By Zaithoon Bin Ahamed/www.medium.com
When Sri Lanka went into lockdown about two weeks ago, the company I work for took a firm decision to follow government recommendations and close all offices and encouraged people to work from home wherever possible. Top priority was health and wellbeing of people and taking all measures to help the government’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country and ensure everyone is safe. At that time, it seemed like it would possibly be about a week or so in isolation and we’ll all be back on track. I checked my food supplies and other essentials and didn’t stress too much as I had enough of what I needed to last a week. However, things turned serious and suddenly we were in complete lockdown with an indefinite curfew that forced us to stay indoors, deliberately wash our hands every hour or so and sanitize self and surfaces, and of course the toughest one to do (at least for me) — ‘social distancing.’
We’re going into possibly another two weeks of house arrest and isolation. Supplies are running low and I’ve never been so delighted to hear and see the delivery guy from a small local bakery come by in his tuk tuk filled with fresh bread and buns blaring the tune ‘it’s a small world after all’ or random folks walking about or pushing rickety old carts with a few varieties of vegetables, greens, and fruits. Yesterday was a bonus — we had a truck drive down the road selling fresh veggies out of sacks. Some friends in other areas said they had a freezer van selling meats and other frozen items, including ice cream (yum, I sooo want some)! And some others had rice, lentils, fresh coconut, and canned fish sold to them at their doorstep. I quickly turned to the Internet and realized the very limited online network in Sri Lanka to purchase essential items had collapsed due to the sheer demand and volume. There were various flyers floating around promising delivery of basics ordered over the phone or via chat, but most of them were unable to cope and quickly shut services without any warning. In times where you supposedly ‘have access to everything’ we’re completely cut off and thrown into a hole in a flash.
We’re taking a day at a time and long-term plans have become mere writings on beach sand that will need to be revised and refreshed with every new challenge thrown at us during this uncertain time. Figuring out how long it will last is a fluid challenge, one that we definitely have no control over. I spent the first few days stressing about food and other essentials, unfinished office work, laundry I hadn’t picked up, yoga classes I had missed, a movie and pizza date with my two nephews, among a host of other things. Then reality hit, and it dawned on me that stressing over things you cannot control is futile and this was certainly one of those times where you needed to take a few steps back, take a deep breath and slow down. On the first day, I spent hours doing nothing, but watching the news and tracking the impact of COVID-19 around the world, and the way it began to unfold and engulf our nation of happy islanders who almost always seize any opportunity during a crisis to enjoy a few laughs and songs over food and drink. This was different.
We have been through a lot — a protracted war, communist-led riots, racial unrest, political instability, extremist-led attacks being the big ones in just the last few decades alone. The impact of this virus, however, is unprecedented and it’s really prompted us to rethink how we work and how we live. Apart from that, it’s definitely taught me to slow down and enjoy life the way it should be and focus on learning and exploring while attending to everyday things. I spent the first 3 days waking up much later than I usually do and thereby missing some important things in my daily routine, like reading, exercising. Instead, I was just wasting time lazying around in my pajamas and checking emails in bed. But I took control and realized this was not sustainable and not healthy and a complete waste of time.
It was time to reflect and focus on controlling my response to COVID-19, rather than fretting about dealing with things that were beyond control.
What I’ve done
De-junked and reorganized cupboards and shelves that I’ve been wanted to do for months and have been putting off. De-junking is therapeutic!
Started writing again — I had many work-in-progress bits of poetry and a novel I had started on some months ago and made little progress
Called friends and family I hadn’t spoken to in a while other than a random text message, usually during my commute to/from work
What I’ve learnt
How much we undermine technology as a society and country; for all those who have been skeptical about digital banking to buying things online, this would have saved you time and energy and would have been an absolute blessing at a time like this. So, get connected, now and learn how to do things online!
You don’t need all the fancy things and luxuries you buy on a regular basis; it all boils down to what you need to survive. Lifestyle is a choice and certainly hasn’t given any of us much of a choice in this crisis. Living simply and being able to manage with what you have is a good lesson
The importance of investing time in a close circle, especially at times like these, to help share thoughts, ideas, grief, and just chat to keep you sane, motivated, and hopeful. I’m so thankful and blessed to have wonderful family and friends-like-family
What I’ve discovered
It doesn’t matter where you are — all you need is a little discipline and passion. You can slice and dice your day and do all the things you have to (like home chores), work, hobbies, and socializing. It’s these moments that truly put technology and creativity to test and make you discover and do things you thought weren’t possible. I’ve discovered I can cook better than I thought I could as I have no choice but to further explore my culinary skills given the absence of Uber eats and limited supplies. I’ve learnt to be frugal and make do with the bits I have — I even potted a few herbs and spinach instead of throwing out the stems even though gardening is not something I enjoy doing
You can do everything (well almost everything) virtually — I started a daily virtual power yoga class with my guru and it’s been as good as the regular sessions. Actually, with my routine, I have time to do this every day and then get on with my other work. I discovered some very cool virtual party apps and have been connecting with the girls almost every day to chat about random things we would normally do when we meet up for happy-hour Fridays. We even invited some of the boys and had a virtual ‘dress up’ party, but clearly only I took the dressing up seriously!
Virtually Collaborating — Workout and Parties!
We have at least 20 kids in the neighborhood who play cricket every day after school and when their hits fly over the wall into our backyard, there usually would be no one at home to throw the balls back! I found a handful of balls and gave them back to the thankful kids. And then of course, we had to keep throwing the balls back at least 10 times a day (sigh!), so I had to quickly make a deal and tell them that only 4 over-the-wall hits allowed per day — all others must be collected the next morning 🙂 It’s worked and we’re still friends!
The muddy paw marks we see on the car everyday are those of our new furry friend — Gingerbread. Ginger scales the wall everyday just past 7am (by which time we have left the house to go to work) and hangs around the garage. We’ve now sort of adopted him. He comes over every morning for his milk and fish, begs to be petted, and even joins me in my yoga sessions. It’s a good feeling to bond with a pet we’ve never had before
Opportunities and way forward when we get back to normal?
In all of this madness, I was rather amused at how many retail giants were unable to cater to people’s basic needs through their (weak) online retail channels. It’s a two-way street though — I suppose these players had embarked on some form of online operation, but never improved or leveraged it because people didn’t see the need for it. This crisis, however, has proved that you’ve got to be ready for these things, both from a retailer’s perspective as it offers a great business opportunity, and for people, a convenient way of sourcing your basic requirements and have them delivered to your doorstep. A few days later, some of these retailers got their act together and met people halfway, but it’s been a frustrating one as the channels are not fully functional and there’s zero communication between vendor and customer! It’s a good wake-up call for all ‘digital and innovation’ teams to break away from traditional ways of doing online and look at quick collaborations to rise up to this sort of challenge and meet the current demands.
For corporates who have been exploring and mulling flexi-work, this would be the ultimate test to implement and go. There were some published statistics already that showed the use of online meeting platforms had spiked in the past few weeks as more people turned to digital tools to be connected and work collaboratively, albeit apart. It can be done. If corporates loosen their grip on rules and policies and trust employees with flexibility, it could translate to increased productivity and perhaps a decrease in overhead costs too. Individuals though need to practice discipline and meticulously plan your day, so you give equal importance to everything you love and deliver on your work in a timely manner. I always believe a slacker will be a slacker, whether working in an office or working from home, so it boils down to hiring the right talent .
What do I miss the most during this quarantine life?
Hanging out with my two nephews, even though, thanks to technology, we connect over a video call to chat about random things. I also miss partying with the girls, going for drinks and dinner, and taking silly selfies. Hopefully, I will be able to do all of these again soon once this is behind us.
The turn of events is proof that volatility and uncertainty are certainly a part of life. And your ability (you as a person, a corporate, and a country) to adapt quickly, change the way you function, and keep going will be the ultimate test of resilience if you want to ride the tide and settle gently on the shores, unscathed. For now, we can live knowing that ‘this too shall pass’ and the day will come when we jump back into our daily rat race. And when that happens, eventually, my daily exercise sessions will possibly be reduced to about 3–4 times a week, I may not be cooking as often as I do now, and Ginger will probably find another home where there are people to greet him during the day. But I will be glad that I would have used this time of self-isolation in the best way possible to look within, reflect, and identify things you can change for the better — for yourself, to be more valuable to society, and to be more meaningful to the people who deposit your monthly paycheck, so you could live a good life. Stay calm, stay positive.
“The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.”― Kahlil Gibran, The Broken Wings