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.
GHALIA ABBAS – PHOTOGRAPHER
Ghalia is an Emirati photographer, blogger and avid traveller based in Dubai. Her stunning photos from her adventures around the world – particularly her incredible drone shots – reflect her passion for beautiful landscapes and the natural world. Below, she shares what she’s been up to since Covid-19 put her travels on hold (including how she’s coping with home-schooling her kids), along with reflections on the Emirati response.
Whereabouts in the world are you, and what’s changed about your life and work as a result of Coronavirus?
I’m from Dubai in the UAE and am currently happy and grateful to be home. So much has changed in the last couple of months that what is happening around us with the current pandemic feels surreal and scary. There’s no better shelter than home.
Just before things turned upside down in the world (around mid-March) with the accelerating spread of Covid-19, I had just returned from a week-long trip to Morocco. In that week prior to our return home, my friends and I explored the exciting landscapes, colourful cities and unique villages of Morocco in what seemed a ‘normal world’ then. Only when I returned home did I realise how serious the threat of Covid-19 had become and just a week later, things got much worse and not too long after that we went into lockdown and curfews were enforced.
So travelling has obviously taken a long pause. Routines have changed. My kids are online schooling, my days are spent with my family, cooking (a lot) with the occasional Zoom meeting in between, and in the evenings I edit photos and work on my travel content.
How is the pandemic playing out in Dubai?
The UAE has been working tirelessly to manage the current pandemic. In the initial stages of the outbreak there were extensive awareness campaigns that encouraged people to stay home. Schools shut down in early March and most people started to work from home. On the 24th of March, Emirates airlines suspended all flights and before that all UAE citizens abroad were encouraged to come home. Upon arrival they were all tested for Covid-19 and quarantined in a hotel for 14 days, then re-tested before they were sent home.
When we went into partial lockdown and curfews were imposed, the country started a national sterilisation programme, disinfecting the streets and public transport facilities during curfew hours. As cases continued to rise, the curfew was extended and a full lockdown took place over the course of a couple of weeks. There have been regular updates on cases, extensive awareness campaigns, helplines, drive-through test centres and a 3000-bed overflow hospital was set up in the world trade centre.
At the time of writing, the country has conducted over 1.5 million tests in an effort to trace and isolate cases and has offered free screening to those over 50 or who are in the high risk group. The UAE recently launched an app to track Covid-19 cases and can identify people who are at risk because they have been exposed to someone that could be a carrier. Fortunately, and thanks to the UAE’s efforts, there was no shortage of food, which was a real blessing in these trying times. If anything, this pandemic has brought the community together (virtually of course).
I have so much appreciation for everyone who is working to keep the community safe; the government, doctors, nurses, volunteers, supermarket and courier delivery staff and the general community. Home schooling has been a challenge for many parents but equally challenging for teachers, who I am sure, all parents have a much greater appreciation for now. There has been online community support for small businesses which has been incredible too. I guess through any type of crisis there is an opportunity to grow, become stronger and bond as a community.
How are you spending your time in lockdown? Are you working on anything in particular you’d like people to know about?
When we first went into isolation, it was shortly after I had returned from my trip, so I had a lot of material to organise and edit. With all that was happening in the world and not being able to go out I would look forward to ‘re-living’ my trip and just enjoyed sharing my photography and experiences with people. I also have a backlog of edits and articles to write for my blog. Still so much left to do!
What knowledge or wisdom do you hope people will take away from this time?
Appreciate what you have, don’t take things for granted and slow down.
What 3 words best describe your personal experience of the pandemic?
Gratitude, patience, adaptability.
To see more of Ghalia’s incredible photography and follow her post-Covid travels, follow her on Instagram!
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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