How to Survive a World Without Travel, a Travel-Warning COVID-19’s special

Are you stuck at home feeling bored? Well, so is the rest of the world! Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, almost everyone everywhere is in home quarantine. Flights were cancelled, tourism fairs were called off, tourist hot spots were shut down and life is now “on hold”.

At the beginning of March, the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank had its first positive cases of the coronavirus. The cases had first been detected at a hotel after the visit of a group of Greek tourists. The Palestinian authority placed Bethlehem under 30-day lockdown and announced a state of emergency. Israel as well imposed emergency measures on Bethlehem, and all tourist buses to and from Bethlehem were banned until further notice. The Church of the Nativity, birthplace of Jesus, was closed. The famous Manger square was empty, but it wasn’t actually the first time I have seen it like this. Just around 18 years ago, the Church was under Israeli military siege, and Palestinians lived under curfew for 39 days. While many people do not really know what to do with having endless time at home, Palestinians are more prepared for times like this. If you’re wondering how I didn’t lose my sanity during that time, here are a few ideas:

1. Play Games 

If you’re in quarantine at home with your family, friends or roommates, playing cards is a great way to have fun, and it doesn’t necessarily involve many people. You’re probably more familiar with UNO, but if you don’t have it at home, you can play cards like a Palestinian. Check out the rules of Hand or Tarneeb, two popular card games played in the Middle East, and experience the thrill that both bring. You can also play games that challenge your skills and strategic thinking like a memory game or a puzzle or even a word game where you can think of words for a name, animal, object and place. Since we’re in home quarantine and keeping social distance is a must, you could also play games online with your friends.  

2. Stay Fit

Being isolated at home and keeping me from traveling is not an easy task, especially if you’re a tour guide like me or if you work in the tourism industry. You spend your days outside an office desk and run from one place to another. In order to maintain your physical and mental health, you need to do some exercise. Go for a walk around the house, climb the stairs or join a free online fitness class. You have time now to work on your “summer body”. 

3. Cook

We love to eat! But, we also love to cook. Preparing Arabic food, especially pastries, usually requires time and assistance from family members. It’s an activity that we enjoy doing together and a good distraction from the stressful daily news. Since the beginning of quarantine, we have prepared all our favorites such as Sambousek, Za’atar pies, Joshpara, and Sfeeha meat pies. We freeze these snacks to pull out whenever we’re in the mood for a snack or to save for our next family gathering. Since it’s almost Easter time, you can start preparing Easter cookies!

4. Study

Schools and universities in Bethlehem are expected to remain closed for another two weeks. In order to keep the education process on track, teachers are giving online classes and assignments to their students, even the little ones, so they don’t fall behind! My mother is a kindergarten teacher, and she sends her students homework to do every day. During the curfew in 2002, I was still studying for my Tawjihi (High Secondary School) exams. We did not have access to internet like nowadays. I had to always be prepared. Every time the curfew was lifted for 2 hours for grocery shopping, I was heading to the nearest school to do my exam. Education has always been a challenging experience in Palestine but life doesn’t have to stop if you’re staying home. If you finished school long time ago, you can start reading at least a book every two days or sign up for an online course to learn a foreign language. 

5. Clean Up

It is the perfect time to clean up! It is such a coincidence that quarantine is happening at the same time of what is known as spring cleaning. If you have a huge house like we do, it will keep you moving around from room to room. It’s a great way to lower your stress and help your mood while staying at home. Clean out your closets and put aside the clothes that you no longer wear for donations during this Lenten season. 

6. Connect

Don’t touch, but stay in touch! We’re in the era of smart technology. A social distance is required but it doesn’t mean a disconnection. You can use Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts to chat with your long distance family and friends. You have free time now to catch up with everyone. I have seen a whole orchestra playing together at the same time on Zoom! In 2002, many of these applications were not available yet. We didn’t even have Wi-Fi! The neighbors used to gather at one house, play games, do BBQs and smoke shisha. It’s ironic to say it was more fun times than today. 

No one ever expected that such a virus would happen and certainly not to stretch on over two weeks around the world making human connection more challenging. I never thought I’d get to a point where I ask people not to gather in groups. But during this period of uncertainty, travel is not an option. Relax and be grateful! You’re staying at home. Instead of wondering when this will end, check what you can do in the meantime. Whether it means getting more sleep or treating yourself to a face mask or watching Korean dramas or maybe making music about the situation, just be creative. COVID-19 is hitting hard and it’s our responsibility to fight against the virus to keep our loved ones safe.  

Stay home. Stay safe. 

Featured photo: Palestinian Authority by Gilad Sade, Travel-Warning archive

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