Ever since the planet went into a state of quarantine as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with severe measures being taken by governments across the world to halt the spread of the virus, many people’s behaviour has changed, at least within families.
People are locking themselves in their homes with no nights out, no sports, no nothing. Quarantine and curfews have brought some positive results, however, and sometimes also some funny ones. People have flooded the Internet with memes they have made up to show how this pandemic has changed our everyday lives but has also often allowed us to maintain our sense of humour.
One video went viral of a man pouring some oil and water on the floor of his kitchen so he could pretend he was practising fitness on a treadmill as a solution to the closure of gyms, for example.
Maher, 16, just back from walking with his father around the Merryland Park in Heliopolis, also used to visit the gym at least three times a week. “I haven’t visited the gym since the quarantine started. I play online games with my friends all day, and I study a little, but I am bored,” he said. “But today, I decided to accompany my dad for a walk and also help my mum in the kitchen.” Maher says that there were lots of people out walking around in the area, with many also practising gymnastics in the street.
Another joke on the Internet reads, “men stay at home and ask weird questions like, ‘why are you keeping all these empty jars? Why are those carpets not symmetrical with the floor tiles? Who the hell are you? Are they all my children?’ So, be patient, treat him like he’s lost it. He doesn’t have any other shelter, as the outer world is contaminated with the coronavirus.”
This came as a warning to many Egyptian women. “Your husbands are currently prisoners in your place, and based on the Geneva Conventions they should be getting maximum care.”
Dina, a Cairo housewife, doesn’t remember which day we are in, as she laughs out loud. “All days are alike. It’s a monotonous, routine life. Eating non-stop, munching non-stop, sitting on the same couch all day and screaming at my kids. When I say to myself I will move from my sitting area to practise some aerobics, I fail to do so,” she said.
Dina wakes up earlier than her husband to follow her six-year-old son’s studies, as he can be rebellious during these days of no-school. “Why are you screaming at him,” was her husband’s first question as soon as he woke up one day. “Then I heard him screaming too,” Dina said, laughing.
The first few days of quarantine of the whole family sitting in the same area for long hours was difficult to bear. “Whenever my husband hears me discussing some home-organising issues with my helper he interferes. I told him not to give his opinion, as he runs the office and I run the house, but then we got more used to this unusual situation,” Dina said.
The number of hot-drink requests she gets from her husband also annoys her. “Then he suggested going to the kitchen to discover his cooking talents, which surprised me,” she said. Dina is currently quarantining with her family at an Ain Sokhna resort. They never use the beach, of course, like some people did last weekend.
Many famous songs have been given coronavirus-themed lyrics. “I wanna hold your hand” by the Beatles has turned into a parody, “I gotta wash my hands.” “Oh yeah, I touched that something, I think you understand. Now I need a scrubbing, I gotta wash my hands, I gotta wash my hands.”
Beating the virus: “My staff have become almost over-concerned by hygiene,” said one manager at a five-star hotel in El-Gouna.
“They wash their hands before holding a plate, then they wash the plate, then they wash their hands again before putting food onto their plate, and finally they sanitise their hands before eating their meal. It has become a culture. We have turned it into a joke.”
As for his family who live between Cairo and Alexandria, he meets them on video calls for an hour at the end of the day. “My son and daughter are busy studying online. When we meet over the video, I ask them to imitate some Egyptian actors to come out of the stress they might experience during these tough times,” he said, adding that he believes good mental health and laughter can help in boosting the immune system.
Tania, who enjoys every moment with her family, has decided to make good use of this quarantine period by doing the things she couldn’t do in her daily routine. “I have developed new skills like cooking and cleaning up the house. I have learned new programmes like movie-making software. For the first time in my life I made popcorn without burning it,” she said proudly.
Tania had also decided to read books, “but instead I made TikTok videos,” she said with laughter. She has thought of being productive by making makeup tutorials “to keep my friends and myself busy.” She has become an expert at grocery shopping. “Oh, and I styled my pyjamas too,” she said.
Tania thinks that the quarantine has taught us how to appreciate meeting people more and “that our phones are not our leash.” But “I also binge-watched all the series and movies on Netflix while snacking every 30 minutes, putting on three kg that I need to lose,” she said, describing her new activity in the next 15 days of quarantine.
Tania is a logistics assistant at the United Nations World Food Programme Cairo office, and she works from home from nine to five. For the first time in her life, she feels connected with the whole world. “We all have one target, and for once we are all working hand-in-hand,” she said. “All nations with different time zones are encouraging each other to keep pushing ahead – out of all the chaos and wars that our generation has witnessed, there is a feeling now that we will miss. Only people who are living now will witness it. Let’s enjoy being united for once,” she added.
“I can’t find my jacket of that blue suit darling. Here it is, the pants too. No need, my meeting is on line, honey,” was one of the circulating jokes.
People around the world are more connected with the arrival of Covid-19. “I have more time to video-chat with my brother and his family and my cousins in the States. We do that almost every other day now. Not only that, but we also share news and videos of Egypt and the States concerning Covid-19. The funniest part of our communication is sharing Egyptian jokes and memes, which we all need,” said Nour, a woman in her fifties.
“Knowing that they suffer from toilet paper shortages, I bought several packs and shared a photograph on our Whatsapp group. My niece replied, ‘how much are you selling them for?’” Nour said, laughing. “My husband just arrived from abroad, so I forced him to take a shower using Dettol and vinegar. He gargled with warm and salty water, and then I gave him some alcohol to sterilise himself with. Is that enough or I should boil him too,” says one joke circulating on the Internet.
Ahmed, 55, is a bit confused. “I don’t know which sanitiser we should use. Every time I go out for grocery shopping, my wife calls me to order a new brand, something which we can’t find easily. Now we have six or seven different types of sanitiser at home. Will this thing last for much longer,” he asks. When Ahmed arrives home, the shopping bags together with the stuff inside go through a cleaning process. “I once forgot to take off my shoes before going in. I really felt I had committed a crime,” he said.
Coronavirus-themed memes and comic videos continue to provide relief amid times of uncertainty. They bring people together and calm global panic. These new memes reflect new moments that the world’s population is experiencing together today.
Even horoscope reading is compatible with the virus. An Aries, for example, says that those born under this sign should stay at home, while Cancers also shouldn’t leave the house. A Virgo will be home alone, and an Aquarius will be disconnected from social life. Reading such things can help one get through the quarantine.
“Instead of getting rid of that stainless-steel cooking pan we use to make pop-corn that is burned on the bottom, I could revive it by using bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and lemon in water and boil the pan seven times in a couple of days. Note to self.” In these difficult days, we all need some humour, as well as to stay safe, stay positive and stay connected.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly