When the UK’s government started advising the social-distancing and self-isolation measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those measures didn’t feel totally alien to me. It’s just a reminder of a previous experience more than a decade ago, when I spent nine months back home (in Cairo) from September 2007 to June 2008 to document my mountain field survey.
The documentation included text writing, scanning and processing the 35mm negatives of landscape photographs and GIS mapmaking. It was a personal endeavour with much uncertainty about what might come next. Luckily, my documentation work during the self-isolation paid-off and secured me a fully-funded PhD scholarship offered by the Italian government two years later.
The mountain experience is a kind of self-isolation in its own right. I used to cover tens of kilometres during many expeditions across the remote and difficult mountain terrain of the High Mountains of Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Yet, having the landscape scenery and the field survey kept me busy in the mountains. The UK home self-isolation is somehow different from my previous experience.
A decade ago, it was personal choice, with a deadline I set on the horizon, and with no pandemic news. Nevertheless, the time element is still there. I was working for extended hours with a half-day break each week non-stop for nine months! This made me lose the sense of time, so sometimes I wouldn’t even know whether it was the start or the end of the week. Probably, the goal I set for myself justified my work pattern at that time, but I don’t believe it is the right balance for self-isolation during the pandemic.
I believe a good practice is to keep the sense of time — by having daily to-do lists and an overall flexible goal to continue after the pandemic self-isolation period. I think many of us can achieve much for their jobs and one’s self-development by working from home during similar days. Hobbies proved to be great assets during similar times too.
Astronomy has always been a very good companion all the way through, from the mountains to the current UK self-isolation. On 31 March I watched a satellite crossing the sky which looked like a fast-moving bright star close to the very bright Venus, just to figure out later using an open source astronomy software, the bright satellite was the International Space Station (ISS)!
Staying connected online with family and friends helps keep the sense of time as well. My previous self-isolation passed and this pandemic self-isolation will also pass at some point. The former self-isolation was a personal choice, while the current is not; nevertheless, I think time and keeping the sense of time are everything.
By Dr Ahmed Shams
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Thanks Dr Shams for sharing your experiences and recommendations on how to cope with the current situation!