By Mansoor Ladha
Most people have been saying Covid-19 has turned our lives around. The public has been repeatedly asked to stay home. Unlike majority of my working friends, I have been staying home even before the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s the life as a freelance writer that I have been living for a long time, so I am mentally better prepared than most people to adapt to the fast advancing pandemic. We, writers, are used to working at home, alone, mostly with little or no direction, handling deadlines, pressure and rejections from editors. Our homes are our offices. So what amounts to major hardships for the majority happens to be part of our lifestyle.
Like everyone else, every writer’s first concern is the financial security. Our freelancing jobs, scarce as they were even before Covid-19, have begun to disappear. A newspaper editor has already informed me not to send any more submissions as he now has few pages to fill. Writers are usually the first to “let go.” As companies shut down, our market is definitely going to vanish, forcing writers to survive further tightening budget.
As a travel writer, I depend on travel agencies and airlines; both of whom have either shut down or minimized their operations. Press trips and FAM tours offered to travel writers and journalists have evaporated as travelling is an impossibility during the pandemic.
The budget on which we existed for food, rent, water, phone etc. has to be further tightened to cut non-essential items. It’s unlikely that the government has thought of offering any financial assistance to writers since it has more important occupations to worry about. As social creatures, we are forced to keep in contact with our colleagues and relatives to pass our leisure time by video chats, Skype or Facetime to ensure the official mantra that “we are all in this together.”
However, we shouldn’t blame Covid-19 for everything because it has also brought a silver lining. As a start, we had to abandon the usual courtesy of shaking hands during introductions and replace them with innovative and unique methods. Handshakes have been replaced with elbow knocking, or placing the right hand on one’s heart or join both hands in the form of the Indian greeting of Namaste. Even Prince Charles was recently seen adopting the Namaste method when introduced recently in London.
A common sight at sporting events when spectators eagerly touched their heroes has become a taboo and some athletes and coaches have even tried to stop high-fiving replacing it with knocking elbows, tapping forearms and adopting new methods to avoid germ-friendly handshakes and other practices discouraged by health officials. The funniest innovative method of greeting that I have seen was two people knocking their feet. It looked funny, but hey, we are facing difficult times and do what seems right to you in the name of healthy living. I wouldn’t be surprised if there newly-found mannerism and etiquette stay post-pandemic years.
We have been repeatedly told to self-isolate and not venture going out of the house. Groceries and medication can now be easily ordered online and delivered at our doorstep. Yet there are people who have gathered in large numbers, defying government’s recommendations, endangering not only their own health, but also that of their neighbours and community as a whole.
My daily dose of health information is obtained from newspapers and television stations, who have been doing a marvellous job in keeping us abreast of all developments and advising people what precautions to take during the pandemic. One major negative effect of this mass media onslaught unfortunately has been that it sparked panic-buying among shoppers who have flooded supermarkets and grocery stores in mass hysteria loading up their carts with everything they can lay their hands on. Essential items needed to prevent Covid-19 such as hand sanitizers, masks and gloves vanished from store shelves in minutes. I have gone to at least eight major stores three weeks ago, but until today, haven’t been able to find these items while several people unashamedly over stocked their supplies. Many people even stocked up toilet papers which have no bearing to Covid-19 directly.
The blame for this panic-buying lies to some extent on many of the store management who didn’t restrict the essential items to shoppers despite the fact that Covid-19 has been with us since December 2019 when it was reported in Wuhan, China, as a mysterious illness. I find it ridiculous that while these stores are in the habit of limiting their sale items from their weekly flyers to shoppers, but didn’t have the common sense to limit items needed to safeguard their customers’ health in these unusual times. Some stores have recently started limiting numbers of shoppers allowed in the store and the quantity of items purchased but it is too late for these rules to make any difference. The harm has already been done.
Instead of complaining about the situation in which Covid-19 has placed us, we should be learning to make use of the available time for better purposes and in doing things for which we didn’t have any time before. I would suggest taking an online course, learning to play a musical instrument, reading your favourite novel, cleaning up one’s study or organize one’s wardrobe. On a personal note, I have been grateful for having all the time at my disposal to concentrate on writing my third non-fiction book. Shakespeare, I am told, wrote King Lear when he was quarantined during the plague!
As a young university student, I always wanted to sport a beard, believing that it would enhance my status as a socialist and project my image as an intellectual. Since we seniors have been discouraged from stepping out of the house, I have grabbed this golden opportunity to grow a beard and save some coins from buying razors. A friend tells me, I hope teasingly, that I look like Justin Trudeau’s – who is also sporting a beard — grandpa!
Among the unlikely victim of Covid-19 — one of the world’s most popular beers – has been Corona beer. The demand for Corona beer among adults in the U.S. has plunged to the lowest in two years, according to data from YouGov. Corona, which derives its name from the Sun’s corona and has nothing to do with the virus, is the third-most popular beer in the U.S., according to YouGov rankings. Guinness is first and Heineken is second. My friend Mike, whose favourite beer is Corona, has even switched to drinking another brand in case Corona beer would give him the virus!
It should be very evident by now that Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate; knows no boundaries, no cultures or political systems, hitting rich as well as poor. We have to learn from Wuhan, China, whose aggressive and draconian measures have succeeded in flattening the curve, avoiding thousands more cases. The measures imposed require co-operation from politicians, businesses and the public to succeed. These are desperate times, needing desperate measures which will only succeed if we all co-operate. As we are repeatedly told, we are all in this together. Canada has successfully overcome floods, fires and other disasters. We have a history of embracing a unique spirit of fortitude for thriving in tough times. I am confident that we’ll also overcome this deadly disease.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.