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Safe and solo

  • Published at 04:23 pm July 17th, 2020
D2_July 17, 2020_Muhid Bhuiya

Living alone takes on a whole new meaning under a pandemic

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was terrified. I was living all by myself in an apartment close to the newspaper where I work. My parents live outside of Dhaka, and most of my relatives, including my siblings, live abroad. When the crisis reached our country, my parents worried about me. It’s going to be a disaster, why don’t you move back with us, they said. 

I thought of my younger brother, who also lives by himself in Ontario, and doesn’t have the option I do. I figured, if he can manage, why can’t I? My elder brother, who stays in Växjö with his family, gave me the confidence to take this on, although all our conversations end with him telling me to stay home. I stay home.

I’m fortunate and proud that the organization I work for was the very first one in the newspaper industry in the country, that successfully implemented the work from home policy, which continues to this date, and will do so until the situation improves. Other media houses followed us in putting the safety of our employees first.

It was March 23rd, when our work from home policy came into effect. I’ll admit, the first few days were actually fun. Then I told my maid to stop coming to work. I stopped going out to the local laundry. I started cooking all my own meals. Things began to get harder. The workload from the office also began to increase. While we were quick to implement remote working, it was difficult to coordinate and manage things, and we weren’t used to it.

A massive change came to my regular lifestyle. The biggest difference was finding that work/life balance. Before the pandemic, I had office hours from 10am-6pm, but with the coronavirus, the concept of ‘office hours’ no longer existed. This, I think is the case for most of us now.

The first few days of this new reality were a struggle. I would wake up at 9am, and immediately start working. It would be past noon before I even had time to realize I hadn’t had breakfast yet. My shower now came at 5pm, and after chores and cooking, it would often be 7pm when I sat down for ‘lunch’. Dinner happened around 1am. Whenever my family called to check on me and asked me if I had eaten, the only response I could give them without making them worry, was ‘hmm’.

One Friday morning, I had had enough. My entire home was in a mess because I didn’t have time to clean, and there was no one to help me, and I was struggling to manage my time. I had to re-think my routine, and prioritize.

During this pandemic, day and night don’t matter, and weekends and days off also don’t make a difference. I have to prioritize work, and as an HR Assistant Manager, this means keeping myself available at all times, responding to queries, and getting the job done fast. This new situation also means I have to check up on colleagues over the phone to get updates on how they are coping. With my phone and other devices synced up, I can hear the alerts and notifications from every room.

I have completely stopped going outside, except a weekly outing to the supershop to grab essential groceries. I wash the dishes and cook my own meals. I enjoy learning simple new recipes from Youtube and posting the results on Facebook. The Dalgona coffee challenge was a really fun one. I mop and clean my house and wash my clothes once a week.  I used to go to the gym regularly, but now I work out at home. I’ve bought some basic equipment to help me out, and they have given me a really good outcome.

I try to stay informed from the authentic news sources, so I start my day with a newspaper along with a cup of coffee. I follow various news websites for the latest updates and developments. I really think without (good) journalism the condition of this pandemic would have been worse than what we are seeing now.

I have recently started to limit my time on social media to avoid hoaxes, negative views and fake news, which seems to flood the newsfeed. I am trying to do this to stay focused, but it has also helped me think deeply about my own work. I am coming to realize that social media is the main source of depression and frustration for many people – the drama and the constant comparing of our lives. I’ve found it more worth my while to read books, listen to music and watch movies instead of scrolling down on people’s walls.

When I feel down, I talk to my parents, relatives and a few close friends directly via video call. A question I get asked often is: what do you actually do all day at home alone? I’ve stopped trying to explain to them. I just smile. People seem to think that as a single man, I have plenty of idle time on my hands, and everything I eat or use simply drops from the sky!

Of course, in more developed countries, facilities like maids and liftmen and chauffeurs are very expensive, so people living there think we have it easy because these are more easily available to regular people here. The new normal may well force us to depend less on these services and give us a greater appreciation for these advantages.

I am trying to spend my time and knowledge to unleash my full potential and try out things I have never thought I’d be good at. Who knows, the new skills I have learned during these skills will become prerequisites for admission into the new normal of a post Covid-19 world.

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