I have a new hobby –sitting on the balcony with a good book, watching the wind teasing trees, listening to the twitter of birds of different shades and their individual songs and wondering whether they are singing to each other, to themselves, or just to be heard.
It’s been seven weeks since I’ve been locked in and working remotely from home and I have had to adjust to the new normal. Online meetings have become the best way to catch up with work, friends and family and it seems to be working just fine.
Our lives are being shaped in more ways than one. It sometimes feels like my life has changed and not changed at all. Socializing with my family especially my parents as they know it is taking a different angle. Case in point is when mum wanted to send us some food and snacks and it was next to impossible. My mum is a giver and I could feel the frustration in her voice when she could not get the food to us.
To me, everything feels like a wind blowing dead leaves. It’s a full-circle feeling. I have seen how it has affected death and grief. I lost an uncle-in-law and aunt-in-law during this period and it hurt that we failed to pay our last respects. It is such a big detail in our cultural context and signifies how COVID 19 has shaped our daily lives. It has shaped death and the process of mourning because funerals and gatherings have become sparse. The mere act of embracing a loved one has become a great risk. Families are desperate for closure and that closure can only be delayed.
So, I sent out texts to friends asking how they thought this was shaping their lives and what significant thing had changed about their day-to-day business. I’ll share the responses here:
Patrick in the United States said, “Social distancing has made every one vigilant because the disease is unpredictable. You don’t trust anyone. So I miss hugs and greeting. Lately, we laugh using emojis on social media. We may have to laugh in ways we may never have contemplated before. Stay safe.”
I ask whether this might be the end of hugs and handshakes.
He responds, “Tufiirawo! We shall make hugs great again.”
Rebekah in Kampala predicts there is likely to be a change in cultural shifts in terms of social behaviour depending majorly on demographics. Some people are more fearful than others. Urban dwellers are likely to continue with social distancing as opposed to the rural populace or those who live in slums. Their behaviour hasn’t changed much because I see it during my walks. This means different to them than us in touch with global news on it.”
She adds, “Consumer confidence is likely to drop when it comes to spending on things higher on the grid of Maslows law. It’s like COVID 19 has taken us to a sort of reboot to focus on what really matters and we are back to basics.”
“Consumer spending may take the same route, given that those with an extra buck uncertain about the future will save that buck for future basic needs; food, shelter, clothes and education. That places travel in esteem needs and self – actualization. It may take another two years to gain consumer confidence in the latter.”
Belinda in Kampala wrote said, “Personally it has helped me slow down. My life was a roller coaster. I barely had time to pause and just suck in life and enjoy time with my family. I’m glad this time has helped me bond with my family and friends and still self evaluate.”
“I’ve also realized that the things we never hoped we could do without can actually be done away with like walking as opposed to driving to the clinic with my son. I look forward to walking to the ATM, market and back home and always feel I’ve done a work out after this.”
“It has made me appreciate the challenges other underserved people go through like those who can barely access medical facilities in hospital and opt for clinics. The pressures of balancing work and home can’t go unsaid. I am learning how to set boundaries at home for colleagues to respect my work hours.”
All these thoughts made me think about my recent visit to a hospital and the different stares other patients were giving each other especially the maskless ones. Times have clearly turned; little actions feel big; large ones aren’t taken lightly; everything comes with a residuum of doubt.
Movement is awkward, hesitant. This is our sleepwalking universe of death in the market, ATM or supermarket. It is where imaginary spells dwell and questions linger:
Did that person cough?
Why isn’t she wearing a mask?
That lady is walking too close to people.
Are you my enemy?
Am I yours?
Are you my angel of death?
My voice is theirs. We are cobras coiling through aisles allowing space for the other. Unsure, we stop, eye one another. I turn, that person walks the other direction. Someone in line snaps at the person behind them, “I’m not done. Get back. Some people are impatient!”
Everything has intensified. Every errand is thought through. Is it essential travel?
My new internal software hasn’t reprogrammed my external hardware on how to do this yet.
Sadly, this is us.