Series I

Sadio Sogoba (Mali)

Covid-19 in Koutiala

It all began as a story, people were talking about it as a new illness but it sounded very far away. Some people said that the virus of Covid-19 doesn’t survive the temperature of Mali and some other people even said that it wasn’t a sickness for Muslims.  And one bad day we learned from the news that a Malian lady living in France had brought the disease in Bamako. A few days later there were other positive cases of Covid-19 and then it kept spreading.

 And finally the president announced the nationwide lockdown and the curfew to contain the spread of the virus. Schools, restaurants and bars were closed. I put myself and my 8 year old daughter in confinement for 3 days. My friends and colleagues would come in the afternoon as they used to for tea and to chat but I wouldn’t open. After 3 days of locking myself in I was tired. I open the door and I set a hand washing kit at the entrance. People visiting should wash their hands with soap and we would respect distancing. The curfew was from 9 PM to 5 AM. After a few weeks there were riots in Koutiala. People were fed up with the curfew, especially the youth. For 2 nights there were riots all over Koutiala. People burning tires on the roads blocking traffic, stoning police cars and even burned down a police station. But in the other hand, many married women were happy with the curfew and wished it continues because their husband finally stayed at home and can’t go out at night for who knows.

As a teacher in one of the teachers’ training Institutes, I was perplexed; I didn’t know what to do to help my students! They would call and ask me what to do. Finally we came up with the idea of creating a WhatsApp group with the class and discuss class topics via it. But after two weeks I couldn’t afford buying the units for internet connexion so we quit. Meanwhile the government started online courses. They would teach through national TV. Many students didn’t find this interesting because they couldn’t interact with the teacher. Thanks to my friend Tim Burroughs ( Souleymane Koné in Mali), a return Peace Corps Volunteer, we were able to establish a sustainable Wifi connection and come back to our classroom activities on WhatsApp.

When we went back to school after the confinement, we were told the distancing would be respected as well as all the preventing measures but I wasn’t surprised to find my students ( 49 students in the classroom) sitting the same way they used to sit before. The first 2 days they were wearing masks and would wash their hands with soap and then used hand sanitizer but after a few days they would put the mask in their pocket and sat close to each other. Even though I encouraged them to respect the preventive measures, they were reluctant to do so knowing that many parents didn’t believe in the illness and said it was a plot. Some of the preventive measures are a challenge in a Malian environment, such as not shaking hands. Hand shaking is very important in the culture here and not shaking hands is suspect. It’s another challenge to avoid going out in public, knowing that marriages, naming ceremonies, funerals can sometimes gather hundreds of people and your presence is socially mandatory. Distancing is also a problem, for students from extended families it means nothing because they would go back home at the end of the day and be with more than 10 -15 people in the same family. I didn’t know how to help with all of this. It is a horrible feeling to feel helpless for your students. 

The Covid-19 pandemic changed my perspectives and made me reconsider my priorities about life.

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