Lidigu: Covid-19 far away from home, a pandemic on its own

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A Kenyan journalist who lives and studies in India talks about navigating the Covid-19 pandemic as a foreigner. 

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Nothing compares to the culture shock you experience upon touching down in Udaipur City, Rajasthan State.
  • The sheer number of people, the cacophony of beeping horns and chaos in the streets, and the way the strange and curious sites around every corner bombarded my eyes and sent my thoughts reeling overwhelmed me at first.

In 2017, I came to India for journalism studies. You will be amazed by the number of times Indians have stopped me in the streets of Delhi to inquire whether I have Steve Tikolo’s phone number while others went out of their way offering to settle my restaurant bills.

The legendary batsman is perhaps the most popular Kenyan in this part of the world.

As witnessed when I landed in Mumbai from Nairobi, India's 'normal' life is about a smoggy atmosphere, crowded roads, and pavements, rickshaws honking, hawkers here and there, and splashes of vibrant colour. Many times you will see free-roaming cows on the roadside; a heritage of belief among many Indians in protecting the sanctity of life.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic happened, what I had been dealing with was very manageable. Even though nothing compares to the culture shock you experience upon touching down in Udaipur City, Rajasthan State. The sheer number of people, the cacophony of beeping horns and chaos in the streets, and the way the strange and curious sites around every corner bombarded my eyes and sent my thoughts reeling overwhelmed me at first.

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Leon Lidigu poses with his classmates. 

Photo credit: Courtesy

In the winter, many Indians burn trash to keep warm, I understand the reason behind this and as a result, I am happy to report that I got introduced to frequently wearing a mask when cycling to campus before the invisible enemy showed up.

Speaking of motorcycles, many times on the road a rider ferrying a family of five or seven at most with loads of luggage, a puppy and chicken will pass me by. Those in the state of Rajasthan are the nicest people I've dealt with despite the pandemic putting this to test, but depending on them professionally could be very taxing on your patience. 

Lockdown

As the number of coronavirus cases now at over the one million mark keeps surging, so does the panic and challenges and in fact, the stigma that is attached to it is nothing like I have seen before.

India’s premier Narendra Modi on 24th March 2020 put in place a nationwide lockdown that limited movement of the entire 1.3 billion population as a preventive measure against the pandemic. It took effect after a 14-hour voluntary public curfew on March 22 followed by enforcement of a series of regulations in the affected regions. I was in New Delhi on that day following up on a story then met up with five fellow African students. We needed to get to Sarojini Nagar market, popularly known as the African market of India, the only place around here you will find any African foodstuff and supplies  like kunde, omena, and pumpkin leaves among others thanks to our enterprising Nigerian brothers. At the market, there are usually some nice shops sandwiched in between some not nice ones. They sell luxury items, but the shop was narrow and small. I find it bizarre.

We booked an Uber that wasted no time and upon arrival, it immediately fled when the driver realised we were of different skin colour at a time when the media all over was in a frenzy endlessly blaming foreigners and tourists for spreading the deadly virus. I knew then that life was about to change in drastic ways.

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Follow Leon Lidigu's blog every Monday as he talks about navigating the pandemic in a foreign country.