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Circle of life – Ageing in Dar al-Hawa

Maya De Vries Kedem27 October 2020

By Laila Abed Rabho and Maya de Vries

While doing our ethnography in Dar al Hawa for almost two years, one of the songs that kept playing in our heads was Elton John’s “Circle of life”. It is not our intention to compare the ethnographic work to a Disney animation movie. However, when talking to people in Dar al-Hawa, young and old, “the circle of life” was a main concept in people’s lives. This notion is deeply embedded in everyday life, in terms of religious practices, beliefs, culture, language and the relationship to older people in the community. But it is not only older people that this notion is important to. We came to learn that the notion, or better said, the perception of “the circle of life” in Dar al-Hawa applies, first and foremost, to the individuals in society who are considered to be more vulnerable, whether it is older people, children, or those on low-incomes. This is also based on one of five foundations of Islam, that of Zakat: giving charity to those who are in need. This practice is one of the duties every Muslim should do.

The concept of “the circle of life” starts with childhood (Al-Tufula in Arabic مرحلة الطفولة  ) and includes several periods, starting with birth and continuing through to childhood, when the person, as a child, is considered to be vulnerable and cannot help others or take care of themselves without the help of another person, especially their mother’s help. The second stage is the youth stage) Al-Shabab in Arabic مرحلة الشباب), which includes adolescence and can be extended until the age of 30, depending on whether the children leave the house or not. Usually, during these stages, the person in question is considered to be at the height of their power, and he or she does not have any major life problems, he or she is ‘accepted’ as someone who can take care of himself as well as others.

Palestinian girl scouts performing at the seniors’ club at Dar al-Hawa. Photo by Maya de Vries.

The third stage is the stage of adulthood, which extends from the age of 30 to about 40,  sometimes 50, and is also considered to be the period of the middle age (in Arabic Kahel كهل), when men and women are starting to feel, to some extent, that they are becoming older. We spoke with several women aged 40 and over and they were pleased to be living in this period, especially because most of them did not suffer from any serious medical conditions. However, an issue they raised in the interviews was that of stress – some of them said that they are suffering from mental stress in their lives.

The fourth stage is the elderly stage, seniority. This is defined by the word Sheikhuha (in Arabic شيخوخة), meaning an old man or an elderly person who is either physically or mentally/cognitively vulnerable or not necessarily physically or mentally vulnerable, but is aged above 60. The word Sheikh has a positive meaning in Arabic and refers to someone who has extensive knowledge, as defined by Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. So older people are acknowledged as wise individuals that the community should listen to, simply because they have lived longer than us and have more life experience.

The last period, after Sheikhuha , is that of Ardel al-Omar (أرذل العمر), which refers to a period that signals the beginning of dementia, when a person does not know who he or she is anymore. It can be said that the ageing process is divided into two parts: the first is the ageing of the body, which is the beginning of frailty and various diseases, when the person becomes unable to carry out his or her duties and take care of themselves. However, not every person who reaches this stage is unable to take care of themselves, and there are older people who do not need anyone’s help and are able to take care of themselves and are still residing in their homes. They usually live near their family, near to at least one of their children, which means that family care is available, at different levels, according to the older person’s needs as well as the family’s capabilities.

Old woman and a young woman in an activity at the seniors’ club in Dar al-Hawa. Photo by Maya de Vries.

Geographical closeness, the actual living in the same physical space as the family usually has a positive connotation and is an integral part of the notion of “the circle of life” in Dar al-Hawa. A person is born in a specific location, which becomes his or her home. They then raise their family there, grow old there, and eventually die there. ‘The home’ is not just four walls of concrete but also means the land, the territory the home was built upon. Hence, the holding of the home equals to the holding of the land, the family’s territory. In many ways, being an owner of land provides stability, especially when the owner becomes older and cannot work anymore. This stability is extremely important to one’s tranquillity and serenity, which are highly important when getting old. In Islam, as in other cultures, mental health and the ‘health’ of the soul are part of older’s people condition – it is important to have a healthy mind to have a healthy body. When the ‘soul’ starts to lose its connection to the body, meaning memory gets lost, a different stage begins.

When talking with older people in Dar al-Hawa, it felt that there is an acceptance of the notion of “the circle of life” as part of people’s faith and religion. Below, 77-year-old Yasmin’s quote reflects this kind of acceptance of ageing and death quite well – an acceptance we found was widely present among most of the women we spoke with:

“We’ll see what happens next year, maybe I’ll die. Am I thinking about death? I am a believer; I believe in God… Whatever comes will come. This is our religion. The way we look at life in Dar al-Hawa is almost always done through the religious prism, God is the one who determines and determines our destiny, He sees and knows everything. Moreover, the default setting of medical care in Israel, including care for the elderly, is to save and extend lives rather than maintaining the quality of life. This thesis is based on a religious belief in the sanctity of life, on the idea of ​​the circle of life – the emphasis is on the stages, on how each stage is necessary, and probably has a purpose, even if you do not see it at that moment, God knows what, and Man, in the end of things, will know what it is.”

The religious-cultural perception, and to a large extent, the moral perception in Islam, according to the popular interpretation in Dar al-Hawa, is that (older adults are among the most vulnerable in human society and should be taken care of within the community out of respect. This is a moral duty, a religious duty. When thinking about the concept of the circle of life as a framework that shapes daily life and routine in Dar al-Hawa, it is important to understand that it is embedded within the religious practices that shape how a young person should behave with older people and the reasons for behaving in this way. The young person should respect older people, speak to them with dignity, and take care of them as much as he or she can. When he or she reaches this stage (that of being older and eventually elderly), another young person will do the same for them. This is the basic understanding of the circle of life.

Social activity at the community centre, for young and old alike. Photo by Maya de Vries.

With this framework in mind, we return to one of the central topics of the ASSA project: that of smartphone use. Smartphones are carried by most older people in Dar al-Hawa. When contemplating their role in the “circle of life”, we did not see them as violating or breaking the cycle, at least not for the current older generation we were in contact with. On the contrary, we found that smartphones were making the meaning of the circle of life stronger, at least in the sense of helping maintain relationships with the family and community. Things might have been different if older people in Dar al-Hawa were strongly embracing digital culture (e.g. using apps other than WhatsApp and Facebook, paying for services and goods online, paying with their smartphone and so forth). This is one of the topics we will be tackling in our upcoming monograph, ‘Ageing with Smartphones in Al-Quds’, which is due next year.

The negative and positive effects of the Coronavirus pandemic in Al-Quds

Maya De Vries Kedem26 August 2020

Blog post by Laila Abed Rabho and Maya de Vries

This blog post is available to read in English as well as Arabic (please scroll down for the Arabic language version).

As home-based self-isolation has become the most common way of avoiding the COVID-19 virus, in many households, anxiety has set in as a result of the acceleration of the spread of the pandemic around the world.

Although quarantining at home will not prevent the spread of the virus altogether, it does help distribute the number of cases over a longer period of time, which is important from the perspective of the distribution of health resources and the provision of medical care to those who need it. However, home quarantine has both negative and positive consequences, at least according to some of the people in Al-Quds that we talked to. On the one hand, it may lead to a breakdown in social contact, especially for individuals who are most threatened with isolation and loneliness, including the elderly, people with special needs or those suffering from various conditions. At the same time, the Corona crisis has helped us see the elderly differently. They are our family and the family of our friends, as well as being the ones who have worked hard all their life provide those who come after them with a decent life – at the very least, they deserve the appreciation of others as well as the guarantee that they will be safe.

Recently, many local initiatives have emerged to help elderly people who are unable to shop on their own or who need help with household matters. Also, a large number of young people have committed to self-isolating at home to protect the elderly from the risk of infection with the Coronavirus. This has shown us that in times of crisis, we need each other more than ever.

Life before and after the pandemic set in

The elderly are accustomed to a certain lifestyle. The community of elderly people in Dar el Hawa, which is a village in Al-Quds and the fieldsite for our research, used to regularly go to a club for seniors, where they would spend time doing various activities, whether this is attending religious, cultural, educational and educational lectures or just having conversations with one other. However, because of warnings from the Ministry of Health, they were forced to stay in their homes, which negatively impacted both their mental and physical health, mostly due to the lack of direct contact with their friends and children. However, friends and children did check in on them via their smartphones, knowing that, during the Coronavirus pandemic, they were likely to undergo physical and hormonal changes as well as being psychologically affected (and more likely to develop depression and anxiety).

In general, locally, aid and donations to the needy are offered at specific times, especially in the month of Ramadan or during festive periods, but the pandemic has fostered a sense of social solidarity as some families experienced financial and economic difficulties and donations and money were collected and distributed to those most in need, as a way of topping up the aid coming from government institutions. Grandmothers who regularly took care of their grandchildren and who used to go out shopping or for breakfast or lunch with one another from time to time and who would visit each other’s homes to have coffee at least once a week are now confined to their homes, avoiding going out because they believe the virus is deadly as this is what they hear on the news on a regular basis. In addition, communication between them has been restricted to phone calls. All of these factors have had a psychological impact on their daily life.

On a more positive note, however, some of them tried to fill their free time by making food and sweets and selling them online for some additional income.

Examples of baked goods made and sold during lockdown. There were also those for whom the quarantine meant that they had the opportunity to escape daily stress and rearrange their thoughts – a rare opportunity for calm. It also gave others the opportunity to discover some of their hidden talents – after all, experts say that boredom is what encourages innovation. Some women have embroidered masks in order to encourage their use. In addition, a woman had crocheted a strap that had the benefit of better fixing the mask onto the face.

Women trying on masks with embroidered motifs. Photo credit: Anadolu News Agency. The photo can be found here.

Loss of freedom, the COVID-19 stigma and spending more time with family members

If we look at the negative impact of the virus on individuals, families and society, we can observe that some older customs and traditions within the community may have contributed to this. For example, there have been cases of people in the village being infected with coronavirus and not disclosing it, as doing so would be seen as a mark of shame and would make them the target of bullying and mockery, which might, in turn, have a negative effect on their psychological wellbeing. When this practice becomes widespread, it can lead to an increase in cases, even though there have also been many examples of responsible and conscious groups that have warned everyone around them when they contracted the virus in order to protect their families and members of their community (especially those who have elderly people at home) by preventing them from getting infected.

The lockdown has also made our research participants feel a certain loss of freedom, as they are forced to stay in their homes, which has contributed to increasing their anxiety and tension.  On the other hand, there were also members of the community who found this to be positive because it gave them the opportunity to spend time with their family members, dedicating more time than ever to their families.  Parents who normally work full-time were finally able to spend time and play with them. Indeed, some of the members of the Dar el Hawa community turned the free time they had with their children into a positive, setting up different activities for them, including sports, games or even simply playing pranks on unsuspecting family members – they did not let their children get bored.

Whilst preoccupied with work and life matters, some may forget and others may ignore their social relationships, whether this is to do with family, friends or neighbours. Some have re-evaluated the importance of friends in their life, especially during moments when they spend most of their time at home with their family. Humans are social beings, and the lockdown has caused some to reconsider their priorities.

Husbands who previously complained that their wives were neglecting the home have come to understand how much women actually do in terms of housework, especially if there are other pressures such as employment outside the home. One example of this situation was the husband of one of our research participants, who was finally able to experience how tiring it is to clean, cook, raise children and teach, in addition to working outside the home. This has led to more sharing of household duties, with the husband taking over more of the cooking and childcare. This is someone who, previously, would not see much of his kids due to his job, which requires him to work long hours, often returning late in the evening.

Silver linings and benefits of the pandemic: online learning and sharing of household duties

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a positive effect on young people and low-income families who do not have the financial means to help their children get married, for example. Young people who were about to get married but wanted to comply with advice coming from the Ministry of Health (which warned against gathering in large numbers) were able to hold smaller-scale events with a small number of attendees in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The pandemic has meant that people gathering to celebrate a specific event were able to save on the cost of hosting these, whether we are talking about lunches or other celebratory events.

In addition, we must not forget about one of the other benefits of the pandemic (perhaps one of the most important ones), which is the fact that pupils moved entirely to distance learning after schools were physically shut. In Al-Quds, this has led to an improvement in terms of families adopting modern technology such as Zoom and online exams. Although distance learning has improved pupils’ skills and abilities in terms of using computers and smartphones, it has also had a negative impact on families who have multiple children but did not have enough devices to participate in the educational process. Providing the necessary tools for educational participation is something that needs to be taken into account by the Ministry of Education if it wants to increase educational inclusion.

In Al-Quds, as elsewhere, the Coronavirus pandemic has had both negative and positive effects on all segments of society.

 

الاثار السلبية والايجابية لجائحة كورونا

 

يسيطر القلق على كثير من الناس نتيجة تسارع وتيرة انتشار فيروس كورونا المستجد حول العالم، حيث بات العزل المنزلي طريقة لابد منها لتجنب الإصابة به.

الحجر المنزلي لن يمنع انتشار الفيروس، لكنه يساعد في توزيع عدد الحالات على فترة زمنية أطول، ما يجعله مهما بالنسبة لتوزيع الموارد الصحية وتقديم الرعاية الطبية لمن يحتاجون إليها

لكن الحجر المنزلي له تبعات سلبية وايجابية بحسب البعض، إذ قد يؤدي إلى انهيار التواصل الاجتماعي، خصوصا بالنسبة للأفراد الأكثر تهديدا بالعزلة والوحدة، بينهم المسنون وذوو الاحتياجات الخاصة أو من يعانون من أمراض

أزمة كورونا جعلتنا ننظر للمسنين بشكل مختلف، فهم أهلنا وأهل أصدقائنا، هم من عملوا بجهد في شبابهم ليوفروا لمن بعدهم حياة كريمة، ولذلك يستحقون من الآخرين التقدير والحفاظ على سلامتهم

فقد ظهرت في الأونة الأخيرة العديد من المبادرات لمساعدة كبار السن غير القادرين على التسوق بمفردهم أو من يحتاجون للمساعدة في تدبير أمور المنزل. كما التزم عدد كبير من الشباب بالعزل المنزلي لحماية الأكبر سناً من خطر الإصابة بعدوى فيروس كورونا. وهو ما أظهر لنا أنه في وقت الأزمات يحتاج كل منا للآخر.

فالمسنين اعتادوا على نمط حياة معين فقد كان كبار السن يذهبون الى نادي للمسنين لقضاء وقت لل ترفيه وفعاليات مختلفة كحضور محاضرات دينية ،ثقافية،توعوية وتبادل الاحاديث فيما بينهم لكن بسبب التحذيرات من وزارة الصحة  التزموا بيوتهم مما اصر سلبيا على صحتهم النفسية والبدنية بسبب قلة تواصلهم المباشر مع اصدقائهم وابنائهم وكان فقط الاطمئنان عليهم عبر الهاتف الذكي علما بان المسنين دون جائحة كورونا بسبب التغييرات الجسدية وتغير الهرمونات وكبار السن يتاثرون نفسيا وبتعرضون للكابة والقلق  فما بالكم بوجود جائحة كورونا وتاثيرها على نفسيتهم

بشكل عام كانت المساعدات والتبرع للمحتاجين يكون في وقت معين خاصة في شهر رمضان او في فترات الاعياد لكن في جائحة كورونا ظهر التكافل الاجتماعي والشعور بالاسر المحتاجة فكان اهل البلد يجمعون المونة واحيانا النقود لتوزيعها على المحتاجين بالاضافة الى المعونات التي كانت تاتي من المؤسسات الحكومية

الجدات اللواتي يحتضن احفادهن كن يخرجن احيانا للتسوق مع بعضهن او لتناول وجبات فطور او غداء سويا واحيانا يتبادلن الزيارات لاحتساء القهوة يوم بالاسبوع في منزل كل واحدة مرة بالاسبوع لكن بعد جائحة  كورونا والخوف من هذا الفيروس الذي يعتقد البعض انه فتاك بسبب تهزيل ما يقال عنه في محطات التواصل الاجتماعي، فقد التزمن بيوتهن واصبح التواصل بينهم عن طريق الهاتف فقط وهذا له اثر نفسي على الحياة اليومية لهؤلاء النساء

ومن ناحية اخرى  جزء منهن حاول التغلب على وقت الفراغ بعمل انواع معينة من الماكولات والحلويات وعرضها عن طريق الاونلاين من اجل بيعها وتمكين انفسهن اقتصاديا

وقسم منهن أتاح لهم العزل المنزلي بعض الهدوء في حياتهم، حيث أعطاهم الفرصة للابتعاد عن الضغط اليومي وإعادة ترتيب أفكارهم. كما أتاح للبعض الآخر فرصة اكتشاف بعض المواهب الدفينة لديهم، حيث يقول الخبراء إن الملل قد يدفع البعض للابتكار.، حيث قامت بعض النساء بالتطريز على الكمامات بهدف الترغيب في استعمالها بالاضافة لهذا فقد قامت ايضا احدى النساء باختراع قطعة من الكروشيه (صنع يدوي )لتثبيت الكمامة عليها

لقد كان للعادات والتقاليد البالية أثر سلبي على الأفراد والعائلات والمجتمع من قبل المصابين بفيروس كورونا، والسبب هو ان من يتبين لديه أنه مصاب بفيروس كورونا لا يقوم بالإفصاح عن ذلك باعتبار هذا وسم عار عليه وعيب حيث يخاف من التنمر والاستهزاء اضافة الى توجيه كلام قد يؤثر على نفسيته وهو اعتقاده بأن الكثير سوف يتشمت به فهناك فئة لم تعلن عن اصابتها مما ادى الى زيادة الحالات وهناك فئة اخرى مسؤولة وواعية تعلن عن اصابتها من أجل تجنيب عائلاتهم وابناء مجتمعهم من الاصابة وخاصة من لديه كبار سن في البيت مثل الأب والأم والاجداد.

ان الحجر أيضا  احسهم بفقدان الحرية لأنهم ماكثون في بيوتهم مرغمين لا بخاطرهم وباختيارهم مما يزيد من قلقهم وتوترهم ولكن من ناحية اخرى هناك الكثير الذين وجدوا في ذلك ايجابية بسبب الفرصة التي توفرت لهم للمكوث مع أفراد أسرهم حيث الدفء العائلي وهذا شيء جميل حيث أصبح وقت للأب والام العاملين أن يجلسوا مع أطفالهم واللعب معهم وفعلا هناك من استغل الحجر بصورة ايجابية ولم يترك اطفاله يشعرون بعدم الحرية عن طريق وضع برامج لهم منها الرياضية ومنها اللعب وعمل مقالب مضحكة مع أفراد اسرته وغير ذلك..

ففي ظل الإنشغال بالعمل وأمور الحياة، قد ينسى البعض ويتجاهل آخرون علاقاته الاجتماعية سواء مع الأهل أو الأصدقاء أو الجيران. الآن تجلس الأسرة الواحدة معاً، وتظهر قيمة الأصدقاء في حياة الفرد. فالإنسان كائن اجتماعي من الدرجة الأولى، والعزل الحالي جعل البعض يعيد ترتيب أولوياته مرة أخرى.

حتى الزوج كان يتهم زوجته  دائما بالتقصير بالبيت لكن مع جائحة كورونا والحجر الصحي عرف الزوج وقدر ما تقوم به المراة من اعمال منزلية وضغوطات بالذات عندما تكون المراة عاملة خارج المنزل

واصبح يشعر معها كم هي تتعب في داخل المنزل من تنظيف وطهي وتربية اولاد وتدريس بالاضافة الى عملها خارج البيت مما ادى الى مشاركته لها في بعض الاعمال المنزلية كالطهي والطبيخ اضافة الى الترابط الاسري والتقرب الى ابنائه ،بعد ان كان احيانا لا يراهم نتيحة خروجه من البيت مبكرا ورجوعه متاخرا

هناك اثر ايجابي لجائحة  كورونا على الشباب والاسر الفقيرة التي ليس لديها امكانيات مادية كافية من أجل اتمام فرحتها بزواج ابنائها وبسبب المصاريف الكثيرة التي يتحملها الشباب وعائلاتهم من اعباء مادية لا يقدرون عليها

استغل الشباب المرتبطين اتمام عملية فرحتهم وبالزواج ممن يرغبون متقيدين بتعاليم وزىرة الصحة بعدم التجمهر وعدم التجمع باعداد كبيرة من اجل المحافظة على سلامتهم وسلامة افراد مجتمعهم وبأقل التكاليف المطلوبة لتوفي الغداء والضيافة للمعازيم .

علينا ان لا ننسى الفائدة العظيمة والاهم من كل شيئ وهي أن لجائحة كورونا والتي بسببها اغلقت المدارس حيث انتقل الطلاب للتعلم عن بعد مما ادى الى تطور في تعلم  استخدام التكنولوجيا الحديثة كالزوم وتقديم الامتحانات عن طريق اون لاين مما أكسبهم مهارة وقدرة على استخدام الحاسوب والهاتف الذكي ولكن من ناحية اخرى كان لذلك اثر سلبي على العائلات التي لديها أكثر من طالب حيث لم يتوفر لديهم اجهزة كافية من الحاسوب والهواتف الذكية من أجل التواصل مع العملية التعليمية وهذا يجب ان تقوم وزارة التعليم بحله بتوفير الادوات الازمة للعملية التعليمية

هكذا نرى ان لفيروس كورونا آثار سلبية واخرى ايجابية على جميع شرائح المجتمع