From Series: Lockdown Around the World: The Individual Stories – Life in Pakistan During a Pandemic

Global news, social media feeds and conversations have all been revolving around the same topic – coronavirus. This pandemic has overhauled the way we live and a considerable change in behavior has been asked of citizens of numerous countries. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and get swept up by all the technical jargon flying around in the news. At this point, most of us are familiar with what the virus is, the symptoms, what to avoid, what not to avoid; it’s important now to round back to another concept that universally connects us – the human experience. Multiple countries right now are suffering, and we have to actively remind ourselves that no matter how cliché it sounds, at the end of the day, we are not alone in this experience. Comfort, no matter how fleetingly it may last, is present in sharing our experiences, our worries, our fears and what keeps us going through this ordeal. This perspective is from a country in South Asia – a developing country, resources are tight, people are rightfully worried but we are a stubborn bunch that have survived floods, military dictators, sinking economies and more. This is Pakistan.

Initially, as the virus found its way in Pakistan, there was a frustration from a lot of people over the fact that it wasn’t being taken as seriously as it should have been – the government never really explained what was supposed to happen next – social distancing. And once they did, people still refused to listen. Sarah, an undergraduate student in Lahore writes, “With the announcement of a pandemic officially, it was surprising to see how nonchalantly people in Pakistan kept behaving, still. At the time, there were about 30 reported cases in the country. Admittedly, that doesnt seem like much, but considering the examples of China and especially Italy, it was important to
realize that strict protective measures had to be taken, immediately. Instead, so many
people I know continued to go out to lunches, weddings, and gatherings. It really made you wonder what the point of being “educated” was if people weren’t going to react in an
educated manner to the ongoing worldwide crisis”.

This point of view is understandable and echoed by numerous people. There has been a general laziness over how people have responded to the concept of social distancing, eventually forcing numerous states’ hands to call for complete lockdowns. Kumail, another university student, writes, “We have an underdeveloped healthcare system. We should have taken care to flatten the curve but as the number of cases grows exponentially it already looks like we’ll be dealing with a huge catastrophe. Everyone is stockpiling but no one is really prepared for what is yet to come.” As of now, there is a lockdown in most provinces of Pakistan. Lockdowns and calls for self- isolation are tricky, especially for the mind. Eisha, an insightful young student talks about these worries, “Staying home is the right thing to do, but I can’t help but feel stuck. It’s not even that bad – I have started painting after 5 years and I read two novels that have been
sitting on my shelf for the past year. But it is getting frustrating. I live to go to university, be productive outside of the home and honestly just sit and talk with my friends every day.” Eisha goes on to suggest that the way we’ve dealt with the lockdowns is representative of the world we live in, “Cleaners, delivery men and grocery store workers, are holding the society together right now – yet we still see them as “low-skilled”. We are selfish, cruel and and greedy people stuck in this vicious cycle of colonialism, capitalism, and extraction of profit.”

The battle in Pakistan rages on, much like the rest of the world. Lockdowns come with
additional uncertainties too. In Pakistan, there is a significant chunk of the population that relies on daily wages – take that away, and what do they have? No food, no resources, some don’t even have places to live. The only pocket of positivity, however, has been through those who have rallied to ensure that all citizens are protected and taken care of during this time. Multiple people of multiple cities have rolled out homegrown campaigns in the matter of days – people are coming together to create “food ration packs” for those who will have no income for the foreseeable future. These packs contain groceries and staples for the month. Kindness in times like this is representative of hope, in ourselves and our people. Our fight carries on, spirits are low but we can only hope, that this too, will pass.

[Hooran M. Khattak – @hooran.m – she/her]

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