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Postcard From Zaharah: A time to reset the button

LONDON: The year 2021 would have slipped away had it not been for the thunderous fireworks in the neighbourhood. The noise ushered in the new year that everyone is hoping to be a better one with fewer challenging episodes that we had fervently prayed for when we welcomed 2021.

The scene and celebratory mood, judging by pictures and video clips on social media, were replicated elsewhere throughout Britain as the British premier had given the go ahead to New Year's Eve celebrations with a caution and a thought for Covid-19 that is still raging, pushing case figures up to record levels.

Like the Delta variant that had reared its ugly head and wreaked havoc globally at the end of 2020, the last few months of 2021 saw the Omicron variant promising to unleash similar chaos, albeit a milder one, in the new year.

Covid-19 is still dominating headlines, ending lives, ruining businesses and even relationships between nations as borders are closed.

It is hard to reflect on the past year without the mention of Covid-19 and a niggling fear that, at the rate that it is going, we will soon exhaust all the Greek alphabets as the virus keeps mutating and vaccines are being rendered powerless in their fight against the virus.

The beginning of last year saw us swimmingly coping with what were then the new norms — wearing face masks, washing hands regularly, sanitising everything that came through the letter box and the front door, and accepting the fact that the delivery men could no longer linger around to chat.

And then Britain began relaxing the stringent rules that had stopped families from seeing each other, and tourists from patronising London's shopping centres.

It also brought the near death of the hospitality industry, which since then has started to open up, albeit cautiously.

We saw the emergence of colour coded countries based on the severity of Covid-19 cases, where travellers from certain countries were allowed in while others faced further restrictions.

Slowly, signs showing the need for physical distancing began to disappear, only to return in the last few months of 2021. The virus is still raging and I became lost in the numbers.

Covid-19 is all about data and numbers and I had never been good with numbers.

The year also saw me keeping busy with work online, spending five or six hours a day in front of the laptop, interacting with people from different time zones.

My home-made batik face masks had kept me busy, especially in the aftermath of the floods in Yan, Kedah, the place where I spent most of my formative years. Proceeds from the sale of the masks went to the flood victims.

And when Afghan refugees landed in Britain after the Taliban takeover, I found myself busy arranging the collection of clothes and necessities for them.

All these put in perspective of the challenges. To a certain extent, it helped me deal with my own challenges.

For me, the real challenge came in October when I was tested positive for Covid-19. I was infected while attending a work event.
At the time, there were assignments I could actually go out and cover.

In an instant, I became another number in government statistics. It began when I received an alert from the National Health Service one morning, that I had been in contact with someone who tested positive.

Here in the United Kingdom, as long as you are able to be coherent while talking to the National Health Service officer at the end of the line, you can just self isolate at home and monitor your oxygen level.

And that was what I did, as my symptoms were mild compared with some other people.

But sadly, like the person who had unwittingly infected me, I wasn't aware that I had also infected others, mainly friends and members of my family.

While I could still conduct meetings via Zoom aided by tea with lemon and honey, I got over Covid-19, at times breathlessly, by what seemed like an endless sleep.

Friends came leaving food and necessities, such as coconut water, pineapple and lozenges, at the door.

A particular couple who live in the neighbourhood did the shopping and supplied my family with Malay kuih and nasi lemak, signing off on the takeaway container with "Daripada Jiran Sekampung" (from your village neighbour).

My son, who lives a few kilometres away, would stay up with me via a phone call to help me with my breathing exercises. My daughter-in-law and son left trays of food outside the door, until they too became infected themselves.

My dear husband, who held my hand and vowed to look after me when he learnt that I was positive, was also infected.

It was while recovering that I learnt the true meaning of relationship and friendship.

As my husband became weaker, I had to feed him everyday until he regained his energy, remembering the times when he always looked after me.

I accompanied him to the mosque and saw how Covid-19 helped to reset our buttons in so many ways. I will always remember the day he became my imam again.

While walking to the local shop on Friday, he asked: "Do you remember when we struggled to even take a few steps to the bathroom, something we had taken for granted?

"Now, we appreciate being able to walk without even a cough, Alhamdulillah."

Yes, a challenging year indeed, but a year that has given us opportunities to reset out buttons, reflect and start afresh.

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