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.
Halah Hamrani – Fitness Instructor & Entrepreneur
Halah Al Hamrani is a Saudi martial arts instructor and owner of FLAGBOXING, the first women’s boxing gym in Saudi Arabia (FLAG stands for Fight Like a Girl). In 2018 she launched her second venture, Bak2Basix, the Kingdom’s first Parkour gym which also teaches acrobatics and circus activities. A pioneer in the emerging Saudi women’s fitness industry, Halah teaches women to challenge themselves and push their limits. She shares her lockdown story from the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.
What’s changed about your life and work as a result of Coronavirus?
I’m currently in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and the Coronavirus has definitely changed my life! Before Covid I’d just opened a new location for Flagboxing and we were preparing to introduce MMA classes. With Bak2Basix we’d also just moved into a new facility and things were just starting to go really well. Now I’ve had to shut both of them down.
I’ve also changed my house around completely to suit the situation, making my living room into a sort of gym. It’s completely changed my life!
How is the pandemic playing out in Saudi Arabia?
I feel like the country took the right measures in terms of trying to contain the pandemic. I think we learned from other countries and acted right away, for example they closed down the schools pretty fast. They started quarantining slowly but surely, first having specific times for lockdown, which was nice because it didn’t freak people out and gave them time to adjust, which I think was great.
There’s free medical care for anyone who’s infected, and all of our trainers and coaches from abroad whose visas are due to expire will be able to extend them free of charge. There are a lot of ways that I think the country has really been supporting and helping their people. So I hope this continues and that the lockdowns aren’t lifted too quickly, but I think they’re going in the right direction.
The empty Kaaba in Mecca – one of the starkest indicators of the impact of Covid-19 in Saudi Arabia (image: Hindustan Times)
How are you spending your time in lockdown? Are you working on anything in particular you’d like people to know about?
Honestly, in lockdown I feel like I go between two moods: ‘Seize the day’ and ‘Why should I do anything?’! So it just depends on how I wake up that morning…
In the beginning I was all gung-ho and wanting to use the time that I had to better myself, and find different things that will help me in my businesses and my life. I started learning guitar again to pick up something new, and I’m also training of course. I’m focusing more on handstands and also some acro-duo as we have one of our coaches staying with us, so we work on that together which is cool. I think that’s the stuff that really keeps me sane!
What knowledge or wisdom do you hope people will take away from this time?
It’s really hard for me to answer this question because in the beginning I was the person saying that we need to take advantage of this time and approach it with a ‘glass half full’ mentality. I still mostly think like that, although of course I have my days of feeling like the world is over, and thinking God knows what’s going to happen to my businesses.
But in general, I think it’s kind of nice to slow down a little bit and to appreciate what you have and what you had, because I think a lot of times we don’t do that. I’m definitely appreciating everything that I had a lot more.
What 3 words best describe your personal experience of the pandemic?
The three things that come to mind are: boring, scary and surprising. Surprising, because I’ve been able to find happy moments within the chaos, which has been surprisingly nice!
Follow @flagboxing on Instagram for updates and inspiration from Halah, along with workout videos from her new home gym/living room!
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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