It was just another morning in March. We all woke up with the news from the Ministry of Health: On the night of March 20, 2020, doctors diagnosed the first recorded case of the Coronavirus, or Covid-19, in Turkey.
Four months later, everything has changed. Within just a short period, it feels like we are living in a different era. There are a lot of questions on our minds: Will Turkey share the fate of its European neighbors, especially Italy? We feared at first that we would become a second Italy if we did not take precautions. As a result, many of us hid inside our homes, isolated from the world, scared of the prospects.
We were lucky when it came to disinfection, as the practice of using alcohol-based cologne (locally known as “kolonya”) saved our lives. Since it was readily available, everyone cleaned their homes thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned. Everyone in Turkey also hoarded food and other necessities, just like others all over the world did when first responding to the pandemic.
Yet, none of this was the hardest part of the coronavirus pandemic. What has made COVID-19 aggravating is the uncertainty. We have had no idea what the virus looks like, how it spreads from one person to another, and from surfaces to people, when it will end or what is waiting for us when the virus has run its course. We have so many questions on our minds, and none easy to answer.
Back in March, people all over the country started to think: Did it happen because we did something wrong? Is the universe trying to tell us something serious? This line of thought was reflected by the pundits and the journalists in the national news as well.
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of unreliable data about the number of cases, as well as the true nature of COVID-19. Some said that it was a mad conspiracy. Others mentioned that the pandemic couldn’t have come from innocuous animals such as bats and pangolins. Yet others suggested that COVID-19 was a virus designed to enable Chinese world domination.
All of these possibilities and rumors made us feel uncomfortable, stressed, and hopeless about the future. However, it was not just the adults who have had a hard time dealing with it. It has been hard for children, as it is difficult to explain why they should stay inside the house. We wanted to tell them that they could still go to school, but then all of a sudden, schools were closed down. What was happening?
Like the children, many workers had to stay at home and keep working from home. As a result, family structures had to change. Many started to know each other more closely; after all, they had never had the time to be together before. Parents became teachers at home. As human beings, we started to realize in horror that most of us did not know how to spend time with the rest of the people in our household. The complexities of modern life have separated us, and COVID-19 forced us to deal with them. Many parents discovered their children during this process. Regardless of being married or single, living alone or crowded, almost everyone complained about staying at home. It was saddening to witness families who did not know how to spend time with each other and navigate these turbulent times.
With the smell of kolonya lingering around, we had to find a way to deal with this uncertainty. There were only two choices: Fight as one, or perish alone.
The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has proved to be an unprecedented disaster, yet we may appreciate the different methods that people have utilized to cope with this uncertainty. We can all picture the image: There is a flower trying to grow under a big stone. It’s called hope. That flower knows no impossibilities and tries to keep living, despite encountering a lot of obstacles. It finds its way. And, here in my country, Turkey, we have done the same. We motivated ourselves to #stayathome. We applauded and praised our frontliners who did not have the luxury to stay at home. We tried to stop people from complaining of boredom by showing them what was waiting for them if they were to get infected with the virus. Every channel out there, from social media influencers to mainstream TV advertisements, carried one message: Stay at home. Such is the power of communitas—however ironic its expression in this case—this being Victor Turner’s term (1969) for “actions that lead to a great sense of belonging and togetherness with the community.” (pp. 94-113) Having to fight as a community brought us together.
The power of Durkheim’s collective effervescence (Olaveson, 2001) also arguably brought us together, albeit on digital platforms, where dynamic online relationships kept us together during the days we spent in quarantine. People enjoyed themselves with online concerts, live programs, and even attempts at a theater. Online communities on social media let us experience enormous transformations to motivate ourselves while waiting for the virus to end its run (see also Wilson & Peterson 2002). During the “new normal” of their lives, people still wanted to share, and Instagram was the place for them to display their lives. Everyone shared the food they made at home; everyone shared their routines. Social media has often been a platform to encourage people to dissent. It certainly worked in that way during the Tunisian revolution in late 2010 and early 2011 (Breuer, Landman & Farquhar, 2014), the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement in Turkey Taksim Gezi Parki (Haciyakupoglu & Zhang 2015), and Egyptian Revolution (Johnson et al. 2013). This time, it was mobilized to make people stay at home and protect the whole community.
In April, Muslims started to get stressed for another reason: Ramadan was coming, yet there was no opportunity to have a communal experience. Many things, unimaginable in the past, happened this year. We spent the whole month of Ramadan alone at home, without traveling at all. We did not even gather for the Eid holidays. There were curfews during the Eid, but people still found ways to celebrate: people wore beautiful dresses while families contacted each other on video conferences. Despite the new challenges that people face, traditions do stay alive.
National holidays are a big thing here in Turkey. To commemorate these moments in our history, everyone decided to clap and cheer at nine in the evening, to maintain a semblance of celebration. It showed the importance of collective power, and collective action feels powerful. People were not born alone. We need each other. To protect ourselves, we should act together. It is the only way.
We are now in July. People can go outside, provided they wear masks. Now, the new normal is to see masks hanging on the front mirrors of the cars We did not give up, despite the negative news and rumors. They said humanity would never be the same; I continued to hope that people would act together and empathize with each other.
If you have ever been to Turkey, you know how important it is to hug someone when you meet, cry, celebrate, and grieve. My society will not give up on being together.
I would have preferred seeing the whole world acting together. While all countries fight the same pandemic, unfortunately, they prefer to find individual ways or national solutions. It is hard to be hopeful when looking at the selfish and ill-informed decisions that are carried out by politicians every single day, but I am sure humanity will not give up on trusting each other.
The world I dream of includes humanity trying to find a solution and sharing experiences as one.
I am hopeful that the future will be like this.
May we fight for this new world as one.
Breuer, A., Landman, T., & Farquhar, D. 2014. Social media and protest mobilization: evidence from the Tunisian revolution. Democratization, 22(4), 764-792. doi: 10.1080/13510347.2014.885505.
Haciyakupoglu, Gulizar & Zhang, Weiyu. 2015. “Social Media and Trust during the Gezi Protests in Turkey”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 20 (4): 450-466. Oxford University Press (OUP). doi:10.1111/jcc4.12121.
Johnson, Ginger A.; Tudor, Brant & Nuseibeh, Hasan. 2013. “140 Characters or Less: How Is the Twitter Mediascape Influencing the Egyptian Revolution?”. Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (1): 126-148. Brill. doi:10.1163/18739865-00503006.
Olaveson, T. 2001. Collective Effervescence and Communitas: Processual Models of Ritual and Society in Emile Durkheim and Victor Turner. Dialectical Anthropology 26, 89–124.
Turner, V.1969.”Liminality and Communitas,” in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Alline Publishing, pp. 94-113.
Wilson, Samuel M. & Peterson, Leighton C. 2002. “The Anthropology of Online Communities”. Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (1): 449-467. Annual Reviews. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.31.040402.085436.
Melike Sema Alisan
Melike Sema Alisan is a postgraduate student currently specializing in Asian Studies at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. She focuses on the Asia-Pacific region and studies the effects of ethnic patterns on unity and peace through education and social life, including cultural diversity, social order, and heritage of art and aesthetics. She can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram @melikesemaalisan