Self-Reliance through a Pandemic

By Asmae Ourkiya

The last time someone noticed and paid me a compliment for one of my tattoos was in a small cozy coffee shop in Lisbon. The waitress walked near me and said: “I love that Medusa. It is amazing!” I blushed, and I can’t remember the last time I felt the warmth of being approached by a kind observant stranger. Not only do I miss traveling, but I miss home as well. I miss my family, my mother’s food, my brother’s plants, and my sister’s dance moves. I am mourning.
Lockdown, confinement, contamination rate, these words make me feel like I am a character in one of those virus outbreak movies. Sadly, this is real life, and the people that are dying every single day are not getting paid for their performances.
Anxiety started to devour me day after day. My life became a Russian doll: The repetitiveness of the same day over and over again not knowing when it will end left me alone with my own thoughts. It all happened very fast and in a matter of a few days, I found myself stuck on an island without the possibility of having any of my friends or family visit nor the chance for me to leave and visit them.
Experiencing the pandemic as a gay woman of colour with past traumas that found herself trapped in a continuous state of uncertainty has been anything but what I expected it to be. I am sure I am not the only queer expat of colour that has experienced the alienation that resulted from the COVID19 outbreak, but here is what brought me back to the surface of the ocean I kept struggling not to sink in.
I planted a cherry tomato seed and watched it become a massive tomato plant. Its growth journey has given me the most serene feeling I have experienced in a long while. In the midst of chaos, I found a way to restore order in my life. I knew I had lost control of everything as I could not decide anything anymore, but I was always in control of what I can make, what I can grow, what I can create. I rediscovered my passion for painting which I have lost in my early teenage years, and suddenly, the lockdown became more bearable. My need to be heard and hopefully understood manifested in the way I use my brushes and mix my paint.
Living in Cork city for over a year now has enabled me to release my artistic potential. The quirky street art that covers the walls of the city has been a constant reminder of the city’s rebellious persona. “End Dublin Rule in Cork” art in Washington street was my wake up call: End the Pandemic’s Anxiety within You.
The therapeutic nature of painting helped me communicate the profound grief I have been feeling for not living my life on my terms, for not being as free as I have always fought to be. I know that the current entrapment feeling is temporary as I am certain that I will gain my freedom again, but the freedom I found within myself in the middle of the chaotic months of 2020 will always stay with me.