Coronavirus robs Bahrainis of Eid joy, festivities

Bahrain's famous halwa, the queen of sweets

Bahrain’s famous halwa, the queen of sweets

By Habib Toumi
MANAMA: “I am not taking any risks, so I told my daughters and their children to come late for the family lunch, spend a short time with us, then go home,” Fareed said when asked about his plans ahead for the day.

“I love my extended family, but with the coronavirus threats, I do not want to see member, no matter how old or young he is to run infection risks.”

Fareed’s attitude, although seemingly bizarre on a day traditionally associated with intense family get-togethers, does not come a surprise.

Most families in Bahrain have opted for caution since February when they were told to exercise the highest levels of care and help the state mitigate the threat of the deadly coronavirus.

Measures and decisions announced by the authorities and the national taskforce to combat COVID-19 have given a string indication about how serious the state is about the fight against the invisible and dangerous enemy.

Kindergartens, schools and colleges have been shut, prayers at mosques and churches have been suspended, shops and cinemas have been closed down and professionals have been told to work from home unless it was absolutely necessary for them to show up in offices.

Bahrain was aware that since human beings have never encountered this virus before, nobody was immune. The best plan to deal with it is to slow it down and limit the number of people who get infected.

Alongside encouraging people to take up all social measures, including strict hygiene and sanitization, wearing facemasks and social distancing, the state also issued warning of legal action, mainly fines, for not complying with the measures.

As Muslims celebrated Eid Al Fitr, the feast that follows Ramadan, the month of fasting and extra prayers and piety, the main streets of Manama were almost empty.

Exhibition Road, the vibrant heart of the capital where people from neighboring countries congregated during Eid days, was almost deserted.

In the long straight road with its restaurants, hotels and sweets shops that have easily survived competition from nearby shopping malls, there were no cars with Saudi, Kuwaiti or UAE licence plates roaming the road. There were no crowds inside the shops buying the famous Bahraini halwa – sweets- to eat and to take home to share with families and friends.

It is easily the saddest Eid day on record. The “brouhaha” fun accompanying international interactions among excited tourists who rarely reined in their enthusiasm when it became too pronounced was sorely missing.

Halwa shop

Halwa shop in Manama

Shop-keepers stood stoically, hoping for a rare customer who would buy some of the pistachio halwa or sugary sweets they offered.

Most families had agreed to limit their contacts throughout the month of Ramadan, with its well-established reputation of long evenings first with friends then with relatives until dawn.

And now with a two-day weekend followed by a three-day Eid holiday, the stay-at-home situation was compounded.

News that a vaccine would not be ready for maybe another 18 months are pushing people to learn how to co-exist with the virus so that the next festivities would not be so sad.

“There will be change, of course, but it will be incremental and careful,” said Fareed. “We must be wise and cautious if we do not want to find ourselves back at square one.”

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