‘If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; if the plague breaks out in a place whilst you are in it, do not leave that place.’
The Prophet Mohammed. Albeit 14 centuries ago.
Here I sit in Tangier surrounded by the call to prayer five times each day, every day of the week.
‘Oh, its so romantic’ they croon, ‘I love that sound when I visit a Muslim country.’
As do I, even though I only understand the repeat in the call where we all hear ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is Great) sung across every neighbourhood of Tangier through megaphones. The rest, beautiful as it may sound, is lost on me.
I was raised in the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion who renounced papal authority when when Henry VIII failed to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1534.
How annoying for Henry and the court in which he served.
I am not religious, but due to the fact that I went to a Church of England boarding school for six years of my teenage life – where we attended chapel each morning, I adore singing hymns.
Sometimes when I’m tired of the news and can’t stand the thought of another talkback hour on the radio, I play hymns on my iPad loudly throughout the flat. I have done, in some way shape or form, since I left school.
‘I Vow to Thee, My Country all Earthly Things Above! Entire and Whole and Perfect, the Service of My LOVE! The Love That asks no Questions, the Love that Stands the Test; that Lays upon the Alter, the Dearest and the Best…’
I sing that one with gusto in the shower and moments later as I brush my hair. When I’m choosing a shirt for the day, I sigh at ‘dearest and the best…’ whilst dealing with too many choices – blue, white or coloured today?
Sometimes Allah Akbar sounds as I’m just warming up for that all important morning burst of Jerusalem, an absolute favourite, which I sing as I whoosh the kitchen curtains open whilst coffee brews on the stove:
‘And did those feet, in ancient time, Walk upon Englands mountains green? And was the holy lamb of God, On Englands pleasant pastures seen?’.
There is no denying that religion plays a role in all of our lives, whether we are from a religious household or not. It is written into our daily manuscript, even if we cant see it.
As a little girl, Mrs Baulch would drive my sisters and me to Sunday School at the church hall in the little town just twenty minutes from home. I didn’t so much enjoy Sunday School because I was too curious and chatty.
But how does God not fall out of the sky?
Did Jesus really come back to life? All the people I know who died, I think they are still dead?
Said ten year old me.
I was confirmed as a fifteen year old; mainly because if one chose to be confirmed, one was granted a visiting weekend with ones parents. The chapel in which I was confirmed was an A Frame building with sweeping views across the high country of Victoria, Australia, during a year called ‘Timbertop’ where we saw our parents for just one day throughout the entire school term.
School holidays aside, we saw them a grand total of four days in the year. I couldn’t be confirmed quick enough, even if I did have a load of questions for the Boss in the sky.
That year played a really important role for me – particularly, as being fifteen can be a difficult time for children making the shift from being a ‘child,’ as they walk the daunting path towards adulthood.
We’d hike for miles during the week and would complete the school curriculum on the weekends. On those long hikes, we’d also sing hymns (no snap chat, no tik tok and no instagram).
In 1994, if you happened to be atop a peak of any given mountain in north eastern Victoria, Australia, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a group of pubescent fifteen year olds thrashing out the worlds to Hymn 510 from their school prayer book, rosy cheeks and all:
‘Father hear the prayer we offer, not for ease that prayer shall be, But for strength that we may ever, Live our lives courageously!’.
Really, I was determined to steer away from COVID19 in this weeks pinningmywords – I think I’m reaching ‘CO- tigue’ but there seems to be no escaping it.
I’ve also been reading a lot about Spanish influenza, the last pandemic to practically close the world down – and with it being a wartime flu, it too became a global problem, particularly with increased travel taking place as soldiers returned from the trenches to their home countries all around the world.
To travel in these times is now impossible, with borders closed and flights grounded, but to even travel in a taxi, or any public transport will only see a further spread. All the more reason to stay at home and isolate with those around you. Just as we did in 1919.
Unlike 1919, this has become a time of heightened connectivity with those we love. In the old days, up until just a month ago, I rather dreaded picking up the phone in fear I’d catch someone running out the door, or on the school run, or heading into a meeting. These days, we are all ‘here’ and grounded by the same circumstance wherever we may be in the world. There is something comforting in this and I have spoken to more people in the past weeks than I have in my entire life.
Or, so it would seem.
Every news hour on the BBC is filled with stats and opinions, predictions and contradictions. The headlines are driving me crazy,
Charles, heir to throne tests positive! Did the Queen share tea with him?
Boris, positive with killer virus!
We’re at risk of losing our way in this as we drown in sensational headlines and throw common sense out with the rubbish. This is why I find common sense, and if you need them, the words of the Prophet Mohammed and anyone who wrote beautiful poetry and scripture well before COVID-19, pretty spine tingling – if we know there is a virus out there, don’t go near it, just as if we are in the area in which the virus has spread, don’t leave that area.
This to me seems utterly commonsensical, and maybe it was these guiding words which saw our border to Morocco slammed shut with very little warning. Within forty eight hours everything was closed, including schools and mosques, and we just had to adapt.
That, I would say, is containment, and until we have a vaccine, we have no option other than to do what we can to keep it at bay. I’m not suggesting it has been an easy shift to make; there are stories of unrest and discomfort, there are ever present fears for what the future holds and quite rightly, people are scared.
But this fear is only enhanced by the media writing some pretty irresponsible articles which has seen our ability to see light from dark, fly out the window – just like my cardigan did once from the clothesline during a strong easterly.
This morning I woke early and decided to change things up a little bit. No radio and no mainstream media, just a day of reading and writing with an hourly update with the national newspaper as a means of checking the world didn’t end between cups of coffee and poring over publications and tapping on my keyboard.
When I first opened my emails earlier today, I found one from a friend inviting me to join his poetry exchange.
How serendipitous I thought, licking my lips with glee. It was only last night that I drifted off to sleep following half an hour of reading the 13th century works of the Persian Muslim polymath, Sa’adi.
In a time where we are housebound and days are shrouded with negativity on our news outlets, a poetry exchange and a chance to be enlightened through the writing of others, couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
Sa’adi’s poem, Bani Adam (Human Kind) drives us to understand our current challenge as we visualise (if we possibly can) the common constitution of humanity and it’s inevitable fate, and the way in which that realisation unites us, no matter what our belief system. In Bani Adam he writes:
‘Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasily will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot remain.’
I’ve always been curious about scripture, and in this time of daily isolation I am going to attempt to return to my life as a little girl, where I read books and travelled to far away lands in my bed and under torchlight at night. There is no one to tell me to turn the light off now that I’m forty, almost forty one, and there is no limit to what I can access through technology.
My school reports were always littered with phrases like ‘bookworm’ ‘a bit of a distraction’ and as I grew older, that chatty bookworm became a (perhaps self professed) ‘social and curious butterfly’ who didn’t read nearly enough. I was too busy doing everything at once and had forgotten how to say ‘no’. Having said that, I have never stopped asking questions and exploring writings from varying cultures, generations and situations.
I used to dream of the day where someone would say ‘yer can’t go out today, there’s a flood on the road and the bridge has collapsed. Sorry, love’.
Well, the bridge has collapsed and now I’ve been granted days, weeks and potentially months to learn and relearn, all the things I was taught before the world became so fast, and so easy, and everything would happen with the click of a button.
Following two weeks of suspended travel in and out of Morocco, the air is incredibly clear and the silence, almost deafening. The only fight for airspace is between newly arrived migrating storks and our ever present flocks of seagulls. The birdsong is magnificent and it fills the air during eerily silent days; little birds chatter and dance on my balcony as their huge cousins swoop in sync overhead.
Off I go to make a sandwich for lunch and I think I’ll sing along to Jerusalem whilst searching for a poem to present to my new poetry exchange.
In the meantime and whilst I’m at it, I decided last week to make a contribution to: https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/03/297684/moroccos-state-of-emergency-through-an-australian-expats-eyes/
If you haven’t already read it, it might bring a bit of light relief to your day. Or, you could just sing a hymn at the top of your lungs – no one is listening I promise. And if they are, just pretend you’re a pubescent teenager on a mountain top and it’s 1994.
In hindsight, there was not a worry in the world up there.