The Year of the Corona part 1

Gather around children I tell you a story.

The year was 2020. It started off on a very high note. The beginning of a new decade. “Twendi-twendi” we called it. The entire world was upbeat and the new year celebrations were up several notches compared to previous years.

As we celebrated, we were oblivious to the strange happenings in a Chinese city called Wuhan. You see, on New Year’s eve, the Chinese authorities reported a mysterious disease that started in some wet market in Wuhan.

“What’s a wet market?”

My dear, I cannot remember what exactly it is but the place probably rains a lot. What I know is that they sold all sorts of animals there. You find an animal you’d like to use to try out a new recipe, you point at it. They slaughter it live-live, put it in a bag and you take it home to cook as you wish. It could be a dog, a snake, bats or even rats.

“Ewwww…a snake?”

“But Grandma, rats are ok to eat, aren’t they? Mama cooked some last week. They were delish!”

My dear children, back then we did not eat rats. Some guy started telling people to eat them instead of starving and we ran him out of town! How could he? Just because he was rich and could afford edible meats was no reason to condemn others to eat rats! The nerve of him!

Now where was I?

“You were telling us about the wet market.”

Oh yes! They were strange, the Chinese people. Still are…Do you know they called 2020 the Year of the Rat? Imagine that! A rat? I still cannot see anything good about rats! Tell your mama to have none of that stuff in the house when I come to visit!

Rats and bats and snakes were getting cut up and served on dinner tables in Wuhan while we continued with party after party oblivious of the storm that was coming our way. Many of us had never heard of Wuhan anyway. So January came and went.

“Grandma, did you celebrate your birthday that year?”

You clever boy! You remembered Shosh’s birthday is in January! Yes, we had a great party! In fact, I remember it was your mum who organized it. It was a surprise. Even your great-grandma was there.

“Shosh, you said party after party. How many parties did you have?” 

Oh! It was just the one. But there was a song that some guy sang and it became a hit after the governor was arrested partying and dancing to it when he should have been hiding. Will you let me finish the story?

By the beginning of February, we were hearing more and more about Corona and COVID-19. But it was still far off in China and we thought there was no way it would get to us. We heard they closed off the city of Wuhan and were using robots to deliver food to people in their houses. They had also built a large hospital in just ten days where the corona virus patients were being treated! The Chinese people maybe strange but they are also very clever! Did you know they are the ones that build the railway line that runs from Mombasa to Kampala? And that road to Thika. And the one that loops over Westlands. Oh! I think they built all the major roads you see today. The sad thing is that we are still paying for those roads. You will pay for those roads. As will your children. And their children…

Anyway, I’ll tell you something else. Even back then in 2020, Kenyans had travelled and lived all over the world. It was therefore not a surprise to learn there were Kenyans living in Wuhan. Maybe they are the ones who taught your mama to cook those damn rats! We heard they were locked up there and were begging to be allowed to come back home. We prayed and prayed for them and begged the government to bring them home. And home they came! Not just from Wuhan but from other countries too. You see, that’s why I always tell you home is best. Wherever you go, always remember home is where your Shosh is!

“Shosh, I will always come to visit you!”

“Me too!”

I know. I know. Just don’t go to Wuhan. They might lock you up in your small apartment and then we can only communicate on those gadgets of yours!

Anyway, because people were still travelling from one country to another, Corona travelled with them. Many countries started reporting increasing COVID-19 cases. Some countries were overwhelmed and the hospitals could not cope. Corona was declared an emergency of international concern on 30 January and soon it was being called a pandemic, which meant it had spread all over the world. On 13 March, the first case was confirmed here in Kenya. It was a young lady who had come from the USA.

“Where cousin Ava lives?”

Yes. That’s the one. Two days later, they were three, then seven, then fifteen cases. The numbers kept rising each day and by April Fool’s day, which no-one remembered to fool about, there were 81 cases! Three people had also died from the disease. It was a somber time. Everyone was scared. You didn’t know who had the disease and who did not. We were told anybody could gerrit!

“Shosh, last year on April Fool’s day when Ava came to visit, she froze my phone with a spooky screen that really freaked me out!”  

I remember. It is because you are always staring at that thing. It is not good for your eyes. If you don’t want to have my kind of eyes when you are still young, you need stop looking at it all the time.

Back to the year of the Corona, we were told to wash our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus. People had to be taught all over again how to cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing. Touching the eyes, the nose, or mouth was a sure way to get the virus. This was very hard for many people who like to pick their nose or cut their finger nails using their teeth. But the worst was yet to come.

Soon, we were using terms such as social distancing to avoid close contact with other people. You couldn’t hug people or shake their hands. In the supermarket, tapes were used to mark out where a shopper could stand and only a limited number of shoppers were allowed at any given time. Going anywhere was discouraged and people were to stay home as much as possible. People started buying things in bulk to keep for themselves. There was a shortage of tissues and sanitizers!

“Tissues? How come?”

I have no idea. Maybe they thought since they would be home most of the time, they would overeat and need to use the toilet more often!


Then came the curfews and lockdowns. Everyone had to be home by 5pm! Only essential service providers were exempt. And before you ask who those are, your Shosh was not one of them. I stayed home. To flatten the Corona virus curve even as my tummy curve elevated. For more than two months, I could not visit your great-grandma in the village. She was all alone and very sad. And scared. We all were.

Did I tell you schools were closed indefinitely? Oh yes! Children stayed at home for almost one year. I remember your aunt was in her final year of high school. No-one knew when they would ever go back and sit for the final exam. The guy in charge of the education ministry kept changing his mind as the Covid-19 cases increased. Some time in August that year, there was hope as the cases started to decline. He said schools could open in September. Then boom! They started rising again. And he said maybe January the following year, then October, then January again! It was all so confusing. Some students started misbehaving because they were bored and had nothing to do. Some got babies.

“They got married?”

“You are funny. You don’t have to get married to have a baby. Shosh, tell him!”

That’s it! I’ll finish the Corona story another day. You mama comes tomorrow to pick you up. Remember to ask her about when is the right time to have a baby. For now, you need to get ready for bed. Go on to the bathroom and brush your teeth. Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, do not touch your face ovyo-ovyo and for goodness’ sake, cough into the crook of your elbow!



Five Years Gone

Five years ago today, the man I called baba bowed out of this life. He had a heart problem – an enlarged heart, the doctors said. There wasn’t much that could be done for him – it was left too late. But five years ago, we, his family, didn’t know that. Or maybe we knew but still thought the vibrant man we saw could weather any breathing problems, heart palpitations, fluid retention – all classic symptoms that had him admitted in hospital just four months before his demise. Baba never complained. Never said he was feeling unwell. A month or so earlier, he had come for a checkup with his doctor, himself deceased now thanks to Corona. I met him at the doctor’s. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. He made his usual jokes. I drove him home – it was late in the evening and it was threatening to rain. Nothing in that interaction told me it was the last time I would see baba.

Monday 15th February 2016. 7.30am. I receive a call just as I am parking my car in the office basement. It is my brother Dave. He seems to be laughing and I cannot understand a word he is saying. I am walking towards the lift when I finally get the message. He is crying hysterically. Something about baba. We must go home…immediately. Two colleagues get in the lift with me. I look confused and maybe I tell them what I just heard. One takes my phone and calls my husband, as he settles me at a desk. I am in a daze. Soon we are driving off, first to pick my sister and then head home. Home, where baba’s lifeless body is still lying on his bed. He is still warm. I have never been that close to death. He doesn’t look dead. He is just asleep. And I finally have my moment of hysterical grief.

Five years it has taken to recount the events of that day. They say grief comes in waves, sometimes out of nowhere. Yesterday my sister shared a picture of her four year old son. He was born in 2016 – 7 months after baba left us. He is named after his grandpa. A man he never met. Someone commented how much he is turning out like his senior namesake. That gutted me. But I now have the courage to remember the man that was the pillar of not only our immediate family, but the extended family too. I may not put it as well as my brother did in this tribute but Mukabi is a name I am proud to be associated. A legacy from baba.

Life has taken its twists and turns for the past five years. Faced with some challenges, I sometimes wish he was around to offer some sound advice. Baba was a man of few words. But you didn’t forget what he said. He would say it and the next minute when you are looking for some clarification, he is nowhere to be found – you could say he was a master at the naenda hivi na-come lingual! Which sometimes made him stubborn as a mule. Once baba was convinced of something, hell could freeze over before he could change his mind.

The reason the heart problem was left too late was because of this stubbornness. At least ten years earlier, a doctor in a major hospital had suggested surgery to implant a pacemaker. Baba was in hospital then for a totally different problem – knee replacement. His few days in hospital had left him feeling too confined, and the fact that he was leaving hospital using crutches only made him more agitated. The doctor’s recommendation to follow up with a heart checkup therefore made baba fly off the handle and convinced that the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about for there was no way his heart was going to be opened up! Bringing up that subject later would only invite a naenda hivi na-come moment. I am just grateful for the ten years we got with baba after that diagnosis. He lived life to the fullest and any discomfort he might have felt was hidden well or explained away.

I have no doubt that baba loved his family and people in general. Like many men of his generation, he didn’t say it in words but his actions did. The closest I came to see baba cry was when my brother and I were being prepped for surgery, one to give a life-saving organ to the other. He later commented that not knowing whether both of us would make it out alive was the most excruciatingly painful experience he had to live through. For a man who feared hospitals enough to live with a heart problem rather than go through a surgical procedure, I can only imagine how that was like.

It’s five years today. Another Monday. I wish I could call baba and hear some joke. An off-the-cuff remark that will take me an hour to stew over. I miss his silent wisdom…I miss Mr Mukabi.

…to be continued (maybe)…

All The Time After That

I am thinking retirement…all the time after the eight to five. All the time after building the business empire. All the time after the children have flown off the nest. All that time…

Some things come to us at just the right moment. Maybe it is a sign I have ignored for a while. I still don’t know what to do with it but I’ll be watching it closely.

Meanwhile, read on about my thoughts about “All The Time After That”, as presented at a Toastmasters yesterday evening.