January 01, 2020 feels like a whole another world. A normal so different than now. Now we live in unprecedented times, where life as we knew it has come to a standstill. We are seeing serious health scare, plethora of information and misinformation, conspiracy theories, tracking daily stats on total cases, vacant streets, barren malls, empty schools, closed borders, travel restrictions, an abrupt shift to virtual meetings and classrooms, increasing unemployment, growing mental health concerns and looming cloud of uncertainty. In five months, our relationship with time – past, present and future – has changed. We have memories of normalcy that we cherish, 24 hours to live through and a blank canvas for tomorrow. As a creative person, I see my intellectual and emotional palette as a contrasting and complimenting affair of thoughts and feelings. And quarantine is a house of mirrors where I am forced to see myself and I am left unsure of which one of my reflections I am. The change we are going through is forced, but fundamental.

Runner-Up | RTF Designer’s Days of Quarantine 2020

Category: Essay Writing
Participant: Fatema Tuz Zohra
Profession: Artist
City: Manama

In quarantine, my days are defined by chasing work deadlines and attending virtual meetings with the team. I am not fond of this new shifting normal. While it gives one the flexibility to operate from the comfort of their home, it blurs the lines. Work from Home for disciplined people is great except for one minor issue – returning home from work marks a clear divide between where professional life ends and the personal one begins. So, I compromised. My couch is my workstation and I don’t take work into my bedroom. Work deliverables are practically the one thing that separates Sunday from Monday now. The lines, in quarantine, are blurred. But I acknowledge that there is beauty in the blur too.

The beauty of living in the blur is that we can’t recall days; we recall moments. We’ll remember the feeling of accomplishment on completing a pending passion project, the excitement of learning a choreography, the sadness of bidding good-bye to our colleagues, the mad laughs we shared with friends in another continent, the harrowing moments of loneliness, the fear of going insane, the joy of seeing our home garden bloom, the empathy for the homeless and underprivileged, the helplessness, the long hours of sleep, the sudden onset of insomnia, the longing to meet our loved ones, the desire to travel, the impatience with the situation or the acceptance of life as is. We aren’t going to remember days; we are going to remember moments and may be that is one of the lessons to be learnt.

I have begun charging my cell-phone more often than I did before quarantine because my loved ones live in my phone. We have a love-hate relationship, my cell-phone and I. I crave to touch those I love and wish I could leave my cell-phone somewhere in the apartment and forget about it. But until quarantine is over – I am married to my cell-phone. It has turned out to be a marriage of necessity with undeniable perks. Pre-quarantine, I didn’t know I could cook. In quarantine, however, I spend time scrolling for recipes on Instagram, trying them out, eating a “mostly” delicious warm meal and taking pride in my creation; it makes the day better. I often cook dishes that my mother raised my sister and I on. Cooking food she made makes me feel closer to home, even though we are countries apart. When I share pictures of the meals on the family WhatsApp group, my mother asks,

“how was it?”
If it’s good, I reply, “it tasted exactly like how you make it.”

Cooking is food chemistry that bring calm to a restless soul. I failed chemistry in school and genuinely believed that I was dumb. But now I know, I just wasn’t interested in why water is H20? But I am interested in knowing how Maa makes sweet corn chicken soup to perfection. I need to know the ratio of chicken to corn? When I chop the vegetables, sauté the thinly chopped onions, add spices and mix the ingredients – I feel present. For a couple of hours, I forget the state of the world we currently inhabit and I look forward to devouring the meal. Joy ripples from my heart to all of my being when I taste the first bite and find it delicious.

My cell-phone is also my meditation partner. It chants Om to me as I breath into my belly and slowly breath out emptying my lungs before I breath in again. It slows me down from thinking twenty different thoughts at a time. Meditation is my way of closing all the seventeen pages open in my mental browser. When my time is up, it concludes our session with a soft bell-ring. I open my eyes and I start my day taking one moment at a time, one task at time, one conversation at time and one thought at a time. As an anxious person, meditation is the soothing balm on my burns. While meditation helps me sail smoothly through the day, it doesn’t help me in one aspect. I miss the physical touch of a loved one. I miss hugs and being present during supper. I think we took these things for granted. We were often preoccupied with the virtual world, while ignoring the real one. Once quarantine is over, no cell-phones on the dining table and during family time. This, perhaps, is the second take away.

Some of us have the luxury of time in quarantine. But there is a threat of economic distress lurking around. So, while I did upskill, anxiety was my biggest challenge. Living with anxiety in isolation is like living with an invisible abuser who makes you believe that the worst-case scenarios are inevitable. But like a mirage on a hot summer day, most of these worst-case scenarios are similar to optical illusions. They exist only in our beautiful mind. God forbid, one or more of those scenarios do play out, it still doesn’t lead to as catastrophic outcomes as we are falsely led to believe. Anxiety is living in distress for problems that are real only in our mind. In my experience, there are two warriors that can tame anxiety – a confidant and faith. A confidant – to help you and faith – to help yourself. The third jewel I picked in quarantine is that we aren’t alone even when it seems like we are.

We didn’t think we would experience a pandemic in our life time. This experience has been and continues to be brutal and gut wrenching. But through it we have seen the worst of humanity and the best of humanity separate like oil from water. It has given us a chance to be helped and to be of help. It has shown us how little we need to live so that others can survive. This is life throwing us a mega-season of curve balls. But there is silver lining in every curve ball. When our notion of normalcy was challenged, our priorities became clear, even if the lines, in quarantine, are blurred. When we talk about 2020, we are less likely to remember the day. But we will remember the moments.


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