2 April 2020 (Day 4 of Lockdown )
There is a heavy presence of law enforcement out in the streets. Honestly, given the nature of this pandemic and the horrific pictures coming from Italy and the rest of the world, proper enforcement of the lockdown may be one of the ways that can save us from an epidemic that could wipe us off the face of the earth. For most of the day the streets are back to being quiet.
5 April 2020 (Day 7 of Lockdown)
Face to face with the homelessness horrors. Today, I went down the street to get some bread and food items. Whilst I was out, I came across a homeless man sleeping on black tattered plastic with an old unzipped satchel that looks like it hasn’t been closed in years. I couldn’t touch him or speak to him. I wasn’t even sure how he would respond but kept wondering how he is surviving during these times, for even the well-wishers who may give him food from their excess or leftovers from restaurants are not even in the CBD during this time, what does he do when the street is being disinfected?
When people ask me whether I am an optimistic or pessimist, I always respond No, I am a realist. Evidence tends to mean more to me than most things,so I struggle with fitting into a narrative of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, for it actually may very well be both. If you are still thinking about that analogy, I will let you be the judge in today’s diary.
The world will never be the same again: the borders are not as welcoming, the airports even more vigilant, no port might ever regain its earlier aura of pleasantness. But that sounds distant to those who have not experienced the wrath of this pandemic and it may even sound far-fetched. But, this epidemic has cost someone their grandfather, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a friend. Sometimes when people speak in numbers the actual gravity of those numbers is lost to epidemiology. Two hundred thousand people lost in the first quarter of 2020 globally to a single unrelenting virus – is a bit much. Some 2.8 million beings infected further boggles one’s mind. How do you explain to a child that in the era of such global connectivity, such technological advancement, that from a handful of cases in Wuhan, Hubei in January that by end of March very few territories remained unaffected by this pandemic? For the first time, the world had one enemy, chapping away at the very core of human existence. For others, the disease felt like it was a cough away from the other person, a handshake, within their one-meter radius. This disease could very well change the way we do life. Will we ever confidently shake someone’s hand again without flinching; will we ever touch wood without consciously thinking that this virus can remain on its surface from up-to-72 hours; will African students still be as eager to attend University in China now having seen their peers being let in the streets for fear they are virus carriers; will the so-called open borders welcoming Chinese products and Asian people continue to be as open? I believe some things have changed, and some paradigms and perspectives will never be the same. When the pandemic started, I wanted to write a paper on Globalization – I actually entitled it “Is Coronavirus the Ultimate Cost of Globalization?” So, I started following updates about the virus.
By this way, the diary is still about our experience in this city. For the first time in my life I am grateful for wide roads. I am grateful for a team of councilors and mayors that decided to start disinfecting the city, I am grateful for the donors that have put together care packages for the not-so fortunate in the city but then again, I didn’t hear a word about the homeless. I wonder what becomes of them in this pandemic.
8 April 2020 (Day 10 of Lockdown)
Today I went to the pharmacy nearby, hoping to restock on some vitamin C and some paineeze. There was a queue of five outside, very few had masks but everyone kept a distance and awaited their turn. Before you enter the pharmacy, a guard offers you some sanitizer, checks your temperature and redirects you to the correct queue – there is queue for those swiping and using cards to buy, another for the prescriptions counter and another for those using cash whether it’s RTGS, USD, or Rand. A pharmacy assistant wearing a mask and gloves collected all the prescriptions for those who needed prescription medication. What caught my eye was the guard – he was there smiling and assisting everyone but, unfortunately, he was not wearing any mask. Out of concern, I asked him why he wasn’t wearing one. For a minute, I thought maybe the masks were beyond his reach because of the price – some are going for USD$3 and have to be changed regularly at best daily. My assumption was that maybe he couldn’t afford one, in which case I could ask the pharmacy owner if he / she didn’t have some discretionary funds to protect their employee or even ask others to make small contributions to help protect a person who is getting in contact with everyone coming into the pharmacy. His response took me aback. He said, still smiling, “I can’t breathe behind a mask, I feel like I am suffocating.” Making sure not to overstep, I politely stated my concerns – if not for fear of contracting the virus – how would you feel if instead you contract COVID-19 and you suffer mild symptoms but your child or wife contracts it and you lose them to this pandemic? For a minute, I saw his face change, as if to say, I had never thought of it that way. This left me wondering, how many people elsewhere feel that the actions they are taking in moving around (perhaps out of necessity) may not affect them; whereas, actually, maybe they feel justified but haven’t taken time to account for the cost and the implications of their actions– not only to the general population but to their loved ones. After that exchange, I left and headed back home. I spent the rest of my day sorting through some books, while in the back of my mind, I could not but help wondering whether my little visit to the pharmacy could have just saved a life—maybe a whole family.
Nomathemba Sibanda is a research fellow at the National University of Science and Technology. She is currently in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs in public health and environmental science. She is based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
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The Teach311 + COVID-19 Collective began in 2011 as a joint project of the Forum for the History of Science in Asia and the Society for the History of Technology Asia Network and is currently expanded in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science(Artifacts, Action, Knowledge) and Nanyang Technological University-Singapore.