What you need to know:
- Now we wish for the noise and the abuses. For, in them, there was a humanity whose absence has turned the environment sterile and deathlike.
- Without the grind of humanity, and the labour of the humble fence trimmers, you go on walks and everywhere you see wildness has taken over the hedges and many a once-well-manicured lawn. Little-used road surfaces are sprouting grass.
- The poll showed Kenyans as overwhelmed, dejected and desperate to have the virus restrictions lifted.
Opinion polls, by their very nature, are transient, capturing only a snapshot of the moment.
The one by Infotrak at the weekend on the torment of Covid-19 in Kenya, captured dramatically in the Nation, was, however, different. It was like a graphic illustration of the pall of gloom that the virus has enveloped the country in.
The poll showed Kenyans as overwhelmed, dejected and desperate to have the virus restrictions lifted “even as the increasing number of coronavirus cases dim hopes of the government lifting”, noted the Nation. It found that 79 per cent said they can no longer remit money to dependants back at home while 67 per cent are unable to pay for utilities like electricity and water.
Further, 74 per cent of Kenyans living in urban areas cannot pay their rent on time and 72 per cent in full. Besides, 75 per cent of Kenyans have defaulted on repayment of formal and informal loans while 67 per cent cannot buy medicine, 54 per cent of the employed admitted to facing financial challenges after their salaries were reduced while 47 per cent suggested that they now depend on food donations.
A whopping 81 per cent are anxious and stressed and 61 per cent lonely as 52 per cent felt helpless, 36 per cent mistreated and 33 per cent angry. The poll found that most Kenyans no longer consume news regarding the Covid-19 pandemic like before, with 78 per cent saying they find it stressful.
This isn’t the way the battle against the Rona was supposed to go.
I remember in the early days of the lockdown in the “leafy suburbs”. Masked, the folks in these neighbourhoods took advantage of the down time to catch up on exercise. The morning and early evening walks and runs were well attended. We were moving with a strong straight posture. This would be over, many thought, and we would all be back in the rat race.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Slowly, the spirit started to break and the walking and running numbers turned into a trickle. There are still a few strugglers but we no longer carry the confident gait of those seeing the sun rise. We walk a little hunched.
Our neighbourhood used to be a cacophony on Sunday, crisscrossed by noisy faithful and children going to some church or the other. If they found you on a walk, the kids would harangue you, asking for Sunday offerings. If you didn’t offer it, they would denounce you as selfish. There would be no rest from a nearby church.
Now we wish for the noise and the abuses. For, in them, there was a humanity whose absence has turned the environment sterile and deathlike.
Without the grind of humanity, and the labour of the humble fence trimmers, you go on walks and everywhere you see wildness has taken over the hedges and many a once-well-manicured lawn. Little-used road surfaces are sprouting grass.
The monkeys, birds and butterflies love it; I have never seen so many of them around. On the upside, nature has had a well-deserved break from us. On the downside, we feel exiled.
I remember, in the early days, the endless memes on social media; of improvised underwear facemasks, homebound men wondering who the nice woman sitting across the dinner table from them was (the wife); and how to deal with pesky children during lockdown.
They were a good laugh. Then they ceased to be funny.
There were technophile visions of a world driven by Zoom. Then it turned sour, and dreary memes of “death by webinar” ensued.
I come from a land that has had its fair share of murderous rule, and it is all familiar.
Survivors of torture chambers will tell you about the agony of waiting to die next. The prisoner in the next cell is dragged away screaming, and never returns. When you hear steps, you wonder if you are next. Your cellmate is taken, and never returns or is thrown back all tortured. When the next security goon stops at your cell, you instinctively go into prayer. You can be brave, but mostly you get into a futile routine to be deferential to the torturers (equivalent of wearing a face mask), hoping they will spare you.
One day, the guards and tormentors don’t come. The dungeon is silent. And they don’t come for days. You begin to slowly starve in your locked cells. You hear gunshots growing louder. One morning, a bunch of ragtag troops arrive. They are the rebels, the new regime. The saviours. The old torturers abandoned the death chambers when the rebels reached the outskirts of the city.
The Covid-19 saviour seems still far away. For many, a mask and hope that they will be among the few still standing when the saviour arrives is all they have to hang on to.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the Wall of Great Africans. @cobbo3