Special issue

My experience with vine leaves and energy transition under Covid-19 lockdown

Laury Haytayan

MENA Director, Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI)


My travel plans for 2020 were insane. I was supposed to travel all around the world from MENA to Europe to Africa to speak about oil and gas. I was excited to discuss our new strategy at NRGI, we were planning to continue helping and supporting countries to better manage their resources for the benefit of the citizens.

We were excited to have introduced the energy transition work in our strategy for the coming five years but then our core work was still around supporting better management of the sector and legal reforms related to oil and gas. We started the year gathered in Dar Al Salam with colleagues from all over the organization reflecting on the economic linkages related to the oil and gas sector and how countries could maximize their gains from this sector.

Then Covid-19 hit the world and we were forced into lockdowns. all my travel plans were canceled and I had to stay home and work from home. That hadn’t happened for a long time. Instead of being called at the airport to hop on the plane, I was being called to enter into the kitchen. I wasn’t being asked about the menu for a better management of resources but I was asked about the food menu: what is it for lunch what is it for dinner? Good management of the oil and gas sector is a tough job and advising governments and oversight bodies is tough too. So, I wanted to keep the resemblance, therefore I decided that whatever I’m cooking should be tough cooking and I started with stuffed vine leaves with lamp chops- Lebanese specialty from the North of Lebanon. And why from the North because the first exploratory drilling was supposed to happen on the northern part of Lebanon so I wanted to commemorate that with a menu from the North!! I was trying to keep a resemblance of a normal life at work.

Interestingly Covid-19 did not only affect the health sector but it also had a great impact on the oil and gas sector. That was keeping me busy on three fronts: 1) in the kitchen feeding the family, 2) on TV speaking to journalists and Media about the effects of Covid-19 on the collapse of demand and oil prices and 3) on zoom with my collapse at NRGI thinking about the future of energy and how NRGI could play a significant role in the unavoidable energy transition! And these three fronts made me realize and appreciate many things.

The kitchen was an easy win I discovered that I enjoyed cooking especially difficult and tough dishes, so now I can invite 10 people for dinner and cook for them on my own!!  TV made me go live on interviews as I am no makeup no hair done, no dyed hair as natural as possible and that is a great gain for women especially from my region to go public in the simplest way possible. What counts is what we are saying not how we are looking right? The toughest one was the intellectual work that we’ve been able to undertake at NRGI. I’m proud of my organization’s senior management who at the time of the first lockdown back in March/April was an all women management on the effective way of managing the crisis at the organizational level, keeping everybody healthy safe and happy and creating a stimulating environment to think about energy transition and the kind of support that we should be providing to citizens and governments of resource rich countries where we work in. We managed to sit together on zoom think of dependency, race to the bottom challenges and think of the future. We will win the battle against the pandemic and build a better future for all!!