Of Friends and Food: Our lifeline amidst the pandemic

By Farah Nisa Sa’adon and Haidah Halid

It’s Friday night. The webcam is on for our weekly virtual hangout with our girl friends. It’s a little noisy, we’re talking over each other and the status is kind of annoying but it’s bearable.

Since the pandemic hit us, aside from the obvious and widespread struggles that the rest of the community faced like isolation and anxiety, among others, under the surface, students faced extreme levels of loneliness and absence in their lives.

Being forced to separate from our social groups, circles and peers during a once in a life time experience in university has brought about the feelings of extreme loneliness.

Nowadays, we endure just about anything in order for us to talk or see each other just to fill that absence. Even if it means going through unstable internet connections, delayed responses and absurd hours. 

During the semester, our virtual hangouts usually entail us ranting about our assignments and classes. However, during our semester breaks, we reminisce the good ‘old’ days when life before the pandemic is the ultimate dream for us now. Almost always, a bowl of instant noodles or just a cup of milo accompanies us. It is like watching a ‘mukbang’ but instead, it’s a live session with friends. 

Thinking back, all of our shared memories have included food as our link. Before the pandemic, questions like “Do you want to grab lunch together?” or “What should we eat for dinner tonight?” have always acted as conversation starters and memory-making triggers.

Having different majors and class schedules made it difficult for us to hangout or meet often, but our brief catch up sessions during lunch or dinner is what we looked forward to everyday. The gap may be an hour but it always felt good to have friends eating together with you even if you have to rush yourself. 

Our usual conversations.

We have memories of eating roti canai for breakfast at the Human Science cafe, Chinese cuisine for lunch at the Edu cafe (oh the dumplings!!), cendol was our tea time at Mowla cafe and shawarma at our respective mahallah’s cafe for dinner. Sometimes, it doesn’t end just at dinner. Supper comes and we head to our friend’s room for our last hurrah of the day.

Food we’ve eaten during our time in campus

Even after a nightly class or training session, we would ask each other, “Are you hungry?” and we would rush to the convenience store right before they close or we ought to go the extra mile by ordering take-away from any food delivery service.

Our late night order from a food delivery service

It is funny to think that just a year ago, we would trek our way to our friend’s room just to trade different flavours of instant noodles or biscuits. However, without realising, these were the things that made us close. It built our trust and shaped memories that we hold dear in our hearts. 

Oh, how we miss physical campus life! Don’t get us wrong, we are not complaining about the opportunity to be closer with our family, but we miss the presence of our friends. 

The last time we saw each other was more than 365 days ago and yet, we can still recall the memories and trips we took to all the restaurants outside campus that we have tried together. We would find our way to Setapak to find good dumplings, (we love dumplings!) or go to nearby shopping malls to eat sushi together. 

Photos of when we trekked our way to Setapak just to eat

Now, as we enter a year into the pandemic, we have accustomed ourselves with watching each other eat and talk through the screen. Each session is scheduled weekly even when we have nothing to talk about. Sometimes it’s just the presence that counts. 

We’ve said it repeatedly the past year, that if the campus reopens soon, we would hang out together as often as we can to make up for the time that we couldn’t meet each other. We are praying that everything would be normal soon enough for us to enjoy the rest of our student life with actual physical presence and not through the screen only. ***

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