My story of isolation in the pandemic

"Life must and can only get better from this point onwards"

By Danniella Melk

Life must and can only get better from this point onwards.

I live in a country bursting at the seams with possibilities and energy. Here, in these beautiful United Arab Emirates, is where I experienced the inevitable because I no longer live and work in my home country; I received news that every expat dreads. My father died on 7 October 2019. I was two times zones and an 8-hour, 30-minute direct flight away from my family. I took the trip twice that year, once for my father’s funeral and then, a few weeks later, for the first Christmas without the head of our family.

By January 2020, COVID-19 was making its presence known in more countries and territories across the planet. I followed the news of its spread and tried to be optimistic even though the media painted a grim picture of the devastation caused by what would soon become a pandemic. Death on a large scale, loss of income and suffering were some of the immediate consequences of the pandemic – no one was prepared. The struggle to understand and accept the death of my father proved to be difficult, especially with the ongoing barrage of bad news about the pandemic, and to date I remain beleaguered as I write this a few weeks before the one year anniversary of his death.

I spoke to my brother over the phone for 9 minutes and 44 seconds. Four days later, on 6 February 2020 he died. As with my father, cancer killed my brother. I took another flight home.

I originally arrived in Abu Dhabi on 15 October 2011, moved to Ras Al Khaimah in 2015 and in 2019 moved to Dubai. I am a South African woman, and this is my story about isolation in the pandemic.

When the Dubai Government announced the 24-hour disinfection campaign, which meant that for two weeks everyone in the city had to stay home, my brain went into high alert. Outwardly I was occupied with work and helping my colleagues adapt to working from home, but in my apartment and in my mind, things were not going well. In the years I have been away from South Africa, the routine was for me to travel home once a year and stay there for four or five weeks over the Christmas and New Year holidays. But the recent repeat short stay trips had taken their toll on me. Going into the pandemic, isolation and all the changes that came with it, I was already dealing with a steady stream of mental anguish. My mind went into all levels of overdrive; survival instincts were trying to kick in.

The pandemic is teaching us and forcing us to think and act differently. I am learning from being in isolation that I can most certainly make do with much less and that I value life much more than ever before. I am learning that I can make what I have last longer. During the Stay Home Campaign, visits to the supermarket were limited and subject to approval of a move permit from the police. My grocery list then and now continues to be specific and my shopping trips are purposeful. There is no time to hang around the shops for the sake of being out. I only go out if necessary, and even then, I do not stay out for too long.

In addition, not being able to leave the apartment has meant getting to know my immediate surroundings more intimately. Fortunately, I am comfortable with my own company, and so being alone did not mean experiencing loneliness. Being confined to the space in my apartment taught me to make the best of the physical space ; that there is no need to go to for a drive or to go out into a different physical space for entertainment. I could read, meditate, exercise and start a new hobby within the space of my living quarters.

Though we are physically distant, the pandemic has brought us together. The government has looked after everyone within the borders of the country, citizens and expatriates alike. The leadership spoke to us all from the onset of the pandemic, to reassure us and give us guidance. I have found find that in our respective communities we ask with genuine concern about the health of our colleagues’ relatives, offer donations and prayers and assistance for each other’s families, communities and countries. I now know even more about my colleagues and their families than I did pre-pandemic. Even though we live in a cosmopolitan city ,we can all identify with the reality of isolation and are more than willing to help each other, especially as people lose jobs, don’t receive salaries, or have to move back to home countries.

Admittedly, isolation has at times been very difficult, but I remind myself often that this is a blessing for me as I am afforded the time to come to terms with the loss of two family members and life in the time of Covid-19. Isolation is time for us all to get to know ourselves better and improve our relationships with family members and those in our inner circle. My behavior and my outlook on life has changed during this time, and I cannot express sufficiently my gratitude to the government and the citizens for making me feel secure and safe in my time of need as I deal with bereavement and experience this historic pandemic. I am so pleased to be experiencing this life-changing year here in these beautiful United Arab Emirates– my adopted home. What a time and place in history to be alive!

Life must and can only get better from this point onwards.

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Danniella Melk is a South African based in the United Arab Emirates.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.