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Ian tests his strength during two-month lockdown in Dubai


Ian Lacey with his partner Áine Lynch in the Himalayas in Nepal in 2019

Ian Lacey with his partner Áine Lynch in the Himalayas in Nepal in 2019

Ian Lacey with his partner Áine Lynch in the Himalayas in Nepal in 2019

Gorey's Ian Lacey, author of 'Half the World Away', is happy to be back home after a challenging time being stuck abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He had been living in Kathmandu, Nepal working for UNICEF but got stuck in Dubai alone for two months after a visit to Pakistan.

He continued working on the Covid-19 response for UNICEF across South Asia but returned home due to fears of being stranded. He is now working on another book after the success of his 2016 travel novel.

In his own words, he tells us about his unique experience and perspective on this global pandemic:

A close friend of mine describes the beginning of the pandemic as a time when the entire world was tripped up at once.

Normally, we encounter difficult events in some sort of bubble - as a family, community or country - but this period in our history stands out from the rest. Everyone stumbled, and we now must help to pick each other up.

I had just boarded a flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Islamabad, Pakistan when the seriousness of Covid-19 became apparent to me.

The constant reminders to wash your hands. The requests to wear a face mask. The strange suggestion you should stay at least two metres away from the closest person. It was early March and I felt huge change was on the horizon.

I had been working for UNICEF in Nepal, but Áine Lynch, my partner, was in Pakistan with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a medical organisation that assists those affected by conflict, natural disasters and epidemics.

I was visiting her for a few weeks, but almost as soon as I had arrived, we were planning to leave again.

Áine got word that travel outside Pakistan may soon be restricted, so we decided to head for Dubai earlier than expected, as we had planned a week's holiday there. But almost as soon as the plane touched the ground, she was called back for fear she might not be able to return the following week.

Around the same time, Nepal was taking measures to curb the spread of the virus. The capital had gone into lockdown and the airports were closed. This meant I just couldn't get back, and in the end, never did.

In the two and a half months that followed, I bided my time in Dubai hoping that I could catch a flight back to Kathmandu. But as weeks and eventually months passed, hope of even returning to collect my things from the apartment and say goodbye to friends faded as the virus spread through South Asia and saw the region become one of the epicentres of the outbreak.

Now that I'm back in Gorey, those months locked out of Nepal and living in an AirBnB in Dubai feels totally surreal. I was lucky that I could work remotely, and for the most part, putting the head down to concentrate on that made the time pass much quicker.

As I worked for UNICEF's regional office for South Asia, I spent all of my time helping to coordinate communications on the Covid-19 response in countries from Afghanistan to the Maldives.

In short, my job was to get out the core messages on hand hygiene and physical distancing, but much of it also focused on the secondary effects the pandemic was causing, such as the impact on children's mental health, their nutrition, and the discrimination many faced because they were of a particular religious or ethnic group.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the entire time in Dubai was that I went to bed and woke up thinking about Covid-19. I found it a little tough to switch off in the evenings, and being confined to the apartment in a city that only allowed you to leave it for essential reasons did cause some down days. But then again, there was solace in knowing everyone was in it together, and in reality, I had it extremely lucky.

Working for UNICEF during a global crisis helped me understand just how fortunate I was compared to so many others. It shone a light on the harsh realities of life for so many, even before the pandemic began. How could those living in urban slums maintain a physical distance between each other? What about women and children who face violence in the home on a regular basis and now were locked in with their abusers? Or how is a child supposed to learn from home when they have no access to the internet, let alone a tablet or computer?

For me, having the laptop was a lifeline. It was great catching up with friends on Zoom calls at the weekends, and even for playing exercise videos to maintain some level of fitness, even if it was just running and doing star jumps on the spot.

But looking out on other apartment balconies, I realised I wasn't the only one trying to keep active in the strangest of circumstances.

Now that I'm back home I'm trying to do many of the things I missed while being stuck inside for so long. It's been amazing to go on hill walks and just ride my bicycle around Gorey.

After self-isolating on my return, the first few days after that felt like a total release, swapping the confines of a Dubai apartment for a run on Courtown beach. I may have taken these things for granted before, but I definitely won't again.

Ian Lacey's book, 'Half The World Away', is available in paperback or as an e-book from Amazon.

Gorey Guardian