There’s one particular word a good number of my friends and I (and maybe a chunk of all of you as well) use to describe this pandemic. Unfortunately, we can’t print that word here (a close pal just lost a family member a couple of days ago, and she repeated it over and over on chat).
Coronavirus changed everything we knew about reality. The funny thing is the irony of it all: Highly advanced as we are in this era, we thought it would’ve been a cinch to deal with it. I could draw parallels to the 1918 flu pandemic, which, according to various estimates, wiped off anywhere from 17 million to 100 million from the earth; I wonder how people felt during that time being ‘highly advanced’ too. Well, innovation is no guarantee of security.
As journalists used to hopping from one event to another, the pandemic was kind of a wrench thrown into a well-oiled machine known in our ‘jargon’ as news coverage. So when everything was banned, anxiety struck on different levels. Newsgathering is a worthy endeavour; the line separating a good coverage from a great one is being on the ground, in the middle of all the action.
I did discuss this anxiety in a previous column when I headed to my first in-person press conference in forever, but that one turned out to be an event that involved a carefully-selected bunch of us. Nevertheless, that one gathering was a signal that normalcy was beckoning or at least some semblance of it. So when it was announced that Gitex Technology Week was to be held in person, I could imagine everyone involved proverbially (‘virtually’?) looking at each other and saying, ‘really?’ Security was, as always, right on the money, with that extra barks on those not wearing masks properly. But the starkest difference this year was the less-cramped halls at the Dubai World Trade Centre; normally, they were packed with stands and oversized pavilions, with walkways in between wide enough to mimic a two-way street for people. This year’s edition featured more open spaces; heck, for the first time (or at least as far as I can remember), there was a small group of dancers entertaining people with an hourly routine in Hall 6.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a success. Granted, several companies didn’t participate for one reason or another owing to obvious reasons, but that didn’t mean the spirit of business wasn’t there.
But the more important thing I observed was the fact that, given the long months without gatherings, Gitex was also the place to finally catch up with each other. Handshakes were still a rarity at the event, but seeing those who exchanged that now-rare greeting not just made it seem that it was a fad; it was like being in a time machine transporting me back to normal, better times.
And of course, everyone at Gitex was talking about ‘life in the new normal’. Forget coronavirus; whether the pandemic sticks around for a while or completely becomes under control — just like what humanity was able to do with the flu — the path for the future is set. Be ready for anything, and be even readier to adapt.
Any doubts we may have had on the UAE, and Dubai in particular, to rebound fast from the pandemic were quickly forgotten. As a matter of fact, it was even never a question of when; it was a question of how soon that when would happen. It just so happened Gitex was made to happen at the right time, a carefully calculated decision that proves we can do things normally as long as we are personally and socially responsible.
And remember that unprintable word earlier? I’d use that to describe how I feel: ____ yeah, we’re back in business.
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