Materialities of Spatial Confinement: Wales meets Beirut
The farmer moved the sheep to the field up the hill, they have eaten all the grass in the field across the lane since we came here at the beginning of the lockdown. That’s how long we have been here.
We only eat chicken now. Meat is so expensive that most people stopped buying it. Soon the whole country will become vegetarian like you.
It was the first time I actually saw farm dogs herding sheep. It was amazing, they are pretty good at it, and guess what, I saw a hare. A real hare, with long ears and all.
The dollar is trading at 9,000LL on the black market today. Imagine? The Lebanese pound lost about 80% of its value since you were last here over Christmas.
A flycatcher bird nested on the house wall. I always wondered if birds left their nests unattended. We set up a nature camera so we can see the chicks getting fed.
Live rounds were fired last night, on old demarcation lines between Chiah and Ain el-Remmaneh. Did you watch the news?
There are estimates of over 40,000 C19 deaths in the country, and only around 350 in Lebanon. It is amazing that numbers are so low. You somehow managed to do better than the UK.
Have we, though?
I have been living in a postcard since the beginning of the lockdown in the UK. In a beautiful Welsh village called Trefeglwys (it took me around 10 weeks to learn to spell its name), with a river, woods, and green hills all around. This is the material reality of my spatial (non)confinement. We came here just in time for lambing season too, so there are lambs jumping around, like in dreamland visions. We have been living in a 380 year-old Grade-2 listed Tudor house, which is now part of my British family heritage.
Meanwhile, in Beirut, my parents are buying candles because of power cuts. ‘It’s more romantic’, they jokingly tell me, ‘we will no longer be distracted by TV or the Internet’. Lebanon is currently going through the worst economic crisis in its modern history, pushing the majority of its population below the poverty line.
I recently read an article by Anna Reading in which she suggests looking at the political economy of digital memory in an attempt to conceptualise it in terms of ‘commodity chains of environmental impact, human labour, and material processes involved in various aspects of production and consumption’ (Reading, 2014: 749).
This made me think about the ways we will remember this lockdown years from now; what traces will remain in our everyday lives? Will my two-year old daughter remember anything at all?
Despite the river and beautiful outdoor spaces, my memory of our (Welsh) lockdown has mostly been digital. Mainly because it involved a lot of screens. And behind those screens a part of my family which has been living through a social, political and economic meltdown, haunted by the ghosts of civil war, and an under-reported C19 pandemic.
Screens, voice notes and short video snaps. That is the materiality of my C19 confinement story, so my daughter remembers some of the people when being with family in Beirut becomes part of who we are, or what we do, again.
For now, she thinks they all live in my phone.
Reading, A. (2014). Seeing red: a political economy of digital memory. Media, Culture & Society, 36(6), 748–760. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443714532980
A version of this appears in the NEW THINKING #3.7 pamphlet.