Sunday 7th March 2021
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It was a Year! by Mfoniso Antia

Her soft palm touched my shoulder. I turned, only to be greeted by tons of questions. “Mummy, why do you always sigh and shake your head whenever someone mentions the year 2020? What really happened that year? It couldn’t have been a totally bad year. Or was it? Tell us today; we really want to know, my 10 years old daughter continued as she signalled for her 9 years old brother to come closer. Apparently, unknown to me, both of them have noticed my reaction whenever something reminded me of the year after 2019.

2020
2020

Every effort to postpone the discussion to the future was abortive. In a few minutes, I ran out of excuses, so I made up my mind to take my children through the dreadful journey of that year.

“Sit down here both of you,” I beckoned them. “This tale is a long one.” I sat down myself as I began the journey back into 2020. Flashes of events began to flood my head as I shared. It felt at some point like reliving the year all over.

My dear children, like every other year, that year began at the end of the last day of the previous year. With mixed feelings. To some, there were a few regrets and unfinished plans. To others, it was a year well spent as they were able to mark ‘accomplished’ on all the plans for the year. One thing was common to everyone however; a hope for a better new year. It was that hope that drove people to set new goals, plan for exotic trips across the world, make resolutions (I chuckled as I remembered), strategise on career shifts. Some made beautiful plans to have a talk-of-the-town wedding. The hope was so strong that even those who never visited a worship place throughout the year, made out time to do so on crossover night. Oh, how that year made true the saying that for man it is to propose and for God it is to dispose.

At has been our culture, myself, your aunties, uncles, grandparents and other family members gathered on crossover night in my village to sing praises to God for keeping us while placing our requests and plans for the next year before Him. Your grandpa would usually insist that everyone came home for family crossover vigil. Many times, we had to beg him to move the family vigil to some other time as we all wanted to be in our different parishes for service, but he wouldn’t bulge. As I grew, I began to appreciate his methods and desire to knit the family together at that time.

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It was 00:00hrs when the village church bell rang. With so much joy, sense of purpose and hope, we all shouted ‘’Happy new yearrrrrrr.’ It was left to be said whether or not the new year was really going to be a happy one. My kids adjusted in their chairs as they knew from my tone that I was about to get into the main story.

I gave off a little smile as I continued.

Somewhere around November 2019, we heard of an outbreak of an unknown illness abroad. “Arrrhh, well, whatever that sickness is, it won’t come to us here,” many Nigerians declared. Oh, how wrong we were.

You see, my children, even though there are national and continental boundaries and some criteria one must meet before crossing those boundaries, I have come to know that there are certain things that do not need the permission or clearance from immigration officials to cross the borders.

We all went about our businesses and endeavours as usual in the first and second month of the year as the news of the disease which had turned into an epidemic in China spread. By mid-February, the disease had started leaving China to other countries, killing people in their numbers. Bans were imposed on international travels to curb the spread. The poor and average Nigerians thought to themselves: “well, it is a good thing that we don’t have enough money to fly in the sky or travel to luxury places.” – It appeared that only the people in the upper social class stood the chance of being exposed to the virus which was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation.

They were wrong! Wrong to think that COVID-19 respected the poor. At the time international travels were banned, there were already carriers of the disease in the country. The worst part was that, these ones didn’t show symptoms until it was late. Today, you will learn a new word my dear children. Those people who didn’t show symptoms although they were infected were said to be asymptomatic. “Mummy wait,” my boy said to me. Let me spell that. A-S-Y-M-P-T-O-M-A-T-I-C. Correct! I echoed. He beamed a smile that gave off a sense of fulfilment.

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“In a few weeks,” I continued. “We started recording deaths in the country. The disease spread so wildly, even the countries with good health care system were brought to their knees. People died in hundreds of thousands around the world”.

You remember that woman, Mama Idara from the market? I asked them. Both nodded in the affirmative. Mama Idara is a peasant. She lived in the North and farmed wheat, millet and maize which she sold to make ends meet for her family. No one believed that the disease could get to people in her class. Unfortunately, it did. The disease took the lives of her husband, who was also a farmer and their three children who were in their 20s. She was so devastated that she moved back to her village the moment the ban on interstate road travels was lifted. She wasn’t always this sad and angry. She used to be a very active, happy and easy-going woman. The disease ravaged her home and left her with the sadness you now see.

People were forced to wear masks in the streets, and it got to a point in that year when we were banned from leaving our houses. Ahhhhhhh! Both kids exclaimed. Mummy, how did you cope with staying indoors all day? What about food? How did the market women survive? Mummy, how about daily paid workers and beggars? Who fed them? The questions kept coming as they wondered how the poorest of the poor survived during a total lockdown.

My dear children, it was very difficult for them. A few good-willed people tried to help here and there but it just wasn’t enough. Some hospitals were totally shut as they were afraid of the spread, while others were shut against people who had other diseases as their wards were filled with patients who contacted COVID-19. People with other sicknesses died for inability to access health care during that time.

It was hard for a lot of people, but it was hardest on the poor and vulnerable. There used to be a man on my street then with his daughter. Both were daily workers who provided services to marketers. When the lockdown was suspended, I saw the daughter and asked about her dad. “Papa died”, she said to me, sadness evident in her tone. They said he got the disease from a rich man who gave him money after he helped do a job.

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“Mummy,” my older child called. This is such a sad story. I really feel sad that the poor people felt the impact of the pandemic more. This just sounds like the lessons we learnt about Climate Change in our Environmental Club, how the poor and vulnerable countries are suffering from the impacts of climate change caused by the outmoded fossil fuel energy system. “Exactly, my dear,” I responded. It is an unbalanced world we live in. The rich get away with their actions while the poor suffer and bear the brunt.

So, mummy, how was the disease defeated? What did the government do to drive it away and keep people safe? Both asked with eyes wide in curiosity. Well my dear children, there was hardly so much our government did. There were reports of some funds and food stuff given to people by the government as palliatives here and there, but that was mostly in the papers.

There were daily updates on the pandemic from the Centre for Disease Control. It was a tale of how many people got infected and how many died on a daily basis. It was terrible. Horrible. With time, doctors became better with managing patients with the disease, and this reduced the number of deaths. People became more conscious of their health and boosted their immune system which helped protect and prevent more people from contacting the virus.

Wow, mummy. So, in 2020, while the world was faced with the challenge of how to mitigate the impact of climate change, it was hit by this deadly disease? I answered in the affirmative.

It was indeed a year! The exclaimed as they turned and looked at each other.

Yes, it was. It was a year that we learnt very important lessons as individuals and as a people. It was a year we appreciated the importance of relationships and of government systems that put the welfare of its citizens first. It was a year we won’t forget in a hurry.

Both kids fell into my arms. In a tight, warm embrace.

A passionate environmental scientist and researcher, Ms. Antia is a Project Lead with the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

“It was a Year!” is extracted from “A Walk in a Curfew and other Pandemic Tales”, a 2020 publication of HOMEF

Readers can download the full eBook at www.homef.org

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