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The Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor Image Credit: AFP

It has been two and a half years since I last visited America. At that time, Donald Trump was the sitting President of the country, Covid-19 was unheard of and the attack on the US Capitol buildings of January 2021 had yet not fermented in any minds.

Among the various sights and sounds, America then had a homeless problem from what I could see, with a number of individuals shuffling the streets of the towns I visited and searching for scraps of sustenance. It never failed to amaze me that the most powerful country in the world at the time had so many destitute souls barely eking out a living.

My annual trips to the country were interrupted by the arrival of the coronavirus which initially created global confusion and alarm. Fortunately, the governments in the GCC quickly clamped down and implemented several stringent measures to arrest the spread of the virus among the populace. Besides imposing curfew and lockdowns, Saudi Arabia even went to the extremes of cancelling the annual Haj pilgrimage, an event never imagined or predicted.

Rough patches of the coronavirus spread

During the initial rough patches of the coronavirus spread, it was a wake-up call for many of us as the norm had suddenly changed. Our lifestyles and in many cases our pocketbooks took a beating as business after business had to close down for lack of customers. The governments in the region stepped up their drive to shore up businesses with a massive infusion of funds but yet with doors closed and no customers, many folded.

Meanwhile, I busied myself with keeping up with events around the world. It disturbed me to read about the gradual polarisation in America, the anger and resentment of one side of people against the other, and the slow shift of dismemberment in civil society. Perhaps nothing could have exemplified that than by the riots at the seat of the federal government, and act bordering on absolute terror and anarchy.

I read about Proud Boys and George Floyd and I read about how world leaders were reacting at the time to American policies. I read on how politicians aligned themselves on extreme sides of the political spectrum with very little ground in the middle. I read of street riots, of buildings burning, and shops and establishments being blatantly looted. There were the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers, each taking a defined stand.

I took all this with some unease and alarm. Two years went by and I was eager to return to the US. I grew up there, I changed from a child into a man in that country and I owe a lot for what it had taught me. I also have a personal connection as I married my life partner there and fathered children, two of whom were born there.

Upon arrival in Los Angeles on a non-stop flight from my city in Saudi Arabia, I had some trepidation on what to expect. My concerns were somewhat eased by the friendliness of the Border and Customs officers and I was soon off in a rental car into America.

Encouraging Americans to get vaccinated

In the following days, I have not witnessed much of what I had previously read except for some minor issues. With the spread of the new virus variant, the US President is encouraging Americans to get vaccinated and states are clamping down on establishments on the use of face masks and social distancing.

In my forays to such establishments, I noticed that while they may demand the wearing of a face mask, many of the people have other thoughts as they walk about without a face covering and unconcerned with the growing threat of the Omicron virus. We termed them the maskers and the anti-maskers. My wife remarked that many of the anti-group had a hard and defiant look and I had to agree with her.

The economy seems to be progressing and we did notice that the number of homeless had dropped dramatically. Jobs are to be had everywhere as ‘wanted’ signs grace many shops, eateries and businesses. Service seems to have taken a hit as most of the personal assistance previously provided seems to have disappeared and you are referred to an automated website helpline for answers. There are exceptions though.

Indeed, when looking around, things have changed dramatically over the past two and a half years, but the country is not in a bleak situation as I had been reading about.

This is a country made of immigrants, people who had fled their own lands to forge a better life for themselves and the country they live in. At the end of the day, they are not going to give it all up for any political dithering or divisions.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena