By Shirin Azad
“It’s so hard that I can’t see my mom during this social isolation.”
“It’s so difficult that I can’t visit my sisters.”
“The hardest part for me in this pandemic is seeing my son 2 metres away.”
“I really miss my co-workers or just seeing people out here!”
I’m reading all of these comments on a Facebook post that asks what you really miss during the COVID-19 social distancing.
All the while, I am sitting in my Brownie rocking chair pictured above. This was the first piece of furniture that I received when I came to Canada after leaving my family in Kurdistan five years ago. The well-loved chair was given to me by the first Canadian woman that I met. When she and her husband opened their home and their hearts to my husband and I as refugees, she became an angel to me. The feeling of that day and her kindness still touch me.
When she picked up my husband and I in Mission’s train station, I was experiencing the most stressful and strange time to meet someone. Add to that having to decide if I could live with them in their house. But it ended up being an easier transition than I expected.
The chair that made many good memories for 50 years in her life now is making a memory in my life. Of course, a 50-year-old chair has limitations. The good thing is that it can still hug me tight in its puffy, beige cushions, lessening my lonely feelings on rainy, grey mornings as I sit, phone in hand, seeking good news to relieve the continuous stay-at-home anxiety. But my phone fails to deliver the good news I crave. Instead, article after article discusses coronavirus and how the number of cases rises so rapidly.
And what we have to do to be safe is so simple: just stay at home.
“It’s so simple, just staying at home,” I remind myself slowly and silently while the chair tries to lull me with more rocking. My mind goes to 2003 when we had to leave our Kurdistani home to escape our city because of the capture the leader of Ba’ath regime Saddam Hussein. His government killed thousands of Kurdish people and destroyed thousands of villages in chemical attacks.
The comparison to now hits me. We couldn’t stay at home; even looking back to the 1991 uprising when I was just 5 years old, we fled from our land. We all walked many days without enough food to get to safety. We had to hide ourselves from that regime because of the curfew and out of fear of being taken hostage. All of these experiences taught us to be ready for any situation.
That’s how I know what we need to store, what we should buy and how can we use it to stay safe and fight for our lives. I watch while so many shoppers are running after toilet paper. It’s not my highest priority.
Sometimes I tell myself, that’s why I was able to move to a country a thousand kilometres away from home to have a better life and better future. Somehow all this happening now is not unfamiliar to me. I went through more difficult times. I recall the day when I started to study journalism in Kurdistan. Protesting against the kidnapping and killing of one active young journalist happened on the same day: May 4, 2010.
The creaky sound of my old chair brings me back from all the crowds and darkness to this 2020 moment when I am at home because of the pandemic. I open my eyes, thinking of the same question, what do I miss most during this regime of COVID-19? I think: it was what I wanted even before this pandemic: to see my mom, to hug my dad, and go out with my sisters to make wonderful memories. It’s been 5 years.
Reading the Facebook comments, I want to write “I miss sitting beside my dad on a comfortable sofa and putting my head on his shoulder, feeling all that pure love that a small girl has for her dad. I miss those childhood experiences of home, like smelling his scent of tangerine and apples, or hearing him ask if I would rather have him pick up red or yellow Popsicles?” This is what I miss. During quarantine time in Canada, I am extraordinarily exhausted by the kilometres between us, not just by the two metres I have to consider as I dodge others on the street.
In the end, I want to ask, how do you compare staying at home with fleeing from your home? For me, as a person who has experienced both, it’s so simple and safe to stay at home with all the boring routines.
Given a different choice: sitting beside my kind dad on a colourful Kurdish rug or snuggling alone with my phone on my cozy, Canadian rocking chair, there is no contest. I wish I could be with my family. But that choice is not available.
So here I am, on the Brownie rocking chair, waiting to carry on with post-stay-at-home life.
*Shirin Azad is a pen name for our author. We are protecting her identity to preserve her safety.