Online Since 2004.

The Year of the Pandemic

March 2020.

The first pandemic pictures on my phone attempting to document the pandemic are of the closed restaurants and bars. The empty trams. It was so strange seeing lively, touristic Amsterdam becoming suddenly so quiet, so empty.

The signs were mostly hastily handwritten with Sharpies on A4s. Signs made by shop owners who thought they’ll open again in a few days. Shuttered bars and restaurants with their furniture still outdoors. Rows and rows of empty seats in trains and trams that you could barely stand in just a week before.

Document. Take a photo. Document. Snap. Snap.

June 2020.

I started taking photos of life going back to normal.

Life trying to go back to normal.

Sort of.

The Dutch are amazing at most things, but I doubt that anyone can beat the Dutch when it comes to practicality.

The entire country was suddenly perfectly labelled with COVID-proof signage.

Stay apart. Houd afstand.

1.5M AUB. 1.5M please.

Mondkapje AUB. Masks please.


Things were getting better.

Museums, restaurants, and bars were open again.

Trying to open again.

Sort of.

Yellow tape everywhere. Weird ass plastic dividers that reminded me of dining in Saudi Arabia in the 90’s, where it was illegal for families to mix with other families, and so all restaurants had dividers.

Going to a beach with crowd-control volunteers walking around with 1.5M signs.

Empty museums. I was alone in a room with Rembrandt. With Vermeer. With Van Gogh.

Although life was no where near normal, it sort of felt like we made it.

Like it was only going to get better from there.

That soon, it will be over.

The June version of me was so hopeful.

The June version of many.

Document. Take a photo. Document. Snap. Snap.

October 2020.

If only I knew that that would be my last time in a restaurant for the next 7 months, I would have stayed longer.

If only I knew that all non-essential shops would be closed for months, I would have gone window shopping more often.

If only I knew that I had to book a ten-minute slot a day in advance to buy gloves from HEMA.

I would have enjoyed life a bit more.

Document. Take a photo. Document. Snap. Snap.

February 2021.

Curfew.

How do you document curfew?

All the lit houses in apartment blocks.

Everyone’s watching TV.

I’m watching shitloads of TV.

I’m laughing at shows made before February 2020. The Tokyo Olympics. Ha.

As soon as the clock hits 11:00, the street is eerily dark. Not a single house is lit.

Document. Take a photo, anyway. Document. Snap. Snap.

March 2021.

I book an appointment at a local skate shop.

I haven’t been into a store aside from the supermarket in months.

I haven’t had a conversation with a stranger in… 6 months? 8 months? A year?

I sit down on the bench.

The skate shop owner smiles. Then, he asks me: “Do you like apple pie?”

Do I like apple pie?

I said, “Yes, I like apple pie”.

He pointed to the back of the store. “It’s my friends birthday,” he said. “We have apple pie to celebrate. Do you want a slice?”

It’s hard to describe the feelings and thoughts that went through my head and heart at that moment.

Almost all of my communication during the past year has been tactical. Hello. Yes, I want the bill, please. Your microphone is muted. Good day. When is the deadline? Pin, please. Thank you very much. Good bye.

And here was this man I just met, offering me birthday apple pie.

The feeling was as surreal as it was seeing empty Amsterdam a year before.

So, I snapped a picture of the apple pie.

And then I realized that I was no longer documenting the pandemic, which has lost its novelty, and instead became one long ass nightmare that the world is refusing to wake up from.

Instead, I’ve recently been documenting and savouring what would have been normal, just a year before.

Like the apple pie.

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3 Comments

  1. Haitham Jafar

    What an uplifting read, 2ah Wallah!

    Thx Roba.

  2. Rami Haikal

    I am hoping this summer will bring back museums and some outdoor activities

  3. Meanwhile in the land down under, people are complaning about short protective lockdowns to prevent a longer more devastating ones.

    Glad to see you back blogging Roba!
    Stay Safe !

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