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Locked down in Paris
Few people would ever have thought that one day we would all be facing a pandemic where we had to stay home in order not to get infected by an invisible monster called a coronavrius.
Streets have become empty; stores are closed. There is fear and sadness in people’s eyes. People are afraid of each other now. A new term has entered our lives: ‘social distancing’ describing the need to keep our distance from each other. We cannot hug each other or shake hands. Things we once took for granted are now forbidden. I had never imagined I would face such a position, especially not while living away from my family in Libya. I have been living in Paris, France for two years now. I had managed to adapt. I had become used to my life in France.
The spread of the virus was rapid and overwhelming. On March 17th the French government declared a state of lockdown. We were required to stay home. Cafes and restaurants all closed; life became dead. The measures are very strict. We can only leave home with a permit declaring our purpose and the time we left our residence. Life has become very limited.
We can go out to exercise, but they have reduced the time allowed for this. Personally, I only go out to do my grocery shopping. Even this simple chore feels strange in ‘corona-time.’ Since the beginning of lockdown I have been carrying out my studies virtually. I live in a small studio apartment. Prior to lockdown, the only time I spent in my room was when I came back home at night to sleep after spending my day at university and in the library, when going out alone or when hanging out with friends. From being outside discovering this amazing city on a daily basis I became completely isolated, without having the time to truly adapt. It is just me, myself, and I, as the song says. It has been over 40 days now. Lockdown has tested my limits in many ways. I have lost sense of days in a way. Lectures and deadlines are the only thing that give me a sense of time. Without that structure, I would be completely lost.
The hardest part of spending lockdown alone are the downtimes. I have had several panic attacks when I cry at night. I have been suffering from insomnia for months, which lockdown has made worse. Luckily, emotional support helplines are available. I have been in contact with my therapist who has been supportive and helpful. Also, my family have been incredibly supportive. My mother has been very worried about me. She has been calling me every two hours or so to check up on me. She never called me this much before lockdown. I understand what she is feeling: I am so far from my family at a time when we most need to be together.
One of the things that truly lifts my spirits every single day is the act of solidarity that people enact from their windows and balconies. Since the beginning of the lockdown, people have clapped from their windows and balconies at 8pm every evening. I have got to know close neighbors from the opposite building. We connect two minutes before 8 pm and wave at each other. After that, the entire street claps and all you can hear in the sky is the sound of clapping. This action has brought people together in ways I had never imagined. Especially here in Paris. I never exchanged friendly waves with my neighbours before lockdown. Everyone was busy in the hustle of life. We were so busy running to get our daily errands and tasks done that somehow, we forgot the essence of life and of truly living.
I thought of going back home to Libya but I was hesitant. I didn’t want to take the risk myself or risk infecting other people. I decided to stay. I have a great support system. I have had many video calls and messages from dear friends to help me push through my studies.
This time has given us the chance to discover ourselves and to learn from each other. Solidarity and support have been activated as never before. We have learned – and are still learning – from this situation, and we will remember it forever after it ends.
Malak Altaeb is an Environmental Policy Masters student at Sciences Po University in Paris, France. She has a bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Tripoli in Libya. She participated in two exchange programs in the United States of America; the first one was Space Camp 2010, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative MEPI 2015. She has participated in civic society projects in different fields, such as youth and women’s empowerment, climate change, and art. She is now a member of the Libyan Youth Climate Movement LYCM. She is a blogger and has written for different domains and magazines. She has written for sister-hood magazine, climate tracker, Libya's Herald, Libyan Express and Libya investment. She is an advocate for women’s empowerment, youth, education and climate change.