With Covid-19 causing chaos throughout the world, we decided to conduct a series of interviews with people across the Middle East and North Africa to try to understand how the effects are being felt across the region.
We’ve spoken to people across various countries and industries from journalism, education and tourism to digital marketing, social entrepreneurship, wellness and arts. Here are their reflections on this ground-breaking time for the region and the world.
D. Michael – Teacher, Off-Road Explorer and Podcaster
D. Michael is an American photography teacher based in Muscat, Oman. In his spare time, he travels around the country exploring some of the most off-the-beaten-track places one can find – from mountains to wadis to caves hidden deep underground. His brilliant podcast, Sultanate, documents his impressions of this fascinating country, and his interactions with its remarkable people and rich culture. D. has lived in the Sultanate for nine years, and he’s currently working on a guide book for more adventurous travellers exploring the Sultanate.
Whereabouts in the world are you, and what’s changed about your life and work as a result of Coronavirus?
I’m holed up in the Sultanate of Oman. Not too much of my life has changed fortunately. We are asked to stay inside, and nobody is allowed to enter or leave the capital, Muscat, where I am. So, I am not able to get outdoors like I’m used to, but there are some outdoor activities I can do here in and around the city. Work continues online from home, and the administration part of the job, my least favourite, is delayed.
How is the pandemic playing out in Oman?
I find it very interesting how all this COVID-19 stuff is panning out. Sure, Oman is affected by the virus like most places in the world. As I write this we have 503 cases/million and 2 deaths/million. Compared to other countries, that puts us somewhere in the middle for cases, and at the low end for deaths. The government and citizens are clearly doing a great job, but at what cost? They say there is no free lunch, and the same applies to Oman and COVID-19.
For the last five years Oman has been trying to undergo a campaign to ween the economy off of oil and diversify; looking at the key areas of tourism, transportation, logistics services, mining, and fisheries.
Tourism is now destroyed. The airport is closed, with no set plan to reopen, and the land borders are shut. All tourists departed in a flash as soon as the closure date was announced. I know this by looking at all the rental car lots dotted around the city. I’ve never seen them so full. Furthermore, world travel looks to be retarded for years to come.
Transportation and logistics are… well, you know the answer. Mining and fisheries are likely still active at the moment, but I don’t have a way to know exactly. However, I do wonder how all that fish is getting to market with so few aircraft flying. The land border with the UAE is still open for goods transportation, but I wonder how the Dubai market is at the moment for fish.
This leaves us with that sweet, black, liquid gold. As I write this, DME Oman oil is trading at almost USD 29 per barrel on the oil futures market. However, it was down in the 18 dollar range just a few days ago. It’s just devastating for the country, and there’s no reprieve in sight. Oman is running in negative GDP due to COVID-19.
You can read D.’s reflections on the situation in Oman in more detail in the diary on his website, Beyond the Route, where he further discusses the Omani business climate, and the silver linings.
How are you spending your time in lockdown? Are you working on anything in particular you’d like people to know about?
My time is actually quite busy. I’m still working remotely, teaching classes, and working with my students on their projects that are soon to be submitted. I’ve been shooting a picture story from my balcony. Reading the books I seem to never have the time to complete. Listening to loads of podcasts, and generally tackling a long list of to-dos.
What knowledge or wisdom do you hope people will take away from this time?
I hope everybody steps back and looks at the bigger picture. COVID-19 is showing us we are a world connected, and we all need to find ways to work and grow together.
What 3 words best describe your personal experience of the pandemic?
Uncertainty, deception, videochat (if the Germans can string words together to make one, so can I.)
Are you based in the region?
How has your life changed as a result of the lockdown? We’d love to hear your reflections on the situation where you are. Leave a comment and share your experience of this strange time that’s simultaneously keeping us apart and bringing us closer together.
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