While I was growing up in Oman, my brother moved to London. I later moved to India for a few years, before settling in the UAE, the country I now call home. For more than a decade, I have grown accustomed to the fact my parents live in Oman, my brother in UK and myself in the UAE.
It may sound strange, especially to tight-knit families, but it has been my normal. That's not to say that my family isn’t close, though. My brother would pop over to Dubai, and has visited Oman and India since he moved. My parents have flown to London numerous times, with my mother staying there for extended periods. I visit my brother, on an average, every two years, and when I'm not able to go to the UK, we travel to another country together.
Catching little glimpses of your family and how much they’ve changed during short vacations is not ideal, but it’s also not a bad life.
In fact, there hasn’t been a single year when I haven’t been able to see every member of my family – until now.
When the pandemic struck, everything that was familiar was suddenly thrown into chaos, in more ways than one. Faced with the inevitable – that we would not be meeting each other throughout 2020 – we started doing what everyone else in the world seemed to discover at the same time: Zoom calls.
The idea seems alien; I was unaccustomed to speaking to them at a fixed day and time. In the past, weekly conversations were sporadic, if at all, and based mostly on necessity.
But with everyone being homebound together – and yet not together – we decided to give it a go.
Led by my brother, we tentatively started having weekly Saturday sessions – a day when all of us were off work – to catch up and keep in touch.
Right off the bat, it wasn't easy. My parents are not the most technologically advanced and there was a lot of "Can you hear me?" and "I can't see you". A lot of metaphorical blood and sweat, and real tears, went into setting up the technical side of things. Thankfully, no one has managed to turn themselves into a fluffy cat. Yet.
But over the past year, my parents have become Zoom experts. Occasions – from Christmas to birthdays – are spent over video calls, with everyone well-dressed, showing off their home decorations, culinary creations, pets or gardens.
We started having weekly virtual quiz nights, too, with extended family joining in, and the loser being asked to host the next game. This in turn led to other virtual games: Scrabble Go became a staple in the household, with the family leisurely playing throughout the day, and the parents competing for points.
My parents’ wedding anniversary is on Valentine’s Day, and this year, the entire family got on Zoom to play a game of “Who knows who better?” to hilarious effect. I will probably always remember my parents' bewildered faces when they were asked what they wore on their first date, and my dad’s desperate yells to “disqualify mum” as he was losing.
Did I ever imagine I would be spending Valentine's Day with my family? No. Did I ever dream that the same event would be held online? Definitely not. And yet, ironically, it's probably something that would never have happened had we still been vacationing together in the first place.
I know that 2020 wasn’t the best year, and while 2021 still has to prove it will be better, here’s to remembering that there’s always a way to make the most of a difficult situation. And that’s easier if you have your loved ones on the other side of the screen.