NANCY VEERAYEN

If you have ever been in a waiting room, you will know what I am talking about. Sitting in a waiting room your mind is full of questions, rehearsed scenarios and heightened emotions. That is how I can imagine the majority of people are feeling since the announcement that the confinement has extended. In the waiting room, we have talked to people and shared how we have missed our workplace and work routines and frequently expressed ‘mo plin res lakaz’. We shared our distant recollections of the good old days racing against time in the morning, dressing for work, putting on our favourite fragrance, doing our hair and travelling to work and how now we fight for silence, negotiate table space to work from, lose track of completed or uncompleted work because the children need feeding or help with their school work or simply because it was my turn to cook. So naturally, one can understand the cry for help – ‘I want to go back to work!’

Monday 4 th May 2020 was supposed to be the day that selected services returned to work.We were waiting to find out how this was going to be. In the waiting room,the clock was ticking and speculation was flying via WhatsApp, mobile calls, Facebook and any other regular form of communication. Ki pou fer la – pe al travay lindi? However, when the conversations with others dried up we began to talk to our inner voice. Really, am I going out there? Am I ready? Is Mauritius ready? Is it safe? What will I do if …? What do I say to my employees if they ask me about…? If the worse should happen, have I said what I wanted to say to those I love or detest? The deconfinement buildup and mental preparation feels like riding uphill on the ‘Kingda Ka’, the tallest and fastest rollercoaster on earth. However, the thing is we can’t grab anyone’s arm for support and reassurance because no one is sitting next to us – social distancing! We are riding alone, holding onto our faith that the virus is far from reach. On the 15 th May 2020, we know who is and isn’t returning to work. In the waiting room our conversations focus on – How is the country allaying our fears and potential paranoia? Washing the buses, deep cleaning offices, sharing revised Health and Safety policies, discussing operational plans and strategies are all well and good but who is monitoring and keeping track on what and what isn’t being followed when we are busy working? Is there a designated person or team keeping a watchful eye over everything to remind us – Keep your gloves and mask on? Did you visit any other rooms today? Do not leave work before having your temperature taken? Is anyone in your family suffering from the following symptoms? The questions and scenarios are endless. Pa fasil!

The more we think about the return to work the more we realise just how different it will be. How long will we have to queue for the bus? How long will the queue be if we respect social distancing? We hope it is not going to be as long as the shopping queue. Will our workplace understand if we are late? Will our workplace give us a regular supply of gloves, masks and sanitiser? Will we be eating lunch alone and wearing latex gloves? Is it safer for us to video call colleagues in the next office than to use the office telephone? How do employers reassure employees when conducting a necessary home visit to fix a client’s water tank, air conditioner, telephone line? Just like the ascending rollercoaster, the trials and tribulations of returning to work will be slow and steady. COVID–19 has proved how fragile we are. It has not discriminated against those who have and have not, those in the North, South, East or West. Therefore, we rely on our country and employers to make sure our safety and welfare are at the heart of their communicated return to work plans. Although the wait will feel like an eternity, misery, an explosion, a godsend let us remember that our wellbeing comes first. Without us, Mauritius is nothing! ‘Excuse me Madam – I am sorry but we are running behind schedule. We hope to see you within the next days’. ‘Thank you for letting me know I will wait…’’.