When masks were made mandatory I had been making masks for just over a week. Easier said than done when power only comes back at 3 pm and four kids need to be done with school, but I needed something to keep my hands and mind busy. I was reluctant at first as a mask is only useful when used properly and made of the correct material. Anyway, as it was now mandatory I was able to donate to some institutions and make sure all the employees at the farm had a mask each. I lost count somewhere after two hundred but I probably completed over four hundred masks in about a month.
The idea with a mask is that you protect those around you in case you are asymptomatic, and so others protect you by also wearing a mask. But that is where it gets tricky as many don’t want to don the mask. Once it was made mandatory the question was how will it be enforced? Well, we soon got the idea. The police decided one day to pick up about 150 people in Kabwe town center that had no mask or were not wearing them properly. As much as I understand the urgency it was not the right thing to do. As masks are only a last resort for when we’re not able to keep enough distance to those around us, what sense did it make to bundle up 150 people, carry them to the police station only to caution them and send them off again? What if even one of them had been positive? It showed us how poorly informed the police force is on the issue of Covid-19. They seemed happier to have an excuse to harass people rather than informing the public. However this seems to have been a one off. And once people saw that there was no consequences for not wearing a mask the usage kept dropping. Last time I checked I could only see about one in five with a mask and too often the mask is under the chin.
As Covid-19 numbers are still relatively low in Zambia I don’t think most people take it seriously enough, some even think it’s not here at all, or that it is already over. Unfortunately that is wishful thinking. We can only get through this with a community approach, wear your mask to protect those around you and I will wear my mask to protect you!
A few days before our Ministry of Health went public with Zambia’s first confirmed Covid-19 case in mid-March they announced that all schools were to close as a precaution. At this time my anxiety levels were already on a high as I had been watching how the pandemic was spreading around the globe on my phone. With the school closure announced I felt like everything came crushing down and I had to ignore the new recommendations of social distancing to hug a friend and cry on a shoulder (in town centre in the middle of the day…). Somehow once we knew Covid had arrived in the country I felt as if my anxiety dropped, like “it’s here, now what?”.
I had my four children back at home and they needed to get on with school in its new format. Google classroom has proven to be a very useful tool in these times. I had three of my kids logged in from two different schools. However, with daily 6-8 hour power cuts and poor network this was already a challenge. After the long April break we came back to online school in a more organised way, the teachers had spent the past 4 weeks preparing and training and the children were now to attend actual live classes. If only technology could be of use instead of an obstacle! Trying to get three children connected to live classes all at once was simply too much for my phone hotspot (airtel) to handle, I got a mifi (mobile router) that only gave me more grey hairs. I then spent the whole of May pulling my hair out over slow internet, long power cuts (running a generator just to keep the laptops going), trying to keep everybody on track and focused. My oldest son had also changed schools in the middle of this and he needed a little daily motivational speech from me, or simply put, we argued a lot!
Somehow we still managed to keep up. But it took my full attention. On 1st June my oldest two were able to return to actual schools as examination classes (gr 7, 9&12) were given the go ahead to go back. My oldest couldn’t wait, the home school format wasn’t for him, while my daughter actually hoped for schools to remain closed as she was enjoying it (being a very diligent and disciplined student!). I’m left with my 10 and 7 year old sons at home and I’m finally enjoying it. I’ve even contemplated keeping my youngest at home until he goes to boarding school (he is in a day school) but he has told me he misses school so much, he is a social butterfly after all.
These past month have given us a lot to be grateful for in the middle of a global pandemic, we have had the kids at home for 10 weeks straight, I’ve been hands on with their learning, and they have managed to keep up despite not being at school. Yes, I did almost throw both the mifi and my laptop out the window a couple of times, and I’ve had almost daily mini-meltdowns, but the kids have manage to keep on track. Now we will enjoy an extended mid term break (two weeks! I think the teachers are tired too…) and then pull through what is left of this term, surely schools will be back to normal in September!?
I must also add that there has been a silver lining to all of this and that has been that the children has had time to do so much besides school, anything from building houses in the bush to rearing ducklings and adopting piglets, growing veggies and going fishing. There was also a lot of bonding taking place and we even got into a habit of taking morning jogs/walks together.
2020, what can I say, there sure hasn’t been a shortage of ideas for blog posts in the first 6 month of the year, yet I haven’t posted anything since February! I guess I’ve suffered blog fatigue or something, feeling overwhelmed with everything happening around me. I’ve decided to catch up on all the major things I’d wanted to blog about but that ended up just a thought in my head. This will not fit in one post, so bare with me as I try to recap this crazy year.
Recap part I: The Gassing
In Zambia I’ve always felt safe, running on bush path on the farm, walking in the markets, travelling in rural areas. Never have I looked over my shoulder, or been afraid to drive on my own. The mantra people always tell visitors is that “Zambia is a peaceful country” and I’ve never felt inclined to disagree, until the beginning of this year. Something strange was happening, first a few incidents, then more widely reported and eventually in all areas of Zambia. People were being “gassed” in their own homes while asleep. The stories varied, nothing was stolen, some claimed blood was drawn from the victims, the panic spread fast. But what was actually happening? I received a number of videos on Whatsapp showing anything from ordinary mosquito spray cans to fumigation used for maize as suspicious items found outside people’s homes in the morning, but it was all items that can be found anywhere. Then, the mobs started to take it in their own hands as people felt the police did nothing. This is when things got scary. Buses travelling on the main road out of the capitol got caught up in a blockade where people came on to the bus looking for suspicious objects. One day in Chisamba there was a blockade down the road from where I was, we all listened to a voice message from a very distressed person that had just come out of there. He had been pulled out of his car, held to the ground with a machete over his face, while his car was thoroughly searched. When they didn’t find anything deemed suspicious he was free to go, nothing was stolen. Unfortunately not everybody was as lucky when getting in the hands of the mobs. A well-known business man from Kabwe was brutally killed, his two passengers were badly beaten and one of them later succumbed to his injuries. Their crime was to travel down a rural road and ending up accused of being “gassers”. Many more died in the hands of violent mobs across the country. All the while there was very little clarity of the actual gassing cases. Did anyone die from the gas? Did anyone even get gassed? Politicians were playing their usual blame games and pointing fingers at opposition parties. The military was sent out to enforce a curfew and we made sure not to be on the roads after dark. Then, things just got quiet, like it never happened. We were left with questions and no answers. In mid-March Zambia had its first confirmed case of Covid-19 and just like that we moved on.
Walking around in Kabwe has quickly become a hassle again as street vendors have been allowed to spread their goods out on both the sidewalks and the actual street. Clothes, shoes, fruit and veg, it’s all there on sale in the midst of mud and smelly streams of water. Facebook, as it does, showed me a memory the other day, a post written in January 2018:
“Everyone who’s so impressed with the government led cleanups going on – it’s a bit like a kid having to clean up his own mess – and about time! If preventative measures had been taken we wouldn’t have had a cholera out brake to begin with! Now schools won’t be opening on the 15th, instead we have to wait til 30th and then see if govt will give the green light. Yes, it’s fantastic that we finally can walk on the side walk without hopping between goods and food for sale, but that’s how it’s supposed to be, we’ve accepted street vending and the dirt filled drainage pipes and filth as normal and so when it’s finally dealt with we all clap and say the govt is at work, but where were they all along leading up to the situation we’ve ended up with!?”
Unfortunately we don’t seem to have come very far, rather we have reversed back to the time of the worst Cholera outbreak Zambia had experienced in a very long time. Is the government waiting for another outbreak before anything is done? That’s what it took to clean up two years ago, but how about we stop this now, before people die from a preventable disease?