The Storm is On: Life in the age of Coronavirus

 A virus from the city of Wuhan in China has somehow managed to find its way to all corners of the world. You gotta give credit to globalization for this. When Nicholas Tesla told us ages ago that the world would become a global village, he probably meant it on a more positive note. Years later, in 2020, we find ourselves in a global crisis. The novel Coronavirus is ravaging the world like a kite in a stormy weather. It’s putting all the previous pandemics to shame, towering above them like a behemoth.
Had everything been normal, most people in countries around the world be in the middle of Spring reeling from the best that the season has to offer. They’d probably be enjoying flowers bloom across landscapes and savouring the more hours of daylight. All these have now been hampered by necessary lock downs, curfews, restrictions and the stay at home orders in various places. Things get worse each day. They’ll probably be like that for a while.
The whole universe seems to be at a standstill. From the US in the West to Tulavu in the East. From the Arctic in the North to the Cape of Good Hope in the South. As I write this, “India is travelling home”. On 24th March, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a lock down that sent the country with its one billion population into an unexpected frenzy. People have been walking literally from the Capital of New Delhi to their rural homes (miles away) in places like Madras and West Bengal. They can’t access any means of transport because of the lock down. That leaves them with no choice but to trek hundreds of miles. Some journalists have described their mass migrations from the capital as similar to the “Biblical mass exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land.”
My heart goes out to Italy and Spain. These countries with their elderly populace have suffered most from the pandemic. Record figures of the number of deaths keep streaming in from the two countries. It’s painful to watch.  A few days ago, the image of a middle aged man solely attending the funeral of his mother shattered our hearts. It was just him, a priest and his dead mother. My mum shed a tear for him. My father mumbled a prayer for him. I stared at the screen helpless. It is depressing.
The United States, with all its might, is also fumbling its way through COVID-19. A $ 2 trillion dollar economic stimulus package approved by Congress recently might get them out of a looming recession but they still have Donald Trump to contend with. Ratings and stock markets are so dear to that man more than the lives of  the Americans he lead. They just have to deal with him though. He was their electoral choice. As Makau Mutua says “Democracy is sometimes garbage”. Through democracy you can get such sinister leaders. Just like the Third Reich did with Adolf Hitler, the killer of six million Jews.
Here at home in Kenya, we silently know that the worst is yet to come. We are optimistic though. Optimism is a good thing. Hope is not something new around especially now that our country has experienced evils of governance worse than the current pandemic. We are always hoping for better days. Our health system was overstretched way before the virus found its way into the country. If the British NHS is crumbling in the face of this novel virus, how deep will ours sink once we start experiencing surges in the number of positive cases?
Away from how the situation has exposed the governance systems of different countries, there’s an obvious personal toll that it has on everyone in their individual capacities. Just weeks ago, everything seemed so normal and everyone looked so invincible. Or at least they thought. The seismic shift must be felt. At least for a while. Not so long ago, I was bracing myself for a CAT I had not read for. My mind was preoccupied with things like compiling assignments and organizing group meetings. I now look back in retrospect not with amazement but with some serious form of disbelief. Those things now seem so small within the spectrum of this crisis. As I reflect on them, it feels like they happened ages ago now.
With the curfews and the stay at home guidelines in place, more days are spent indoors than ever. Physical isolation is the new normal. It leaves people grappling with what they can do to keep their days lively and anxiety-free.
I have never had a problem isolating myself. But the idea of having the whole family in isolation is new and terrific. Especially now that it will go on for days which appear to be endless. As scary as it is, I have to admit that it has its own fun moments. Before the plague, I couldn’t think of any single time when my father sat still in the house from morning to evening. Now, he buries himself in newspapers and sometimes convene us for boring stories that we have no option but to listen to. There’s nowhere to run to. His sense of humor is straight from the Paleolithic period. So archaic. None of us get his jokes. He makes jokes that don’t make people laugh. Even my mother struggles to catch humor in his jokes after all these years.
When I am not listening to my parents’ unfunny stories, I read the New York Times to get a glimpse of what is going on around the world. I also read the local dailies for some dose of the how the situation is unfolding in the country. The virus has never felt so close home. Somehow, it found its way to Siaya which is neighboring our beloved Kisumu County. Siaya and Kisumu are like twin sisters with, of course, Kisumu being the beautiful twin. It’s probably just a matter of time before a case is confirmed around here.
There is no sign of normalcy returning any soon. We will all just have to find ways to deal with anxiety and to keep our synapses firing. In some recent piece I read from the Times, a clinical psychologist recommends some daily social interactions with friends over social media or calls to help maintain some outside connection to the world. This works. I’ve tested it. I do get occasional calls and text messages from a few friends and family members. We chat over days past and tell plans of the future, in case we survive. 
David Perell, one of my best philosophers ever, has this to say about friends “Trusted friends magnify the shine of life. In turbulent times, they smoothen the ride. And in moments of joy an ecstasy, they make the world a richer and more saturated place. In that way, friends are like a trampoline. They soften the fall, so we jump like a Marvel Superhero.” We’ll all need those friends during this crisis. For the connection and to know that we are in this together. (Are you getting me loud over there at the back Michael Kutu?)
Yesternight, I fell asleep reading the book of Nehemiah. Then I woke up today at 3 am to finish it. A day before that I had been on phone with Josh asking him what 12 year old kids like him are doing while staying at home. Well, it turns out that young Josh is the kid who is taking time to read Bible stories. In the course of our small Bible chat he told me that Nehemiah is his hero. I asked him why because ordinarily you would expect a little boy like him to be a huge fan of King David.  He refused to tell me why. He told me to read the Book of Nehemiah for myself. Kids of these days got plenty of guts. I couldn’t argue. After all, I got free days like never before. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any harm improving my Bible knowledge.
So I read the book of Nehemiah. I didn’t even know that it was the last of the Historical Books in the Bible. Nehemiah’s father was called Hacaliah (If you knew this, raise your hands in my inbox).  As I turned the chapters, I realized that the guy is one of the underrated heroes in the Bible. During his time, a king lived called King Artaxerxes I Longimanus. That sounds like the name of someone who can be hired to be an Arsenal manager. Like all kings in the Bible, Artaxerxes was a very powerful man. So powerful that Nehemiah himself was his cup bearer. I googled what that meant and found that it was a position of very high rank in the past. For one to have been a cup bearer during those ancient times, he must have been very trustworthy. His primary duty was to serve drinks at the royal table.
As I read the words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, I learnt that he got so much heartbroken on hearing from his brother Hanani that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire. These are the kind of things that broke the hearts of men in the Bible. Nehemiah is probably turning in his grave because of the things that break the hearts of men in this era. Reading on, I saw how Nehemiah asked for the King’s permission to go and rebuild the walls. That must have taken some courage considering how kings were powerful during that time. Actually they still are. (Oooh and now that we’re talking of kings. The King of Thailand is currently self-isolating with some 600 concubines at a hotel in Germany).
Rebuilding the walls was not easy for Nehemiah. He met some fierce opposition from people with names like Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. Nehemiah must have seen it all. As strong as the opposition was and as terrific as the names of the opposers were, he somehow managed to “stop their reggae.” He gave an arousing speech to the Jews on how the Hand of God was upon him till he somehow managed to convince them to rebuild the walls within 52 days.  As I progressed my reading, I reached a point where Ezra and Nehemiah became the dynamic duo and started reestablishing religious order in Jerusalem. They cast out all the foreign influences and purified the city as they awaited the return of the Jews from exile.
Later on as I talked to Josh again, I asked him the same question. Why Nehemiah? I still wondered why the little boy admired a King’s cup bearer. Besides, I wondered how he was able to understand the message in the book. The language gave me a rough time.  It turns out he has a Children’s Bible with simple language and clear illustrations and drawings. It appears that he also watched a pastor on television recently urging Kenyans to take their cares to God in prayer especially during this time of Coronavirus. The pastor categorically said that God will answer your prayers like he did those of Nehemiah.  I still wasn’t convinced by his reason but just decided to let the matter rest. Well, that’s quarantine life. It shows you things. Josh’s hero is Nehemiah. Lovely indeed. All hail the King’s cup bearer.
Coronavirus will go away soon. With guys like Dr. Anthony Fauci working on a vaccine, all we can do is HOPE. But for now, take the health directives seriously.
When it all ends, let’s convene here and sing ‘The Storm’s Over by R. Kelly’ (It’s too bad R. Kelly is facing a possible a life sentence of 104 years for sexually assaulting a minor)
Stay safe people. Good luck and Godspeed. To all of us.

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