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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: One year after the first case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) hit Saudi shores, citizens have slowly adjusted to the new norms imposed on them by the pandemic. And while the crisis is far from over, the Kingdom has started to take control of the virus, which has allowed citizens to breathe just a bit easier.
At the beginning of the pandemic, social media was rife with memes and viral posts that reflected the strange new reality the country was experiencing. It gave Saudis a chance to smile during a turbulent and worrisome time.
Fast forward one whole year. While there has been some ease in COVID-19 restrictions, the humor and comic relief remain.
Saudi artist Areej Adel’s photo manipulation of Cinderella sanitizing Danube groceries was reposted all over social media, while Saudi filmmaker Meshal Aljaser’s video of himself ninja-kicking away coronavirus particles netted him nearly half-a-million views on Instagram.
A recent tweet from the Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) made the social media rounds after a user asked the MoH if she could still marry her husband despite them receiving different vaccinations: “There was talk that you cannot marry and that got me very scared. Is this true or just a rumor?”
The MoH responded by saying there was no scientific evidence to support that claim.
If there is a question, the MoH will answer. No matter what.
Through curfews and lockdowns, in sickness and in health, whether they were working from home or putting themselves on the front lines to protect their fellow man, things have been looking up for Saudis. Enough that they are able to derive some humor from the situation at last.
Amal Al-Nafjan, a college student whose entire family came down with the coronavirus last June, told Arab News that she and her family had tried to make the best of their situation.
“It was a terrifying time, probably one of the worst of my life,” she said. “We were hearing about all these deaths, all the possible long-term effects of COVID-19, and every member of my six-person household was infected.”
Al-Nafjan said they were able to get through the ordeal by supporting each other. One way they came together was through a series of games and challenges inspired by viral content on social media.
“I remembered seeing someone on TikTok posting videos of themselves eating pungent or strong-tasting foods, unable to taste or smell due to coronavirus,” she said. “That inspired me to try it on my own family. We had a contest to see who could come up with the worst thing to eat, with points for how repulsive we found the idea.”
The family eagerly embraced the challenge, and now, almost a year later, they can watch videos from that time together and find humor in the situation.
“Watching my brother bite into a raw onion without flinching, or my sister chewing on raw cloves of garlic, or my dad eating a heaping spoonful of mayonnaise right out of the jar — those kinds of things are impossible not to laugh at now,” Al-Nafjan said.
Naif Alomran, who works in hospital administration, had to isolate himself from his family during the first few months of the pandemic when “we knew a lot less” about how the virus could spread.
“It was so difficult because I am really close to my family, in particular my mom and my little sister,” he said. “Not getting to wake up and have breakfast with them, to kiss my mom’s forehead before I go to work, it weighed heavily on me every day.”
Relegated to the guest parlor of the house and forced to enter and exit from a separate door, Alomran says he felt like a banished outcast. Then he came up with a solution that he said helped him retain his sanity.
“Every morning I would FaceTime with my family at the breakfast table and I would have my coffee with them. My sister and I would do a little dance together, something we learned from TikTok or YouTube, before I went to work and she started her lessons,” he said.
Now, fully vaccinated and able to spend time safely with his family again, Alomran says he was delighted to find that their mother had saved all of their videos for him to watch and enjoy.
“It was the greatest thing she could have given me,” he said. “We have so much fun watching them now. Even though we can be together in the same room again, it turned so many potential bad pandemic memories into good ones.”
Vaccinations are picking up in earnest across the Kingdom with more than 3 million jabs administered, and that number is climbing fast. Because of the vaccine rollout, many Saudis have been able to reunite with their families and enjoy moments that were taken away from them over the course of 2020.
“We have been very blessed with the way the Kingdom has handled this pandemic,” Alomran said.
“Alhamdulillah we have reached a point where we laugh about it more than we fear it. The pandemic may not be over yet, but now more than ever it looks like we are closer to the end of it than the start.
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