Activism and COVID-19 – 12 days of women’s isolation activism

My name is Elvedina Alić, I am an activist from Konjic, a small local community full of great everyday challenges for activists.

Women’s activism is incurable love, struggle, passion and suffering. What is important is not to die from it, but the fight is long-lasting. Rebellious women are particularly susceptible to these serious diseases.

And it’s not easy when, along with all the symptoms of women’s activism, you get the coronavirus and when you are placed in solitary confinement in a small local community affected by COVID-19 and the system of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Unexpectedly, just as road maintenance services don’t expect snow during winter.

That evening, on Friday, November 13, 2020, I was taken to the isolation ward. Cold motel on the outskirts of a town in a dimly lit area, right by the Neretva river. This incredible building was popularly called “purgatory” because patients with extremely severe clinical picture were referred to Mostar, recovered and went home, and a great number of them ended their earthly journey in this building.

It is sad that the old motel was used as an improvised COVID-19 hospital. All the former gigs, weddings and many beautiful memories were wiped out by the pandemic, creating terribly difficult memories for those who had the misfortune to be patients of this isolation ward.

Pneumonia, with shortness of breath, fever, after six hours of diagnostic tests and without drinking a drop of water, I enter a very cold isolation ward. The IV that enters my body is also cold. I can feel it.

It is night and I am huddled in a jacket because my room has no heating. I am hungry and thirsty.

Every day, at 2 PM, bedridden patients are given lunch and a can (some meat or sardine) for dinner. Everyone who is hospitalized after 2 PM gets no other food or drinks.

I have 3 juices in my bag, but they are so icy that I can’t drink them. The cough gets worse. Everything is getting worse, everything is worse, except for the revolt inside me that is just flourishing. At least the activist in me is healthy.

I accept a double role – let Dina be treated, let the activist start a revolution. They both fell asleep. They will be calm, one out of fear, the other out of happiness because they will look ask for better conditions for all patients. And the countdown to 12 long days in solitary confinement began.

The only weapon I had was internet and a Facebook profile.

And I started writing to people. Honestly. That I was cold and that I was hungry and thirsty. It is the defeat of civilization in 21st century. And the most inhumane way to show a patient, who is afraid to enter these walls that you have taken care of him/her and that he/she is safe.

In the morning I asked people to look in the closets and if they have some spare blankets to wash and bring them. I do it without anyone’s permission. This was done by an activist in me who deliberately defies all the world’s crisis headquarters. That same afternoon, the smell of the freshener spread through the isolation ward. Blankets and pillows were delivered and a small makeshift warehouse was filled. Heaters have even arrived for rooms that do not have heating. Contrary to all the codes and rules, for which I do not know who wrote them, I get up and visit all the patients. I enter every room. All I saw was fear in the eyes of the people lying on the beds. And the indescribable confusion when they saw me, because so far only uniformed medics have entered their rooms, who can see nothing but their eyes under blurred protection equipment. I laugh, I cheer them on. “None of us will die,” I say. At the time, I did not know that out of 22 patients who were there, eight would lose the battle and become just a figure for the statistics of world organizations and a source of constant sorrow for those who were waiting for them at home. “We will fight together!”

That first day a friend sent me €100. It was enough to buy fruit and juices for all patients. And of course, let’s not forget that small staff of our infected motel on the edge of town. It is amazing what was done in one day thanks to the information and engagement of one woman, one activist. On the second day, packages of fruit, juices and medicine was delivered. People from America, Germany, Austria started contacting us…

Dina didn’t have time to be sick. She allowed the “crazy” activist in her to lead her through other people’s recoveries and other people’s worries. Activists who have families that love and support them are lucky. All coffee utensils were delivered to the motel at once. A smell of Bosnian coffee in was spreading through the isolation ward. It is the most unique smell in the world!

The smell of coffee and laughter helped even the most critical patients, those who were tied to oxygen like to an umbilical cord, they all started walking. They drank coffee, and in the rooms where there were two patients or more, the conversation began.

This is our home now and it will be the best it can be because we deserve it.

I handed out hot tea to the patients and a joke and laughter. Blood started flowing in people. We lived… lived!

I organized dinners in the isolation ward so that no patient would ever be left without dinner again. All patients would be taken care of. So many donors responded to my call that a dinner was provided for the patients of the isolation ward in the next three months! Until the end of January 2021!

My call for solidarity is still open. And it is no longer important that the system fails, but it is much more important that empathy does not fail and that a lot can be achieved together and in solidarity.

When all this is over, then we will question and change the system. Now, we will take care of our patients. We will love them and bring dinners every night. Now patients can have two pillows under their heads and if they are cold, we will give them a spare blanket. I’m sure that all of this is helping the patients heal faster. Vitamins, medicines, hygiene supplies, fruits and juices filled the isolation ward.

The avalanche of love is the greatest driving force in the world. My activist was happy and I was a little exhausted. Due to the constant care for other patients, my recovery was longer, but I do not regret it. On the fourth day of my stay in the isolation ward, all portals broadcasted my social media posts.

All major media houses came to publish the story of the isolation ward where coffee is drunk and the battle for life is fought. Oh, how stupid the word coexistence is! A person who has gone through the experience of fighting for his/her own life will never think of coexistence in the way it is presented to us daily.

There is only life! Anyone’s! Any life!

That activist of mine even went to the rooms to hold the hand of patients who were preparing for another world. Until before dawn, there in someone else’s room, despite the warning, despite the ban. Dina cried, and the activist comforted the patient, laughed and told him that once they got out of here, they would eat the fattest potato pie with yogurt.

That day when I left the isolation ward, I knew that one part of me had stayed there forever to take care of all those who came/will come after me. And I know I still wake up at night because I’m worried about grandpa getting oxygen in room 106. And when I wake up, I know it’s worse now, and he asks from above: “Dina, why did you lie to me about the potato pie?”

My struggle is still ongoing, one for health, the other for people we must not forget.

About the author:

Elvedina Dina Alić is an activist for women’s rights and social justice from Konjic. Poet, motivational speaker, president of the Association NERA, mother, friend. Dina’s stories from the isolation ward triggered an avalanche of change and human solidarity.