Mariangela Sglavo wrote an article (also published on the Italian website sirialibano.com) about her experience of the death of a dear friend of hers, seen through the cold screen of a laptop.
Have you ever been confronted with the choice of when to view the death of a friend through online streaming? Unfortunately, I have had this experience.
Tamer Alawam died in Aleppo on 9th September 2012. Several videos are running in the network in which he’s filmed, both alive and dead. But a few days ago I was able to track down the reporter who was with him when, following an explosion, he was mortally wounded. In her private Youtube account there are other videos about Tamer that she has recorded.
I sat there with that video half-loaded in front of my eyes, looking for the courage to click the play button. Should I consider this a dramatic moment? Pretend to be in the hospital with him, to hold his hand? And then … Do I really need to see these videos? While dozens of questions crowd into my brain, I light a cigarette and press play.
Maybe, the moment is dramatic and carries with itself an incomprehensible holiness, even in its digital format. I am talking, however, of the death of someone who used to sit on my couch. But now, from the same couch, I’m watching him dying. What I can do to save him is even less than nothing. He is standing in front of me, but everything has already happened. How absurd is technology, when even the death of a friend becomes virtual.
The video is of the highest quality, such as the quality of the photos we took together while we were drinking a glass of wine. We see him on the first floor of the hospital, exhaling his last breaths. There are also other videos on this Youtube profile. One is titled: Tamer the evening before. I look at him, smiling while talking and gesturing: he’s telling in a cynical and sarcastic way one of his many anecdotes that make you laugh, even if bitterly, about the brutality of the Syrian prisons that he himself had experienced.
I’ve seen other videos of him on the net, even one in which the doctors were performing a last-ditch CPR. Yet these videos are different, because the eyes of those who hold the camera are those of a friend. So, it is as if they were my own eyes. In one he’s in a hospital bed, covered with a towel full of blood, especially in the lower part of the body, where he was fatally injured by shrapnel. Red spots on the ground. Yes, his blood.
There are also two other videos: before the explosion and after the explosion. According to the logic I should click on the first, but is there logic in what I’m telling you? No.
In after the explosion a breathless camera captures him being taken away by two men in the midday sun of Aleppo, full and bright. It’s hot. In the background, to the screams following the noise of the bomb, there is only dust rising into the air, making it dirty. The camera turns around: it is a gaze that seeks help, framing the wall, up high, there’s no way out. The heavy breathing of the girl behind the camera makes my heartbeat race. Two minutes and 32 seconds of terrible expectation and disorientation.
We get in the car. “Yalla, yalla! – a woman shouts – hurry up. ” We leave. Away, fast. They call him by name “Tameeer, Tameeer.” No answer. It looks like a movie. I wish it was a movie. They pull him out of the car to get him to a house where they had made a makeshift hospital; he’s covered in blood. The wound is very large. I know that inside there was a doctor. I also know, unfortunately, that he is not a surgeon.
In before the explosion the perspective is the same as the one in after the explosion, but while looking at it I already know what’s going to happen. I would like to capture the video, to stop the time, I click “pause” and, for a moment, I think I really stopped it. This makes me feel powerful, as if I could change the damned future.
A car comes, there are three armed man of the FSA. Tamer Alawam was there also to tell us that sometimes they are civilians forced to take up arms because of the violent repression by the army of Assad, followed the peaceful demonstrations of the early months of the revolution. He was there to bring us news about Syria. He died there for this reason and it’s right to speak about it. I see the relaxed faces, despite the trials of war, of those who are there and do not know what to expect. A boy smiles, even, and waves to the camera.
The last video is the longest one, that of his funeral. A vigil of 14 minutes and 47 seconds, where I look at the pictures and I remember him, remember a thousand experiences lived together. All through the cold screen of a laptop.
Five flowers on the front, a sheet around it. An imam reciting the final prayers. He was not even a Muslim. But how to explain this in a time of war, how to find an alternative burial, but still decent for a family member or friend who was not too devoted?
They put him into a wooden box, then close it. They take him in procession to the cemetery. The plaque is a piece of stone with his name written on it with a black marker. The sun is shining on his grave, on the pink flowers next to it. Buried. May he rest in peace.
Immediately I think of the future. I remember the reporter, his great friend, that now has to return to Europe by crossing the Turkish border illegally, but without him. I know that she’s back because she gave me these videos. I know she’s okay. But the apprehension when I think of how she left Syria alone steals my breath away. Whatever it is like to witness death, she now knows. Me, I’ve seen it online.