Washing off 2020 and wishing you a Covid-managed New Year 

Washing hands

Citizens washing their hands in temporally installed taps at Tom Mboya monument in Nairobi in this picture taken on March 23, 2020.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Humility is one profound lesson I have learnt from 2020.
  • I insist we should hold up our heads high and declare, “We are here, and we will carry on.” 

I will be wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year. But I am not quite sure if I should be congratulating you on having successfully completed the now-ended year.

I carefully avoid the term “survived” because it would be too insensitively reminiscent of all the negative challenges of 2020.

But we can have it both ways. I can wish you a bright future while at the same time complimenting you on your fortunate and prudent journey through the past, especially in the wake of such circumstances as we have recently witnessed.

So, first, I congratulate you heartily and share your gratefulness on your having negotiated your little bark through all the rocks and rough, Covid-19 infested waters of the just-ended year. What we have lived through of late should help us to live healthier, happier and better focused lives than we did before, if we can interpret our experiences properly.

Humility, for example, is one profound lesson I have learnt from 2020. You may remember the enthusiasm and optimism with which I ushered in 2020, “prophesying” that it would be a year of double successes, as it was a year of double figures. Now I wonder if I should have held such rosy expectations of an unknown future.

Optimistic, however, I firmly remain. I acknowledge the sudden and shocking losses of kith, kin, friends, colleagues and neighbours. I share the excruciating pain and harrowing terror of those who survived the infection, or even the mere suspicion of having got it.

I lament the indefinite suspension of our children’s education, our dashed job and careers prospects, our ruined investment projects. The shutdowns and lockdowns are all antiphons in our litany of miseries.

That noted, however, I insist we should hold up our heads high and declare, “We are here, and we will carry on.” 

As Rudyard Kipling says, if you can “watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build them up with worn-out tools,” you will be a winner.

I wish, ardently, that I could wish you a Covid-19-free New Year. But we know that that would be wishful thinking. The virus is still very much here and will probably be for some time to come.

So, there are two good things that I realistically wish myself and I can wish you in 2021. The first is the shedding or washing off of the naivetés and self-indulgences of our pre-coronavirus “normal”, and the second is the adoption, as habits, of the simple common sense measures that have helped us to survive this far.

The concept of washing off 2020 came to me from my remote recollections of the koga mwaka practice among some Swahili communities, where the populace ritually cleanse themselves of all the shortcomings of the ending year as they embark on a new one. There are comparable practices in other cultures all over the world.

Daily habits

In our coronavirus-changed new year, I would like us to discard our merry-go-lucky lifestyles of roaming (zururazurura) around our neighbourhoods, cramming ourselves into alcohol-drenched, ill-ventilated, smoke-filled, noise-polluted dens, all in the name of “entertainment”.

While respecting faith and spirituality, we should also wash ourselves clean of the lazy shauri ya Mungu mentality, assuming that everything, including our survival in emergencies, should be left to our Maker, without any input on our part. 

“God, who made you without you, will not save you without you,” warns the African Moor preacher and literary figure, Augustine of Hippo, regarding the necessity of personal effort in our destiny. I personally believe that the starting point of our input into our survival, growth and development is self-information. 

It is surprising how little we strive to seek and process at least some of the main points of the tons of clear, well-researched information about our world and our own lives and health that we have, literally, at the tips of our fingers, or the touch of a button.

This laziness is what makes us fall victim to not only unnecessary ailments but also execrable lies and malicious conspiracy theories. The first truth that we have to learn is that we are our own first and last line of defence of our own health.

The management habits that I am trying to master, and which I would like you to share with me, are patience, economy, trust, hygiene and fitness. The coronavirus and our battle against it have impressed these realities on our minds.

Patience means that our struggle is going to be longer than we expected, and we cannot afford to abandon it now, whatever the odds. The lockdowns and the economic hardships have taught me that I can do without a lot of movement, luxuries and social “occasions”. Making do with bare essentials is a virtue.

The last three habits relate to what the health experts have told us to do, as individuals, in order to cope with our trials. I will, in 2021, heed and follow the advice of health experts, including taking the jab, when it becomes available. 

I will also wear my mask in public, and tell my associates that there is nothing macho about going nose and mouth-naked in potentially infectious situations. It is simply stupid.

Equally relevantly, the medics tell us that an important difference in our responses to exposure to the deadly bugs is the natural ability of our immune system to fight the attacks. Key factors in this fight are healthy nutrition and adequate exercise. 

These are habits that do not involve exorbitant costs. A brisk walk in the sun, a drink of fresh lemonade and a platter of chopped ginger, onion, garlic, avocado and cucumber do not cost an arm and a leg.

The secret is not to wait until you are coughing, sniffling and sneezing, and then panic into these measures. Make them daily habits, starting from yesterday, as I did.

Have a blessed, healthy, joyful and well-managed New Year. 

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature; abubwase@yahoo.com

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