Looking Back at 2020

Published on: December 08, 2020

Sanam looks back at the lessons that she has learned from the year that was, and what gems of knowledge we can all bring with us moving forwards. 

By Sanam Raisa Rahman 

As the clock struck twelve on 31 December 2019, most people across the world were joyfully welcoming the new year. I, on the other hand, had been wondering how I was going to navigate around a crowded event hall in a heavy saree with my one-year-old hanging at the hip. It was the week of my sister’s wedding in Bangladesh, and if you have ever been to a South Asian wedding, you can imagine just how loud, crowded, chaotic, and yet exciting it can be. I was having a grand time, but the exhaustion was kicking in. Looking after two kids under the age of five is certainly no joke, but doing it while also helping with and attending all the different pre-wedding events leading up to the big day was ten times more challenging! I was starting to look forward to returning to Bangkok and just resting at home for some time. Little did I know that that was exactly what I would be doing for quite a long time soon after.

By the end of January, stories and news about a highly contagious, novel coronavirus from China had rapidly circulated the world. We learned about its cold-like symptoms and near-fatal results if not treated correctly in time. “But it’s in China,” we said. “Surely it’s not going to reach us here.” However, reach it did, and we soon found ourselves fearing for our lives and livelihoods. The disease, COVID-19, caused by the virus was declared a global pandemic in March, and governments quickly imposed strict lockdowns in cities and closed off borders in an effort to contain the virus. Survival instincts kicked in after the initial shock, and we began hoarding food and medical supplies, preparing to fight this disease in every way possible. Places of business, governance, entertainment, and educational institutions closed down indefinitely, and we braced ourselves for what seemed like the end of life as we knew it.

As I write this article, I find myself reflecting on everything that 2020 has thrown at the human race — both good and bad. The world has certainly seen a lot of suffering this year, and at times it has felt like the longest year in our lives. Many of us have been devastated by the loss of loved ones, and my heart goes out to those who have faced this tragedy. A lot of us have been stressed about being alone and far from home, some of us have fallen dangerously ill with the disease, and sometimes we were all just plain frustrated about not being able to walk out of our homes without a care in the world.

However, each day that passed by is a testament to the resilience and hope that humanity has shown in the face of such a crisis. I have been awed by frontline medical workers, doctors, and nurses who have selflessly worked day and night to save people, acted as crying shoulders for patients’ families, and shared their experiences with the rest of the world through social media platforms to warn, advise, and reassure them. Entire communities have stood firm and shown immense support to all its members, medical personnel and ordinary folks alike. The praiseworthy efforts have not gone unnoticed. To show appreciation and hail the work done by medical personnel, people in various countries participated in the #ClapforCarers campaign. At pre-set times, balconies and windows across cities lit up with lights and erupted with the cacophony of clapping and music made by ordinary people stuck inside their homes. It was the surest way of saying, “We are here with you, and we thank you for everything you are doing.” In many places, community fundraisers were also organized to sponsor personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, and numbers of people volunteered to help provide services ranging from fetching groceries to delivering medicines to people in high-risk groups. 

For me, all of this is the biggest takeaway from 2020— that despite the odds, we emerged as one big, global family, going through an unprecedented shared experience, striving to reassure, assist, and inspire one another to improvise and move forward with our everyday lives. We learned to be brave, hopeful and above all, learned that there are always ways to celebrate all that life has to offer.

27-year-old Isfar Nazia Sadeq from Canada, for example, had a virtual baby shower with her best friends through Zoom. The young mother recently gave birth, but said that she had never imagined that the girls she thinks of as her sisters would not be by her side during this milestone in her life. “After a particularly challenging pregnancy (she had contracted COVID-19 in her second trimester), I knew I couldn’t take any risks, so I opted for a virtual baby shower.” Her friends sent gifts in advance and joined a Zoom call from each of their homes. “We played some games, and I opened all the wonderful gifts they had sent. While it wasn’t the same as having them right beside me, I am thankful for the technology we now have to overcome physical distances. I could still see and hear them, and feel the love they have for me and my baby.”

Zerifa Chowdhury from New York echoed similar feelings when she graduated from Baruch College in May. “Normally, the ceremony would’ve been held at one of the biggest stadiums in New York City with all our loved ones attending. Instead, we had to look for our names on the graduation slide in an online ceremony. However, I was lucky to be with three other graduates at the time, and we celebrated with a small, intimate dinner at one of their aunt’s home. While it would’ve been great to commemorate the hard work done to earn this degree with a proper ceremony, I know that the lack of celebration doesn’t diminish its value. I am grateful for the constant support I got from my family and friends throughout my time in college, and for the opportunities that came along with it.”

What I also appreciate about 2020, is how it has taught us to take stock of our blessings and think about our priorities. Many of us have become slaves to the fast-paced, modern world, often at the cost of our health and family life. 2020 forced us to take the time to work on ourselves and our families. A focus on developing new skills or brushing up on old neglected ones has been rewarding for many. We have re-learned how to be a family and enjoy precious moments such as cooking dinner together or finishing work in time to read a bedtime story with our children.

I learned how to be more self-reliant in the kitchen. Never particularly keen on cooking, I would only venture into the kitchen occasionally. But when the COVID cases were piling up in Bangkok, our live-out nanny was given some time off, and my 4.5 year old’s concern about who would be cooking yummy food for her now gave me the push I needed to reassure her that we would not be going hungry! We celebrated Eid, an Islamic religious festival, over the lockdown. I prepared a traditional spread and decorated the house because I wanted my children to see that Eid could still be special even though we only had family and friends visiting us “virtually”. Likewise, many other families celebrated various religious and cultural festivals and events around the world such as the Chinese New Year, Ganesh Chaturthi, Rosh Hashanah, etc. in a low-key, yet personally satisfying manner.  

Overall, the year 2020 is undoubtedly going down in history as one we were not prepared to face, but one we managed to brave. I am optimistic that we will emerge from this crisis stronger and with a renewed optimism for the strength of humanity and a resounding victory for hope, selflessness, and acts of courage. I am profoundly grateful for all the front-line workers who continue to risk it all to carry the burden of operating our society, and immensely proud of how far all of us have come. Together we will get through this, onwards and upwards!

21 Days Photography Challenge- Clicking Away, One Word at a Time!

A more accurate description can perhaps not be given for the aim of the ‘21 Day Photography Challenge’ than a quote from Robert Frank, a Swiss photographer and documentary filmmaker, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”

The dream-child of Bangkok-based photographer, Elodie Valmary, the ‘21 Day Photography Challenge’ was organized on Facebook as a way for participants to capture their lives in a fun and relaxed way during the lockdown, and to keep a record of what happened to all of us and to the world in 2020 for the years to come. “I wanted to help people focus on something positive and see their homes from a different perspective. It was a great way to keep everyone busy and not feel alone during the lockdown. I was really pleased to see some fellow photographers adopting my idea and replicating it in their communities.”

The main rule of the challenge was ‘one word, one photo per day’. Elodie pre-assigned 21 different words for each day of the challenge, and everyday participants from across the world posted corresponding pictures along with a few words as captions. Here are a few of the snapshots shared for the words ‘feeling’, ‘grateful’, ‘still can’t bear it’ and ‘party’:







Still can’t bear it



About the Author

Sanam is from Bangladesh, and has been living in Bangkok with her husband and 2 little girls since 2012. Previously a UN employee, she is currently on a career break to raise her kids who are 4.5 and 1.5 years old. Having always been passionate about writing, she joined the BAMBI News team to do something she enjoys from home at her own pace while also being able to experience all the precious moments that motherhood has to offer. 

The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects. BAMBI News welcomes volunteer contributors to our magazine. Please contact editor@bambiweb.org.