Think of this scenario for a moment. You and some friends go to a museum and stumble across a painting. It is abstract, with the description only stating the name of the artist and the year of the painting’s creation. You stand there with your friends pondering over what it could actually mean. And then you share your ideas of its meaning with each other. Not surprisingly, there is a difference in opinion, a very stark difference in opinion. That is because we as humans are unique creatures with various ideologies who interpret and handle obstacles differently. It is no surprise then that on a macro level, we are handling the current global pandemic differently.
I live in the United States. In the Detroit area to be more specific. My father lives in Jordan, one of the poorest countries in the world. The other night we were messaging about the way that the countries that we live in have been responding to the outbreak of COVID-19. What he described to me was a commentary on how culture and priority reflect the way that our collective societies handle crisis. I’d like to share what he is experiencing.
Here in the US, it seems that much of the virus has been politicized. Media outlets have been spinning the narrative since late January. The current White House administration has been seen lashing out at reporters, declaring states of emergency, saying that things are under control when they are not, and spreading misinformation about a plan to stem the spread of this virus. In two words it seems that the response by the United States has been inconsistent and incompetent. Daily here in Michigan and other states, there are more confirmed cases and deaths with no real plan of action in place on a national level. There have been attacks on governors that oppose this current administration, making this all a game of political Russian Roulette. It is with this mind state that I was on Facebook and saw that my father had posted a live video. He doesn’t normally do this, so I opened it and saw a live video from the front of his house where citizens were clapping and cheering.
Naturally, I was confused so I messaged him and asked him what the commotion was about. He went on to tell me that through social media the people of Jordan had collectively decided among themselves that at 8:00 PM on March 20th to show some appreciation. Appreciation for the Army, Police, and medical professionals nationwide for the work and effort that was being put in to stop the spread of the virus. A national showing of solidarity that I found to be both inspiring and foreign. As the mere thought of the US doing this seemed like the most unlikely of scenarios. Over the past few weeks I have seen people call the virus a hoax, make it racial against the Chinese people, and engage in panic tendencies to arouse further panic. Yet in a small nation in the Middle East there was a level of solidarity being shown.
My father went on to tell me how that the following morning, the whole country would be on complete lock down. Despite the fact that at the time there had been no confirmed deaths and around 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country. Similarly, when we here in the States were at a similar number we were incredibly dismissive of the virus and thinking that it was isolated to China and that we were not in danger. It was a smaller country that many Americans have never heard of that was being proactive and taking the measures that we waited to take because the crisis wasn’t big enough yet. It was my father’s feeling that the whole world must lock down, a feeling that is echoed through the country’s leadership. Over here, our leadership has been scrambling since states of emergency have been announced and we have followed the direction of our leaders by entering into a mind state of dystopian panic.
Countries are typically measured by the money that they wield, how strong their economy is on the global scale. The thing about the current situation that the world finds itself in is that this virus, this pandemic does not care about a nation’s wealth. It does not care about status or holdings. It is absolute and makes no sort of discrimination. Times like these are when humanity needs to be highlighted over prosperity. Where we as a collective people need to be highlighting the people and the countries that are doing right by their people.
When I asked about Jordan’s response to everything that was happening I was shocked at the response. He told me that when everything first started, that Jordan was one of the only countries in the world to send a plane to Wuhan, China to evacuate its citizens. Jordan announced a lock down for two weeks and paid the salaries of all employees for the month of March in advance. Even beyond this, Jordan evacuated all of the 5 star hotels in both Amman and the Dead Sea. They then used these hotels to isolate 5,900 passengers who arrived at the airport before instituting a travel ban. All of these people were accommodated and tested for the virus, free of charge.
I think about that sort of response in a developing nation with a very high poverty level. Juxtapose that with us here in the US. We have millions of people accepting the fact that they will not have jobs, unaware of how or where to get tested. There is panic in the lower class as we see rich and famous athletes and movie stars get tested with ease without showing any symptoms. The stark contrast in humanity is quite eye opening and really shows that even in times of crisis, we as Americans default to the capitalism brain. Allowing people to hoard goods to price gouge without any real fear of consequence. Whereas, in this small poor country new isolation rooms are being built in hospitals, finance officials are making sure that there is no sort of price hiking going on, and cars that are parked in the streets are being sanitized.
Hearing all of this, since nothing like this would be reported on any sort of news article due to the severity of sickness and death at home, was unreal for me. I finished high school in Jordan, and I was reminded of a marketing campaign that the government was pushing out at the time. The campaign was called “Jordan First” and it was in part designed to create a unified Jordanian identity regardless of origin, as the country had a new influx of Iraqi refugees and has always had a very prominent Palestinian population. Much how France has viewed its people under the French identity, Jordan was trying to do this. Nationalist tendencies aside, this campaign tried to show the people that Jordan was a country where all of its citizens were united together, a solidarity quality.
It is this solidarity that I thought of at the next bit that my father sent me about Jordan in the crisis. The minister of finance, Mohamad Al Ississ, was being interviewed and was asked if he was concerned about the economic impact that all of this would have on the economy. His response was, and I am paraphrasing here, that the number of people diagnosed with the virus is all that matters and the rest is just details. A very human response to such a very difficult and politically charged question. A question that I feel that leaders here in this country would have taken as an opportunity to spin what they will do come election time or how they plan to make the economy work. Instead, we have a response showing the humanity priority of a finance minister.
This conversation with my father was one of the more illuminating ones he and I have had in some time, which is saying something as we always have excellent discussions about various topics. But the way in which the country that he is currently residing in has responded to this crisis makes me long for a steady leadership from our own officials. I am currently in a country that is wildly fragmented in a time that requires unity. We are being lied to in a time that requires direct action and transparency. We are being pitched by politicians instead of being informed by scientists.
This virus is the greatest world threat that I have seen in my lifetime, and the responses of nations have been varied and inconsistent. I find myself going back to the analogy of looking at a painting. There are my two selves in the room, my American self and my Palestinian self. We are both looking at this painting with more clarity now. We see the destruction and the chaos more clearly now. Behind us, the representation of our leaders are whispering in our ears muttering very different responses. Now is the time where we need to be as one, as a human race. Never have I been more disappointed in the country that I call home, wishing it was more like Jordan.