UAE's new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

New normal, new reality

Shyam Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

The traffic jams are back. The footfalls in malls are picking up. Dubai Metro is back on track. Patients are trickling into hospitals and clinics.

Eating out, albeit at 30 per cent capacity, has become a reality again. You can even drive in to watch a movie. Finally, you can get your locks shorn; the barbers are back.

So, are we returning to our normal lives in the UAE? Looks like it. The signs are there. With the restrictions on movement eased considerably, people are out and about. There still isn’t much of a crowd. Yet the sight of people shopping and eating out is heartwarming. It gives rise to the hope that we will have our lives back, sooner than we think.

The new coronavirus has been the biggest disrupter of our times.

COVID-19 locked us indoors. Social distancing kept us apart. Masks and gloves became our companions on our shopping forays. Sanitisers and soaps became of our saviours from the pathogen SARS-CoV-2. Work and e-learning turned our homes into offices and classrooms. Homes, they ceased to be. Jails, they have become.

When was the last time we stayed at home for several weeks? Even illnesses could never keep us away from the office for too long. Coronavirus managed what other viruses couldn’t do. It held us hostage in our own homes.

Indoors never felt more oppressive. We longed for a jog in the park. Yearned for the feel of breeze washing over our faces. A drive, too, looked daunting. Shopping lost its sheen. Online orders are never the same.

Anxious and depressed, we longed for normalcy. We kept our eyes peeled for the signs. First, the malls opened, then the parks and beaches. Our hearts leapt. We are getting our lives back.

The virus threat is not over. But abundant caution and strict adherence to the guidelines will allow us to resume our normal lives.

The past weeks gave us an insight into the new normal. But is it the new normal?

Here’s what we found:

The cleanest haircut I have ever had

Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor

What is it like to visit the barber during COVID-19 times? Over the past few weeks friends had posted videos of how to get a haircut done at home. But after seeing my wife experiment with my son’s hair, I had decided that cutting my hair at home was out of question for me.

So, when I found that the salon I go to regularly was open for business, I decided to pay a visit.

As I entered the salon wearing my mask and gloves, I was greeted with: “Sir, please sit down. I need to take your temperature.” The infrared thermometer showed 36.5C, so I walked towards the barber’s chair only to be stopped again. I noticed the barber spraying disinfectant on the chair and cleaning it.

barber, new normal
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The barber told me that only alternate chairs were used to maintain social distancing. All the barbers were wearing masks and gloves, and they were not allowed to use razors. With only 30 per cent of staff allowed to work, many of the barbers I usually meet were still at their home. After 40 days of closure, I was the only customer that afternoon in the shop.

Instead of the thick cloth that was usually draped around me to keep the hair from falling on my clothes, this time it was a thin, disposable plastic sheet. I felt safe.

The measures to ward off the coronavirus were in place and were being followed strictly. The shop was clean and so was my haircut. Not once did I feel that my safety was being compromised.

As I got up to make the payment, very apologetically the barber told me that the rate had gone up by Dh5. I could see that he was not happy charging more, but he had no option. More than a month without customers and now having to wait till the confidence level returns, it will be an uphill task for salons.

But as for me, it was the cleanest haircut I have ever had.

Dining out: How am I supposed to eat with my mask on?

Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor

It was my first time going out to eat after 2 and a half months of being confined to my home. I decided to go out for iftar with my parents, who are both under the age of 60.

So many questions went through my mind. “First of all, who do you think you are and why are you doing this?” I said to myself. Wasn’t it risky enough that I was leaving the house? Now I had to go and sit down at a restaurant for over an hour. My second thought was: “How am I supposed to eat with my mask on my face?” before all these questioned threatened to change my mind.

Eating out, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

We made a reservation at a Turkish restaurant at Dubai Mall. We also asked for outdoor seating, because for some reason, it made me feel a little more safe being out in the fresh air. I inexplicably also felt a bit safer that the restaurant I was going to was located in a mall. Usually, they follow the hygiene rules to the T.

Arriving at the restaurant, we saw that all the staff were wearing masks and gloves. Once the hostess led us to the table our server offered us a fancy, black ceramic bottle. “Hand sanitiser ma’am?” and squirted a little droplet into my palm. That’s new. Tables never had more than 4 people on them and most patrons had their masks off while they were eating.

“I guess it’s ok to have your mask aside while you eat,” I thought to myself. It is much more comfortable that way to be honest.

The experience was not scary. The place was clean, the staff was distant and I felt a little normal again.

Drive-in cinema visit

Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

Ahead of the public opening and prompt closure of the new Vox Cinemas Drive-in at Mall of the Emirates, I was one of the few who managed to get a tyre through the proverbial door before the Eid restrictions were implemented.

As news comes that cinemas are scheduled to re-open on May 27, for many like me, the drive-in experience truly comes as a lifeline during these uncertain times. Growing up in Dubai as an expat brat, there remain faint memories of spending quality time with the family during those three-hour Bollywood outings at the Rex Drive-In before it staggered towards its demise.

cinema, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

There was a sense of childhood comfort as we gathered around on Thursdays, armed with bags that were bursting at the seams with homemade samosas, hot karak tea and sandwiches that would tide us over through any Bollywood experience at the movies (these were the early 90s so you can image the content we had to put up with).

Flash forward a few decades and the Vox drive-in experience, with its parade of Porsches, popcorn and a 75-cars strong parking lot can no way match the memories, but they do create a setting to make some new ones.

Who knows when the pandemic will fade away into a distant memory, but if I had to choose between watching a film from the comfort of my car (albeit at a price of Dh180 + Vat), or one in the dark, with my mask on and that nagging fear that my hand was touching some wayward surface that had yet to be disinfected, I know which side would win.

The cinemas maybe be ready for me, but I think I am still holding on to driving to the movies for a little while longer.

Visiting the hospital

Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

If anyone told me a year ago that visiting a hospital for a routine check-up would become one of the most stressful outings of my life, I would have probably scoffed. After watching both my parents fight spend prolonged periods in such sterile settings, nothing could faze me. Or so I thought.

The first time I visited a local hospital during the pandemic was when I tried to get myself tested for COVID-19 after travelling to India. Surrounded by a sea of masks, people coughing near you, can ignite the hypochondriac in just about anyone. The nurses, scurried around, with panic clearly visible in their eyes can do that.

Hospital, new normal
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A few weeks later, a series of asthma attacks had me back in those corridors, only this time, the vista had changed. Temperature checks at the hospital entrance was the first hurdle to cross, followed by series of questions that could perhaps rival an FBI interrogation. After 10 minutes and what stopping short of willing away my rights, we finally got the green light to enter the elevator and head up to see the doctor.

The waiting area was nearly empty, barring a few frightened forms huddled in a corner. Crosses adorned the seats to ensure patients were social distancing, while the staff behind the counter had set up barricades around them, like that was going to stop some invisible contagion flying at them.

Through an unspoken agreement, my husband and I decided to avoid the chairs and simply hang around like suspicious hustlers in a deep dark corner. What felt like age, but was probably only 10 minutes, we were ushered into the doctor’s office and expected to take our seats.

Grudgingly, we lowered ourselves into the chairs, only to jump right back up minutes later when the good doctor informed us that no one was safe anymore and even she could have the virus lying somewhere in her body, dormant.

This was the new normal, she said, so better get used to it. Less than an hour later, as we scrubbed ourselves to the very inch of our lives (and then some), this was a normal one most certainly should never have to get used to.

Clinic visit: Filling up COVID-19 form

Shyam Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

When clinics resumed services after the coronavirus-induced break, I was worried. So I was pleasantly surprised that the measures in place were not stifling.

There were significant differences. For a start, it wasn’t crowded although more people came in as per their appointments. The socially-distanced chairs and masked staff were indications of COVID times. The television remained switched off and there were no newspapers or magazines.

There was no unnecessary procedures. Of course, we did fill a questionnaire on COVID-19. There was no wait at the triage too. But the doctor donned a PPE (personal protection equipment) for closer examination. That aside, there wasn’t any major changes. What was perceptible was the effort to maintain social distancing.

My only complaint was with the insurance clearance. The wait at the pharmacy was too long. The approval should have come faster, given the seriousness of the pandemic confronting us. Barring that, it was near normal.

I was scared but my dentist looked even more scared

Ashfaq Ahmed, Assistant Editor

Last week, I woke up with severe toothache. My gums were swollen, with some bleeding. Then a horrifying thought hit me: It meant emergency visit to a dentist during coronavirus restrictions. A chill ran down my spine at the thought of going to a hospital.

What if I get coronavirus infection at the clinic? I decided to wait until afternoon, praying for the pain to go away. But it didn't. Eventually, I called up the clinic to book an appointment with a dentist.

My wife made me wear gloves, face mask, gave me a bottle of sanitiser, and saw me off with prayers as if I were going to a battlefield. As a I parked my car, I saw a long queue of patients outside the rear-entrance of the clinic. I approached the door but I was refused entry by a security guard. He pointed a finger toward a signboard saying ‘COVID-19 tests only’.

dentist, new normal
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He told me to use the front door. To my surprise, the clinic was more crowded than usual days. I approached the counter to register and the nurse asked me all the routine questions to make sure that I did not have coronavirus symptoms. Since the clinic was crowded and waiting area was full, I preferred to stand away, near a wall. It was very uncomfortable to wait in the crowd of patients.

"Mr. Ashfaq Ahmed", a nurse called out my name, and directed me to a dentist’s room. I could not help laughing within me, when the dentist came into view, dressed like a "Robocop" — double face masks, a cap, face shield, plastic covers on the shoes, thick gloves, sanitised top and trouser sets used for surgery. And, of course, an apron.

The nurse then made me sit at the dental chair and asked me to remove the mask and gargle with medicine mixed water repeatedly. After, I told my problem to the dentist, he approached me. My heart started beating fast. Would I get coronavirus, now that I'm here, mouth wide open, not wearing a face mask? However, I found out that though I was scared, my dentist was even more scared. He cautiously checked my gums, took an X-ray.

He declared I have gum infection, then prescribed antibiotics. As I sat in his room waiting for him to write prescription and fill out the health insurance form, I noticed the nurse swing into action. She replaced insulated tapes on the chair handle, equipment, X-ray machine handles and even on the door handles. She disinfected all the equipment and the chair.

I'm told that she does all this — after every single patient is done. As soon as I got the prescription, I made a dash towards the cash counter with my insurance file. Here's the clincher: I thought I would be made to pay 20 per cent as co-payment. Then came the shock: my health insurance company did not cover the emergency dental treatment and I had to pay the full amount for my treatment, including the medicines.

This isn’t quite the office I’ve known for 16 years

Sanjib Kumar Das, Senior Pages Editor

As I walked out of the Business Bay Metro station last Thursday, I had two options — either hop into a taxi or brave the 13-minute walk to my office, Gulf News, in the hot midday sun.

I opted for the latter, given the fact that there wasn’t much walking to do or soaking up the sun with stay-home more of a necessity than a matter of choice. The hand-held chunky thermometer used by the security person at the entrance to check on me was the first definitive sign of what office life could henceforth look and feel like — the harbinger of a ‘new normal’ at a place that I have known since March 6, 2004.

office, new normal
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Walking towards the elevator, I caught a glimpse of the ‘new-look’ cafeteria on the ground floor — tables with just two chairs placed at two-metre distances in what was a completely deserted area. Social-distancing measures put in place in right earnest, I realised.

Once on the Editorial floor, the near-dark sprawling interiors of what used to be a plush Newsroom throbbing with activity was just a relic of its past self. I was the only person in that entire room that at one point of time used to accommodate around 200 people.

The chairs and desks were still placed the way they used to be, but I was quite sure that once employees would be allowed back in, the two-metre safe-distancing rule would be assiduously followed around our workstations.

The trend worldwide over the past three decades has been to have office floors with more open-plan layouts, allowing co-workers to bond over work, bringing those chairs and workstations ever closer to one another. Our office was not alien to that trend. Until the pandemic changed it all.

RIP, open-plan offices, I thought, walking out in a haste and making sure my mask was in place.

My Supermarket SOP

Sharmila Dhal, Assistant Editor

Time was when my weekly supermarket visits were a leisurely indulgence. I would spend a good hour or so browsing through the shelves, picking up everything from the must-haves and should-I’s to the why-nots and could-buys.

But now? I am lucky if I cover even the essentials.

My X-ray eyes hardly scan the shelves anymore. They are more focused on fellow shoppers in my potential path, shooting off instant alerts to my brain so it can direct me to duck and dodge.

groceries, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

Activating this hitherto dormant distancing monitor is only one of the many new demands in my supermarket Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) these days. Thanks to the lurking threat of coronavirus, it is more of a Stressful Operating Procedure. But like everything related to stress, this too must be managed.

Earlier, getting ready even for a chore as routine as doing groceries meant picking one of those umpteen new tops I never missed an opportunity to buy; now, it’s about rummaging through the cupboard for the oldest ones.

In similar fashion, I dig out a pair of worn out jeans, as long as they can double up as my carry bag. Each of the four pockets must serve as a separate compartment to house my phone, credit card, house keys and some wipes. Needless to say, the lip gloss, bracelet and perfume have long given way to the mask, gloves and hand sanitiser. And the supermarket trip itself, unlike in the past, is necessarily pre-shower.

On the face of it — at least of what’s left with the mask on — that’s a no-frills-no-fancy ask. I’ve learned to live with that. But deep down, there’s no pleasure, only pressure.

Doing groceries is a demanding drill now. Putting them away is even more testing. Every time I do it, I ask myself: Should the gloves come off before or after I empty the bags? It’s like the quintessential question: Does the chicken come first, or the egg? The answers, to both, remain elusive.

A daughter working with a technology-challenged mother

Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

My mum is creeping closer towards her 80s at an alarming rate and the dawn of technology and everyday apps that we take for granted just passed her by.

Over the years and countless lessons in learning the intricacies of mobile phones and why Apple is conspiring against her, we ultimately managed to get her on WhatsApp. Her chats may include more misses than hits, but it’s one step closer towards communicating with her and we aren’t complaining (at least not that much).

Mother daughter, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

When the pandemic struck and social restrictions came into play, my sister – living thousands of miles away in Virginia – and this daughter, who lives four minutes away by car, assembled like the Avengers to figure out a way to communicate with our mum. WhatsApp calling was a no-go here in the UAE, which left us with Zoom, Botim and Google Hangouts to work with.

Every single day for the first three weeks of our restrictions, my sister and I would diligently ring the other to claim utter defeat in trying to teach her the concept of downloading the app. We made do with phone calls, even as we realised that living alone at home and with no assistance was adding to our mother’s loneliness and overall misery.

Finally, with the easing of the timings, my first pit stop was a social distance visit to my mum, armed with gloves, a mask and sanitisers by the truckloads. That evening took close to two hours trying to explain the intricacies of using a video calling app, which I managed to install on her phone. Half the battle was won. The finer teachings would just have to wait.

Two days later, a frustrated call from my sister elicited that mum had pretty much pleaded amnesia and was unable to even find the app on her phone. Twenty minutes of her 30-minute lunch break was spent trying to explain to mum how to click on the Zoom link before she hung up the phone in frustration.

It would take us another few weeks of pleading, screaming and cajoling before she finally picked up the cues. Was it worth the trouble?

Many may have admitted defeat in the first few weeks, but seeing that smile on her face as she now chats with her grandchildren in the US is an emotion that is worth the frustrations of a daughter.

‘I can’t enter a mall because I am 66, and I don’t want to shop online…’

Atuf Hamra, 66, Canadian engineer based in Abu Dhabi (as told to Evangeline Elsa, Deputy Social Media Editor, Gulf News)

The coronavirus restrictions in place for senior citizens, have come as a difficult change for me. My wife and I, both over 60 now, have been in the UAE for over 30 years. We are used to being independent, buying our own groceries and paying our own bills. Suddenly, we are not allowed inside malls.

We live in Abu Dhabi, and the security guards, at malls, have been directed to refuse entry of those above 60 years, as a precautionary measure.

I am 66 and my wife is also over 60, so neither of us can go, and we don’t have anyone else to do it for us. We don’t have a problem with not being able to visit the malls for shopping, but we have to go there for essential work, for an hour or two. I am not used to depending on others.

senior, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

You ask anyone, they tell you "go online".

I don’t like online shopping, I am not comfortable with it. I need to go to the stores, compare and select the items. In shops, you have various options to choose from. When you go to a shop to buy tomatoes, you won’t pick just any tomato, you pick the ones you know are good. If someone else delivers the tomatoes, can you send back one tomato because it’s not good? You don’t get to choose.

For now, we are getting things from the small groceries in the neighbourhood, but, there is hardly any selection, and the prices are slightly higher. That is the only option available to us.

I have spoken to some officials, and I am trying to convince authorities that people above 60 should be given access to the malls exclusively for two or three hours. Like, they can give us time between 9am to 12noon, so all the elderly people can finish their work, and others can access the malls after that. I have been told that the feedback will be considered.

Everyone says those above 60 are more susceptible to COVID-19.... Since the pandemic started, my wife and I have been taking all necessary precautions, we wash our hands regularly, maintain social distancing, use sanitisers at home, in the car, there are sanitizer bottles everywhere.

There is nowhere to go, no one to meet. We have three children, two outside the UAE, and the third, our 30-year-old son lives in Dubai. He used to come to visit us over the weekends, but has not able to, due to the restrictions. It’s been a while since he came, and we miss seeing him.

It will surely take a while for things to get back to normal. We will all have to take care of ourselves. Meanwhile, I hope the authorities come up with a solution to address this problem that people over 60 are facing.

The ‘unfamiliar’ look of my familiar Metro

Sanjib Kumar Das, Senior Pages Editor

Walking into the Damac Properties Metro Station on Friday, May 22, what struck me was the near-deserted look of a landmark once throbbing with a sea of humanity around that time of the day even two months ago.

It was around 12.30 in the afternoon, the time when I would usually take a train on the Red Line and head towards the Business Bay station. And I would consider myself lucky if I got a place to sit. This time around, not only did I get a place to sit, but I could actually choose one in a compartment where there were a total of about five others, apart from me.

metro, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

With seats clearly marked out for safe-distancing norms, the Dubai Metro that I had always known had a different look. Even the platform, train and elevator floors were marked for commuters to maintain safe-distancing. In fact, these markings were the first things that caught my attention before I could even enter the station premises.

With metal barricades that were meant to control the flow of passengers into the stations, conforming to a zig-zag movement pattern, and clear signages on the pavements for people to stay a safe distance apart, I knew how much of a price humanity was required to pay in sociological terms to battle a pandemic.

Worried and a bit nervous as well for having stepped out of the house to keep an appointment with the doctor, I knew I didn’t have much of a choice. Added to that was a tinge of sadness over the unfamiliar look-and-feel about my familiar Metro. But one thing was extremely reassuring: I knew for sure that with these crowd-control and distancing measures, our commute on Dubai Metro is in safe hands.

Cab rides: End of the road?

Seyyed de la Llata, Senior Digital Designer

Invariably, it always starts with "Where are you from?" Then the coversation jumps to family. "Oh, I too, have 3 kids." Then it moves to football: "Ronaldo, no doubt, is better than Messi." And it may end with science: "It is about the calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water," said a chemical engineer who, due to life's mysterious turns, I had the fortune of having as my pilot on a Dubai taxi ride.

To be honest, on more than one occasion, I almost did not want the journey to end, because they were such fascinating tales told of Dubai taxi drivers — which I will enjoy no more.

I liked to sit in the front as it humanizes the driver. It was more personal, respectful. You see, socially, my culture is very protocol-oriented. The practical part of sharing your GPS and giving directions is easier as a co-pilot. Of course, there is also the chance to meet interesting people.

But then, COVID-19 changed it all. Sitting in front is prohibited. And only two passengers can occupy a cab. A transparent plastic now stands as a barrier between the driver and the passenger, aimed to block the virus, but as a byproduct, it also blocked conversation, not to mention the A/C.

Now, we barely exchange words. A direction was given and there was an awkward moment where I had to show the map on my mobile through the plastic sheet that divides us, without him handling the phone himself. I wanted to hand it over — the force of habit. He extended his hand too. But the plastic is a stark reminded that it may be lethal for either of us.

The journey was longer than I remembered. Not in time, because it took me the same 15 minutes to my destination. It just felt longer. I paid through the small "window” on the plastic barrier. I usually give tips, but if the tale was particularly amazing and the driver had a beam of positivity, I would happily give more.

If I knew they needed it badly, I spare some change. This time, there was no cheerful exchange. We both looked suspiciously at each other during the cash handover, and to reduce the risk of contagion, I opted to leave the change. I sort of miss the mesmerizing tales of nomads on wheels.

Harnessing technology to worship and pray in the UAE

Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor, and Ashfaq Ahmed, Assistant Editor

Dubai: Have the restrictions on places of worship affected the religious life of residents in the UAE?

Yes, of course, there have been changes in the prayer life of both Christians and Muslims in the country.

Over the past two months, Christians in the country have harnessed technology to make the most of not just congregational worship, but also of Bible studies and prayer meetings.

prayer, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

Using teleconferencing, people now attend worship, listen to the best speakers from around the world expound on the Holy texts, and share messages of hope and encouragement from the comfort of their homes.

So, whether it is a prayer meeting in Dubai, a worship service in Kerala or a Bible study in Mumbai, access is through the click of a button.

With worship services now beamed live from cities, towns and even villages around the world, for many Christians in the UAE, there is a wide range to choose from. However, some have complained that it cannot make up for the fellowship that is built and nurtured every week when people meet together for worship.

For Muslims, too, there have been changes with regard to prayer. Since mosques are closed for congregational prayers, people have to pray at home. Muslims pray five times a day in congregational prayers in mosques, but these prayers can be performed individually at home. Some people also pray along with their family members in small groups.

However, the biggest change has been while performing Friday prayers. It is mandatory for Muslims to perform Friday prayers in large congregations at mosques.

However, during times of emergencies, wars or pandemics, when it is not possible to offer Friday prayers at mosques, people can perform the Friday prayer without an Imam at home, but without the 'khutba'.

A mum juggling remote work with kids' e-Learning lessons

Nilanjana Javed, Digital Content Editor

It has been more than 10 weeks since schools across the country have gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a mother of two school-going kids, I feel e-Learning has turned me into a teacher (albeit unpaid for the effort).

Online classes have shifted the burden of teaching to parents and it is hard for a working mom to juggle different roles. On the brighter side, my 13-year-old son is independent and requires less supervision. However, my nine-year-old daughter can barely sit still for 10 minutes. It is a mammoth task to engage with her constantly along with my office work.

One of the things that concerns me is that children’s screen time has increased considerably attending one class after another. Will such a lifestyle lead to lethargy?

Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

I’m concerned about the long-term impact of this will be. Playtime is zero and there is no separation between home time and school time. Remote learning has blurred the borders between school and home.

With children reading at 9.30pm and getting up late in the morning, there is hardly any control over a structured learning environment at home. In our regular routine schedule, the children used to remain busy with their extracurricular activities after school hours. Now, they find it very hard to spend days without school and friends.

The coronavirus crisis has indeed altered our lives, including our school system and children. Nevertheless, it is time to look at the positive. My daughter’s bedroom may have has become her classroom now, but when was the last time we as professionals got enough time to spend with our children? It was a joy to watch Ratatouille animation together.

Is this going to be the new normal? If online education continues, it will affect the quality of learning? I also feel that, as a parent, I would struggle to manage if I have to go back to work and my children do not return to full-time school in September.

Planning differently for my family

Sarah Al Shurafa, Senior News Editor

For me, life as we know it will not come back any time soon. My mindset is already set, i.e. that until a vaccine — or an effective medicine is out — I am keeping my family away from the outer world.

Psychologically, I am ready for lock down, but not ready for any sort of illness or any of my kids falling sick.

So for now, our life for the coming year is being planned and budgeted around the house.

planing differently, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

Usually during summers, we travel. That's not happening this time. All travels had been cancelled. I neither want to even think about getting infected outside UAE nor getting locked down in another country.

My daughters spend their summers between play areas and activities. Now, I am substituting this with a mini play area in my dining room and some summer activity books and tutoring.

My baby is supposed to start nursery in October. This also is going to be postponed, perhaps for another year. So now, I am contacting some educators to help me build a curriculum we can do at home, along with her sister's home  schooling.

Also in October, I am budgeting to move to a bigger house with a garden. Staying inside is not an option when the weather is good again. Especially as I have recently been hospitalised for Vitamin D deficiency, which I blame mostly on lack of sunlight. A life outdoors is crucial for both my sanity and my children's development.

This is the kind of life I have to prepare for and live with my family, which I think will be the new normal — at least for the foreseeable future.

Staying fit: How do I not gain 15Kg during the pandemic?

Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor

I went through the exact same process as everyone else. I baked banana bread to a few days into the self-isolation. It turned out amazing. Then I tried cinnamon rolls, then I made chocolate chip cookies. I made a Tres-letches, I made focaccia bread.

The baking was basically out of control. I also became obsessed with cooking. Lots of cheese on my food. I learned how to make gnocchi from scratch! Imagine. My parents went from “Wow, well done!” to “Maybe we shouldn’t be eating this many carbs in one day.”

keeping fit, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

To be honest. I am, practically always on a diet. So I cut myself some slack during quarantine and noticed that even with my somewhat mediocre attempts at intermittent fasting, the pounds started piling on. Now I am not saying that weight gain is a bad thing. Most people are beautiful at any size, but I know for a fact, that weight gain does not look good on me.

I gained 5kg in a matter of one month. Disaster. I started by adding a little bit of movement into my life. Yoga on some days and HIIT circuits on other days. So when Ramadan came, I decided to use the mental restraint we are supposed to exude during this time and applied it to food.

More restraint than I’ve ever had in my life. But whenever I could, I worked out and then came the most important part of my health journey. Living on a calorie deficit. When I would usually consume 1,600 calories a day, I cut it down to a healthy 1,100 to 1,200 with some virtual advice from a nutritionist. I would eat iftar and leave the dining table with some space in my stomach.

The hardest part was skipping dessert and snacks. But I stuck to it. I also drink tonnes of water. I practically glued my mouth shut until my next meal at 3.30am. This method helped me loose a slow and steady 1kg a week. I am almost back to my pre-quarantine weight.

As the clock ticks, my home garden to the rescue

Anupa Kurian-Murshed, Senior Digital Content Planning Editor

They say your genes never let you forget. Coming from a long line of passionate gardeners, working with earth has always given immense joy. That first unfurling leaf, all wrinkled and wondrous green is exciting. The whiff of Imperial Jasmine and garden mint warring with rosemary is heady. And the purple beauty of a smooth aubergine peaking from within its massive maple-like leaves is so satisfying.

But, for years, this romance has been sporadic, with stolen moments over weekends. My green friends were not happy, but they sensed my affection and walked along, occasionally giving up and breaking my heart.

savouring home, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

All that has changed, the lockdown means the hours spent driving to and from work can now be spent focused on my friends. As dusk gathers, I can watch them tuck in and as the sharp morning light arrives, they wake and turn a little, to bask from the safety of the shade.

News spreads fast, this shift has seen guests arrive in the shape of Monarch butterflies. A quiet happiness fills up, as I catch up for the years of inattention. I almost say a 'thank you' for this perfect gift in these imperfect circumstances but, hesitate as I feel the pain all around, of the migrants in India, separated families, and desperate lives being led.

I worry for my parents, I worry for the health of my family, I worry for my pets. Any hint of a cold or malaise in them that used to warrant a ginger tea is now filled with dread of whether it means a COViD-19 test. Every time a delivery comes, I get paranoid about virus load. I watch hawkeyed to ensure all sanitisation processes are followed. I fear for that one moment of slackening when fatigue and ennui sets in. Insomnia is creeping in from the stress and lack of enough movement.

I read science pieces about vaccines and short-term immunity obsessively, enough for Google to start posting pop-up medical equipment ads. It is almost comical, were it not for the global tragedy we are drowning in.

And when it all gets too much, my genes remind me to look out, to savour my home garden, for there I know what to do. I stand still, with a bowed head, in my mind's eye, next to the Jasmine and mint, grateful to my friends, my companions for over two decades.

Online shopping: The curious conspiracy of the non-existent puzzle

Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor

I had a bad feeling right at the start of this pandemic.

A feeling bad enough, that my urge to buy clothes was overridden by my urge to save money.

“It’s not like I will bewearing these out anytime soon, I thought to myself. So let me just stick to what I have so far. I don’t need anything.” I would say to myself over and over. But one day, I kind of cracked and had an overwhelming desire to purchase a puzzle online. Now I am savvy with the World Wide Web. I was born into it. Moulded by it.

Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

Don’t think I could survive without it. But this particular purchase of that one puzzle stumped me. I scrolled through Amazon, looking for the perfect puzzle and found just the one.

It was a typically boring skyline or a castle in the forest. I picked a lovely Japanese art piece turned puzzle. The piece was called The Great Wave off Kanagawa and I clicked Add to Cart, Pay, Submit. Thank you for your order. Cool. I didn’t give it a second thought.

A few days later, I check the status of my order. It doesn’t exist. Weird. I check in my order history. Nothing. I check my bank statement. No charge.

A psychologist's take

Sneha John, Counselling Psychologist, LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre in Dubai

Is it normal to feel anxiety about ‘getting back out there’?

The thought of returning to our old routines may produce fear and anxiety. Anxiety is normal as we envision stepping out of our homes and getting back out there. Many of us may be asking ourselves, “why am I hesitant to go outside? I missed the freedom I once enjoyed and that I am now getting it back.” The answer to that is simply this:

We are now faced with yet another change. Change remains the common factor before and after lockdown. While we once grieved the loss of freedom when stepping into life inside our homes, we have slowly come to terms with the loss and adapted to the change. As human beings, every change takes about 2 months to adjust and adapt to. Over the past 2 months, we have acclimatized into a lifestyle where the terms stay at home, sanitizing, hand washing and wearing face-masks have become the ‘new normal.’

psycologist, new normal
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

We are also faced with the predicament of stepping out of our homes while staying safe. Life outdoors may no longer be seen as liberating but risky, tiring and unpleasant. Every trip outside the home elicits fear and anxiety about the unknown.

Anxiety in this case may be a protective factor as we navigate the risks of going outside. However, in order to ease into getting back out there, it may be helpful for us to weigh our anxious thoughts against facts. For example, we may think, ‘going outside means that I will surely catch the virus.’ This would be an example over-generalizing without weighing facts. An alternative helpful thought may be, ‘going outside only when required by taking the necessary precautions would be safe.’

What do you think worries people the most?

As social distancing and curfew guidelines are still intact, people may be most worried about contracting the virus from those who are asymptomatic. The invisible nature of the pandemic and the rate at which it spreads may also cause heightened anxiety. Further, thoughts of being isolated and recovery if infected from the virus may also be concerns. Carrying on with life outside the home while the pandemic is still present may cause hesitation to step out unless necessary.

How can humans adapt to this “new way of life”?

While we continue living our daily lives as our nation fully recovers from the pandemic, here are few things to ease the anxiety:

Engage in the present:

Our minds have the ability to think of different possibilities and outcomes at once. However, we can practice slowing down the mind by intentionally taking it one day a time. We may also benefit from cultivating an awareness about our thoughts and emotions. This would help us to spend time attending to thoughts that help us finish the task at hand. Along with this, we will begin developing an attitude of gratitude for things that remain constant in the current situation. For example, we start appreciating having masks, gloves and care from the government while stepping outside. The more we try controlling things we cannot control; our self-efficacy goes for a toss. Self-efficacy starts with the positive belief we have in ourselves to face uncertain situations. It is strengthened when we shift our focus on the resources we have at hand rather than the circumstance. The goal is for us to spend less time worrying about the future and being fully committed to life in the present.

Take it slow and steady:

It is important to do what feel right for you. Even as restrictions are being slowly lifted off, avoid the urge to rush into your old lifestyle. We will take time to get adjusted to moving around with precautions in place. Hence, we may schedule in outdoor activities that are not comfortable and manageable for us. Instead of piling up several activities that require you to move around, you may start with one per day for the initial few weeks and then review.

Normalise the change:

The world we step into may look different from the one we were used to 2 months ago. Take the time to get prepared mentally and physically for the demands ahead. A new change to life outdoors would be a daily routine consisting of wearing masks, sanitising and maintaining 6-feet apart distance. Even as you are faced with a flurry of different emotions, let them come and go.

These are a normal part of the adaptation process. For example, this may be experienced as sadness as we think about the freedom we had before the pandemic or frustration as we fulfil precautions needed while stepping out. Tell yourself, ‘it is normal for me to be feeling this way.

I am joined by several others who feel the same way. I choose, however, not to dwell on these emotions and let them pass as they come.’ Instead of focusing solely on the negative aspects of the new change, let us also usher in positive aspects, especially the regained freedom of being able to step outside the home as the government ensures our safety.

Prioritise your emotional health:

While adapting to a new change, we should be mindful to take care of our emotional health. The pandemic itself may have caused trauma for some. Prioritise self-care by acknowledging the way you currently feel without being self-critical or punitive. You may even take the step to reach out for professional help if you find yourself struggling emotionally.

An essential part of maintaining our emotional health is reflecting on inner strengths that have got us this far. These will help us for the journey ahead. Lastly, let us be mindful of the information we take in and ensure that we are surrounded by a good support system of people who can help us through this time.

Now, let’s build a world without COVID-19

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

The school closures in the UAE on March 8 were just the beginning. More measures followed. Disinfection programme and restriction on movement were swung into place to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. Cinemas, parks, malls and other public facilities were shuttered. Dubai Metro services ground to a halt and flights were grounded.

Our lives changed.

The world lived in a fear of the virus, and we began life in a cocoon called home. Masks became part of our attire. Our prayers for normalcy were answered when the restrictions were partially eased on April 24 to allow the reopening on some public facilities with certain conditions.

Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

So over the past month, has life returned to normal? Not yet. But there are plenty of signs that give rise to optimism. Traffic jams are a good indicator. The gridlocks in Al Ghusais, Dubai, and Al Wahda Street, Sharjah, may have been caused by people rushing home for iftar. Yet it had a familiar ring. A familiarity that signalled a return to the life before coronavirus.

That’s a good augury. But that’s also reason enough to be cautious. The virus threat is far from over. However, we can take heart from a steady rise in the number of recovered COVID patients. A second wave of infections has to be prevented. Each of us bears the responsibility to ensure that.

We have to continue the good hygienic practices diligently, wear masks when leaving homes and practise social distancing. Only then can we be sure that we are on track to normalcy.

Normalcy has to return swiftly. To ensure that more jobs are not lost, more livelihoods not destroyed, and our children’s future not compromised. We hold the key to a post COVID world.

Together, let’s build a safer world.