In mid March, MCJN deputy Abir Kopty met with the editors of the Amman-based podcasting platform SOWT to discuss the idea of starting an Arabic-speaking podcast on the Corona pandemic. Within two days, she began producing “Almostajad” from home, while carrying out her editorial duties with MCJN, and caring for her 3-year old son.
Like many of us, Abir is having to adapt to a new life order, and maintain a healthy balance between caution and optimism.
Tell us a bit about the podcast. There’s plenty of news and information coming out everyday about Coronavirus so in what way is “Almostajad” different?
I want this podcast to become a lifelong archive of what happened in the Arab world during these exceptional times
I set out to produce “Almostajad” with three goals in mind; to provide advice and information in a calm, non-hysterical mode, to offer hope to our Arabic-speaking listeners and bring us together as a community, and finally to document these exceptional times. Basically, I wanted to cover everything, from straight-up news, to analysis and personal stories.
When we started, we didn’t know what this podcast would sound like. We had to let daily developments determine the shape of each episode and indeed, each episode has been different in style and content.
How do you set the agenda when you’re dealing with such a fast-moving story? Do you find that you’re having to make last-minute changes?
This is the most difficult part. Our agenda is to encourage people to stay safe and protected. But I also want this podcast to become a lifelong archive of what happened in the Arab world during these exceptional times.
It is hard to keep up with rapid developments. When it comes to statistics, I have to update them constantly, right until the last minute before recording. One episode featured a series of interviews from several Arab countries that were recorded over the weekend. But by the time we finalised the script, new developments took place and some of the interviews became outdated. So we had to contact the interviewees and ask for updated information. Once, I did an interview with a Gazan living in Berlin. At the time, there were no reported cases in Gaza. But just before recording, they reported the first two cases of Corona infections, so I had to update the episode accordingly.
This crisis has raised some critical questions that we cannot ignore any more, about the environment, our food habits, consumerism, capitalism, democracy
Aside from keeping up with the latest developments, what has been the most challenging thing for you in producing this podcast?
To be honest, the most challenging thing so far has been finding Arabic-speaking experts, especially scientists. Virology is not a very popular topic even during ordinary times, so I had to dig deeper to find the experts. The same thing goes for other experts like child psychologists for example. It’s not that there aren’t any, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of psychologists. But it’s not easy to find them while you’re racing against time and producing content every 2-3 days. Besides, most such experts are also very busy handling emergencies in their own countries.
Another challenge is that some people are tired of the Corona news, so we need to constantly remind ourselves to move away from that and try to find interesting personal stories on how our lives are and will be affected by this pandemic.
Given that you are so immersed in the story now, do you see any signs or reasons to be hopeful?
Well, to be honest we are still at the beginning. This pandemic is now hitting countries with poor health systems, some of them in the Arab world, and this is frightening. I follow the statistics every day, and it’s clear that many Arab states are either not transparent about the real rates of infection and death, or they’re not documenting them properly. Both cases are a disaster.
On the other hand, there is more cooperation between people, more responsibility and better understanding of the seriousness of the situation. Of course, we still see large gatherings of people defying the rules of social distancing. But in most Arab countries, people are taking precautions. Another sign of hope to me is the social solidarity that is emerging. We are preparing an episode about new social initiatives like helping the elderly and underprivileged segments of society. I also see hope when many factories are shifting to produce medical supplies and masks.
But there is also more creativity all around. People are becoming creative with their children at home, for example, using simple means to entertain them. Artists and musicians are coming up with creative ideas to boost public morale.
Finally, this crisis has raised some critical questions that we cannot ignore any more, about the environment, our food habits, consumerism, capitalism, democracy etc.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that it is not easy for kids. They know that something is wrong but they don’t fully comprehend it and it can be frustrating
Like many other cities, Berlin has very strict measures in place and most people are staying at home. So as a working mother, how are you adapting to the current situation?
This is the toughest part; having to work while caring for a 3 year old kid who isn’t yet at a stage where he plays alone. Plus, he asks a lot of questions! He asks about the virus, or who closed the playground, or why some people don’t come to visit us anymore. Once, he told me he didn’t want to play outside because of the "disease" and that broke my heart. It’s also difficult to be so far away from my family. I’m extremely worried about them and I can’t do much. But I do feel privileged in a way because both me and my partner can work from home and our job situation is stable so far.
Here are some things that help me cope. Sometimes I’m successful in implementing them and some other times I’m not. But I keep trying:
- We work in shifts. I work mornings, evenings and while my son is napping at noon, while my partner works during the day because his working hours are more strict.
- We share the chores, like preparing breakfast, washing dishes, cleaning etc.
- We take a walk every day. Luckily, we are still allowed to do that here. We leave our phones at home, and we try to experience some sort of normality, we run, laugh and play.
- We try, as much as possible, to limit news-reading time. This isn’t easy considering the podcast. But my favorite part of the day is putting my son to sleep, preparing a large pot of popcorn and watching a silly movie with my partner.
- Sharing feelings. I talk a lot about my fears and anxieties. I think that helps me.
- With my kid, I realised that if I spend the whole morning totally focused on him – no phone (unless urgent), no news, and doing one major activity, like painting or baking with him – then the rest of the day will be easier and I can allow myself to check my emails or make some calls, because he's had his dose of attention.
- We need to keep reminding ourselves that it is not easy for kids. They have their anxieties. They know that something is wrong but they don’t fully comprehend it and it can be frustrating. Their childhood activities, such as going to kindergarten or playing with their friends, have all come to a grinding halt. So I try to explain to my son that this is temporary and “everything will be alright again”.
*photo: MCJN deputy editor, Abir Kopty, recording an episode of "Almostajadd" , supervised by her 3-year old son, Mina.