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.
Ahlam Serhan – Tour Guide
Ahlam is a Palestinian tour guide and yogi living in Jordan, who has been working in the tourism industry for the last seven years. A lover of nature and outdoor activities, Ahlam has managed to combine all of her passions in her work, infusing her guided trips to Jordan’s natural beauty spots with climbing, hiking, yoga and acroyoga. If you follow her on Instagram, you’ve likely seen the epic photos of Ahlam upside down in the desert or the mountains, showcasing her unparalleled skills!
Below she shares how the pandemic has impacted her work and the wider tourism industry, but also how it has brought her a greater sense of peace and appreciation for life and the great outdoors.
Whereabouts in the world are you, and what’s changed about your life and work as a result of Coronavirus?
I live in Jordan. The major thing that changed in my life due to the pandemic is having lost the job that I loved the most (hopefully temporarily). I’ve been working in adventure tourism for around 7 years now. This is the field where I felt most alive and I could be my true self in. Eventually I became a tour guide and recently took it on as a full time job. I relied on international tourism.
The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for tourism in Jordan and guides were almost fully booked for the entire year. Overnight, everything was cancelled and tourism was simply put on hold. It really gets you thinking when everything you planned for in the near future just disappears and we are forced to absorb the shock and find ways to adapt.
Despite all of this, a part of me is content with having tourism paused. The earth is taking its much needed time now to breathe and to heal. Even though my primary income is working as a tour guide, I am not a fan of mass tourism and its negative impact on the environment (mainly). I work with small private/group tours, mostly in adventure tourism, following the principles of Leave No Trace (zero to minimum waste production, plastic use, etc.) leaving the least negative impact on the environment.
I truly hope that when tourism picks up again, that these matters will be more taken into consideration. Also, now would be the perfect time to develop local tourism, which unfortunately hasn’t been focused on as much as international tourism.
As for my personal life, other than not knowing when I could reunite again with my siblings living abroad, it hasn’t really changed much as a result of the pandemic. I have always loved and needed my alone time, so staying home during the quarantine hasn’t been very bad. There have been days of course where I craved a face-to-face conversation with a friend, or longed for a hike in the outdoors – since Jordan had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, it took a long time before we could actually leave home and be able to do some of the things we have missed!
But what I miss the most, is being able to drive to some of my favorite places, like Wadi Rum, reconnecting with my bedouin friends, enjoying their traditional yummy food, and spending a night under the stars – just experiencing the simplest of lives again!
How is the pandemic playing out in Jordan?
I am beyond grateful to have been quarantined in Jordan and thankful to everyone who has stayed away from their families for weeks to help flatten the curve.
When Jordan had its first confirmed case, a very strict lockdown was imposed. No one was allowed to leave their houses, not even to take out the trash. All businesses had to shut down. Jordanians living abroad were given a few days to fly back to Jordan before the airport was closed and borders were shut. They had to be put on a mandatory 14-day quarantine though, at the expense of the government, before returning back to their families.
I think these steps were necessary, because a few of the people quarantined later on tested positive and could have spread the virus to others. When the lockdown started to ease, certain measures were enforced, such as curfew until 6pm, no cars allowed and people could only commute by foot or bicycle for necessities. Deliveries were encouraged. Education became online, and people started working from home. And now that the economy is opening up again, additional measures are set, for example driving restrictions and within a curfew.
Today, Jordan’s total number of confirmed cases had reached 746, with 535 cured, and 9 fatalities. This is an amazing achievement for Jordan compared to the number of cases worldwide. However, we are not out of the woods yet, therefore, certain measures are still in place to ensure safety for everyone. Curfews are still imposed from 8am to 7pm. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be fined. Driving between cities is not allowed unless you have a permit.
When I think of the past 2+ months of lockdown, as difficult as it was for most people, I couldn’t help but consider the silver linings here.
It was nice seeing people become more active, walking/cycling in the city to buy groceries (if you have visited Amman, you’d know that almost every person owns a car!). Walking isn’t an everyday thing so it was nice to see this behaviour change. It was also nice to experience a car-free/no driving city for a while. it was peaceful and quiet. Although people are allowed to drive now, many have chosen to leave their car behind and opt to walk or cycle as a new lifestyle.
Another positive outcome of the lockdown is people having more time to learn about sustainability and the importance of having a simpler life. I think we all learned that there is so much we can live without and we can opt to be kinder to the planet that way. I know of many people starting their own vegetable gardens at home (myself included!). I think we all developed a better appreciation for the simpler things in life.
The lockdown in Jordan was one of the strictest in the world, and curfews are still being enforced (image: Khaleej Times)
How are you spending your time in lockdown? Are you working on anything in particular you’d like people to know about?
This time has been a big much needed break for me. believe in the importance of rest days, (or weeks, or months if needed :)), not only for physical health, but for mental health too.
I’m grateful for this time as it has brought me back to my yoga and meditation practice which I had put on hold for a while. I started drawing and reading more. I discovered that I could enjoy cooking every now and then. I found time to work on some personal projects that I have been postponing.
Now that the lockdown is easing up, I try to spend less time indoors and more time in nature, managing to go on short hikes and hopefully soon to rock climbing, which brings me all the joy in the world! Once driving between cities is allowed again, the first thing I plan to do is head south to the desert of Wadi Rum – and maybe self-isolate again for a few months there.. who knows!
What knowledge or wisdom do you hope people will take away from this time?
I will have to be cheesy here and mention one of my favorite quotes: “Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory”. I reflected on this a lot during quarantine. So I’d say, appreciate the little things in life; a conversation with a friend, a movie night with the family (which I managed to do virtually with my sister living abroad, thank you technology!), or a walk in a park. And whether this time has been easy or hard on you, know that better days are ahead of us.
What 3 words best describe your personal experience of the pandemic?
Uncertainty, Stillness, Gratitude.
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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