Dubai in the time of Covid

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November 8th 2020
Published: November 10th 2020
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What have I been doing during Covid? A lot!!! So, this may be a long one and I'll try to update more frequently in the future....

I have been working from home since March 22nd. Not much happened from March through July, at least, not much that would interest anyone outside my company. However, work was extremely busy. We are based in Dubai, but many of our projects require us to travel around the region. As such, when the borders and airports were shut down, I had geologists scattered across Mozambique, Maldives, and Saudi Arabia for work, while one was stuck just before he was planned to return from leave in Pakistan. Maldives project went on and despite only being able to get half our team into the country before lockdown, we were able to do a great project ahead of time! Not to mention, they were stuck on a boat the whole time, so it was really the safest place for them to be.

In the meantime, our offices were essentially shut down as well. I was able to quickly move and work from home, helped along by the fact that my office got flooded due to rain for the second time this year - it was a sign, so I was one of the first. Later that week, everyone was required to do so. Most of my in-country team were ok - they were either preparing to go to the field or were already there, and all geologists have their own laptops, so we could still do work. Our support staff, however, were limited in their home internet connections and laptops. Two of my assistants based in Dubai had personal laptops. The guys stuck in Mozambique and Pakistan had their laptops, but not physical work. So.... we started to work on an internal project I had been wanting to do for a while - as long as they had excel and pdf, and were at least able to receive files, they were good to go. So we were actually able to keep everyone very busy!

A few hiccups on the more local projects, especially a large one, with restrictions and even a couple of Covid positive case (fortunately, most were false positives, the rest were asymptomatic for our team), and my team were able to stay very busy during the peak Covid time. Not everyone at our company was so fortunate, but for the most part, two large projects carried us through, thankfully. In fact, at times we seemed even more efficient, especially with getting our internal side projects off the ground.

Now we are slowly starting to return to the office, and while our management desires everyone to eventually come back, they have not pressured us to do so, and are very open also to alternating days. So, things are functioning almost as normal, except sometimes we do forget that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, which means quarantines, border restrictions, changing requirements, and even some positives who actually do get sick. It is definitely a different world at the moment, but we have been able to adjust to it. The good thing is, everyone has been generally adaptable. There is literally nothing that we can do at many times, and fortunately the Clients have been mostly understanding, at least when it comes to Covid. They have the same problems themselves, and we all are in the same boat. It's the 'new normal'.

Working from Home

The first two months, I was on top of it: I was working hard, cooking and eating healthy, going out for walks when I could or doing some exercise from home, talking to friends and family over video, making some home improvements, sewing homemade masks, trying to grow plants. In June, after the initial lockdown started to be gradually lifted, I think I was a bit complacent, but still tried to do short walks, but I was leaning more on Deliveroo and less on cooking. July and August, when we were finishing our large projects and my guys started to return, I was crazy busy - constant doing something and eating was not always first on my mind. Then September hit. In 6 weeks, I pretty much gained about 10 lbs. Really. So depressing. I think at that point I was just over working so hard, being isolated, doing anything really. Netflix and Deliveroo were my new friends.

I am notorious for not having a green thumb - most plants I get die or never even grow to begin with. My friends have even been known to get me a cactus or plastic orchids. But I think a couple of my plants just wanted a stay-at-home mom and a few thrived over the last 8 months. My bougainvilleas which I bought just before the pandemic, seemed to initially die, but then about 3 months later, they (at least one of them) look very healthy and are really starting to bloom; my friend said it may have just have been the initial shock of relocating. Speaking of, my friend, who knows my poor plant history, entrusted me to look after his many indoor and outdoor plants while he was in Maldives; what was to have been just a month away became four, but I did what he told me to. He lives just a ten minute walk away, so I walked to his apartment twice a week and the only ones who bit the dust were his petunias, which is apparently expected. Phew! However, my real success story is Tony: a climbing plant, he started at the height of the stand and has now flourished to starting to crawl across my curtain rods! Yay me!

I was planning to make lots of progress on my genealogy book and tree, but I really was slammed with work. What time I should have spent on it, I did for some of my work side projects. I am trying to balance out my work and personal projects a little more over the next couple of months because it is still the time to devote to it. I continue to work from home, maybe going into the office once or twice a week for a half day, so I have more flexibility. I should take advantage of it. I ate least got my outline down, some photos, and a few stories, but I am nowhere near where I had planned to be.

Extracurricular activities

As mentioned, I tried to be good early on with my exercise, trying to maintain the weight I worked so hard last year to get to. First few months, no problem. Fortunately, I started playing soccer again around the end of July. Just a game every two weeks, which then became once a week. I am definitely out of shape, but I enjoy soccer and it helps me get back into the mentality. Masks are not required during exercise, so you'll see photos of my without one during hikes or soccer; at the soccer centers, we are checked for temperature as we walk in, with masks on, and only remove them once we start playing.

I have done a few hikes, started to ride my bike again (which I brought from the US last year and just had serviced), camped, a short sailing trip, go-kart racing once, and a walk or two with friends. Otherwise, just one friend has been in my apartment this whole time - we hang out and watch movies and such; similarly, just one person in my car (which I only need to fill up once a month!). I think I have only been out for drinks twice this entire time, which is good. Sometimes, it is easy to forget you have not seen people in 7 or 8 months, but right now, I tend to keep my circle of friends I hang out with fairly low. Usually the same people each week or each month.


So, in early April, Dubai went for a full lockdown. Stores, cinemas, gyms, etc... everything closed. You could only go to grocery stores and pharmacies. Soon, those hours were restricted and curfew started from 8pm through 6am. Then it became even more restrictive and you had to apply for a permit via an app to even go to the grocery store. Then, even more restrictive, you could only go to the grocery store twice a week for a limited time. You could not even go outside for fresh air and a walk. People were limited to exercising in their apartments.

I don't know that people generally complained. There were always be people who do, no matter where you go. For the most part, people followed the rules. It was like a ghost town, very eerie. During the most restrictive 3-4 weeks, my friend and I met at the grocery store (Carrefour) in Mall of the Emirates; this was the only social interaction I had during the week unless you count delivery guys. We would walk up and down the aisles to chat, socially distancing of course, and buy our weekly groceries. My second shopping day, I would go to my other friend's house (a ten minute walk away) to water his plants. We were also allowed a 'bank hour' to go get money out of the atm or whatever - I also used that to water his plants, since the outdoor ones needed watering twice a week. And that was my schedule, even after the restrictions slowly started to be lifted - for about two months.

Slowly, things were reintroduced. You could start going outside again only for exercise, with curfew still enforced. Then, since it was starting to get so hot here, they allowed exercise hours starting from 4:30am - only for exercise. Curfew was otherwise still enforced from 8pm to 6am. Then, slowly restaurants and cafes started to open; I joined three friends one night at a bar for drinks, the first time in months. Then gyms. Then I was able to start playing soccer again in mid-July. Then stores at the mall started to open. Etc. It was a gradual process. Temperature checks everywhere you go, masks required, hand sanitizer available everywhere...

I spoke with my friend who was able to return from the Maldives at the end of July, curious how he would take the return. For me, it was so gradual, I barely noticed, but I wondered what he would think, as, other than living on a boat for four months, he had no real restrictions; he flew directly on a mostly empty flight, so getting into Dubai was his first real taste of the new world. Ironically, he and I met at a local bar for some wine and he acknowledged he was getting used to it - the online menus, the masks and hand sanitizer, the empty parking lots, etc.


Life is slowly starting to return to normal. Know my dad was worried and said that the US was bringing back all citizens, so to get on a flight. I said, "that's for people who will want to go home. I live here." Not to mention, flying home 14 hours in a tin can, waiting in customs in JFK, either taking another flight or a train home.... I felt like I had more of a chance of catching it (or something else) and spreading it to my family. I also felt safer here in Dubai. For the most part, I have been very happy with the way things have been handled and most people seem to follow the rules here. It's been hard that we still have so many video restrictions here, so it is not so easy to talk with loved ones, but Zoom and Google Meet work fine enough. I liked that the lockdown restrictions were gradually lifted, giving people time to adjust. The number of deaths here have not been as great, probably due to a younger population of expats, but the hospital facilities were quickly formed and seem to be well taken care of. Information on what to do was shared well and easily accessible, though the constant changes have been frustrating. Emirates cancelled my flight automatically and have automatically extended it; their website is one of the best places to get information for traveling and my team who have traveled recently found it very easy and helpful to use.

So, all in all, things have gone well considering. It is definitely a new world and I am curious to see how other places feel. Hopefully I can get home soon, but I probably will not travel during the peak times. I hope you are all taking care of yourselves and your loved ones. Everyone has been affected by this in some way, so we are all in it together.

Additional photos below
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12th November 2020
Learned to make sourdough

The world has changed
Covid has forever changed our world. Nice looking loaf.

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