It’s the sweltering month of September, and I’m in a bad mood. No, I think the three children in the back would say that I am in a vile, dangerous mood. We have to stop for groceries on the way back from school and the traffic is especially horrible because it’s a Thursday. “Mom, I missed after-school basketball today, couldn’t you have come a bit later for me? I could make the team you know.” I could think up of a thousand sarcastic and angry replies to that – something along the lines of “Yes, I’m your maid and driver. I’ll battle all this traffic twice, and cook and clean at home too, for good measure! And I haven’t just finished a long day at work, no why would I do that!?”
I take a deep breath and reply with clenched teeth: “I’m sorry. I have to go to work all weekend and your sister has a play date later today,” I reply. The AC is cranked up high but it still feels unbearably hot as the harsh sunlight hits my hands at the steering wheel. There is fighting in the backseat, and the little person sitting on the car seat first broke into small sobs, but now, there is an out and out tantrum in full swing. The green light slips into yellow just as my car was about to go and I slap my hands on the steering wheel in despair. I turn my neck back and my eyes flash. “Just wait till we get home…” I say in a sinister voice.
I wonder why I took three hungry children with me to the grocery store. I mean why would anyone do that to herself? There’s uniform clad children running amok in the store and there are some eyebrow raising and potentially problematic items (read: junk) that they are now carrying. The children are already eating cookies they picked up in the bakery area. I remind them that they haven’t washed their hands but offer the sanitizer in my bag and let them eat and tell them to keep the wrapper safe in the cart. We then collect the items on my list and after all the weighing and selection and waiting we are done. “I hate doing groceries,” I complain as we walk back to the car, laden with bags. We reach home and the children and I carry the groceries inside and my life finally has some semblance and order as I put everything away and the children wash up.
Cut back to this fateful year of 2020, April 2020, to be exact and supplies at home are thinning fast. It’s been two weeks since I left the house and for the children, it has easily been an entire month. The last time we did groceries about a week back was on an app on my phone and we couldn’t get a delivery slot until two days later from when I ordered it. A guy on a motorbike had come all the way to my doorstep, wearing a decidedly worn out mask and yellowed gloves. His eyes looked tired. He made minimal conversation as he took the payment and sped off.
If you’ve watched the YouTube videos on how to disinfect groceries you probably know what it’s like when there are grocery bags on your doorsteps. We disinfect everything with rubbing alcohol before bringing it inside. Then the process of washing all the produce with vinegar is absolutely exhausting and because I ordered a lot, we barely have enough storage space. This was last week. This week, however, I feel like I might have to step out and buy some essentials like meat, which I never order online.
Going out in this corona world feels – sad and scary. Sad, scary and different. People turn away from each other and the human face, you just can’t see it anymore. As I drive off to the grocery store it feels strangely quiet, there’s practically no traffic and whomever you see in other cars is covered up with masks. Inside the store, it feels a bit like a hospital as everyone has their temperature checked before walking in. A guy further down the aisle from me coughs and I panic and bolt off to another aisle. It’s stressful, to say the least. I have a lot on my list and I’m determined to buy everything I possibly can, as taking the risk of leaving the house again very soon doesn’t excite me.
My cart is chock full as I wait in the long line at the cashier. Seems like many people have been thinking along the same lines as myself – the queue ahead shows people want to stock up as much as possible. The lady at the cash counter is easily eight months pregnant and looks drained. Almost mechanically she scans the groceries and I can only see her eyes above her tightly plastered face-mask, but boy, the eyes say so much. Imagine having to touch and scan every item in that store, imagine having to stand on your feet so many hours a day while putting yourself and your baby at risk. Imagine not having a choice, imagine having to put in the hours, or not having bread on the table. Its finally my turn and as I lift a big bag of rice and put it on the conveyor belt I ask her not to worry about picking it up and putting it in a grocery bag. In a place like Dubai, we are spoilt. People fill in our gas at petrol stations, our groceries are put into bags by others and we enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle than many places in the world.
I think of the food delivery services that have picked up and I suddenly remember that I saw a lot of delivery riders on the road. Your Zomatos, Deliveroos, Talabats and restaurant and supermarket delivery guys – those businesses have picked up and the riders have no choice but to not #stayhomestaysafe so you and I can. The courier guys. The Amazon delivery guys. The security guard in your buiding. The policemen that still patrol the city day and night. The overwhelmed cashiers forced to handle the biggest contaminants – cards and currency. The people stocking up the shelves at the grocery stores, having to work long hours now because of the upswing in demand and having no more personal protective equipment than disposable gloves and a possibly reused many times over face-mask – do you know how scarce and expensive they are? The people who are not blue-collar workers but their companies won’t let them work from home, like my husband? I’m sure there are many other people you and I know who don’t have a choice. The people who are rarely celebrated, each of who is a hero in their own right.
The other day we had a leaky sink and a problem with our bell so the maintenance guys came in. Mask, check. Gloves, check. They just did their job with minimal of fuss and I wondered about their families back home. They are heads of families, they are breadwinners, they mean the whole world to some people and as they potter around from house to house fixing people’s lights and sinks I wonder who celebrates them. Their incomes run families and the maintenance guy (now a regular in our house) says we just trust God and do the best we can in terms of protection. He pulls out his phone and shows me a short video of his teenage son giving a confident, fiery speech. I notice his eyes water just a tiny bit with pride, or is that fear? Oh God, please protect this man, and all the other heroes like him, I say under my breath.
If you log on to Google, the homepage has a red heart and some medical supplies as #weareallinthistogether and a heartwarming message to support and celebrate all the doctors, nurses and paramedics around the world fighting the coronavirus. We certainly should be grateful to every one of these people and pray for their and their families’ safety and wellbeing. I personally know some great doctors and waste no opportunity in letting them know how selfless they are and what a wonderful job they are doing. But shouldn’t we also look out for the people that have no way of observing the lockdown? What about the construction workers of Dubai, who go about their business like nothing ever happened? What about each and every person who cannot take a break because the authorities do not allow it – or because if they do not work, their family will go hungry? These are truly unprecedented times and the challenges that loom ahead would have been unfathomable even six months ago.
I think back wistfully to the after school grocery trips and children that could run amok in grocery stores and eat a cookie while at it, too. I think about how I hated grocery shopping and yet all I had to do was buy stuff, and put it away and enjoy the blessings it brought. My life has changed and so has everyone else’s – but why did it take such a paradigm shift to make me appreciate all that I took for granted? And the scarier bit – what else am I taking for granted right now in this moment that can be taken away if I don’t understand that it is in fact a blessing? Has the time not come for me to appreciate the relationships that I have, the joys that still surround me if only I paid attention? To sign off, I’m sending out a heartfelt prayer for all those people (and the hospital staff top this list, surely!) who take these huge risks day in and day out just so I can #stayhomestaysafe.