We Eluded COVID in Ramallah, but It Finally Caught Up With Us in America

A virus that had ravaged the bodies of so many made mine feel as if I had developed an ordinary, mild cold. The man with the soft Southern accent was right when he said we’d get through it just fine ■ Post #43

Umm Forat
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A COVID testing site in Manhattan last week.
A COVID testing site in Manhattan last week. Credit: Spencer Platt / AFP
Umm Forat

I’m an Israeli-American lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah, and author of the Hebrew-language book “Maqluba – Upside-Down Love,” which describes how we met and fell in love. This blog is about raising our two children, 7-year-old Forat and 4-year-old Adam, in the West Bank and more recently in the United States, where we’re spending a sabbatical year.

We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you. I have changed people’s names to protect their privacy. My real name is Sari Bashi, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2019 under the pen name Umm Forat, which means Mother of Forat in Arabic. I invite you to visit my website: www.ummforat.com.

Osama left to take the children to school and preschool, but returned an hour later with 7-year-old Forat.

“She threw up when we got out of the car,” he explained. “Maybe because she was reading one of her fairy books during the ride.”

Forat seemed pretty healthy, but coronavirus infection rates had skyrocketed in Raleigh, North Carolina, our home for Osama’s sabbatical, so I took her to get a COVID test.

Two days later, I awoke to an email notifying me that Forat’s test was positive. She had already recovered, if she had ever been sick. At that point, I had developed an itch in the back of my throat. I donned a mask and gave the news to Osama, who was still in bed.

“Maybe Forat and I should go into isolation in the children’s room? I think I’m also infected,” I told him.

“My head hurts,” Osama said. We looked at 4-year-old Adam, who slept next to Osama after sneaking into our bed in the middle of the night.

“Bring me a mask too,” Osama said.

People passing a COVID testing van on a Manhattan street last week. Credit: Spencer Platt / AFP

We were among the first in the drive-through line for a COVID test, in a huge parking lot outside a hockey arena. A smiling 50- or 60-something man approached our car and asked how many test kits we wanted.

“Three,” I said. “My daughter already has COVID, and for that reason you shouldn’t get too close to our car window.”

His smile widened, and he spoke in a soft Southern accent. “In November, I spent two weeks in intensive care with COVID,” he announced. “They brought a priest to give me last rites. You don’t scare me.”

“You look wonderful,” I told him. He seemed strong and energetic, with a round face red from the cold.

“I’m the events coordinator for the Saving Grace Church,” he said. “Two hundred people gathered under my hospital window to shout encouragement. The nurses said they never saw anything like it. You’ll also get through this just fine.”

A weakened enemy

In the days that followed, as we waited for our test results, I thought of that smiling man who recovered from a near-death bout and now spent his time reassuring worried, coughing and sneezing would-be patients that we would weather the pandemic together.

When we first got home from the testing site, we tried to protect Adam, but in the afternoon he said he wanted to sleep – a sure sign that he was already sick. I removed my mask, lay down next to him and held him close, worried that his unvaccinated body was now encountering a completely novel virus, one that had killed millions of people.

The days passed slowly. Our test results came back positive. Tense, we waited for a sudden turn for the worse, a powerful bout of illness, but none arrived. The children ate and played. I continued running in the mornings. Osama took acetaminophen for his headache.

After two years in which we turned our lives upside down trying to evade the coronavirus, it caught up to us, but in a weakened form, after most of us were vaccinated and scientists had developed effective treatments that we knew we could access if necessary. A virus that had ravaged the bodies of so many made mine feel as if I had developed an ordinary, mild cold.

Watercolor paints also came to the rescue while we had COVID. Credit: Umm Forat

We resumed the kind of isolation we had undergone in the first few months of the pandemic, when the Palestinian authorities imposed a strict lockdown of West Bank cities and for three months I was the only one who left our apartment – to buy groceries, fearful of touching surfaces or getting close to other people. Then, as now, Osama and I divided the days, such that at any given moment, one of us worked while the other took care of the children.

Those were difficult but also beautiful days when time stood still, and the days blurred together into a routine of cooking, playing, fighting between the children, and always – together.

Now, we found watercolor paints in the closet and made an art exhibit. We separated the children, who seemed to hit each other about every hour. I screamed at Forat when she broke into the bedroom a minute before I gave a Zoom lecture to 150 people. We baked granola. We strung beads.

Maybe this is how the acute phase of the pandemic ended for us, with the threat of the virus dissipating for our family, leaving just slow, maddening, beautiful time together in isolation.

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