Everything was very well planned. I always plan well. I’m very good at it.

Hanna Hijazi  (fiction, non fiction, essays, radio scripts, Saudi Arabia) has published five books, one of them winner of a national award. Her first novel was translated into French. She has participated in many national and international literary events. A retired physician, she now paints portraits as a hobby.


Last September I decided to retire, an early retirement. I’ll be losing 60% of my paycheck but I didn’t care: I thought, my son needs me, and I will be there for him. He’s been studying in Canada for four years now: the first two years were not good for him, he was young, with Asperger, alone in Canada. But still, I had been pushing him to get a degree, and he managed to get a diploma. So now that he started a new school, I thought, I will stay with him to make sure that this time, he will succeed. I applied for retirement. Everything went well. I chose January 20th 2020 to be my last day of work. Chose--a special date to end a career that lasted 29 years and 8 months. I received the approval; I booked and bought the ticket for the flight from Jeddah to Vancouver for the 26th of January. Everything went perfectly and smoothly. I can’t remember whether the news of the corona had started at that time, or not.

I was so happy about my decision, I felt free, so free: now I can decide whatever I want without thinking about work, about taking vacation at certain times, about worrying whether the request will be approved or not. I’m free to wake up whenever I want and sleep whenever I need, no reason to worry about insomnia anymore--if I can’t sleep, it just means more time to read, or watch a movie, or even chat with people on WhatsApp. Most importantly, I no longer have to worry about my patients--I mean, I don’t have to ask myself again and again whether I did the right thing, made the right decision, prescribed the right treatment. I’m free.

I arrived in Vancouver; I had only been there a month earlier, so I wasn’t super-concerned about my son. Two days later a friend asked whether I wanted to join her on a trip to Punta Cana in the Caribbean; I said, well of course! We booked the trip for 3/2. Everything was so normal. I was supposed to return to Saudi at 3/31, together with my son Yusuf, to renew his passport, and because he misses our family, whom he hasn’t seen for almost three years. And he was also excited about seeing the new Saudi Arabia he keeps hearing about.

Everything was very well planned. I always plan well. I’m very good at it.

The only thing we began hearing about, because we live in Vancouver with its many Chinese immigrants, was that they were being prevented from having outdoor celebrations for their New Year. Many jokes, as well, about the Chinese sneezing in public places.

What made the situation real for me was that Saudi Arabia started to take so many intense precautions, so fast. I remember my brother telling me that he was supposed to go to the States for vacation but decided to cancel. All events and big gatherings in Saudi were cancelled. Even private ones, such as weddings. A friend told me that her cousin’s wedding was called off, and her parents, returning from the US, weren’t able to do so because their flight went through Istanbul. People all over the world were prevented from visiting Makkah. People coming from infected areas had to declare themselves and be put in isolation for two weeks. Everything was changing. So real now, but still, not for me. I was going to Punta Cana, as scheduled. And I did.

A friend called the night before and asked me to look for masks because she couldn’t find any at pharmacies in Surrey. I said, sure, I will look for them, I wasn’t worried even when I couldn’t find masks or hand sanitizers in pharmacies in Vancouver.

I went to Punta Cana. I had a wonderful time. A week of meeting all kinds of different people, from Europe, Canada, the US. Everyone was happy that the place wasn’t crowded. People were scared to travel and that meant more space for us, those who didn’t care.

At Punta Cana I heard the news that the Saudis are suspending all flights, in or out, for two weeks. I did the calculation: the embargo should end on 3/29. Our flight was on 3/31. I didn’t worry; I would just wait and see.

My son wrote that his school would be shut down for a week of cleaning, as one or two students were found to be infected with covid-19.

Things were beginning to affect us now.

I came back from Punta Cana. I met a friend at a coffee shop: people could still meet everywhere, the place was full, and we decided to take a small trip to a small town over the weekend. We took the ferry. People were on it, nothing unusual. We returned and went to a restaurant, and it too was normal--the restaurant was full. That was on 3/15.

I got sick the next day. I stayed home. I wasn’t thinking corona, because I didn’t have fever. Two days later, everything changed. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops, even schools are shut down now. My son’s school is online, even his final exams.

I got an email from British Airways informing us that our flight back to Saudi is canceled.

After staying home for a week, completely over my cold, I decided to go to the supermarket. The streets were empty, as were the shelves for rice, cooking oil, and toilet paper.

Saudi Arabia announced a curfew for 21 days.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to return back, or even see my friends here in Vancouver.

I think I’m not that free anymore.