Post 24: #Coronavirus and a global perspective

We’re friends and family from around the world, sharing our experiences and thoughts during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 24. Important Note: WE DON’T ALWAYS AGREE – nor do we have to! We post our opinions, and those of our guest bloggers, with no censorship.

Before and After

Samia Madwar, Toronto, Canada

A few days ago I started listening to the audiobook version of Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, a novel set in New York City during the Great Recession. We see the city, and its class divides, through the lens of a Cameroonian couple hoping to get a Green Card and stay in America. Their employer is an executive at Lehman Brothers, one of the firms whose bankruptcy was seen as a catalyst of the 2008 global economic crisis.

Listening to the novel takes me back to that time of uncertainty, when the news was filled with daily reminders of the lives and communities shattered by the crisis, much as it is today. I think about how that period shaped my own outlook; like so many of my peers, I never take financial stability for granted. Now, as I watch others chronicle their experiences—including in this blog, of course—I try to imagine what stories we’ll tell about #COVID-19 in a year from now, or five, or ten. How will we remember this time?

I try to spot some clues in the stories people are telling now. Amid the regular updates, breaking news alerts, and various epidemiological studies, I’m reading about how pandemics have shaped human history and how this one fits in, or how living in isolation comes hand in hand with another epidemic—that of loneliness.

One of the best essays I’ve read recently was written by a friend who has had to practice self-isolation for years due to a health condition. In a beautifully written piece, she urges those complaining about physical distancing now to gain some perspective.

Remember that what you’re coping with now,” she writes, “is what a whole lot of people have been coping with for years and years and years.”

I’ve also been buoyed by the stories artists are crafting. Some designers are fashioning face masks (like this one and this one), poets are writing—well, poems (here’s one by an emergency physician)—and illustrators are capturing their impressions and mirroring ours, too.

Whenever I hear people refer to the “before times” and speak of a time after “all this” passes, I hope they’re also paying attention to the present—the “during.” Because that’s where all our stories will happen.

Closings and Openings

RJD, Beirut, Lebanon

Today I spent the day rummaging through what is left of my closed-down business. 

As I took things out of closets and drawers, flashbacks of happier days  came to me. The day I opened my business, the day I saw it mushroom into a bigger space, the day I moved to a larger location, and the day I felt on top of the world for my accomplishments. I believe I am now at the “acceptance” phase of mourning this loss. 

Then I thought of all the people who are facing the same predicament I had to face. My predicament was due to a black hole called the Lebanese Economy, which led to many small and medium-sized businesses to cease to exist. More than 800 restaurants have closed countrywide.

Many people the world over are facing dire economic decisions, and many small and medium-sized businesses might have to close due to #COVID-19. Let me tell you, it is a very difficult decision to make. 

Some of my dilemmas were:

  1. Having to lay off people and increase unemployment in Lebanon.
  2. Being an entrepreneur and hoping that the dark cloud will just move over and brighter days will come.
  3. Building for so many years and with a witch’s wand all is gone overnight; the customers, the team spirit, the magic.
  4. Being unable to sustain the standards and quality I worked so hard to achieve. 
  5. Dealing with suppliers who fail to understand that we are all in this together.

…and much more. It took me from October to February to make the decision. I was holding on with every bit of determination and resolve I had! Come March, I spent many days crying. Hell, sobbing. To see my 23-year-old baby on its death bed was very difficult. 

Then one day, I woke up and I was ready. I took the leap and found myself on the other side. Things began to fall in place and I became happier. Looking back, I wish I had contemplated less and acted more. 

To those considering the fate of their business, as hard as you might imagine things on the other side, please take the leap. In retrospect, having been burdened with a tormenting decision like this, today I feel liberated and ready to go on opening old drawers and shredding the past while holding on to its beautiful memories. But I’m looking forward, because the future cannot be all that bad. I have to have faith in that.

The Clash Understood

RafifJ in Malaga, Spain

Dear Self,

This year will be 17 years. SEVENTEEN YEARS since I co-founded my small business. It’s been 17 years of hard work, client relationship management, and near-constant recruiting. This little company is almost as old as my eldest son, and just may have caused me more anxiety than his Terrible Twos, Defiant Fives, and Morose Pre-Teens ever did.

In 17 years, we’ve fired a few clients; retained many, many others; and worked with fabulous consultants. In those 17 years, we have enjoyed tremendous successes, helping our customers win billions of dollars in new contract awards. We’ve retooled organizations and created efficient processes. YAY.

We have also made knuckleheaded mistakes. One of them is a major lesson (future entrepreneurs, DO NOT DO THIS): we put literally everything we have into this business. FAIL.

For 17 years, we have found ourselves swinging back and forth on the business pendulum. And then we come back to the same old question when things are down: should we stay or should we go (in or out of business)?

Now with the #Coronavirus, our small business is at risk. It’s not that we can’t work remotely – we’ve been doing that for years. But now quite a few clients are penny-pinching as they too fend off impending financial disaster.

We’re here at that crossroads again, asking ourselves whether we should stay in (as we literally have to do) or go out (as we literally are not allowed to do). Dear Self, we need to make a decision…so you gotta let me know: should we stay or should we go? If we go there will be trouble, and if we stay it will be double.


Anxious Small Business Owner

Where have you been?

Letter from Tina F. in Fairfax, Virginia, to her clients:

Hello my friends!

It has been months since you have heard from me. I am truly sorry. I know that this #Coronavirus has disrupted a lot of people’s lives and I am no exception.

The month of January was rather busy for me with corporate events and headshots. I took some time off during the slow month of February and was looking forward to March so I could start marketing and catching up with my photography business.

No one would have ever predicted that within the first few days of March, #COVID-19 would be declared a pandemic, sending the stock markets crashing. Or that schools and businesses would close and countries would limit travelers at their borders. Or that people would be asked to stay home and cities would go into lockdown, virtually bringing the world to a halt. No one would ever have guessed.

So where have I been? For a few days I was paralyzed. I had been contemplating the effects of all this on my small business. I have been thinking of ways to stay afloat. Should I offer online classes or a virtual class? But I’m not a teacher. I don’t have anything that can be boxed and packaged and mailed to clients. It’s not that easy when you are a portrait photographer. My career relies on photographing groups of people at weddings and office parties. I take pictures of families and newborn babies. I need to connect to people and look them in the eye, or touch their hands, so I can place it in the right location. Keeping social distancing would not work well at all.

I was reminded of my younger days, when street photography was a big part of my life. Human interaction as a street photographer was limited for me. I was just a voyeur and I wanted to keep my distance. I think I should go out and do that again, but it’s not worth the risk.

So where do I go from here? Well, there are two parts of my photography that I have kept mostly to myself. My first is a passion for photographing architecture, landscapes, and nature. And another passion is for manipulating photographs in Photoshop. And those do not require anything but me, my camera, and my computer.

Therefore, until the world goes back to some semblance of normalcy and I can once again engage physically with my clients, I will use this time to catalogue and categorize my own photography and even display some of my previous work to you all on a regular basis.

I hope my photos make you smile as you travel vicariously through them.

Stay safe, my friends.

Thank you for reading our blog! We welcome all feedback.

If you’d like to contribute a post, please get in touch! Send me an email, contact me on Twitter, or leave a comment here. 

Post 15: #Coronavirus and a global perspective

Day 15. It’s getting a little tougher to keep it together. The days are dragging on as the death tolls rise all over the world. When will this end?
We’re still chronicling our experiences, though. Join us!

Bon appétit!

Tina F. in Fairfax, Virginia

No matter how bad the isolation gets, no matter how much our tempers flare, my family have been coming together at dinnertime and eating very well with nothing but compliments to the chef. The chef is my son.
The four of us have an almost compulsive relationship with food that goes back several generations.

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

~ Anthony Bourdain

I remember when we were young, my mother was always cooking our Middle Eastern staples and experimenting with Western recipes. She even wrote a cookbook! At 83, she still loves to cook, but mostly she loves for people to eat her food. She taught us kids to cook and we in turn taught our kids.

My son Mazin, the youngest of all the grandkids, caught the cooking bug early, but honestly we all thought that his passion for eating was greater than that for cooking. Until a few years ago when he announced that he was going to culinary school.

He is attending Anthony Bourdaine’s alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. He is in his first year at the CIA and has developed some amazing skills and so much confidence.

Last night, he made us poached salmon with beurre blanc on a bed of julienned zucchini and tourne potatoes. It was exquisite. My title was “Sous Chef.” I agreed to help him poach the salmon, thinking I was going to drop those suckers into boiling water and be done.

Well, the instructions were so detailed I had to take notes. The temperature of the stock had to be perfect so the salmon cooks evenly, etc. After all these years of thinking I was a good cook,  I learned so much in one hour of helping him.

I came away from this experience with four thoughts:

  1. I now have a real appreciation for the time and hard work that goes into the meals we all devour in a matter of minutes.
  2. The amount of butter that goes into French food is criminal.
  3. Thank goodness my husband is the designated dishwasher because these chefs use so many bowls and pans. And…
  4. We are so blessed!!

I Actually Like Celery

Samia Madwar, #Toronto, Canada

It’s a disconcertingly familiar scenario: I watch the news unfold. The death tolls rise, and I realize that society’s most vulnerable are almost always the hardest hit in any crisis. My own comforts are a rare privilege, and I feel helpless and guilty.

If, like me, you grew up in Syria in the ‘90s, you likely felt that way whenever bombs fell elsewhere, often in neighbouring countries, wishing you could do something to save lives. Or if you lived half a world away as you watched your home country descend into an ongoing war, you likely wished (and still do) that you had the power to end it all in an instant.

Or if you’re worried about climate change, you might compost eggshells and brandish your reusable water bottle while watching wildfires burn and floods swell in the hope that your meager efforts will make the tiniest difference, knowing full well we’d all have to do a lot more to reduce our carbon footprints. Or a lot less.

Which brings me to the pea-sized bit of comfort I’ve found as I feel all the same feelings in the midst of this latest global crisis.

This time, I’ve got a very clear directive for how I can help. We all know it: Stay the &#%! Home.

It’ll be two weeks this Tuesday since I began self-isolating (my partner is a pilot; whatever he brings home, I share, whether it’s a cold or Toblerone).

During this time, I’ve learned to live with what I have rather than constantly seeking fulfillment in new things. Before self-isolation, I would come across an Instagram post about vegan celery and cilantro burger patties. The post would promise that these items are must-haves; better than the real thing! I would feel compelled to try the recipe, since normally all I would need to do is cross the street to pick up the ingredients. Zero thought for how the produce got here or whether celery is even in season. Or I’d notice a stranger’s outfit and think purchasing that exact same jacket would make my wardrobe—and my happiness—complete. I would schedule back-to-back plans on weekends, rarely stopping to consider that I might be overtaxing myself.

Samia loves limes, too, and here’s her lime tree. Samia, I love the socks!

In being forced to hit pause on so much of what once filled may days, I’ve learned there’s plenty of joy and fulfillment in what I already have. I don’t need to make healthy low-sugar gluten-free organic lemon poppyseed cake just because some Instagrammer suggested it. (I can, however bake a loaf of the simple sandwich bread I love using pantry staples.)

I used to complain I never had time to read, but now that I’m not packing my days with activities, I finally do. I’m especially relishing reading print, since so much of my daily news consumption is online. And with so few distractions, my pilot partner -who shares everything, remember? – and I are spending more quiet time together. We’re taking daily walks, sweating through online fitness classes, discussing our plans for the victory garden we’ll plant on the balcony in the coming weeks.

I’ve been told for many years that people of my generation act entitled, that we’ve never known deprivation (except maybe of steady employment and pensions and affordable housing, but let’s not go there now). I don’t mean to downplay or make light of the current situation. I’m just realizing, in this break from my usual daily existence, that there’s a valuable lesson to be learned: most of the luxuries and conveniences I take for granted really aren’t necessary, nor are they fulfilling. And I hope I continue to live a richer, less consumerist life, even after this pandemic recedes. It would probably be better for everyone—perhaps especially myself.

A Tale of Two Sisters

Joint post by Rafah M. in Montreal, Canada, and RafifJ in Malaga, Spain

We’re beginning to get antsy with this whole lockdown thing, despite the 5 or 6 daily Skype calls. (Incidentally, we wrote this post while on Skype). Rafah is getting fidgety because she recently returned from Spain and had to self-quarantine for 2 weeks. Rafif is getting impatient because she’s been on lockdown for 2 weeks and will continue to be for at least another 2.

Despite the frustration, the sisters remain positive and take this as an opportunity to discover a brand new realm of existence. We’re catching up on our beauty sleep, for example. We’re also reveling in our natural appearance. Rafah continues to get dressed up; Rafif has, thus far, abandoned all pretense of caring about her personal appearance. Side note: She likes the relaxed rules of remote work and says she’ll put on a decent jacket for the camera, but not much else.

It’s refreshing to go back to basics. We have both missed a couple of salon appointments and can now examine ourselves without the hype of colored hair and neat manicures. Are we different people? Yes, we are. We recognize that those little salon treatments are no more than casual luxuries. And we can do without them.

Last month in Marbella, Spain

In looking at our natural selves, we also take time to do some introspecting. Rafah realizes that what she needs most is not the consumer products or the luxuries, but a hug from her granddaughter. That sensory contact, with that most lovable of humans, is what she misses most.

Rafif is still figuring things out, but top of mind is Ramsey, her 16-year-old son, who remains in Virginia with his dad.

Through Skype and the gods that govern #coronavirus, we’ll get through this together.

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