It took me days to actually start writing this piece because I just feel like so much has happened and there is so much that I would like to share with my community that I didn’t really know where to start.
I usually have a terrible memory but I have found that since all of this Coronavirus madness started, I have been remembering everything; specifically and poignantly. I thought of telling you all about the exhausting and chaotic four day journey I had to get home, how I was denied entry onto a flight because of last minute policy changes which meant I couldn’t transit through a certain country and of how I was stranded in the German airport. But, I realized that this ordeal suddenly seems irrelevant to the issues I seem to be grappling with now that I am home.
I arrived back home; to Zimbabwe on Thursday the 19th of March. After the journey I had, I felt a huge weight drop when I saw my mom’s face and realized that I was safe and home. When I arrived home from the airport, my brother came running to hug me and it was the most bizarre feeling to stop him and tell him that he couldn’t touch me when I was home. The fact that I had to tell him this actually made me realize that Coronavirus really hadn’t been an issue in Zimbabwe at all. Yes, people knew it existed and that it was spreading but it had not affected anyone’s life yet. This was actually great for me because after an extremely tense journey, I settled into a few days of normalcy. Yes, we took precautions like sanitizing and taking multivitamins but there was no panic whatsoever.
Sadly, things started to change a few days later when the cases around the world, and especially South Africa started to increase. More people started to fly back home and by the 23rd almost all of my university friends had come back home.
But as Zimbabweans, at this point, we did not know what to do because our government had not given us an ounce of information pertaining to COVID-19. We didn’t know if we should be panicking or staying home. Truthfully, I don’t know why I am saying this in the past tense because until now, we, as citizens, still have no idea what is happening in the country. Our government is not issuing any data nor are they conducting any tests so we have no idea how bad the Coronavirus outbreak is in Zimbabwe.
This was one of my biggest worries when I was grappling with the decision to come home. I knew that Zimbabwe does not have the capability to deal with such an outbreak; we have 50 ventilators in the entire country and barely any running water in most parts of the country. My inevitable decision was therefore based on two factors. The first being that I knew I would have been miserable stuck alone in the Netherlands, worrying about my family and friends. The second being that I knew I would feel extremely helpless from the Netherlands when masses of people from my home were suffering. Realistically speaking, there isn’t much I can do while I am here but I have been trying my best to raise social awareness to my fellow Zimbabweans, as well as urging businesses to close for the safety of customers. It has actually been a productive quarantine period for me in this respect, and while I am terrified for what will happen if the virus spreads throughout the country, I have so much hope that everything will be ok. I am not sure where the hope is stemming from because the odds seem so heavily stacked against us, but the hope is there nonetheless.
Our president finally decided to speak up and declare a 21 day quarantine period starting 30 March 2020. This was due to the fact that he could no longer ignore the problem and businesses were closing on their own anyway. Nevertheless, I hope that this helps us to curb the issue before it has spread on a mass scale. However, this solution comes with its own problems. European countries can afford to quarantine for an extended period of time (and they will still have serious repercussions from it). But a country like Zimbabwe, simply does not have the capacity to do so. There are an exponential amount of homeless people, where will they quarantine? The government did not address this issue at all. Additionally, Zimbabweans largely live through an informal economy and live day by day, therefore, close to 80% of the population will not be able to stock up food for even 2 days let alone 21. Employers do not have the means to compensate employees during these days and the government ignored this issue as well.
But what is the alternative? With inefficient hospitals and mass poverty, the alternative to an attempted quarantine is death. Zimbabwe still has an incredibly high HIV rate as well as mass disease outbreaks such as cholera and typhoid. Therefore, if Coronavirus were to reach rural and poorer areas, it is very likely that a huge portion of the population would be wiped out.
I realize, this is an extremely grim entry but sadly it is what has to be dealt with in parts of the world that are very often forgotten.
Since I left, UCR has been a huge support system for me and this situation. I have received insights, help, advice and support from so many faculty members and fellow students and I am extremely grateful for all of it! I urge anyone who may have read this and had some insightful ideas/ thoughts or similar situations to please share them with me.
I hope everyone is safe and doing well and although it is easier said than done, remember to have a few Corona-free hours in your day to stay sane <3