Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

Birdwatching was one of my pursuits during the pandemic

Seagulls in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
Seagulls in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National

As the UAE’s Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease, it is, I must confess, a great relief that some familiar parts of daily life are slowly beginning to return. Offices are opening, albeit with a limit on the numbers working, shops are seeing business returning and even traffic is building up.

That has been possible because of the Herculean efforts by government and our healthcare professionals, as well as by many others. All of us – well, most of us – have played our part, by adhering to the new rules and regulations.

By the time this column appears, the UAE will be well on the way to completing 2.25 million tests, covering well over 20 per cent of the population. That is a stunning figure. Some careful relaxation now makes sense even if continued testing means that the overall number of cases is likely to continue to rise for a while.

As we move forwards, we will recognise that the pre-Covid-19 days, which I have come to call ‘The Before Times’, are not going to return. We need to prepare for that.

I wonder to what extent people have made good use of the changed environment of the last few months. Many will have been working from home or helping children cope with unfamiliar online learning. Others will simply have been sitting and waiting, unsure as to whether they will even have a job to which they can return.

I hope that wherever possible people have made an effort to learn new skills, perhaps thinking of a new career or spending time studying something different, keeping their minds active. Preferably keeping their bodies active too, though a recent survey suggesting that one third of people have put on weight is frightening.

Personally, I have been fortunate, able to work more or less normally. I have not read as many books as I would like but I have worked on the outlines of a few projects. Some of the ideas have been in my mind for ages, but I have never been able to develop them.

To mark UAE's 48th National Day last year, 48 houbara bustards were set free at the Telal Resort at Rimah, Abu Dhabi, November 27, 2019. Victor Besa / The National
To mark the UAE's 48th National Day last year, 48 houbara bustards were released at the Telal Resort at Rimah, Abu Dhabi, November 27, 2019. Victor Besa / The National

I have only recorded a dozen species, but seven of those are actually breeding in the compound, including two species I didn’t even know were present

During the pandemic, I have also found that when a friend comes to mind, whether they are here or overseas, I am more likely to drop them an email or to telephone them or to send them a WhatsApp message. That has helped to make up for the lack of face-to-face contact with people outside my immediate family.

I have been walking more, even as the heat rises. Last month, my average number of steps per day was the highest since I began keeping a record.

While I have not been able to go birdwatching in the normal way, I have taken to daily strolls around the compound in which I spend most of my time, to look at the birds there. I have only recorded a dozen species, but seven of those are actually breeding in the compound, including two species I didn’t even know were present.

My Dubai-based daughter has been working from home. Unable to shop in the usual way or go to restaurants, she has not only learned just how much can be bought online, but has also for the first time made an effort to learn to cook. She is now, she claims, quite good at it, and certainly the pictures of meals she posts on Instagram look quite tasty. I look forward to going for a meal.

She has been happy spending time at home on her own, though she maintains contact with friends via social media and the phone.

Different people, of course, have reacted in different ways. My daughter says that she has been surprised by contacts of hers who have retreated into complete isolation, utterly uninterested in what is happening to others. They display no concern for those who may have lost their jobs, or who have found isolation very difficult in terms of their mental health. They have not reached out to offer help to others, like their regular part-time cleaner whose source of income has suddenly disappeared.

Fortunately, the numbers of people who have volunteered to help with the crisis shows that a sense of caring is widespread. Perhaps that is a by-product of having a government that evidently does care for all of those who live here.

In the months ahead, I hope that this new caring spirit will stay with us. I hope too that those who have spent the time to learn new things will find that it stands them in good stead. In the post-Covid-19 world, new skills, new ideas, new ways of doing things are going to be of enormous value to us all.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture

Updated: June 4, 2020 01:33 PM

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