“Sometimes,” laughs one homemaker, “there’s nowhere to go but out on the balcony.”
She’s talking about how one of the fallouts of the coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic has been a shift to remote working and e-learning and a sharp decline in going out. The result – a family that is always together. A.L.W.A.Y.S.
While this may at first seem like a boon, it does bring some interesting – and sometimes controversial – epiphanies.
Gulf News spoke to a number of women, some housewives, others career-driven, who have been for a past few weeks in close quarters with spouses and sometimes children all day long.
The love is there, but so, they explain, is the exasperation.
Vasantha Nihitya is a happy homemaker who has been married for about 8 years. She is used to her own pace of doing things – from cleaning to cooking to taking some me-time while her husband and child are off in office and at school. Today, she explains, all boundaries and meal times are blurred. “The pressure cooker can’t be making noise,” she says, so she must wake up early to get started on meals for the day. And the time for any TV or phone calls is now past. The children must be taught online, the husband has appropriated the bedroom for work. Silence, she says, has become sacred.
Nihitya is quick to acknowledge that it tickles her mother hen bone to try new dishes and experiment with keeping her brood well fed and happy. But she lets slip in our conversation that sometimes, the demands can lead to frayed nerves. “[Sometimes] the husband is shouting into his laptop and kids [are] shouting into theirs - and there’s no noise cancellation,” she explains.
Of course there are some positives to having your partner home – it’s often a revelation, the exchanges you suddenly become party to. There are tonal and vocabulary changes so different from the ones you are used to at home; the office voice, the subordinate voice, the commanding voice. Keep your ears open and a whole new side to your partner can be yours for the discovering. One twitter user explained it best when she wrote: “A funny thing about quarantining is hearing your partner in full work mode for the first time. Like, I’m married to a “let’s circle back” guy — who knew?”
Sometimes though it’s the idea of equality that you hold onto that goes for a spin in close quarters. Sara Al Shurafa, a Gulf News Editor on the Web Desk and mother of two, said she was prepared for life at home to take a tougher turn when coronavirus came to UAE shores, but that expectation was mild compared to reality. “In the times of coronavirus and with the limitations in movement and social distancing, I became a teacher managing my 4-year-old daughter’s schooling every morning, a cook of not only one or two meals but for an increasing appetite of the whole family who are using food as an entertainment now, a cleaner as my cleaner stopped coming, and an entertainer to my hyper toddler and another baby.
“Add on top of it my job which didn’t slow down like any other sector but it increased its pace.
“In the middle of my daily hurricane, which has elevated my stress levels and anxieties, there is another creature pacing around the house, called my husband.
“Today I realised how luxurious his life is. My husband, like many Arab men, they social distance themselves from household duties. For now he is keeping out of my way in his office or on his PlayStation.”
Nithya Sriram, another homemaker based in the UAE, explains that it’s not just about meal planning and teaching. “There’s round the clock cleaning,” she says while explaining that even in these difficult times, having everyone home is worth the extra effort.
Ayesha Curmally, who is a hotelier based in Dubai, has been working alongside her husband - who is in the field of advertising - from home for the past two weeks. She says she’s enjoying it. “It’s all about setting boundaries; it’s not been too bad,” she laughs. The couple has discovered their way forward is to stick to separate working spaces and out of each other’s hair, meeting up for meals or an odd cup of coffee.
Curmally says she’s going through the motions as she would on any normal day – getting up, bathing, getting dressed for work and saying goodbye to her partner before settling down to work. The result is a clear demarcation of work-home areas and a lack of friction. The only thing, she says, that may spark an argument is the difference in timetables – he works longer hours, she says. She misses him.