Since the hamster buying fever broke out in Berlin, I’ve often rushed to the supermarkets. When I brought home the large amounts of bread, long-life milk and flour, I was ashamed of my fear – or rather of my hamsters. I hid my purchases so that my behavior would not cause more fear to other passers-by. However, when I saw Germans almost fought toilet paper and carried it home in really large quantities, I felt less guilty and almost a little comforted – others also seemed to be driven by fear.
Around a month has passed since the crisis began, and my fears of finding empty supermarket shelves have evaporated. I’m getting tired of eating our frozen and baked bread. But it doesn’t help, the supplies for a five-person household have to go. At least I know that almost everything will still be available for sale in Germany.
worked in Syria as a political correspondent for a large daily newspaper. Because of his critical reporting, the now 46-year-old was in prison from 2002 to 2004, his ID was confiscated and he was banned from working. After being released, he switched to an underground website that was closed by the regime after eight years. During the Arab Spring, he wrote under a pseudonym for an opposition newspaper. When it became too dangerous in Syria, he fled to Germany with his wife and two daughters. The family has been living in Berlin since summer 2015. In the SZ, Yahya Alaous regularly writes about “My life in Germany”.
For us Syrians, the corona crisis is not the first crisis. The memories of entire generations of Syrians are shaped by crises – whereby the “crises” were rather wars and disasters of various kinds. When Germany experienced its economic miracle and gradually recovered from the aftermath of the Second World War, our region tumbled from one war to another, each accompanied by a condition that resembled the corona crisis.
In the 1980s, in my childhood and adolescence, there was a shadow over Syria. There was hardly enough food for everyone. A high-ranking official could be bribed with a packet of tissues and a box of cigarettes. Endless lines in front of bakeries were perfectly normal, handkerchiefs a luxury item that only very wealthy families could afford. Bananas, it seemed to me, grew on Mars – there was no other way I could explain that all Syrians born in the 1970s grew up without them.
In the early 1990s everything seemed to get a little better. Until Saddam Hussein sent 39 bombs to Israel in January 1991. I still remember exactly how my father called me at five in the morning with the words “wake up, come with me, Saddam attacked Israel!” woke up. I was amazed and asked where he was going now – to war? “No!” He replied, “we have to buy bread, it is certain that war will come!” After many hours we finally came back home with a lot of bread, so I had to eat baked bread for weeks, just like today. Although it tastes better today because we froze it – an achievement in technology that our broken fridge did not allow us at the time.
The Syrian Revolution that started in 2011 brought with it circumstances that we could not have imagined. Hundreds, if not thousands, died as a result of the regime’s closure of the rebel-held areas, others suffered and died of malnutrition and malnutrition. Wherever they were stuck, they found nothing to eat but grass and green leaves.
Normal state curfew
The curfew that some European countries are currently experiencing was normal for us Syrians in the years of the still raging war. Those who ignored the curfew were not struck down by a dangerous virus, but by the much-feared snipers. Moving between cities was also a highly dangerous adventure that could be ended at any time by murder or kidnapping.
And those who were still on the move after dark were often simply lost through arbitrary shootings, kidnappings or imprisonments. It was enough to have the wrong news from the wrong people – not loyal to the regime – on his cell phone. Thousands died in explosions because they could not or did not want to observe the curfew, for example because they were looking for water or bread. Dozens of cities were without water, without electricity, without food for months.
The biggest fear, however, was to “lose” someone, simply not to get any more messages from him or her. It was clear to all of the bereaved that in all likelihood this loved one would never be seen again. All the time, I was afraid of losing close friends or family members, so that our hugs when we parted became more intense. Every time could be the last time!
This fear keeps coming up in me now, in times of the corona crisis. It is a terrible fear.
It hurts me to see doctors and nurses get Covid-19 sick. You remind me of the situation in Syrian hospitals, which have been overcrowded with injuries since 2011. The images that reach us from Italy or the United States remind me of how many injuries had to die after Russian attacks or attacks by the regime, since the doctors had to decide between life and death according to the principle of triage, which is still used today.
The crisis makes us stronger as a community
The picture in Syria was the same as it is now in some rich countries in the western world: too little medication, too little protective equipment for doctors and nurses, too little respiratory equipment. Doctors, nurses, and nurses who survived the battle know what it means to lose colleagues.
And now? Syria is not far from a corona crisis. Dozens of infected people have been reported. In addition to cholera, typhoid and polio, which are terribly spreading again in Syria due to the disastrous hygienic conditions in many places, there is now also the corona virus with all its unpredictable developments.
As a Syrian, I know what fear, hunger and curfew mean. I still remember well how the cities were sealed off from each other, how we could no longer see our family members, friends and acquaintances. My memories of missing or dead friends still hurt, and for nothing in the world do I want to lose loved ones from my German circle of friends. I share all feelings of solidarity, concern, fear with my friends and neighbors, and somehow it seems to me that this crisis is making us stronger as a community and that my feelings of belonging here are getting bigger and more truthful.
Translation: Jasna Zajcek