Tunisian supermodel Afef Jnifen first went to Italy 32 years ago and never looked back. As the country goes into total lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus, she pens a love letter to her adopted country
“When I first heard the news that northern Italy would be quarantined, I was in Switzerland, in St Moritz. We were enjoying an aperitif when a friend announced that officials would block the region of Lombardy, wherein is located Milan – my home. I jumped up and said that we had to go back. I did not want to be blocked outside of Italy. I can live elsewhere – I have a home in Paris and one in Tunis – but I love Italy so much and I love its people. I belong to them. I have been living in Italy for 32 years now and this country gave me so much. I realized my dreams here, got modeling jobs, TV roles, and I have a voice in Italy through my TV shows. I feel respected and loved here, and I also have a son who is Italian. Within the hour, we were in a car on the way back.
It’s not in my character to leave a place when the going gets tough. You may not find me at a party but if you need me during a difficult time, I will be there for you. Perhaps this comes from the fact that when I was a teenager, my father was appointed ambassador to Lebanon and I lived there during the war. I remember that sometimes we would not go to school for weeks. Instead, we would go down to the bunkers. There, underground, kids would play, and everyone would be like one big family. When Beirut was bombed, the diplomats were obliged to leave through Syria to return to Tunisia. But if it had been up to me, I would have stayed. I’m not someone who panics.
It’s not in my character to leave a place when the going gets tough.
It was just announced that all of Italy would go into lockdown. For weeks, our family will stay home, like millions of Italians. I don’t think politicians handled the situation well. And not just in Italy, but in all of Europe. I do not think everyone is receiving the facts. A few days ago I was watching a French television channel, and a French doctor was saying that if the numbers of coronavirus infections are so low in his country, it’s because France is not providing adequate testing, and isn’t equipped to do so. In Italy, officials started to take people to get tested and made them come to the hospital if they felt ill. Perhaps this is why the numbers are so high in Italy.
The economic situation is already bad and it will become much worse. When I walk down a street and see a line of taxis at a standstill it makes me very sad. These are people with families; they need to work. The crisis will, of course, touch luxury. Fashion will be hit. In Asia, it’s already a problem. I have friends with brands that have had to close. They’ve lost so much money with some shops that didn’t see one client in weeks.
We can still cook, we have entertainment, and, above all, we have each other.
Yet, as we are reminded by the older generation, Italy, in particular, has seen and survived much worse. Our parents endured fascism, racial laws, sometimes they didn’t have food to eat. It is true that some people are very sick, people will lose their lives, and the economic downturn will be worldwide. Let’s not forget that we can still cook, we have entertainment, and, above all, we have each other. Buying Italian products is a way that I can help – helping Made in Italy to be sold, at least in Italy. Behind that label are Italians who have small businesses. I also hope that people will stay here for the holidays. We have everything right here: quality of life, the sea, mountains, history, food, and the Italians are so hospitable.
Personally, I don’t live with any fear that I will get sick, though, one never knows. But I don’t think about myself. I will spend the next few weeks walking my dog and working out at home, which will help to keep me active and uplifted. I’ll play family games like Trivial Pursuit, watch movies, and we will have dinner together. This is an opportunity to be with our loved ones. To slow down and be grateful for today.
As told to Caterina Minthe