Seventeen years have passed, I still hear the war sirens in the back of my head. The first thing that I did as a kid when I heard them was to look into my mother’s eyes in the bomb shelter. I was told that it might be the last time I’ll get to do so. That’s all history now, and I’m fortunate I didn’t have to worry about such events since I left my shattered homeland of Iraq. That all changed last week when the Jordanians used the same sirens to declare the start of a nation-wide curfew to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in the country. I felt my skin shivers, and I was about to go back to some unpleasant recollections when I swiftly paused.
Even though the sirens might’ve sounded the same, this time, it was used in reverse, not in wartime, but in peacetime, not for horror, but reassurance, not for torture, but for mercy. Many of the survivors of armed conflicts around the world from South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia will have a similar perception of the sirens. One might argue that the sirens serve a dual purpose, both as an early warning for imminent death and as a late warning for having inept leaders and failed strategies.
It brought me some comfort knowing that even though I was in the midst of a troubled region, there’s at least one state that is using their means of combat for life. Mobilizing the Health Services, the Military, even Intelligence agencies to protect their citizens and the millions of refugees who came to Jordan running form the sirens in our own countries to seek some remanence of a decent life in the neighborhoods of Jordan.
No one expected this from a small country with no water nor oil that hosts 5 million Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Iraqis, on top of having $30 billion in foreign debt. Yet, when other more prosperous nations were setting up camps in the desert for Coronavirus victims, Jordan was placing them in five-star hotels for free. The military entered an Arab state capital for the first time in my adult life, not for a coup nor for riot control, but to save lives. The banks were asked to give salaries sooner, halt all loan payments to increase the consumer’s cashflow — a vital decision that was overlooked by other states. When all schools and universities were closed until further notice, the government reached out to one of the country’s most prominent Tech Startup to create a nation-wide E-learning solution in less than a week.
Even though there are less than 200 cases in the entire country, the measures taken are stricter than the countries with +80,000 confirmed cases. Jordan has the same number of cases as Italy had only four weeks ago. If we are not careful, we will end up following the same path. The decision to shut down all shops, businesses, public sector departments, and airports have countless economic repercussions that will take us years to recover from, despite all the lapses of local decision-makers and political leaders it takes courage to make a decision that prioritizes the lives of the citizen over the state.
Many people are calling it “authoritative” and “dictatorship-like decision” to put the entire population on house arrest. Still, while the government continued asking to self-isolate and social distance, many ignored the warning and continued with gatherings and even weddings, which prompted the authorities to take extra measures — not to limit freedoms or oppress, but to protect and preserve. I wish I can say that my own country’s government would do the same if placed in a similar situation. Still, while tens of travelers were coming from Corona-infested cities from neighboring countries to Iraq, the borders were open for weeks, Iraqi decision-makers were afraid to close them as it would be diplomatically “not nice” a decision that’ll be paid by many families in the upcoming weeks.
I do want to be optimistic about the pandemic ending; however, it looks like we still have several months to go. We will have to accommodate our personal and professional lives around this pandemic. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin. Economists estimate that 2.7 million jobs in the Middle East will be wiped out you to the Covid-19 pandemic, three million people filed for unemployment in the USA just in the last week alone. We do have some challenging times coming ahead. Still, we have never been more prepared in our history as a collective society, in the past weeks I saw many conferences turn online, families and friends starting online book clubs, and video chat tools are coming to the rescue for the many poor extroverts that are in quarantine, businesses are rethinking their value proposition and services to fit the current crisis better, I even saw a couple got engaged via Skype due to travel restrictions, life always finds a way.
On a personal note, the last couple of months have been quite challenging, both personally and professionally, I usually prepare myself to handle 1-2 crises at a time — turns out I need to prepare facing several crises at once. I believe that applies to many of us in our mid-20s who are uncertain about the future. However, we are still expected to go through whatever life throws at us while trying to figure out ourselves, our shortcomings, and the world around us. I’ll conclude with a quote by Samuel Johnson “Nothing will ever be accomplished if all possible objections must first be overcome.” Therefore, our only option is to embrace the sirens of life and begin adapting.