Saleh Al-Shaibany (*),
Scribe, columnist, writer and academic
What can I say about the Coronavirus that has not been said before? That it plays havoc in people’s lives and wreck their livelihood? Or will it be spot on if I say personal relationships are on the edge as the deadly virus splits us right in the middle?
Miss seeing that hugs
We see people’s faces behind the masks concealing their true feelings as we go about our daily business. We cannot touch each other for fear of spreading the disease but what really plays us down is when we cannot see the emotions that we normally reserve for each other in good times. I personally miss seeing people shaking hands on the streets, hugging each other in greetings, women touching cheeks or children playfully pushing each other.
Every cough…is an atom bomb
In a sad nostalgia, I was looking at an old photograph my uncle had taken years ago of two bedouin men touching noses in a form of greeting in the western region of the country. Suddenly, because of an invisible invasion in the air, we fear each other and create an unseen wall between us. We also try our hardest to avoid each other’s paths. The way we react, every cough or sneeze in the public is like an atomic bomb.
No more gatherings
The local tradition of ‘gathering’ has now been torn down and the word is seen as a catastrophe of bad will. What amazes me is that for centuries, gathering has been an integral part of a tradition that brought people together, especially in smaller towns of Oman, to help each other. From these simple occasions, charities are distributed, marriages are arranged, business deals are sealed and the depressed have somewhere to go to shake off the cobwebs in their minds.
Dark tunnel of a physical void
But now, we are left to deal with our own emotional problems trying desperately to contact one another in the social media. But it is not the same, is it? But some would say that they had “seen it coming” for years now when all of us would “see” each other online. They now pat themselves on the back for correctly predicting the future. The future of an electronic maze of “seeing” each other on the phosphorous screens may well protect us from the virus but leaves us in a dark tunnel of a physical void. I am not advocating physical nearness but I am simply trying to highlight the costs of the virus. Physical distancing is what we need to stay safe from harm. But while we protect our health, it leaves a large psychological gap in our minds. On keeping our social distancing, we distance ourselves from sharing experiences that calm us down when the stress hit the roof.
Electronic media cannot extend a hand
Yes, we can pour out our emotions electronically in Whatsapp but we know not many will really read or care about it. The bitter truth is, nothing will really take the place of someone sitting opposite you and listen as you unleash your troubles. The electronic media cannot extend a hand and place it on yours to comfort you as you speak out. The virus makes sure that does not happen anymore. We all have a sneaking suspicion Coronavirus is here to stay for quite a long time.
(*) Saleh Al-Shaibany has written over 3000 articles for local, regional, international newspapers and news agencies for more than two decades, including Oman Daily Observer, Times of Oman, Khaleej Times, The National, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Saleh is also an academic for Modern College of Business and Science. He is currently releasing a book on Oman’s heritage and tradition to mark the 50th National Day.)