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Egyptian expats tell their stories of loneliness during pandemic

As the world suffers the hardships of COVID-19, a common question everyone asks nowadays is: “When will things return to normal?” Dying to meet up with family and friends again and hug each other without fear of infection, people are frequently asking when we can go out without wearing masks or gloves, or holding hand sanitisers everywhere.

The novel coronavirus has brought life pretty much to a standstill, with social distancing even between relatives and friends the new norm. Many countries have also imposed partial or full lockdowns, keeping people at home, with many also cancelling large gatherings and events.

The virus has damaged the social lives of millions of people around the world, with many now reporting feelings of loneliness despite living in the same countries, and often quite near to families and friends. If any family member got infected with the coronavirus and was transferred to hospital, none of his/her loved ones can visit them. If one died of the virus, no one is able to say goodbye or hug him/her for the last time.

With many countries now slowly opening up and relaxing curfew timings where they have been put in place, people now have more of a chance to occasionally pass by each other. They are also better able to meet outside where social distancing is easier.

However, for people living abroad during the pandemic, and with international flights still, for the most part, suspended, the situation brings its own set of difficulties. 

“Lonely and unable to talk”

“I talk to my family every day, every few hours,” Dublin-based Yasmin Metwelly told Daily News Egypt. “I still remember one time during isolation, my mother in Egypt was running a high temperature and I was so worried, I was calling her every five minutes until she recovered.” 

Metwally arrived in Dublin in March for work, and has since been staying alone. She said that she has never stopped fearing for her family, as she can see rates of coronavirus infections in Egypt on the rise.

“If any of my family members, especially my grandmother, got infected, this will be psychologically painful. I will not even be able to fly to them,” she said.

Metwally added that she is not worried about herself, as she is committed to following the preventive procedures, including regular hand wash, santising, and wearing a face mask every time she goes out.  She certainly is about her family, however.

She said that she feels safe where she is, as the situation in Dublin is not bad. The city has low infection rates that are also already decreasing, with an average of only 40 cases reported per day. She also noted that hospitals are not overloaded and the medical system is fine there.

Regarding the preventive measures taken in Dublin, Metwally said, “Everything here is closed, including bars and restaurants. Only delivery services are allowed. Supermarkets are open, but a certain number of people are allowed to enter at one time, and we mostly stand in lines first.”

She noted that people are being asked to stay within a 5 km radius of their homes, with police supervising the situation.

“I am living alone, and as I work from home now, I have been in total isolation since March,” Metwally said. “The most I can do is to go to a supermarket, go for a run around my house, or sit by the sea.”

Talking of how she spends her time in quarantine, Metwally said, “Some days are good and some aren’t, sometimes I wake up very motivated, I work, order food or cook, watch something, then call my friends and family for social connection.”

She added, “On bad days, I feel that I can’t get out of bed, can’t work, and end up having a severe headache. I just feel I want the day to end soon as I want the quarantine to come to an end.”

“During my time in isolation, I read, I cook a lot, sometimes I bake as well. I try to get myself busy doing anything. I am currently learning yoga to be certified instructor,” she noted.

My biggest challenge is loneliness, as I feel that if I were staying with my family it would be different, and I would at least not be handling all responsibilities alone,” Metwally said, adding “I would even talk or fight with someone, I am in complete isolation.”

“I want to return home, but I cannot”

A 26-year-old Egyptian student living in Washington, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “It’s mentally draining to be completely staying alone. I have a roommate, but we don’t get along.”

”I minimise my outings. I don’t meet people, and I only go for walks, or out to the grocery shops, otherwise I study at home.”

She added that it has been very stressful staying alone, especially as she can go for days without speaking. Between not knowing anyone in Washington, where she’s based, and her colleagues and friends having returned home across the US, the young student noted how alone she feels.

She also said that she wishes to return to Egypt to stay with her family given the circumstances, but she has to ensure that international flights will return permanently before she does. If she returned to Egypt and found herself unable to get back to Washington, her visa will be voided and she would be unable to continue her studies.

“I try to maintain my mental stability, but I become very sensitive,” the student said, adding “I am living in uncertainty, I can’t stay and I can’t get back home.”

She added that although there is good access to healthcare in Washington, her academic experience has been anything but beneficial following the shift to online learning. The student further added that she remains unmotivated, especially as she is learning no new skills.

“I spend 99% of my day surfing the internet”

Ramy Hassan, 39, is a manager at a hotel in Medina, Saudi Arabia. He said, “Most of the time, I am home, either working or calling my family, and I end up spending 99% of my day surfing the internet to socialise with family and finish my work.”

Hassan, whose two children stay with their mother in Egypt, has been in lockdown for several weeks.

“Every night, I think mostly about my future at work. I keep asking myself if they are going to sack me, since our business is one of the most impacted ones,” he said. “I keep asking myself what will happen if I returned to Egypt, will I be able to return [to Saudi Arabia] for work, and if I could not, will I find another work?”

Hassan noted that questions over the ongoing health crisis constantly flood his brain, including asking himself what will happen should he got infected with the coronavirus whilst he is alone.

As with others who spoke to Daily News Egypt, Hassan describes a feeling of hopelessness at being able to help himself.

He said that it has been an immense challenge looking after the health and safety of 200 hotel workers he is in charge of.

“I never stopped praying that this comes to an end, as I am worried about myself and my children,” Hassan said. “I was very ambitious, I had a lot of dreams, but everything stopped. My family was coming to visit me, but the coronavirus hindered everything, I am alone now and they are as well.

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