Scenes From a Pandemic: 18

3 08 2020

by Najla Said

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

Mural on the apartheid wall in Occupied Palestine. (photo: Abeer Salman)

Diary of a Never-Ending Crisis

New York City

March. I remember Beirut in 2005, after a car bomb went off, trying not to go near parked cars, and stopping, hyperventilating, catching my breath, and drilling into my brain: “Keep walking, keep going; you can’t control it; you have to keep going.” I need to do this now, here.

Having spent my childhood between Beirut during two wars and NYC in the 1970s–’80s, I have learned to be prepared. I tell myself, “I fear nothing and live for human solidarity.”

Half my Pilates clients are away, some are over 70 and canceled out of fear, and the rest just don’t think it’s a good idea right now. I am officially income-less. My production of Palestine in Chicago will be pushed back at least two to three weeks as of now. I have waited 10 years for a theater to want to do my play again. Now I’m pretty sure it ain’t happening.

I’m making a pink glittery unicorn T-shirt for my niece. I have no problem staying busy. I don’t feel like I have ADHD anymore, because without the confines of other people’s structure, I can do things at my own rhythm.

My shrink says that many traumas will be reactivated during this crisis and asks me how I am doing.

“This is kind of like Beirut, but easier.”

“Oh right. Well, for you it’ll be easier, then.”

I predict the return of telephone calls. I hope no one calls me. I’m an introvert; I hate the phone.

In the store the guy behind me has a cart filled with bottled water. “You must be Lebanese,” I say.

He laughs. “How can you tell?”

“The bottled water.”

There is no need to stock up on water in New York, but that is what Lebanese people do.

I tell people that niqabs (veils over the mouth and nose) were originally worn in the desert to keep sand out of people’s faces, just as masks now are supposed to keep the virus out of our mouth and nose. I explain that Arabs invented soap and the word “quarantine.” No one cares.

There were 6,000 911 calls in the city yesterday. In Beirut, I would hear bombs and artillery fire, and then the sirens. Here it is just sirens. Which is eerie, more unsettling.

Diary of a crisis: nothing is happening; everything is happen-ing. Month after month. I am income-less. I keep busy. I fear nothing, and many things. I feel I am living in a Beckett play.

April. My birthday. My cousins organized a Zoom call for me, and people rang me on the phone. I made a cake. I sang “Miss Mary Mack” with my niece, talked to my nephew, and virtually jumped on a trampoline with my goddaughter. Expect nothing, do nothing, no pressure—perfection.

I’ve knit five scarves. I make pudding, even though I don’t eat pudding.

CNN keeps saying that other countries have more beds in ICU and better medical systems to respond to the virus: “Why? It’s a long story.”

I want to scream, “Socialized medicine! Duh!”

Easter is soon. Maybe Jesus will come back and fix this mess.

For many Americans feeling unsafe is too much. But the whole world lives this way all the time. American exceptionalism needs to die and stay dead.

Meanwhile, I am living in a Beckett play, making up things to do and say so that I exist. There is something satisfying about that.

May. George Floyd is dead.

“Mama, Mama…”

My heart shatters.

My nephew changes his Instagram profile pic to one of John Carlos with his fist in the air, and shares a photo of the George Floyd mural on the wall in Palestine. The kids are alright.

I think about the importance of breath, and breadth. I worry about all that gets left out in our politics. I seem to be out of place. I’m Palestinian and Lebanese; I’m a New Yorker. I tell myself, ‘Keep walking, keep going.’

June. Between the virus and George Floyd’s death, I think about the importance of breath.

I make connections with Palestine, explaining that the IDF trains our cops, that the move used to kill Mr. Floyd is from Krav Maga. I’ve been told that expressing Palestinian solidarity is “co-opting” the black struggle. I should be quiet.

Cornel West keeps mentioning Edward Said on TV. I’m grateful, because no one seems to know that my father’s work helped us get to this point.

I’m glad people are getting radicalized, but I worry about all that gets left out. I worry about the inability to make connections.

I wonder where I fit in this new BIPOC acronym. I just got chased down the street by a nutjob who screamed that I’m a stupid white bitch who doesn’t care about Black lives.

“I’m Palestinian!” I yell, for all the Upper West Side to hear.

“Yeah, bitch, and I’m Cherokee.”

What. The. Fuck.

I am not Black. Or Indigenous. Am I POC? I never seem to have a place here.

A nice gay boy asks if I’m OK.

Happy Pride.

July. Extroverts text and call too much; they need to call other extroverts.

Outside New York, no one wants to wear a mask. Almost everywhere else in the world, people value community. Here it’s the individual, who always seems to be complaining.

We have another family Zoom call—relatives in Beirut, New York, South Carolina, Connecticut, London, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle—my mom’s generation, my generation, the kids.

My cousin, on his way to Beirut, stops at different ATMS to bring cash and medicine to family members. Lebanon is in free fall for other reasons, but still they test everyone on the plane before and after the flight; anyone who tests positive is sent to a hotel for two weeks. That seems like the proper way to do things.

I kind of loved lockdown at the beginning. Now some days the silence is too much and I just cry.

Nothing is happening; everything is happening.

I am invisible. I am exhausted.

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Najla Said is an actor and playwright, and the author of Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family (Riverhead Books). In 2010, Kopkind presented a staged reading of her one-woman play, Palestine.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on July 29, 2020, on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Song by and for Nurses

A nurse on a Covid ward in Teheran. (photo: Mohammad Ghadamali/AP Photo)

In New York the 7 pm clapping for nurses and other health care workers stopped months ago. It was always more a ritual for the benefit of those in lock-down; it told us we weren’t alone. Nursing has become symbolic, but let’s honor the work. The WHO, the International Council of Nurses (INC), and Nursing Now recently reported that worldwide there is a shortage of six million nurses–especially affecting the Global South–and deep income disparities. The INC has made a music video in recognition of the work and the people everywhere who do it. In Kopkind’s immediate family, one of those people is Dave Hall, our longtime operations manager and cook, John Scagliotti’s partner, our brother, and a psychiatric nurse in Vermont. For Dave and all nurses of the world: “I Am a Nurse.”

The World Turns at Kopkind Harvest Festival

17 09 2010

October 9-10, 2010
Najla Said in “Palestine”
13th Annual Harvest Late Brunch Benefit, featuring
Vijay Prashad on “Trembles in the Tropics”

The theme will be internationalist at the Kopkind Colony’s Harvest Festival this year, on the weekend of October 9 and 10.

On Saturday (Oct 9)  evening, Najla Said will perform at the Hooker Dunham Theater in her acclaimed one-woman show, “Palestine.”

On Sunday, events move to The Organ Barn at Guilford, where Vijay Prashad, the award-winning author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, will be the featured speaker, following a “late brunch” tapas feast.

Najla Said star of "Palestine"

“Palestine” opened Off-Broadway earlier this year and had an extended run. The play is, by turns, funny and harrowing, a canny, deeply personal, disarmingly political coming-of-age story, written and performed by Najla Said. In “Palestine,” Said, daughter of the eminent scholar and human rights advocate Edward Said (also a member of Kopkind’s honorary board until his death in 2003), engages questions of identity, cultural fluidity, love and suffering from many angles, in many locales, from New York’s Upper West Side to Gaza to Beirut and back. As an actress, Najla Said brings a sense of the absurd even to deadly serious situations, and, in one reviewer’s words, as her “sweetness turns to incredulity … you begin to understand the madness endured in war-torn countries.”
The performance begins at 7 pm, at the Hooker Dunham, 139 Main Street in Brattleboro. Suggested donation is $15 adult, $10 student.

Vijay Prashad will cap the weekend events with a talk titled “Trembles in the Tropics (In which we will consider the projects to end all human pain, and then wonder for ourselves, seeking necessity in the North).” A spirited, original thinker, he is the author of eleven books, including Karma of Brown Folk, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting and Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism. His path-breaking Darker Nations tells the history of the cold war from the perspective of the world’s poor, and limns the life and death of the Third World as an ideological project that had people across the globe “fired up for freedom,” sovereignty and cooperation, and then collapsed under the weight of debt, globalized capital, internal conflict, corruption, militarism and cultural nationalism. His new project, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, will pick up the story from the 1980s to explore why we are in such a morass today, where is the motion, and what the currently amorphous movements for land, water and human rights in every country, on every continent might spell for the future. Prashad was born in Calcutta, educated in India and the US; he directs the International Studies Program at Trinity College in Hartford. He is a contributing editor of Himal South Asia (Kathmandu, Nepal), an editor of Bol (Lahore), a columnist for Frontline (India) and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, ZNET and a host of others US publications. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Sunday’s events begin with the tapas feast at 2 pm, at 158 Kopkind Road in Guilford; the talk follows in the Organ Barn. Tickets are $35 adult, $25 student.

This will be the 13th annual Harvest Late Brunch benefit for Kopkind and is our only fundraising event of the year.

“Discussions at the retreats this summer revolved around  the interconnection of culture, history and politics, and the relationship between personal stories and larger political or historical currents,” Kopkind programming director JoAnn Wypijewski said. “In different registers, Vijay Prashad and Najla Said bring that all together, while drawing our attention in a new direction, to the wider world, on which our fates depend, whether we recognize it or not.”

Reservations for both events can be made by sending a check payable to the non-profit Kopkind, to 158 Kopkind Road, Guilford, VT 05301, or e mailing For directions, people can e mail that address or call 802.254.4859.

Vijay Prashad, speaker at Harvest