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.
“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!”
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!