colorless campus

NYU Abu Dhabi is one of the few university campuses in the world that is still operating. Many students and staff still remain on campus, while struggling to stay safe, retain a sense of community and safeguard both individual and community health. Both the editors of this magazine are part of this community. The following images document, subtly, the emotional and psychological impacts on young students whose lives have been interrupted by the looming virus, as the numbers of cases climb daily by the hundreds. NYUAD is also one of the most diverse campuses in the world; travel restrictions and other realities created by the pandemic, affect various students to different extents. What unites us is the common experience of uncertainty and that we are all somehow still in this space, together.

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I check reported cases daily. I have tabs full of articles open, I know all these facts. I was just reading these diaries from Wuhan before you came over. “
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I stayed up watching anime for six hours”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“It’s my last one – fuck it.”  (shot over Zoom)
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“My family’s in Jordan. They’re okay. But a lot of people back home rely on daily wages so the lockdown really affects them. I had never really thought about that before. It makes me feel so bad.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“They cancelled my flight back home. I don’t know where I’m going to be, really.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I look outside to see who’s not wearing a mask.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
The big questions on our minds: is it going to come to campus? What will happen to the borders?
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I’ve been drinking instant coffee every day five minutes after waking up for a zoom class.” “You need to stop doing that, that’s sad.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I literally played Subway Surfers for two hours straight. Nothing else! This is terrible. My work!”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
My thesis project is all about migration, movement, And suddenly, the whole world’s stopped moving. 
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I’m just going for a smoke with my dinner. This is the highlight of my day.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“My immune system is crap. I can’t take a single risk.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I’m good. I stay inside watching movies on my ceiling.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
There’s something really comforting about laundry machines. The soft, rhythmic whirr, the promise of warm, clean sheets. To help me sleep at night, I listen to a sleepcast on the Headspace app, called  Midnight Laundry.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“There’s a big sticky note on my doorknob saying BARBIJO. It means mask in Spanish, so that I never forget.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
My photography professor asked me: why the fixation with black and white? But that’s how everything feels rights now, I told her. Colorless.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
It’s funny how the whole world suddenly understands this feeling of being cramped up and staying in bed and having life reduced down to the smallest tasks, like washing your hair. Everyone’s just trying to manage and do the bare minimum. It’s like all of a sudden they understand a lifestyle that I’ve known for so long. Having depression interrupted so many things for me before; it’s almost like I feel prepared for this. The difference is now more people understand.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
I bought an orchid plant at the beginning of senior year and named her Lizzo. She just started blooming again. Sometimes, that fact of her unfurling, again, is the only thing that manages to cut through the fog in my head.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
My parents are everything to me. They urged me to come here. I just wanted them to be here when I graduated. I wanted to see the pride and happiness on their faces, and take pictures under the palm trees in my gown and cap.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“Theater students have had to take their capstone projects online. We can’t perform them. I’m full of loss and questions.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
I guess life is monotonous. I don’t do much.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
We ended a while ago. It’s been months. I don’t know why every morning, after scrolling over updates for the UAE, I still check the number of cases where he lives.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
My dad sends me daily GIFs on messenger, usually of animals or cartoons doing weird dances. I forward them to my roommate and we get a good laugh. 
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
I’ve started deep listening to albums, and making mini themed playlists. I made a space-themed playlist inspired by my astronomy class. It’s called “moonshine”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
One of the highlights of my day is seeing Ravi in the dining hall, one of the cashiers there. We both speak Hindi. He always asks me how I am, always smiles and offers a joke or two. 
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
Every day I wonder why there are still so many construction workers on-site.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“Oh yeah, everyone’s doing these now.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
As a senior, I wish we had known exactly, that that was gonna be the last time we’d be in a classroom together.
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“That book is hot. I would have sex with that book.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
Before lockdown began, I rushed out to buy a yoga mat. I started doing fitness classes on Zoom about a week or so in,  because I noticed my body hurt all the time. I realized I was always crouching, and when I slept I curled up rigidly into a fetus position, putting strain on my neck and back. My therapist says this position is something I go in because I subconsciously feel threatened or anxious. I needed to get loose.
Processed with VSCO with b1 preset
“I’ve been working on making this shelter but it keeps breaking into pieces.” Are you building a home? “I don’t even know.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“Now I get time to journal. I haven’t done that in ages.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I just woke up now. But it’s good. I gotta work.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“The same song’s been playing for the past 45 minutes. I guess apparently I’m obsessed with it.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“How do you normally spend your days?” “I guess…I’m on the phone a lot.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“Shoes off before you enter! This is a virus-free zone.”
Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
“I can hear the conversations of people outside.”

 

All images taken by the author.

You can find more photography, and a continuation of this series, here

Arrivals and Departures

I remember a journey I once took.

Well, actually, it was just two weeks ago. Somehow, all ‘intense’ life experiences only seem to happen in the random moments. You’ll come home from school one day and realize that your mother has wrinkles. She has wrinkles and the sun is setting and you are getting older but she is getting old and we are all ageing all the time. This kind of ageing Olay face cream can’t fix — but what can face cream fix anyway? Or you’ll be making toast at 4pm on some blind Tuesday, and that’s it — you’re in love. You discover, first-hand, that all the love songs and poems had to have come from somewhere and maybe it’s this feeling of half-soaring, half-falling inside your chest that won’t go away. Even when you’re making goddamn toast on a goddamn Tuesday.

It’s still a Tuesday at home, when the plane lands in the blue fog of Abu Dhabi. Half-soaring, half-falling. The lights and buildings are seemingly sparser than in Dubai, which is where everyone lands on their way to somewhere else. People back home always thought and probably still think I am coming to Dubai. It’s all they know of this region — Dubai, the lone, glittery pearl in a swath of sand. Flash. Glitter. Bang.

I don’t bother telling them that they’re wrong. “It’s Abu Dhabi, not Dubai,” I say a dozen times. Like hitting the edge of the bullseye, but not quite. Not quite.

I walk down the aisle of the plane. Cabin trolleys, sticky hands, little children, neck pillows. How ordinary, how mundane. I have made the most radical change in my life and all I can think about is the shade of purple on a neck pillow.

I’m sure I’m going to write about this, maybe not tonight but sometime. It’s my great adventure, my new beginning; I keep murmuring ‘this is it’. Cloying, clichéd words on starting over, on clean slates and finding success. I expect the rest of me to follow suit, to fill out these words with colour and feeling, to intensify this blank newness into vivid novelty. But I feel nothing. Half-soaring, half-falling. It’s as if my heart decided not to come along with me; it closed its eyes and, when I wasn’t looking, crawled into my old bedcovers in Botswana, refusing to uproot itself.

I walk out of the plane, someone’s purple neck pillow in the corner of my eye. I have uprooted myself.

***

The first thing I feel is a wall of heat. It is so oppressive, so forbidding, so totally and completely hot and alien, that for a flash-second, I think of running back into the plane and cowering amongst the economy seats. The air hostess behind me is all red lipstick and white teeth and clean, bright future. My glasses fog up and I cannot see. I have a strange urge to laugh and cry all at once. Opaque vision now. I’m walking into my future, my new life, blind blind blind.

Waiting for me are bedsheets so invitingly white, they put the clinically pretty window-view to shame. I sit down, in my new bedroom, my luggage at my feet like a bomb crater, the bookshelves gasping for something, anything, but emptiness. This is it. Yes, I have made it. This is the dream. There is no music, no fanfare, but only the hum of the air-conditioning. ‘This is it’, it says to me.

On the way to campus, my mother had spoken in Hindi to the taxi driver. She had asked him if he’s happy here and I know she did not ask for him but for me. It suddenly strikes me that I will have to learn how to miss my mother. Any day, I would rather take calculus.

Instead, I think about my friends. Their letters are as white as my pillowcase. Hasty farewells, hasty ink.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again.”

There is a tumbleweed in my throat, gathering hurt by the second. It tumbles and I crumple. I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again. How lonely this is. I didn’t think it would be this lonely. Final hugs in the departure lounge. Seeing my father cry for only the second time in my life. Carrying luggage that is too heavy because I packed too many novels and too many clothes and now I think I packed too much of my memory too.

Half-soaring, half-falling. This is it.

 

Painting by Ashwaq Abdullah