100 days of social distancing- the COVID crisis in KAUST

Hi everyone,

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged in the last 6 months (or more), it has been incredibly long since I have been able to travel. I think my last trip (besides going home) was last Septemeber, which for me is quite some time. Like many people, I had huge plans for 2020. I was excited to attend my first sea turtle conference, and the meeting was in Colombia, so I was very excited about my first ever visit to South America. This trip was planned for March, and as you all know, this is when the COVID crisis started. My trip was cancelled first by KAUST, who had very strict policies about traveling from the end of February. No traveling or conferences, and you couldn’t even return to KAUST if you had been in other countries (they had an every growing list). The list started with China and Italy, but grew to include France, Germany, American, and many Asian countries. So I was devastated to learn that I had missed the conference, but what made it slightly better was the entire conference ended up being canceled.

After reading through my emails, I found that the stay at home order at KAUST went into effect on March 19th, therefore it has been over 100 days since I have been on lockdown. KAUST has been incredibly safe with this whole crisis, with frequent testing, strict social distancing rules, curfews set in place, etc. There were even community members who made fabric masks which were delivered by firemen to all the homes. I thought that although this time isn’t the most exciting, I might want to reflect upon it in the future. This time has most definitely been the longest I have ever been inside with no adventures. The KAUST gates are closed, meaning I am stuck here. Not to mention that the country’s borders are closed so no international flights. Obviously, I can’t go into the lab or do my fieldwork either, so this past 100 days has been the most downtime I have ever had in my entire life, and honestly, maybe it is everything I needed. Before I talked about what I have done with this time, I just wanted to talk about what I have missed out on, just because I am feeling sorry for myself. In addition to missing out on Colombia, I also had a cruise (fun cruise not research cruise) planned in the Mediterranean with my parents. The cruise was supposed to go to many places on my bucket list, like Cinque Terre, Italy and so many beautiful countries. Not to mention I was looking forward to spending time with my parents. But a cruise is the worst place to be during a pandemic, and I understand that so I just hope it can be a possibility in the future. I was also supposed to go to another conference in July in Germany, followed by visiting David’s family in France, but again, not going to happen, although we still plan on going to France eventually in 2020. It will probably be the first place I go once we are allowed to travel again. Lastly, for all of April and May I was supposed to be doing fieldwork for my PhD. I had plans to satellite tag turtles, collect genetic samples, do nesting surveys, etc. I had so many plans, and went through the logistics of getting a boat and hotels and captains, and I was so bummed when I found out that this would all have to be canceled. But I still feel lucky that I am happy and healthy and safe, and I am glad KAUST has also been watching out for our safety.

So onto the more positive side of this blog, what I have “achieved”. I say “achieved” since to some people many of these things don’t sound like big accomplishments, but the fact that I have had downtime to rest, work on myself, and work on my hobbies has been incredible.

  1. Time in the kitchen. Since the covid pandemic, obviously all the restaurants/diner are closed so I have been cooking every single meal for myself. Therefore I have been able to focus on making healthy, yummy, vegan food. Fortunately, I have still been able to receive some mail, so I ordered some ingredients from Iherb. The best purchase of the whole lockdown has been my high power ninja blender. I use this thing every single day. I love making smoothies, protein shakes, matcha and coffee frappes, power balls, and sauces. It is a life-changer, and also it was a huge splurge since I probably won’t be able to bring it home with me when I am done with KAUST. Some of the cooking highlights for me have been making pretzels, bread, English muffins, vegan butter tofu with homemade garlic naan, lentil nachos, sweet potato gnocchi, and everyday for lunch we have massive yummy kale salads. 

  2. Time to paint. I have always had a slight artistic side, and although I am not highly gifted I definitely find joy and relaxation in painting. Especially in the beginning in the lockdown, I was painting almost every single weekend, and it has been so nice. IMG_4951
  3. My biggest lifestyle change has been the amount of exercise I could do. I have always loved workout out, but could hardly make it to the gym 3 times a week. Now, without fail, I work out every single day and I am loving it. I have done so many fitness challenges (if anyone wants to join the programs I follow are here: https://www.chloeting.com/program/). I workout every day at around 5  on our balcony area, and it is over 100 degrees out so I am definitely getting a sweat. Keep In addition, I have finally gotten into yoga, I learned how to do a headstand, and now I am working on my handstand. I always hated yoga due to my inflexibility but I have grown to love it. I also have found so much joy in dancing, and try to do as many of these dance videos as possible, check out the fitness marshall videos on youtube, they’re so much fun. Lastly, David and I go on 1-2 walks each and every day. I find it very necessary to go outside. For about a month, KAUST had a curfew so we weren’t allowed outside from 5 pm- 7 AM, so we were walking at noon (during our lunch break), and practicing headstands. Now that there is no curfew, we also walk at sunset, and either walk along the beach or go to our secret spot for spotting sting rays.


  4. In academia, the most important accomplishment is publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I currently have 0 publications, and the process takes a very long time. But during lockdown I have submitted two papers, one of which has been reviewed and then I resubmitted. I have also contributed as co-author on five papers, and I will be working on additional ones as time goes on. So this has been huge, going from 0 publications to possibly 7+, hopefully I hear back from the journals soon 🙂 I also wrote my entire PhD proposal, which I will need to present (via Zoom) in the next few months. In this proposal I wrote all about the work I have done and plan on doing for my PhD, and analyzed a ton of data that I haven’t had the chance to look out since I am always so busy doing fieldwork and collecting more and more data. I am also proud of myself for increasing my abilities at coding. For biological scientists, a program called R is a very helpful skill in analyzing data and creating graphs. It is a free program and it is reproducible, so people can easily check your methods. I have had so much time to watch youtube videos and make prettier graphs, so that has been great! I have also presented my research 3 times, twice to general Saudi Arabian communities, and once to my lab. I think it is very important to communicate your research to the public, so I really enjoyed teaching people about the work I do with turtle conservation. If you wanted to give that presentation a watch, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeKOHe_Dwic.

    working on my coding skills on R 
  5. I have finished off another contract of being a Resident Assistant, which is an extra job I do on campus to make money. Which leads me to my exciting announcement that I finally paid off all of my student debt. I was so lucky to have received scholarships during my time at Dickinson, and leave without crippling debt. I am proud of myself for working hard and finally paying it off. Starting with my Americorps job in Hawaii which gave me money directly to go towards my debt. But I definitely couldn’t have done it if I wasn’t at KAUST where I get free housing and healthcare so I could save my money.
  6. I learned how to french braid my hair!!! After nearly 26 years of life, I have finally had time to sit down and learn. I also learned how to cut hair, and now I feel David never needs to pay to have his hair cut because I am a pro.
  7. I have caught up with so many friends and family I haven’t seen in such a long time. I dance weekly with my friends around the world and have Facetimed my family nearly everyday.

I forgot to mention, KAUST was unique in Saudi Arabia, since we have gates and could be closed off completely from the outside. The rest of Saudi was on a strict 24 hour lockdown. Meaning for about a month, they couldn’t go outside at all, and had to order all food and groceries to their homes. I am so so happy I only experienced that for a day at KAUST, until we were told we could still go outside from 7-5. Our daily walk was a gamechanger and really helped with my mental health.

I think that’s about it. I have focused on myself, been a bit selfish, but I feel rejuvenated. Although I am very much looking forward to getting out of the campus and traveling, I will always have some appreciation towards this time which forced me to stay inside and focus on myself. It has been a frustrating, weird, 100 days, but in the end, I think it did the Earth some good, and it did me some good as well.

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