For this outlet, I usually translate three articles a day, five days a week. Prior to and following the announcement of Turkey’s first case of COVID-19, nearly every single one of these articles had to do with the virus.
To that end, while I am healthy and have managed to stay as mentally tough as possible, the virus has nevertheless conquered my capacity to think, as it completely dominates my work and lifestyle.
This is a condition that is by no means unique to me, and it is undoubtedly preferable to the tragic and frustrating reality of the millions that have to go to work every day, particularly those who come into contact with large numbers of people.
I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety that grips many of these people, nor can I comprehend the difficulty of the choice between protecting one’s health and paying the rent. Of course, there are so many that don’t have the luxury of making this choice.
There are at least four books on my shelf that remain unfinished, though I currently lack the concentration to read anything lengthier than a long-form news article. My distractions are typical: Netflix, pushups, playing guitar, cooking, and speaking with friends and family on the phone. But the existence of this novel and dangerous virus never really leaves my mind, nor am I fully able to grasp the profundity of what is perhaps the defining period of our generation. Surely I am not alone in this.
The work that I do for this website is important and I am happy to do it, though it can be difficult to get through. I failed to hold back tears as I translated Pınar Öğünç’s devastating piece about a young woman who was fired from her job at a cargo company after being berated by a customer. She had recently convinced her young sister to quit her job at a supermarket due to the risk of contracting the virus, and now the women are trapped in Istanbul with no source of income.
It was also impossible not to cry while translating Ayça Örer’s infuriating article on Syrian refugees who work for miserably low wages, some of whom are still going to their jobs every day, despite having been diagnosed with the virus. All that separates them from their virus-free coworkers are three meters of distance.
The normalization of fear is a grim reality experienced by many journalists, particularly those working in this critical region. Rather than a gripping, consuming sensation, fear becomes a banality that one is resigned to live with. The fear of getting in trouble for something you write is always there, but you keep on writing.
The coronavirus has added a new dimension to this omnipresent fear. As journalists, we must engage with this topic, as it is the top item on the agenda. In a disintegrating sector that was already hemorrhaging jobs, the opportunity to report on other pressing topics has now become even more limited. The fear of getting the virus, how severely it may affect you, and transmitting it to others is layered upon the existing fear and lack of security that comes along with the job. Accepting that is mandatory.
Travel, food, culture and arts writers are in a particularly tough spot, as they often must incorporate the virus as the central topic of whatever they are writing about. Given the mass closure of restaurants, the halting of flights, the shuttering of venues and the cancellation of cultural events, a massive void of content has been created. The larger that void becomes, the quicker it is filled by the virus.
On the other hand, the countless examples of resilience, creativity and humanity that have emerged around the globe has demonstrated that we are doing our best to adapt to this bizarre and alarming period, the longevity of which is still uncertain.
Social distancing and a life spent within four walls is restricting if necessary. Yet the imposition of the virus on the mental faculties seems to be much more successful in creating loneliness and the feeling of being trapped. Breaking out of that trap, for now, is a constant struggle.