THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

As your friends at The Huntr prepared to gather people to feature in this latest edition of The People of the UAE, we found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic and lockdown thanks to Covid-19. As such, our contributing photographer and editor Zeashan Ashraf couldn’t go and meet, interview and photograph the subjects in person like he usually does.

So this special edition of The People of the UAE looks a little different – we did everything (including the photography) virtually through Zoom and we focussed the questions on how people are coping during this strange time.

We hope that the answers give you hope and make you feel positive. We hope that you will find new music, TV shows, podcasts and other content and inspirations to glean joy from. And most of all we hope you will enjoy the comfort of the stories, which show that we are all in this together and remember: Storms don’t last forever…

Ps. Our People of The UAE contributing editor and photographer Zeashan has been using his spare time to conduct virtual photoshoots with people around the world, more of which you can find on his Instagram page here

THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

STASHA TONCEV

37 years old, Serbian

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

My name is Stasha Toncev and I am the founder and owner of 21 Grams – we bring Balkan soul food at our bistro in Dubai. It’s called 21 Grams because that is how much the weight of one’s soul is supposed to be. I’m from the Glorious Land of Serbia. I have lived in Dubai for 10 years. I worked here with the pre-opening team of the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation? 

It has been a very confusing time. Being at home and so close to people and things that give me love, support and security should be a good thing, right? However being forced to do so – it doesn’t feel good. There is a level of global uncertainty which doesn’t help either…

What are you finding the hardest about it?

Our restaurant has to run with most of our team working from home. We have a small staff at the restaurant preparing meals non-stop with the rest of the team remotely working and doing the best to support them. The hardest thing is not having a choice in this and being embattled with fears, worries, costs, sleepless nights, confusion, fake news, closures, and all the rules and uncertainties.

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

Something that I love now is the slow-down effect. We are now home-cooking all the time. I’m doing business lunches with my husband at our dining table. Our community has been coming together – to support each other during this time and share emotions, laughter, and feedback.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

Just be kind to yourself. Do anything that feels good for you. There’s no need for guilt or regrets.

We would also love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts, anything – that are getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

I want to recommend @georgiebradley6 on Instagram if you want to laugh and stay sane. She has been putting a lot of funny stories during these times to make people laugh. I also do yoga and meditation @jivamuktiwithdina. She conducts virtual yoga classes on Zoom if you want to check it out.

If you miss the music that we play at 21 Grams, you can find our playlist on Deezer. It’s a beautiful compilation with music from Rhye, Koop, and Pink Martini to name a few.

How has this period impacted your work?

This year started off as our third and strongest one in business, with us aiming for more success since our humble beginnings in 2018. However, this situations has led us to be forcing us to fight for survival instead. Currently we are business as unusual – our capacity has been reduced to only 20% to adhere to the government regulations and we’re currently open only for deliveries and pickups, which has never been our concept. Our community and our guests have become our family, our very essence, and our closest allies. Our small business doesn’t have a backup account to continue living in hibernation. Our current mode is to fight – to fight for our staff so that they are not laid off, forced on unpaid leave, or fighting this reality on their own. 

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

To be honest, the biggest hope for me is that we first come out stronger, wiser, and kinder to ourselves, then everyone around us, and nature. I really hope that this storm helps us become better and we pay attention to everything around us.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do?

I’m going to hug everyone I meet! Then I’m going to the beauty salon, and hug everyone there!

Find Stasha on Instagram here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

PEYMAN AL AWADHI

43 years old, Emirati

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

My name is Peyman Al Awadhi. I am an Emirati national from Dubai and I’ve basically been here all my life except for when I went to school in Houston, Texas. I am currently working on a new project that is yet to be announced. It’s exciting! I worked in the private sector for a very long time with brands like Mars and Pepsi, amazing government entities like the RTA. I wanted to be a pro-athlete when I was growing up but I was born in the wrong generation. My passion is content creation. Something that I’ve been doing over the last 7-8 years has been filmmaking within the travel industry. I love to travel and I absolutely love food! I used to be in the restaurant business with my brother and I still love to eat and cook.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation? 

Here’s the thing, I’ve been holding out for just a little over four weeks and I think I’m one of the people who got into the ‘working from home’ label a bit later. After the first week, I got into a rhythm and routine and right now I feel like it’s normal. I have to say that is probably helps that since 2012 up until the end of 2018, I had my own business and my office was basically anywhere – home, coffee shops, the family office, and other parts of the world. So I’m kind of used to the whole remote working situation. It hasn’t been difficult for me at all.

I love to cook. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and now I can do that. I just leave a podcast running, go to the kitchen and cook, and still work while I’m doing all that. I don’t feel like it has been a culture shock for me. 

Funny enough, the concept of having these big office spaces that have to be lit up and have fancy furniture spread out, where people have to dress up and drive everyday to, just to do something that can be done remotely – it’s a funny concept. To me, this whole ‘working away from an office’ idea was inevitable. Maybe not 100% of the time, but a good chunk of the time is inevitable. People in real estate are not going to like me for saying that but I think it’s definitely possible to do, and now we’re seeing it first hand. I hope there is someone doing research on our productivity, doing quantitative and qualitative research on this. I’m willing to bet that people are more productive when they’re working from home. 

What are you finding the hardest about it?

For me personally, the hardest thing is being away from family. I’m very close to them and spend a lot of time with them. A lot of my past businesses are even with my family. We’re very close-knit. The most challenging thing for us is not being able to hang out in real life and see each other. 

Aside from this, I don’t really see any other challenges. I certainly am one of those people who believes in the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to come and we’re going to have learned some great skills that we needed to learn for the future. 

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

I feel like I am very productive every single day. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time when it wasn’t the case professionally. I’m also finding a lot of time to do things that I’ve wanted to for a while. 

I’m taking vocal lessons and trying to learn how to play with my vocals better. I want to sing – not professionally, but I want to be better. My brothers are amazing singers and I’d like to be at that echelon with them. I studied French all my life but I’ve never used it much, so I downloaded an app which lets me practice everyday. I’m also watching a lot of Youtube, I put up a 30 minute core workout video in the mornings and I practice that as well. When I look at my whole day, I feel like so much happens. I’m trying to stay in touch with people a lot more, which I wasn’t doing before, so it’s actually been keeping me connected with a lot of family and friends. 

I don’t want to do the stay home situation forever, but I hope that we get to a point where a good chunk of our professional lives can be remote and that the whole concept of an office where we meet and connect can be structured differently. 

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

It’s not really a life hack for this moment, but I have the habit of keeping a vision board. I do it online, it’s just a PowerPoint presentation on which I add a lot of things. I started doing it in 2015 and would update it every year. I’ve been delivering a decent number of these goals. There’s still things that I continuously want to achieve and I’m finding that this process really helps me a lot with what I’m doing. I leave it open on my laptop everyday so I’m constantly looking at it and thinking about it. It keeps me focused on what I need to achieve.

I’m also becoming very creative with what I cook. Since I’m ordering a lot more foodstuff than I would before, that means I have to try to be creative while cooking things. I’ve also been lucky because Dubai Tourism has been doing #stayhome cooking classes online, so that’s been helping me with ideas.

We would also love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts, anything – that are getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

I don’t know if anybody watches this show on Netflix called Ozark, but it’s really fantastic. I just started listening to this podcast called Blogosphere, and it’s around influencer marketing, which I’m interested in and tells me what’s happening around the world in that particular space. I’m reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens which is phenomenal. I’m addicted to that book and it’s one of the fastest books I’ve ever read.

In terms of music, I’ve been listening to a lot of East-African 1970s Jazz sounds. Just go to Youtube and put that in there, you’ll find some really good stuff. I’m also listening to this band called Tinariwen – they’re a group from Northern Africa and use a whole lot of different instruments in their music. Just fantastic.

How has this period impacted your work?

I’d taken on a new project literally three weeks before we went into lockdown. We’ve been spending this time on research and recruitment. I feel like it’s been great that I’ve been able focus on so many things while working from home. 

There’s been a little of an impact because a lot of things I wanted to do were events and those have been shelved until further notice.

It’s also become a whole lot easier to connect since everyone’s got their phones and laptops close to them. People are also really cooperative during this time and we’re all trying to help each other.

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

Some of this is going to sound cliche, but I hope we realize a greater value for the things in our lives – our time, our families, our health. So hopefully this time gives people the opportunity to reflect back and make changes. Over time, I’ve learned that you have to set your values and goals up. And I hope that others do the same, it is so important.  

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do? 
I just wanna get in my car, drive to my parents house, and give them the biggest hug in the world. Seriously, that’s it!

Find Peyman on Instagram here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

ASHLEY WENTLING

28 years old, American

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

My name is Ashley Wentling. I’ve been in the UAE for a little over three years. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area in California. I’m a chef and concept developer for restaurants and cafes here in Dubai. I basically prepare recipes and train chefs. I came to Dubai because my sister lived here. She’s my only sibling and we wanted to stay close. I came here to visit one year and saw a lot of potential for job opportunities. This is my first time freelancing. Before this, I was working full time at restaurants. Here I saw the potential for a new structure in my career, so I packed up my stuff and moved here.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation? 

It’s crazy. Staying home this much was definitely difficult to adapt to at first. As a freelancer, most of my work is done outside of the house, whether I’m in people’s kitchens or cafes and restaurants. It’s usually difficult for me to get work done if I’m stuck at home because it’s just easy for me to be lazy in my own space. I think the first two weeks I was just completely restructuring the semblance of a daily routine. 

The food industry has been hit, it’s definitely one of the industries that’s hit the hardest. All of my colleagues and friends in America are unemployed right now. So it’s pretty crazy to look around the global marketplace and see how most of the world’s most talented chefs are all unemployed. Luckily I just develop recipes and sell them to people. So I’m using this time to develop recipes so that once the economy opens back up, I’ll be ready to keep working. Not that I necessarily think that you have to be working during this time. If you have the opportunity to relax and take the time to chill, I think that’s great. I have a very manic personality type! So I’m just telling my internal auto-pilot self to keep working.

What are you finding the hardest about it?

The hardest part has been not being able to see my loved ones. I was supposed to go for a trip to Mexico and attend the wedding of a very close childhood friend. I’d planned to go see my family and do a research trip – which I had been planning for a year and a half. That was a huge blow – not that it won’t happen again, but it was unexpected. I was hoping to see my parents for a few weeks in California and now I don’t even know when I can go home next, because it seems like America might be recovering last. 

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

The best part, in order to stay sane through all of this, is that I’m forcing myself to have a routine. I wake up every morning and make myself a nice cup of coffee and breakfast. I do a little bit of work and everyday I try to allocate a few hours for creative projects to stay stimulated and feel a little normal. I work with my hands everyday, so I get very anxious if I’m not making stuff. This is my 11th year cooking and I just have to be making stuff, otherwise I get in an inner funk. So yeah, I’ve been trying to structure my days more intentionally and eat every single meal at home, which is crazy.

I also understand the inherent privilege of all these statements. I know a lot of people who are in different situations. I’ve been stressed out about my work stopping and I’m just trying to stay positive here.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

Meal prepping. It’s been the number one hack. I now always cook with the intention of having leftovers, so I don’t have to cook every single meal, and that’s been my saving grace. I’ll cook a big batch of lasagne or right now I am cooking maqluba for the first time. You don’t have to spend so much money to feed yourself. Just meal prep and making yourself nice grain-heavy meals. I’ve cut down on ordering food from outside but I did have a delivery of coffee beans. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Birch Cafe, but it’s the best bakery in the UAE. Every Monday they deliver to Al Qouz, so I’ve had them deliver croissants and bread a couple of times. A really good friend of mine is their head baker and I just needed it. But we’re definitely limiting our food orders. I feel for the delivery drivers. It’s a catch-22 because you don’t want them to be out of work, but it’s also unfortunate that they have to be exposed outdoors.

We would also love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts, anything – that are getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

There’s this girl on YouTube, Li Ziqi, she lives in the mountains of China with her grandmother and it’s my favourite thing to binge watch. She makes everything. She makes her own shoes, bed, her own tofu, she makes everything. She is the coolest girl I have ever seen in my life. Each post on her Instagram is an IGTV video that’s filmed as if it’s A Chef’s Table. I could watch it for hours.

I have also been into Nadia Disaspora’s IGTV. They try to make really cool Levantine food and have really instructional and fun tutorials.

How has this period impacted your work?

It’s impacted me in a huge way. I was planning on being in Mexico for a month for the research tour, so not going was a huge blow. I was also meant to do two restaurant openings in the beginning of summer and both of them are now on hold now. I’m not even sure if one of them is even happening at all now. It’s crazy. They were a business that I’d never have expected to struggle at all. They weren’t struggling at all in fact, until Covid-19. So that’s been insane. 

I do my work on a project to project basis and right now, almost all of my projects are halted. I’m kind of shifting into just making my pastries and just sell them to people directly, which is something I haven’t done in a really long time. I might have to shift my entire business model, I’ve no idea.

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

I think that it’s really cool that a lot of people have been learning how to cook. So many friends who do not know how to cook have been messaging me asking how to do things. One of my friends literally asked what they should buy at the grocery store!

This has been a point where people have been realizing the need to slow down and look after their mental wellbeing and physical selves. I think that this might allow people to slow down and not be such crazy consumers. Dubai can be very razzle-dazzle and this forced opportunity can help people sit back and realize that they might have slow down.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do? 

It depends on what the weather is like because it’s going to get hot soon and we’ve squandered the last cool weeks being stuck inside. One of my favourite things about living in Dubai has been the group of people I’ve had around me, and not seeing them for this long has been so weird. I’m definitely going to hug my friends! I miss seeing them and hanging out with them in a group. And then go to the beach, maybe jump in the ocean.

Find Ashley on Instagram here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

MEGATRONIC (MEGANE QUASHIE)

African British

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

My name is Meg, a.k.a. Megatronic. I’ve been in the UAE for just over three years, but on and off I’ve been coming back and forth since I’m a DJ so I get booked in various countries. What kept me coming back over the years and why I chose to stay here was that I wanted to change in my lifestyle. I wanted to explore a new culture and when the opportunity arrived to explore, see what it was like to work here, and experience the culture – it just made sense. I’m originally from London, but I came down here from LA.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation? 

I have to be really honest – quarantine has been a lot. It’s a lot to manage yourself everyday and how you’re going to react to being confined in a space, big or small, with people that you live with and have some kind of relationship with. Something like this is super testing and I feel that a lot of emotions are much more raw than they normally are. For the first two weeks it was kind of easy to get into what was happening and stay positive. As time went on and the situation worsened and the restrictions became stricter, it’s become a bit more of a reality. That this might be a new way of life for us. Not indefinitely but for now. This has definitely heightened a lot of emotions. I have days where I’m really happy and days where I’m really low. I also have to take into consideration that I’m not from here. All my family members are based somewhere else and there’s the everyday struggle when you keep getting told new messages that it becomes hard to determine whether there is even a possibility to see the people that you love again. It’s quite scary. But in the same breath, I’ve just been really pushing myself to do whatever I love and that’s helped me get through. 

There’s definitely been low moments and days where I’m like, okay can I just go to the beach? It’s been tormenting me to not be able to go to the beach. I think it’s the realization that we’d lost our freedom a bit. 

After a little while, you start to process what’s going on. It’s just human nature. It’s like a DNA reform – like you’ve figured out a new way to deal with every day. Now it’s become a process – coming downstairs in the morning to work out, make breakfast, go to my computer and downloading music has now just become my routine. Which kind of is also a bit scary, like when we do get out to the big world again, will we all just become really socially awkward?

It’s had its ups and downs, for sure.

What are you finding the hardest about it?

Staying positive has been super hard. My job is to spread some sort of joy, even giving out that energy online – both as a DJ and through the Female First Sessions platform. So it was hard to create engaging content to get people feeling uplifted. With making DJ sets online, it’s also been hard because there are days when I wake up feeling a bit flat and don’t know if I really want to do it. But this is the job that I’ve been doing for a long time – this is my service and what I can give back to the community that serves me really well. It is hard. Everyday I’m learning something new. My mum is in West Africa, brother and sister are stuck in different places, and the possibility of us being in the same room now is really slim to nothing right now. It’s really kind of scary. So waking up everyday being like, “yo I’m gonna DJ and all” – it’s really hard to keep up and stay positive. 

Also I live with people here. We’re all trying to stay positive for each other and stay in a good headscape. It’s really just staying on top of it all that’s probably the hardest thing.

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

My experience with myself and learning more about myself. I know there’s a lot of people saying that there’s a spiritual element to what’s happening and all, being stuck with ourselves. I’ve had a lot of inward journeys and rediscoveries with how I want to move forward in the future. I’m learning a lot about my capabilities and taking a moment for myself. The last two to three years, I had been a machine and not really had much time to address why I’ve always needed to be that way. So it’s been interesting to slow down and take a minute to sort of open and close certain chapters, and not be scared to go in new directions which have been right all along – which is something I used to do before. I’ve been going back to making music and teaching myself new skills through the computer. These are things that once you get older, you just don’t wanna do. Because you think that learning is for young people. So that’s been interesting to find out that I’m still able to learn new tricks – I’m not an old dog yet! 

I’ve also found some new heightened experiences in relationships that I have with people. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve had to let depart from my life, at this stage. There have been a lot of things I’ve realized that were toxic and during this period, it’s been easy to see what wasn’t working. I guess I’ve never had this amount of space and time during any part of my life to just be with myself, which is a terrible thing to say out aloud. We should check in with ourselves a lot more. 

When I first started DJing online (during the lockdown), I was doing it everyday. Then I switched it to doing it three times a day. I needed to have a break. It took me a minute to realize that. It’s been a big learning curve. There’s been wanting to entertain everybody and then another part that just wanted to play what I’d want to hear. I’ve been trying to figure it out. At first I was like, yeah let’s play what everybody else wants to hear. Now, I’ve gotten deeper into discovering new music. When I first started to make music, I was in a band and had this mad love for music. I downloaded tons, went to concerts, and listened to so many bands. I was an enthusiast. I feel like now it has started to become very generic – turn up late, wave my hands, do some things, and everybody thinks I’m cool. I’ve had this moment to listen to music and explore. I’ve been playing vinyl and making music myself. I’ve rediscovered my 17-year-old self who just wanted to make music and somehow along the way, got lost with the likes of Instagram and various platforms that are smokescreams that just make you think you are good.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

My life hack for this situation might not work for everybody but before I go to bed, I plan what I’m going to do the next day. I give myself a plan for the day and it might waiver here and there from time slots, but I try to keep to that because systematically it works for me and I know where I’m going to be. Getting myself into a system has worked. I take days off too. I’ll make that decision the night before – if tomorrow I want to just lie in bed till 11am and maybe watch Netflix. I’ve felt that if I plan what I’m doing for the whole week, even if I have a rough idea, then it works. I find that on days that I’m unsure of what I’m doing, I’m just walking around the house and annoying my flatmates. I find that structure works and I know it might not work for everyone.

Also learning new skills – funny enough, I’m not a vinyl DJ. When I got into DJing, it was the point when everyone was moving from vinyl to digital. Every place you went to would have people saying that they don’t do vinyl anymore, that it was a chore for them. Everyone was using these CDJs and getting all these cool things with them. I really missed the vinyl wave, even though I had loads of it. So what I’ve been doing is re-teaching myself. 

We also live with somebody here who is a professional chef and we’ve been learning a lot of tips here and there. If you live with people, it’s time to check out what each other does and see what you can learn. That’s been really refreshing.

I would advise anybody, if they feel like they’ve got the patience, to try and learn something new. If it’s something you’ve wanted to do, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you start learning.

We would also love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts, anything – that are getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

I know I’m doing some shameless plug, but my friends and I started a festival called Ultraviolet DXB. We’re a team of six people and put this together in the most digital format – it includes wellness, lifestyle talks, and DJ sets. The most exciting part of it is that we picked people from all over the world, with people from Barcelona, Sydney, New York, Dubai. There’s no money or sponsors. We put together this program and called in some favours. We’ve all been in the creative industry for a long time and we decided that we wanted to put something out there for the community – not just where we live, but worldwide – to give people something to watch at home and give them some sort of hope. The reaction’s been really nice. We averaged around 1,100 unique viewers on the first day! We’ve been putting the whole thing on Twitch so you can get a proper sound. 

It’s been challenging, but super interesting to see how this can be the way forward. So yeah, we’re gonna do another one. We want to do it monthly and we do feel that even if the world does reset, this has given everybody a definitely big insight that we should be discussing how to use digital platforms.

We’ve learned a lot from the first experience and it’s been hard to roll out. We had a great talk on the first day where we discussed the circle of life. This is a great time to figure out how you’ve been using your time and what way you’re wasting your time, which I thought was great. I’m sure a lot of people have been figuring out that they might be wasting their time. I reckon I’m wasting a lot of time in my car, doing all sorts of unnecessary meetings which I could’ve done on the phone now that I’ve discovered Zoom.

What’s happened out of this crisis is that we’ve learned that we haven’t been kind to our earth. Our carbon emissions have been reduced so much. I’m not trying to take away from that tragedy that people are dying. I do think this has been a time for us to learn how to treat each other. We all come from jobs where we get paid well, so I think that us creating this platform and sacrificing our time like this is letting us learn the benefits of giving without having to always receive in the form monetary format. We did something that was genuine. I’m not saying that we weren’t doing that before, but in times like this, people are really showing up and putting their hand up and doing things. As difficult as it’s been, there’s a lot to learn from this situation. 

How has this period impacted your work?

As a DJ, I’ve had a lot of time to nurture my skills. I’ve learned some more tricks, downloaded some more music, and just played a lot more for leisure. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s interesting doing in a new format like broadcasting. I’m used to an immediate reaction. I drop a tune and wait for a reaction, then I realize: oh it’s just me! I’ve learned a lot about myself and the need for having an audience wasn’t necessarily why I chose to be a DJ. It’s because I love music and it’s started to become more apparent, which has been nice. 

In terms of Female First Sessions, it’s been difficult. We want to make content and supply it to people, but we’ve been a bit stark. We didn’t want to be too much of a voice during this period, because we’re not in the position to give people advice. We have to tread lightly. We are being looked at as a platform for a lot of people and what’s happening now is that people are at home and trying to access as much information as possible, so we decided that if we do anything, it would have to be either educational, positive, or a teachable skill. We’ve stayed away from throwing news articles and talking about the situation. We aren’t in the position to do that and our platform isn’t to get people scared. We’ve been reposting other people’s stuff which has been really nice. 

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

I really hope that we get some new unity – this thing has shown us that the things that define us don’t matter. It’s not making any choices about gender, culture, religious background. While some of our countries are being run differently, but what we’ve noticed is that there is a unified message. I feel like we can hopefully come out of this with a better sense of self and aware of how our actions become consequences for everyone else.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do? 

I think I’ll go to the beach. I’ve missed it so much. Even just talking about it, I honestly just want to drive and just lay in the sand for a while. 

I’m sure my family’s going to read this and be like, “What you don’t want to see us?” I mean, yeah I do, but I just want to go to the beach. I miss her.

Find Megatronic on Instagram here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

NORA ZEID

23 years old, Egyptian

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

Hello! My name is Nora Zeid, I’m also known as @nazdraws on Instagram so you can call me Naz – by my initials. I’m an illustrator and graphic designer. I moved to Dubai five years ago with my family from Cairo, Egypt. Illustration is really my passion and also it’s become my profession. So I draw to make money and I also draw to feel better, if that makes sense.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation? 

Initially when the whole thing started, back in January, it felt so far away. It didn’t feel like it would spread across the world. I mean, there was the news talking about a spread but I’m sure many of us thought it wouldn’t be this crazy. I started working from home six weeks ago, and stopped completely leaving the house four weeks ago. I work at a graphic design studio and we’ve been working from home for over a month now. 

My regular lifestyle used to be that I’d wake up, go to a cafe and get some work done, get to the office and finish up work, head out later for a concert or go to a restaurant with my friends or go to an art gallery… I’d never really get home before 10pm. So this situation has been a bit suffocating and causing me insomnia because I’m very restless. At the same time, I’m using illustration and design as a coping mechanism so I can create something with my time. It just makes me feel better when I’m creating. I’m grateful that I have a job and family. It hasn’t been easy but at the same time I’m grateful – I’m healthy and safe, so that’s good. 

What are you finding the hardest about it?

The most difficult aspect has been to stay at home all day. I don’t have my own room or working space. We have a big enough apartment but we moved in here when I was in uni for four years so I wasn’t really accounted for in terms of space. I don’t have my own desk. I work from wherever – whether it’s the kitchen table, the sofa, or dining table. Also just hearing about people I know getting sick, I’m not living in a state of fear but it’s been very disturbing hearing what’s happening. I’m thinking about it, I worry about it, I read just enough to know what I need to know and shove it in the back of my mind. I don’t wanna think about it. You know what I’m saying?

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

The silver lining has been that I get to spend a lot of time with my brother. He taught me how to play Smash Bros, which is fun. I have way more time to draw. I don’t have the excuse of going out anymore so I actually can sit and finish the tasks I have to do, which is very disciplining. At the same time though, I don’t have the brain power to critically think – if that makes any sense? So I’m just creating without being too critical. I’m just creating art as an outlet. I also know that a lot of us are going through the same things so hopefully that makes us more empathetic of each other and that we’re willing to help each other. There are lots of charities out there that people should donate to.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

My first tip would be to just get out of bed. I would go about my routine as if I were going out, minus the makeup and shoes. I’ll get dressed and wear socks. I get to feel that I’ve exited the “bedroom” and now I’m going to “work”, even though it’s a room apart. I’m trying trick my mindset into thinking that I’ve gotten to my workspace, so that I can get to work. I have my 9am-6pm working hours that I stick with. If I’m working overtime after, I’m emailing them and letting them know I’m working overtime. So I go and I’m mentally in the office, I do my office work and try to communicate as much as I can. Communication is key and I try to update my coworkers with everything. After work, I pick a movie on Netflix and I sit and draw.

I also looked up those easy recipes to make matcha and coffee because I can’t get them outside anymore. One super good hack, it’s so stupid and silly, is that I’ve gotten those ice cube trays and I make ice cubes to put in my drinks so it feels like I’ve gone to a cafe and got a drink from outside. It’s such a ridiculous hack but it’s made me feel better.

Talking about the art I’m making during this time, I get messages asking me how I’m being productive during a time like this. It’s productivity but it’s also a coping mechanism for me. I draw to be productive but I also draw because it makes me feel better. It’s like working out for some people. I want my art to be relatable and accessible for a lot of people – I’ve been using warm colours because you feel warmth and people need that during this very strange time. I’ve also been trying different brushes and colours with my art. I try new things and mix it up with styles I’ve never tried before. I’m keeping my art very simple in terms of subject matter – and I think that’s okay right now. No need to be super complex.

I haven’t figured out insomnia yet, so if anyone has any tips for me, that would be great. Also, if you have any friends that you know are depressed or down, give them a call. Order from their favourite restaurant and have it delivered to them. Look up a charity that you can support because the people who were in need before COVID-19 are still struggling now.

We would also love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts, anything – that are getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

If you have any informational books at home, revisit them. I bought a bunch of illustration books a year ago and I never set aside time to read them so I opened them again. So if you have books you were meaning to read but never did, just take them out. You don’t even have to read them but just put them in front of you somewhere – given how long this might last, you’ll get to them eventually. I’m reading a book right now on creating stylized characters, which I finally opened yesterday after buying it a year ago.

I’m also watching a lot of stuff on Netflix. I’m avoiding any depressing content, so I’d recommend feel-good stuff. I started watching Community and Friends. This is a great time to watch all the award-winning movies you wanted to watch but never got around to.

For social media, follow your favourite artists really – just look at people who are creating. There is a lot of negativity out there. If it’s not making me feel better or informing me, I just avoid it. I just acknowledge it but sometimes I need to just block it out. So I’m trying to pay attention to positive stuff.

How has this period impacted your work?

I never used to stay at home for such long periods of time – the evenings yes, I’d just draw on the couch, I wouldn’t do any work at home. I would rather go to a coffee shop because it would refresh my mind a bit. So now I can’t do that anymore. I’ve always had a to-do list. Though I may not always follow it, I just write what I have to do because having it written down helps. Even when you’re at home, you can get distracted. I’ve been getting more forgetful lately so I have to write things down. I try to communicate more since I can’t meet people, and it helps that I’m on the same page since I can’t meet them. 

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

There’s parts of the world where there’s still wars going on. I hope this can make us more empathetic towards each other. The interesting thing about this is that it’s not a typical illness that affects only a certain type of people or class. Any single person can get this, it doesn’t matter who you are. I hope we collectively become kind to each other and realise the importance of basic health care for everyone. We’re all human beings and we’re the same. I don’t think there’s going to be a massive enlightenment because that doesn’t happen – but I hope individually we have our small wake up calls.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do? 

I’m going to a concert the moment it’s okay to be in a space less than six feet apart from people. I hope The Fridge puts out another concert because I want to go. I really miss live music and feeling it with the crowd. I’m gonna take my iPad at the show, sit in the corner, and draw the singer performing.

Find Nora on Instagram here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

OLA ALLOUZ

36 years old, Emirati

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

My name is Ola Allouz. I have been in photography since 2007. I have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and I used to work in banking as an auditor in anti-money laundering, which is of course very different from photography. I resigned in 2013 to focus only on photography and business. I have been in Dubai my whole life. I was born here in Dubai in 1983.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation? 

Actually for me it is a good way to live. Usually we’re always busy thinking of everything at the same time, now that we are home, we have some more time to think of life and what we have to do in the future, and even to learn something new. We are lucky that we have the internet to connect with each other. I know it will be soon that we go back to normal but we have to think, how should we make the most of our time during this situation? 

I’ve been trying to do a lot of photography projects but it wasn’t easy. Especially looking at the different projects by people on social media and TV, but I think I have an art-block so I can’t do anything right now. So I try to do things at home with my sister. I think the hardest thing has been not seeing my brothers and family. We have stopped our family gatherings so it’s been difficult for us. We still try to connect over the internet. As we follow the situation unfolding in other countries, we feel lucky and blessed that we’re in the UAE. 

What are you finding the hardest about it?

As a photographer, it’s challenging. I love street photography and I’m used to going out taking photos around Dubai and other emirates. As we cannot get out now, I have been practicing a lot of studio lighting. Being at home, I’ve been taking self portraits of myself since there is no one else to be a model. It was challenging being in front and behind the camera. I miss doing photowalks and connecting with people – we would try to do a photowalk almost every week before. But we need to continue being connected with others. The other day I organised a live workshop online on food photography using just an iPhone. My sister is a baker and loves making sweets, so we organised the workshop to show people different ways they could be productive.

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

Staying at home has gotten me to look at the stuff that I’d been delaying for a long time and pick up. I took up online courses on colour theory and on improving my Photoshop skills. This has become a good time for me to practice my skills. There is nothing else to do, so you can just focus on what will benefit you. Being a street photographer taking photos of daily life, I can no longer go outside, so I’m trying to capture daily life at home. And I’m not interested in it a lot, so it’s challenging. I want to go out, but we have to stay home and follow the regulations. I’m trying to inspire others by doing these activities and let everyone know that we’re all in the same situation.

I wanted to do something different during this time. I have a Fuji Instax camera that I love. I have a lot of Instax cameras, but what is different about my favourite one is that it records sounds around the environment when I take the photo. The photo has a QR code in the corner that you can scan and it plays the sound on your phone. I have been photographing different daily activities and recording the sounds around me too, for example – a photo of a video call with my brother, watching my friend exercise online, and while having tea.

I also started a photo challenge on @foto.uae (which I founded in 2016) to encourage people to practice photography during the lockdown. The challenge was to take black and white photo from your house, through a window. I loved how people started participating and sharing their photos. I love getting people from different communities to participate in our challenges, even if they’re not professional photographers. It is for everyone to join.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

Find your inspiration, find what inspires you. Use the internet, search for people in the field you’re interested in and learn from them.

We would also love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts, anything – that are getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

In the UAE, there is Gulf Photo Plus who organise a lot of interesting online workshops that you can check out. Use social media wisely – there are a lot of interesting people on Instagram and focus on people and accounts that will benefit you. Don’t waste your time with negativity during these times. You have to search for people who will positively inspire you. Doing something you love will help you move on, and the days will move fast. I believe that everything will move faster if we do the things we love and that benefit us in the future. 

You can also learn something different, it doesn’t have to be what you’re good at. I watch a lot of movies and series on Netflix that inspire me.

I have disposable cameras that let me take film photos of my daily routine at home and I don’t worry about what the photos will look like. I’m going to develop the film at Gulf Photo Plus after a while. I write the dates on the back of them so I remember when I took the photos. I bought them all online, including my Instax films which you can get delivered via Noon or Amazon. You can do a lot at home to be creative. You just have to practice.

How has this period impacted your work?

Being a freelancer, I am facing a lot of challenges – and so are others, not just me. We earn our money through photography, which we have to go out and do. I’ve seen a lot of photographers struggling during these times. I have to now find jobs that I can do at home. It’s not easy as you cannot really do much. I can do online workshops and am still figuring it out.

I am positive that everything will be better soon, and what we are trying to do now will only help us overcome it faster. I think we need to help each other as much as we can.

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

I want to go back and meet my family. Then my photography community – just to chill, not to take photos. I think everyone will be out then, no one is going to stay at home. I’m positive and I think everyone should be. Being positive will help you to pass this time.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do?

I want to go to the beach and sit there for a while, listen to music, and have good company. I also want to disconnect from my phone for some time. Just put it on airplane mode and read my books and listen to my music. But right now, I am staying connected with everyone.

Find Ola on Instagram here and here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

REEM

25 years old, Tanzanian-Emirati

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here?

My name is Reem. I’m 25, half Tanzanian-half Emirati and I’ve lived here all my life. I run Safe Space Dubai which is a community group that organises meet-ups around themes related to mental health. We do our meet-ups on Saturdays at the Cinema Room in A4 Space at Alserkal Avenue.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation?

If I’m being honest, it’s easier than for those around me. I see the people around me having to work harder than I do, so in comparison I guess I’m doing well. It could be worse. 

What are you finding the hardest about it?

The hardest part is that I can’t go outside. I am a very outdoorsy person and I feel trapped now. The meet-ups we do at Safe Space Dubai really help me to stay sane and grounded. As a result of what’s going on, we’ve moved to hosting digital sessions on Zoom, which help me feel a bit better because you get to hear from other people who share their experiences and coping mechanisms. That helps me get through these times.

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

I’ve always been a skeptical person, when it comes to self-reflection I really run away from the topic. However now with so much, I allow myself to self-reflect a lot. 

I also have a lot of time to play the video games that I’ve been meaning to play but never found the time to before.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times to our community. Do you have any to share?

I have a daily routine, which helps me keep in check. When you’re at home 24/7 for so long, with work and life all happening at home, having a routine helps you stay sane. I know when I’m working, when my break-times are, and when I’m having time for myself. So that really helps.

We would love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts anything – that is getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

I’m reading a book about Stalin, I don’t know if I should recommend that though! I’d definitely recommend browsing Reddit. I’ve always liked the page, and like the unfiltered space and community it creates. In terms of music, I’d recommend every single album by Lana Del Rey. 

A good video game is Red Dead Redemption 2. A lot of people who play this game skip it too fast. They just do the main quests. But people – please do the side quests! That’s where it’s at.

How has this period impacted your work?

At the beginning it was a bit difficult to continue organising Safe Space Dubai meet-ups, because we didn’t know how long the social distancing would be. So we just waited a bit and paused hosting it for 2-3 weeks. 

I underestimated the impact of it, I guess that is why it took us longer than it should’ve to go digital. People started messaging us asking to organise the meet-ups online instead – they felt a space like this would be really helpful especially during this time. That’s when it hit me that if people ever needed a space to talk – they need it now more than ever. 

I know a lot of people love Safe Space Dubai and it’s incredible to see that they come to our meet-ups from far distances every week and how it’s impacted their lives. It’s more than just one person – it’s a movement that we all share. We’re a diverse group of people with different ideas, and that keeps me going. People who are regulars at our meet-ups are very open and honest. Sometimes it takes people a while to open up but when they do, it helps them and others feel heard. There is always advice from someone that maybe you or I couldn’t give.

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

My biggest hope is that people start taking current issues such as this more seriously. You aren’t living in this world alone. What you do affects others – there is a domino effect. 

I also want to integrate these ideals in our meet-ups too. And I hope that Safe Space Dubai gets the exposure it needs to reach other people who need a space like this. I hope that we’re able to build a bigger community, have better awareness in communities especially around issues that aren’t always spoken about.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do?

Go to the desert and ride my bike. Hundred percent. I have to hold myself back sometimes, to not escape home.

Find Safe Space Dubai on Instagram here


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: QUARANTINE EDITION | DISCOVER HOW PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE ARE COPING ON LOCKDOWN

SARAH SHÉBANI

29 years old, Iraqi

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Dubai? What brought you here? 

I’m Shébani, I’m a singer-songwriter and performer based in Dubai. I’m 29 years young! I was born and raised here in the UAE. First in Sharjah, and then my family moved to Dubai.

How have you been finding the #stayhome situation?

It’s very strange. There’s been two types of people – the people who went into the quarantine with a lot of anxiety and questions, who wanted to take care of their mental health and cope. And then slowly they shifted to being productive, finding ways to work out and do things.

For me, I did the opposite and I’m sure a lot of people are with me on this – the quarantine was ‘set’, and I had a very stubborn attitude about it. Oh I need to stay home? Okay great, I’m going to be productive, work on my music, do this and that… but I overwhelmed myself so much with so many tasks that I didn’t give myself the opportunity to breathe and take it all in. 

To put it briefly, I started off ‘okay’ but then I panicked around two weeks into it. I had a few meltdowns here and there, as we all did, and started questioning everything and feeling so much for the world and those who would be experiencing a lot more – nurses, doctors, those that lost someone. It affected me so much because I was sitting at home not being able to do anything. I know that sitting at home is enough right now but it really got to me. I’m slowly going back to my routine and being okay with how long it’s gonna take. I’m gonna allow myself to be sad when I’m sad and do my work when I’m fully capable of doing it.

What are you finding the hardest about it?

Not being able to see my loved ones. I’m very lucky to be living with my parents and my sister. However my other sister in Lebanon was supposed to visit us soon. I am constantly worried about her and I miss her. It wasn’t about going out and having fun, but just not being able to see my closest friends on the daily. That’s the one thing that brought me to tears.

What are you loving about it, that’s surprised you?

Humans are a lot stronger than we know. Suddenly our minds took charge and we started to adapt and move on. I created an environment for myself to adapt and move on. When it comes to my recording my music, writing songs, doing interviews and photoshoots, making playlists on Spotify, going live on Instagram – I’ve been able to do it. It required a lot of strength and I was very proud of myself. I finally set up my studio at home and decided that I’m going to continue to make music. With the quarantine, I was able to tick off a lot of things from my to-do list.

I’m also coming out with a song that’s my first female collaboration. She produced the beat, tracked her vocals, and sent it to me. I recorded my vocals in my room, sent it back to her, and she had it mixed and mastered.

We would love to pass on any hacks or tips people are using to get through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

No. But I have been spending a lot of my time doing a three things that I enjoy doing (other than music):

I’ve been experimenting with make-up. I was thinking of doing a make-up tutorial, I’m that obsessed with make-up. 

I’ve been baking a lot. I baked a chocolate cake the other day and it was *chef’s kiss* fantastic.

Finally, I’ve been enjoying editing videos. I graduated from university in film, digital production and storytelling. So scriptwriting, filmmaking, photography, videography, and editing was my thing until I got into music. Right now, I’m enjoying using my expertise and skill sets in filmmaking again because it is still one of my hobbies.

We would love to pass on any amazing content – music, books, TV, podcasts, websites, social media accounts anything – that is getting you through these challenging times. Do you have any to share?

I didn’t get into podcasts as much as I’d like to. My friend, KC, recommended Final Space on Netflix, which is fantastic. It’s really a funny cartoon for adults, not for kids. It’s got lots of weird sarcastic humour, and it’s lame but in a good way. I love it so much and I actually just have three more episodes left of season two and I don’t wanna watch them because if I finish it, I’ll have nothing else left. But… I’ll be watching Community next because Childish Gambino is on it. I didn’t watch it back in the day but it’s on Netflix now. I’ve been doing a Harry Potter movie marathon with my sister who hasn’t read or watched it, so that’s been really fun. 

I’ve been listening to new music – Childish Gambino’s album is incredible, The Weeknd’s album is incredible, PartyNextDoor’s one… I’m also listening to a lot of old music, especially Nao who’s one of my favourites.

How has this period impacted your work?

It’s obviously affected all of us. My gigs got cancelled and financially, it’s kind of a tough time. It’s mainly financially speaking that us artists have been affected. I’m currently not sure how I’m going to make income. I do have a few ideas in my mind however. 

But do I think this is going to affect me in the long run? No, because nothing lasts forever. I don’t think it’s going to affect my career after all this is over and we’re out again. That’s career-wise though – for me mentally and emotionally, pardon my French, but I’m screwed. But I mean, music-wise? My head is still in the game, I’m releasing music, and all is good. It’s not the end of the world. There are bigger and more important things here. 

What is your biggest hope for after this is all over?

I have high hopes. Everything will be good, everything will be fine. Performances will come back, music is still going, and we’ll come back maybe even bigger and better.

As soon as this is over, what is the first thing you are going to do?

I wanna go for a drink with my friends. That’s all I want to do. I just wanna see my friends. I just wanna see KC and my friends, and go maybe walk on the beach. Anything works. You know what? I’ll have them come over, we’ll play Uno. I just wanna actually see my friends and be able to give them a hug. I’m gonna go out with my sister too. I’m a simple girl and I just want the simple things in life. The simplest things in life are to be surrounded by your loved ones. 

Find Shébani on Instagram here


Photography and interviews by Zeashan Ashraf exclusively for The Huntr