In the latest in our ‘Coping with lockdown’ series of blogs, expat civil engineer Mark Anthony Santiago describes what it’s like working in a foreign country, separated from friends and family while trying to focus on a construction project.
I’m an expat from the Philippines working as a civil engineer for one of the construction specialist companies (Intertectra) here in Qatar. I have been involved in numerous infrastructure projects in one of the world’s most advanced and innovative countries for more than five years.
But the coronavirus pandemic has devastated millions of lives worldwide and shaken almost all of the world’s economies and industries.
As an overseas worker, being apart from my family on the other side of the globe has been a huge burden and has really tested my levels of endurance.
Back in December 2019 I was looking forward to my annual holiday in the Philippines and already imagining the scent of tropical trees on the island of Luzon during an agreeable, seasonal winter. Then, all of a sudden, somewhere in the north of Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, I was moved to another construction project. Because of the urgency of the project, I had to postpone my home vacation for a few months in order to ensure a good start to the project. At this time, we were still unaware that a global health crisis was just around the corner. I again had to postpone my holiday in February when additional work was required on the project.
And then in March, Covid struck.
I tried to remain as calm and sanguine as possible, realizing that every country was going through a similar state of lockdown.
A period of readjustment
The urban environment and in turn, industry in Doha was dramatically altered by the pandemic. Construction workers here on-site weren’t too happy with the guidelines imposed. They felt that they were too restrictive. For instance, restricting the number of on-site staff, social distancing and all the virtual ‘paper’ processing and virtual meetings that were necessary didn’t go down too well!
Personally, as an expat, I am more worried about the state of my family back home rather than my health and the restrictions here in Doha. I check on the family regularly via video and phone calls, helping my 5-year-old daughter with her homework and engaging in virtual cooking time with my wife.
Professionally, getting a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) review with ICE online and watching general assembly webinars and board elections online has now become the norm.
Keeping the faith and the new normal
Obviously, things are not going to return to normal any time soon and we face a long period of transition to what we used to know as the everyday. But I know we can find new ways of coping with the new normal and I remain optimistic. We must continue to follow all health and safety regulations, in our communities and on construction sites and hope that countries can get their economics back on track.
Civil engineers can be at the forefront of this transition to new ways of working and creating a new normal. We must remain positive and hopeful, continuing to build the infrastructure to enable communities to thrive and to continue to build through our innovation and imagination.