Lessons while in Lockdown
By Thakane Rethabile Shale
Kingdom of Lesotho.
Ecclesiastes 3 verse 1-8 says ” There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal”… and also apparently due to Covid-19, a time to sit at home and twiddle our thumbs in an existential crisis suffered as a collective.
I met the news that there was an outbreak of a new virus in Wuhan China with pity for my fellowmen; liberally so as I imagined that the tangible stuff of the disaster would never knock on my door; the virus would not affect me. In our remote corner of Africa, undiscovered by most of the world and spared by disaster, we had lived through Swine Flu and Ebola virus and come out the other side in tip top condition. I was confident that in a short time this too would be contained. I had never been more wrong. The virus was declared a pandemic on March 11 2020.
Indeed, we would see the other side but I would be in questionable condition. Almost three weeks after the outbreak I was retrenched due to markets crashing and my employer having to halt a capital raise we had put most of our hopes on. Three weeks after I had generously bestowed pity on the Chinese, I required that I have a little of it myself. I was on lockdown, unemployed, panicked and unable to go for a walk to clear my head and think things through.
The first few days of the lockdown were the scariest days I have ever experienced. I had no income to depend on. I was in a country landlocked by another whose confirmed cases were rapidly increasing and it seemed only a matter of time before the virus would come for me. My mind wondered to entertain thoughts of mass graves filling the countryside. The capacity of our health systems was in question as those of developed countries crumbled under the Covid- 19 weight. This was Lesotho; fear was amplified and contained within impassable South African borders, echoing back and forth, and I waited to die.
A few days later while going through Facebook, I saw a post from an acquaintance offering to deliver people’s groceries for a cheap fee. I ordered a few things because I was not about to go outside and risk the Rona catching me. Then there was a second post of a young woman selling maize, then another selling potatoes, and on and on it went with young people selling fresh produce, meat and hand sewn facemasks. Social media became a trading post and orders reaching their owners was a communal effort. The seller’s relative who lived next to a buyer’s neighbour would move orders along and so on and on it went. Those unacquainted with mobile money services quickly learned. Life continued on.
For the first time people were religiously buying from young local farmers. Within our collective fear we found something else to bring us together, collectively supporting our own. Whenever someone posted on social media that they had a certain food to sell not only did we buy but we also shared the post till it reached thousands of people. I loved it. This camaraderie brought us a sense of purpose, we calmed down, we were a little less distressed – happier! Sure, jobs were being lost and that was painful but there was a certain hope that came with being united in supporting young people; like we were collectively nurturing our hope. Let it not go unmentioned that their produce was organic!
Personally I was able to finish Tolstoy’s War and Peace. A friend who used to work for the brewery brewed her own cider due to the fact that we could not buy alcohol. People learned to cook. Health and fitness was prioritized and many started exercise routines. We discovered passions long forgotten due to time constraints. Families kept in touch, broken friendship were mended and we fixed relationships with ourselves. As we prepared to die we learned to prioritize life and started to live it authentically.
As we waited for news each day an emerging trend started to appear, yes Africa had cases climbing but not as bad as the world had predicted. The mass graves littering the streets of Africa were nowhere to be found. As a continent we were not at all the hardest hit. With no western ountry coming up with a solution we had begun to find our own solutions, we sewed our own masks, we fashioned running water taps with whatever rudimentary objects we could find, we bought from our own local farmers, we revolutionized the cleanliness of our taxi industry and the crowning feather in our cap, Madagascar; they came up with a cure for the virus. Yes, there are many that doubt the efficacy of the medicine but their cases have declined and other countries, in and outside of Africa ordered their cure. Africa rose to the challenge and while the crisis is far from over we can say we found solutions. We did it together and we are a little more confident in our abilities. collectively and individually!