empty sort of fear, gnawing deep within our souls.
Being alive during corona means feeling powerless. And that’s exactly when we need social networks the most. Since it appears this infernal virus will linger quite a distance into the foreseeable future, we begin to find ourselves in a new normal. One that will cause us to adapt our lives again, further testing our resolve. Reconnecting with friends and rebuilding families is integral. But just as important is relearning how to find common ground with random strangers we meet in public as we go about establishing our daily routines. It’s in this spirit that I started working on this piece you’re reading now. To regain some control and sense of normalcy, I decided to return to my roots, being writing and, in this particular instance, journalism.
Everybody has their own corona story. My intent here is to give a greater voice to a regular somebody, helping clarify the fact that, whoever you are? And however you feel right now? You’re not alone in feeling this way. The first person I met who was willing to share with me is Omar Darkaoui Kassimi. Besides being an excellent whistler, he’s a self-employed labourer who lives in Bni Makada, Tangier, where he was born and raised. (This interview has been translated from Darija Arabic/Spanish/pidgin plus lightly edited for clarity and grammar.)
How is this affecting you?
“I’m having a hard time finding big work. So I’m running around and finding little things to do for people in the neighborhood to put food in my mouth. Hauling building materials, carrying groceries, cleaning storefronts, those kinds of things. But I’m not the only one affected like that, because everybody I know is in that same position. And I have family in the mountainside by Mellossa, who I like to go visit. But I haven’t been able to do that so much anymore, and I’m missing them a lot. It would be nice to visit and see for myself that they’re doing okay, you know?”
Yes. Most definitely.
“We’ve lost the rhythm of life. Our daily customs, our rituals, they provide us comfort, and losing them – ah, everybody knows what I mean!”
What changes are you noticing?
“The streets are emptier. Especially at night. It’s been nice to walk around the neighborhood in a more peaceful manner, so that’s a nice positive change. But what I’ve been observing is, because of that, there’s not enough work. Yes, times are harder than they were before and people have to work harder. But they still manage to provide for their families. When you see that, it shows how strong and resilient our people are. That makes me proud.”
How is this affecting other people?
“I haven’t known anybody who has caught the corona, so I can’t speak to that but can imagine. To me, the greatest negative impact has been mental. Before, everybody had their little daily routines. With those being impacted, there’s an unsettled feeling. It’s like we’re in a constant state of alert. Which triggers all sorts of emotional stuff. It’s going to take a while for people to recover from that, even after all this ends. This corona’s going to be around for a while, and we need to learn to live with it. We just all have to stay strong, is all, and adapt to a new normal. Most everybody I know knows that.”
How is this affecting Morocco in general?
“It’s affected the government, how they do their business obviously. There’s pressure on them, and the work they’re doing looks like it will help make a more solid foundation upon which Morocco can build for the future. So that’s a positive. The government didn’t hesitate to do anything it could do to help the people, and so I think they’ve been doing the best job they possibly can. In the end, I hope they try to improve our country, not just recreate it.”
What does the future hold?
“Yes, we’re all having a bad time right now, a lot of new needs and confusion, but it could be much worse. Like what those in Syria and Palestine have been experiencing for all these years. It’s a matter of perspective: no matter how bad it is? It could always be worse. We should always be thankful for what we have. Even with the corona, I’m grateful for the now. Because since my childhood, I’ve been taught to be grateful for everything and anything. This is a part of who we are as Moroccans, our culture and traditions and religion. They all combine to give us that strength and retain hope. No matter what the future brings.”
Thank you so much for sharing your time with me.