Our nation has entered 40 days of mourning period on the passing of the late Sheikh Khalifa, the ruler of the nation. The flags have been lowered, the entertainment programs cancelled and the only music allowed to play on the radio is classical music. The streets are a bit quiet and sadness is in the air.
Everyone deals with these kind of events their own way. These days it has become widely accepted to do therapy and take neuroleptics in order to cope with pain and loss, stress and other life problems. I’ve never tried, but then I don’t have any tremendous problems in my life to be seeking help, although there have been a few times when I didn’t feel the urge to get out of bed in the morning, and had no passion to do anything.
When I was a teenager it was rather popular to romanticize on the idea of suicide, and the whole goth culture was so popular that even me and my best friend ironically played with the idea of joining the cult. One day we both dressed up goth to go to university to shock the society, but it was so funny to see everyone’s faces that it was very hard not to laugh our asses off and be “deadly serious”.
But it is no laughing matter when every day you live with worry of someone you care about dying… even though death is a part of life, whether we want to accept it or not. So, as some of you know, my background is rather mixed, and though I identify as a Russian by my passport, I was born in Kazakhstan, or rather USSR, to a German father and a mother who is half-Russian and half-Ukrainian. I should really do a DNA test to see what else is there in my blood, but those things are expensive and I am always broke as hell with my choice of profession and the clients who don’t pay me for months. Anyway, half of my family, which is mostly from the German side of my father, live in the Ukraine, also since the times of USSR, and now there is like 4 generations of people identifying as Ukrainians by passport live there. I guess, you couldn’t have escaped the news about what is going on right now between Russia and the Ukraine. My Grandmother lives in the Donetsk area, and there has been some crazy shit going on there for the last 8-9 years that not many news agencies were talking about, but she is still alive and safe-ish. Without talking too much about who is right or wrong here, and it is all politics and it is not our job (thankfully), the reality still stands that my country is killing people from my other country. This is the sad reality for many citizens who have relatives on both sides, and each one of us has to cope with this situation the way we can.
“I cannot help but wonder how many of us walk through our lives, day after day, feeling slightly broken and alone, surrounded all the time by others who feel exactly the same way.”-Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things
When the conflict started (we are not allowed to use other words to describe this event, or you might be tried for treason and get 15 to 20 years of jail for your opinions), I was about to go to KSA and cover the event called “The World Defense Show“, where ironically our stand was right by the side of the Russian stand. The Ukrainian stand was in a different area, but not far from us either. Before I left for Riyadh, that first weekend of the events unfolding, I couldn’t even bring myself to go out on the weekend, as the mood of doom and gloom was surrounding social media, and sharing something about your “high life” in Dubai felt like the next level of hypocrisy. It always hits me like this when the world grieves over certain things, but reality is life goes on, even if it feels wrong. I hated the idea of being in the World Defense Show while my country was testing the defense mechanisms of its neighbors, but at the same time, being there was good for me, made me distracted from reading the news, and worrying about the fate of my relatives, who by the way decided to cut ties with our family on the basis of our passports differences. Perhaps, trying to swallow this information was even harder than trying to come to terms with the idea that you suddenly come from the worlds’ most hated country in the world.
In my family, we mostly don’t talk about bad news (almost like a proper Arab family where everything is alhamdullilah until it’s not and there is no chance to pretend it is so). We exchange information about weather forecasts, flowers, and cat pictures… which doesn’t mean that we don’t worry about the fate of our family on the other side of the border (who knows where this border is now, frankly speaking), but making ourselves depressed with discussing these matters is not gonna change anything.
The other day I went to see a friend, who lost her husband to cancer. In the beginning, when he got unwell, they went to see around 80 doctors none of who could tell them what was wrong with him. They couldn’t find a treatment but neither they could find a reason, so they just offered to do dialysis every couple of month, filtering his blood and putting in the new one, in hope that he will feel better for a while. This guy, he was truly a special character, and had very dark humor which is not so likely to find in Emirati folks, but knowing about his history and him serving the UAE army for most of his life and probably losing his life due to some factors related to that, but not allowed to mention out loud, it wasn’t surprising that he developed a very sarcastic sense of humor. He was kind and generous, but strict and very straightforward, and he loved a good adventure. He drove the most extravagant cars one would find in the UAE, and owned a large number of them just for the hell of it. He wanted to just drive everywhere, but his condition prevented him from taking long road trips, as he would often find himself passed out somewhere in the middle of the journey. So, he passed away just before Christmas 2021, leaving a void in the car community enthusiasts and in our hearts, we lost a friend, unconventional friend, who had so many stories… I remember, one day I asked him how his day is, and he said: “Every day above the ground is a good day”… dark, but true.
So his wife had to cope with her loss, as unfortunately, his family was not close neither to him, nor to her, and they tried to take possession of whatever he owned for themselves, which sadly often becomes the case upon someone’s departure in the best of worlds. There is also a custom in the Arab world that the wife of the man who recently passed away is not allowed to leave her home for 40 days, which I don’t think adds much in helping to deal with loss and general mental health situation. She was in a very strange state of mind, to be honest, and was living some sort of Interstellar movie but in real life…
I am of course nobody to give advice in such cases, but what works for me to get out of my head is walking. I am blessed to live in a place where there is a lot of greenery around (even though technically I live in the desert), and just walking around my area looking at palm trees, water, flowers, cats and multinational community dwelling in the vicinity helps a lot. The only thing is that it is less pleasant to do it when it gets properly hot and humid, but you get used to everything.
Photography also helps, gets me in the zone and makes me forget whatever troubles I had earlier on. So I guess that’s why I am doing so much street photography since corona started…
What about you? What helps you to stay on track in these trying times?