Sunday, 19 April 2020

Pandemic: COVID-19: My Travelling Experience

Aboard Kenya Airways
I remember a time when I could not get enough of disaster movies. Watching the world on the verge of utter destruction, due to an unknown disease or nuclear attack, and watching someone race against time to save humanity gave me quite an adrenaline rush. And never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself playing a role in such a 'movie'.

Except, this is not a goddamn movie! 

Coronavirus is real. It is happening, and lives are perishing before our very eyes.

I remember the moment the fireworks tore the atmosphere, ushering me into the year, 2020. New year. New me. Great decade.

New year. New me. Great decade - yeah right!

I had already mapped out my plans, starting with my travel bucket list - Spain, Italy and Greece, but not in that order. But when an advert popped up showing cheap flying deals to South Africa as I was browsing the internet, I ditched the Europe plans and immediately booked a flight to Johannesburg. You see, it is not very often that I get to travel to Africa for half the usual price for the time of the year. Perhaps I just missed my family. 

Although a part of me believes it was Divine Providence, given all that has happened.

Corona under the microscope
For me, reality first set in during my trip to Johannesburg. I first heard about a virus wreaking havoc in Wuhan back in December. At that time, I did not pay much attention. The sceptic in me thought this was just one of those conspiracy theories or Chinese whispers (see what I did there). We get that a lot, right. So, as far as I was concerned, this so-called virus had nothing to do with me. Nothing at all.

Boy was I wrong.

On March the 5th, eleven days before my departure, the UK reported its first death. On the day I locked my front door to set out for my trip to Africa, coronavirus had just been declared a pandemic. Some countries were already closing their borders to tourists, others screening upon arrival and implementing quarantine measures accordingly.

Tools to fight coronavirus
After checking my temperature for the hundredth time, I packed masks and hand gel, ready to use when I got to the station. When I got there, not a single person in sight was wearing a mask. People went about their business, thronging at the bus stops and strolling the pavements as if news of the virus was fake news. All the while, my boyfriend was texting me, reminding me to wear a mask. Surely, he was just being overprotective if not dramatic. Everyone seemed relaxed, and the thought of wearing a mask made me feel uncomfortable. So, I kept it tucked away in my handbag. 

On the way to the airport
I had learnt, through the media and various literature on the internet, that coronavirus was transmittable through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes. On the coach to the airport, the only four passengers who had boarded instinctively sat seats apart. No one coughed or sneezed during the 45 minutes ride to Heathrow - to everyone's relief! 

Heathrow airport, however, provided a different ambience. The place, usually a hive of activity, was eerily quiet, with the few passengers waiting to board their flights to various destinations donning tight masks and keeping as much distance as they could from the next person. And it was then that the situation became real for me, and I did not need my boyfriend to tell me to wear the mask. 

The mask felt uncomfortable to wear
After I had moved on from my disappointment at the lack of health check somewhere between checking in and boarding, I took a deep breath, whispered a prayer and braced for the twelve-hour journey ahead. 

During transit, the sight of passengers wrapping scarfs around their mouths and noses and donning all kinds of masks, the empty seats between passengers, the lack of casual conversation, the intermittent coronavirus announcements via the intercom and the temperature checks offered a constant reminder that the world was under attack. Who would have thought that the day would come when flight attendants would greet passengers while hiding their smiles behind masks? But it was happening right in front of my eyes. 

I guess you could say I had plenty of legroom
On the way, I managed to capture the sunrise, the beautiful clouds and Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world. 

Click to play video - Mt Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro is also the fourth topographical prominent peak on Earth, and those in the know say that it takes five to eight days at gruelling altitudes to make it to the summit and back. 

And yet, despite, all the beauty and splendour, I was overshadowed by a sense of dread. 

The United Kingdom had just become a hot spot for Corona Virus, and there I was, a frontline NHS nurse making this journey to Africa, a continent not yet crippled by the virus at that time. What if I was carrying the virus to infect my family? What if someone on the flight gave it to me? What was the use of wrecking my brain with worry? If this nasty disease were going to get me, it would no matter what. 

In the end, I resolved to leave everything in God's hands. In times like these, I find that it helps to lean on a higher power. Something to offer you comfort and hope and keep you sane. 

I never feel as though I have truly travelled to Africa if I do not cross the border to Zimbabwe. It is, after all, the land that birthed me. The place where I learnt to walk and talk. The place that made me who I am today. But on this occasion, with all the changes happening due to the virus scare, it was prudent that I remain in one place. I even considered cutting my already short trip short because every day, we woke up to changes, in travel and how we were to live and interact. When the UK announced its border restrictions, I panic set in. I needed to get back home to my daughter. My job also needed me.

Despite my initial misgivings and all the panic, I had a magical time in the bosom of my family. We were all safe and healthy, and I managed to travel back safely. The pandemic, all the adjusting, the uncertainty and caution brought the family together. We were reminded to practise gratitude and to treasure the little moments in life - watching a movie together, playing a game, sharing a joke, cooking and dancing.

For example, I will treasure this bracelet made for me by my two-year-old nephew, whose main goal during my stay was to entertain me and impress me. For me, it is my most prized possession. 

There is something about Africa that makes me want to 

sit on a rock, 
play the African djembe (drum)

the mbira, a musical instrument which is traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe,

strike a conversation with a stranger, a beggar by the roadside, 

or buy a special gift 

If you know, you know
Whenever I go to Africa, my homeland, I love how little things bring back a sense of nostalgia. Things such as a bar of soap or floor polish, and how they can transport me back to my childhood when I learnt not only how to talk to my elders, but also how to do the laundry and polish the floor. The time when I learnt to adapt to my environment and deal with the challenges of life. To me, the days when the world was as it should be.

Because of what Africa taught me – endurance, the spirit of Ubuntu, respecting your elders, hard work, making do with what I have - I can embrace the challenges we face today. And this horrible pandemic that has robbed us of our friends, colleagues and loved ones is a challenge which calls not only for my resilience and dedication to my job but for a positive spirit, strength and perseverance.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad your trip was enjoyable, despite the anxiety you must have felt at the time. I hope you stay healthy through all this as you take care of your patients in the ICU. You and your colleagues are heroes to us all.