By Afshan Asad Junaid | 19 Aug 2020
The advent of the COVID 19 pandemic introduced the world to a new way of life. The might of this Coronavirus not only brought ‘life as we knew it’ to a standstill, it also brought forth novel terminology like ‘social distancing’, ‘new normal’ and so on with its own string of attached anxiety. Social and mass media became filled with scary statistics of looming disease and death. In a panic-stricken world, one had the choice of giving in to the apprehension or to move on.
I am a freelance artist and a writer, but above all, a proud Singaporean. We reside in a beautiful, quiet, master-planned jungle city 45 miles north of Houston, Texas in the United States of America. With the arrival of COVID 19, a quick lifestyle change had to be adopted. As a family, we wanted to do our part to help the people around us during these difficult times. We had experienced the SARS outbreak (2002-2004) first-hand back home and were fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. Before we knew, flights started getting cancelled and borders started closing.
My husband, who works at an executive position in an American company immediately started to arrange for the return of his colleagues who were stranded overseas. Next, we went and donated all our extra ‘N95 masks’ to the nearby fire station soon as we heard the news of a scarcity of masks there. We had bought few extra masks in the panic buying mode like everyone else around us. Having a son serve in the SCDF during his NS days has made us appreciate all servicemen and women even more. We also decided to self-isolate as far as possible even before the lockdown was announced and groceries were mostly ordered online. My 81-year old mother was living with us and we needed to be extra cautious.
Soon, even universities and schools closed. It was hard for the very young ones to understand the magnitude of the situation. A huge adjustment was needed to create an office, a university and school classroom at home, all at once, under one roof. The whole family were either working or studying at home. The initial reaction was one of ‘panic’ of course, but we soon realized that all of us had to come together to make this work. Household chores were redistributed as house help had to be discontinued. It took a week or two to make this new system work like a well-oiled machine. Then, each one of us decided to make a difference in whatever way we could.
Getting it all together, and helping others
First thing we did was to reach out and check on the neighbours, friends and relatives through messages and phone calls and emails to make sure all was well as the media started flooding with news and information on the pandemic across the world. Also, snacking became a regular activity since everyone was home, something none of us could afford. My teenage daughter (an athlete, a dancer and aerialist) and son (a sporty university student in his early twenties) decided to weave a regimental workout routine into their daily lives together to fix the snacking problem.
My daughter, who is a great baker also decided to try her hands on a small ‘baking business” in her free time. My son took extra courses and research projects for the summer at his university.
My husband spent all his free time in the backyard pursuing his passion for experimental gardening. The family got engrossed in studies and work as everything became online. Soon, we all discovered our abilities to use ‘Teams’, ‘Google Meet’ and ‘Zoom’ more successfully than ever before.
Taking it in our stride
Along with taking online courses, I have been mentoring some young, enthusiastic contemporary artists in my area sharing the few skills that I know over the last few years. One of them asked if I were willing to go virtual during the pandemic. Belonging to the technophobic generation of the past, every bone in my body rejected it. But before I could refuse, the young artist offered to set up everything. All I had to do was to show up and teach. So, that is exactly what I did and soon the fear melted away into a newly discovered strength. With Zoom as a platform for connecting, there was no limitation of geographical boundaries. We started having regular virtual zoom Art workshops. The young artists looked forward to meeting their peers weekly to share ideas and collaborate, and the feeling of spreading cheer through color has been definitely priceless.
Our children had been playing virtual board and electronic games with their cousins across the globe throughout the pandemic as well. When a cousin suggested that we could use the time to add value to the kids’ knowledge base, we decide to take up the idea and got most of them roped into the project. Lo and behold, a ‘Puasa (fasting month) religious project’ was created where the children would post their slides, stories, drawings and video projects on a particular topic given to them weekly on a WhatsApp group wall. On the day of ‘Hari Raya Puasa Aidalfitri’ (celebration at the end of the fasting month- Eid ul Fitr), a Zoom ceremony was conducted where Grandpa along with all elders distributed electronic certificates and awards to the globally scattered participants of different ages after they made their short speeches. Everyone had a little extra time to share and enrich their family members without the constraint of physical distance.
I also started teaching creative writing and communication skills. Art workshops led me to the notion of Zoom workshops for my family and kids of the surrounding community. Getting together with some like-minded friends and neighbors, we created creative writing workshops, writers’ forum for kids and youth etiquette workshops. We were able to put our little drop in the ocean. All in all, it has been a really busy yet productive summer.
With that, we hope that we managed to nudge your creative juices to use the above suggestions along with many more of your own to enrich your families and enhance your communities, living the true spirit of “Majulah Singapura” (meaning “onward Singapore”) during these trying times. Stay safe, stay healthy and above all, “Stay Positive!”
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Afshan Asad Junaid is a freelance artist and a writer, but above all, a proud Singaporean. Together with her family, she resides in a beautiful, quiet, master planned, jungle city, 45 miles north of Houston, Texas in the United States of America.