Curfew Diaries: Day 1

By Jamie Etheridge

The sky was a brilliant glowing orange and rosy pink at 5 pm yesterday, just as the sun began sinking toward the horizon. We sat on our small balcony, awaiting the siren that would mark the start of Kuwait’s nationwide curfew, a first experience for me and my family. But at 5 pm we heard only the garble of someone speaking in Arabic through a loudspeaker, incomprehensible and far away.

I was disappointed, wanting and almost needing the loud, piercing drama of the civil defense sirens as a way to mark this new era – life under curfew in Kuwait. The curfew is only partial – from 5 pm to 4 am – and much of normal life continues during the day, unabated.

The curfew is both scary and reassuring, a sign of the seriousness of the pandemic and at the same time, of the government’s determination to arrest its spread, to protect all of us and keep the country safe and healthy.

I am both comforted and terrified. Cocooned inside the shelter of my flat, working from home when I can while my children play and read and squabble around me, life seems utterly, boringly normal. I’ve ventured out a few times, to go to the office and to the grocery, and each time the world seems perfectly sane.

But at the same time, in other parts of the world, life has come to a crashing halt and hundreds have died or are dying daily. In Kuwait, there may be danger lurking on the hand rails of the grocery carts at the jamiya (co-op society) or in the cough of a colleague at a press conference. Death, or at least serious illness, has found a new, devious means of reaching us inside the safe bubble of our everyday lives.

The pandemic cares not for national borders, age or education. It is certainly worse for the aged and infirm, for those with comorbidities. But all of us are vulnerable and many of us won’t survive. It seems like a nightmare, something from the Middle Ages when the plague swept through Europe. What we have from those times are the stories and histories of those who survived, who witnessed the horror.

What we have now are the heroes of the modern age – the doctors, nurses, lab techs and hospital staff who risk their own health daily to save the lives of the infected, while protecting the rest of us. There are also the everyday heroes like police officers, delivery drivers and cooks, domestic helpers and grocery store clerks, government officials and others who are linked arm-in-arm in a protective chain, holding the everyday world together as we battle for survival, for normalcy.

But these are not normal times. The coronavirus COVID-19 has now infected more than 338,000 people worldwide, with nearly 15,000 deaths (as of Monday, March 23). It has spread across the world and continues to pull under its weight not only the vulnerable, the elderly and the immunocompromised, but all of us.

Ten days ago, Kuwait closed its airport to commercial flights and the lockdown began. Tens of thousands of people work from their homes or not at all, many of them losing their salaries or their income. Schoolchildren are ‘homeschooling’ and all public places have been closed, including mosques, beaches, parks, mass transit, malls, salons, spas, daycare centers and all government ministries and departments. The economy, our livelihoods, and the fabric of our society will all be transformed by this pandemic in ways we can’t even see yet.

The government has asked since the beginning for people to stay home and not go out except for food and necessities. But many people ignored the request and carried on with life as normal, resulting in the curfew.

The curfew. A new not-normal; a pandemic-induced normal that is meant to keep us safe but is as terrifying simply for what it means. Now we have no choice but to acknowledge the threat and to adjust, to find a way to survive and thrive even as the world threatens to collapse around us. The curfew may prove the greatest hero of all, the competitive advantage that gives humanity the upper hand over this pandemic.

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