Sitting The Coronavirus Out In South Africa: Aanu’s Abroad Life

April 24, 2020

The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.

Imagine starting a new chapter of your life away from all the friends and family you know and grew up with. Now imagine four months into that, a deadly pandemic hits, with largely yourself to rely on to weather it out. 

On Abroad Life, Aanu talks about school life in South Africa and weathering the coronavirus out, one pot of jollof rice at a time.

Because I’m overly dramatic, let’s swap war stories. When was the last time you went out during the lockdown and how differently was it from  the usual scenario you’re used to?

That was I think … three Fridays ago? So April 3rd. I went grocery shopping. Now, before the virus hit, Saturdays, weekends were grocery days, especially where there are free bus services from hostels to Rosebank Mall, this popular mall in South Africa. You can imagine how busy it usually gets.

The last time though, there were shoppers in masks, the security guards only permitted five people at a time to enter the mall, there was social distancing. You had to sanitise your hands before entering, you had to sanitise the trolley handlebars too. It was a lot.

I see. Mine was three weeks ago as well. I may have cracked the side of my curtain open three weeks ago to get a peek outside. It’s not me Corona will catch with its side-eyes. 

Anyway, how come you’re living in South Africa and not getting room temperature amala delivered to your doorstep like the rest of us in Nigeria?

Well, I came here in January 2020 for school. I’m getting my Masters in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Witswatersand, South Africa.

Also, amala is unnecessary. I’d ban it.

Sacrilege!

Anyway, I’m dying to talk about anything but the coronavirus. So please tell us the fascinating process involved in getting into journalism school in South Africa.

The process started in, I want to say June last year. I was still freelancing for CNN….

Ayyy. Okay Mr. Big Shot Journalist

Ugh. Ignoring you. So someone sent a scholarship opportunity to me and told me my name was pretty much written on it. The scholarship was courtesy the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. I decided to apply in the first week of July. After the scholarship interview, I had to apply to the school proper. Hm. That was where problem started.

Uh-oh

So if you’re coming to South Africa with a foreign degree, a body called the South African Qualifications Authority has to grade your degree to determine where it falls in the South African grading system.

Wait wait. A body grades your final university grade before you can study in South Africa. Can somebody please @ASUU in this chat?

Exactly! And you have to be very patient with these people, if you’re from  Nigerian University, good luck. So SAQA sent an email to my alma-matter, OAU, asking for confirmation that I actually went there. 

It took OAU two days to reply, only to say that I needed to pay money to get the confirmation that I schooled there. I paid that money within like ten minutes of getting the email. Tell me why it took OAU one month to finally send the result, and why it was a wrong result they finally sent after all the stress?

Wow. There’s drama, suspense, some university betrayal. I love this story!

Anyway, the whole process was completed in December. Let’s just pretend it didn’t take almost three months to get it over and done with.

Hmm. E be tins. So, I know you’ve only been there 4 months, but what were your first impressions of South Africa?

Funny you should ask, because my first impressions of South Africa were formed within my first few hours after landing.

Spill!

So I landed in South Africa at 1:25 AM because ASKY, the airline my travel agent advised me to take, had a stop over at Douala, Cameroun. We were on the tarmac for like 45 minutes. Anyway, all that didn’t matter because when I did land at South Africa, someone was waiting for me with a big sign that had my name on it! It was my travel agent’s husband. No one ever comes to pick me at the airport, I liked it you know!

Aww. A little South African rom-com

Haha. So it was morning, I had just gotten off a long flight. All I wanted to do was get to my student accommodation and sleep. Only thing is, the security guard at the hostel wasn’t having it. According to him, the person that held the keys to my room was asleep and I’d have to stay over at the common room until 8 the next day when he’d be awake. This guy refused to budge!

No way!

Yes oh. Thankfully, my travel agent’s husband has a big heart. He let me into his home to spend the night and I was on my way the next day. So my first impression was, here is an asshole in front of me, making things hard when they really don’t need to be and then there’s this stranger. Kind to me when he didn’t have to. 

I knew South Africa was going to be a mix of things.

Hmm. Got it, glad that turned out okay.

But now you’ve lived there for a bit, what are some of the things you’ve loved about life in South Africa? 

You know, I have to say the school life.

*Speak like your mom’s listening*

No really! Anyone that schooled in Nigeria needs to study abroad so you’ll know they’re teaching dust here. Now I might be speaking from a place of privilege, because my school is a top 200 school globally. But it just goes to show, what counts as an elite school in Nigeria? Covenant?

*Hands on head emoji*

When you get here, there are no pedestals for lecturers. A lot of my professors are over 60. People that have done journalism longer than I’ve been alive. There’s a woman in her 70s, she’s been active for like 50 years and we call her by her first name. There is no ‘lecturer is coming, let me scramble to carry their books’. Zero eye-service nonsense. Most of our classes are informal, we just discuss. There is a lot of back and forth and less dictating. There’s order as well. You get emailed your class schedule.

I’m listening to this and it’s so basic, but so unattainable over here 

Like! It’s basic, but we don’t have it. And no shade to SA, But like, if SA can get it right, why can’t we?

Big talk!

Oh, I forgot another first impression I got here. They smoke like crazy. Lunch breaks, no lunch breaks, they are puffing. It was a little jarring to me as a non-smoker

Again *speak like your mom’s watching*

So before the coronavirus came and ruined things, how did you see the South African night life?

See, this corona fucked me over! I spent my first few weeks here laying low. By the third week in February, I had a list of places I wanted to go to. I linked up with my friend who had been here five years, joined the lists and started knocking them off one by one. I had like 12 spots to go to. And those were just bars and restaurants, not even counting the museums or other places to sightsee. I hit like three spots, and that was it. Corona really got me. But from the little I’ve seen, the South African night life is dope!

Got it, since we’re already on coronavirus. When Covid-19 first started making rounds, did you think it would get this serious?

So there are two parts to this answer. I started following updates earlier than most people because my whole life is news apps notifications. By January, I was closely following it, but I’ll be honest I thought it was someone else’s problem. When they locked down Wuhan, I was thinking why would they lock people inside? This could never work in New York.

Hardy har har

When it started affecting Nigeria with oil prices in February, I was in South Africa, I knew it was serious. By the first week in March, I had stopped all unnecessary contact. I still went for a date sha. 

See your love-life on the streets!

Dey there. By mid-March, South Africa already had its first case. One minute you’re chilling, the next, your school is sending emails that it is going on an early recess and everyone has to go home, except the international students.

We only resumed classes online this week.

Crazy. And how has the government reacted so far?

I don’t know about every other aspect of his governance, but President Cyril has been so effective in handling the coronavirus. He communicates clearly, his office communicates clearly. This guy isn’t hiding behind any twitter threads. 

He has held maybe 5,6 live addresses. You also know when he will speak to you. The last address, they told us days before, and this is the order things take. You always know what to expect.

*SSAs to the Nigerian government have left the chat*

Yeah, he just announced that we’ll be leaving lockdown in 5 stages and the processes for each are so clearly outlined, it’s ridiculous!

God whenst and under whomst?

That said, how’s lockdown treating you?

Hmm. Well obviously, I’m lonely and worried about my friends and family in Nigeria. I toyed with the idea of returning to Nigeria when the virus hit, but then I thought about my health in the hands of the Nigerian or the South African care system and decided to take my chances.

These shots you are firing today sha…

Only facts. One thing about this lockdown though, I’ve learnt that I can actually cook. Before,  I couldn’t take onions. Now, I can’t even eat noodles without green peppers, and onions. I’ve gone from spending like ten minutes cooking noodles, to one hour.

I cooked my first jollof rice. My friend in Lagos was teaching me over the phone, I’m now a jollof rice guru. I’ve also been watching a lot of Sisi Yemmie. So it isn’t all bad.

Yay to silver linings. At least food is keeping you occupied

Well, there’s that and my job. As part of my scholarship, I’ve been working with this paper called Mail and Guardian. I have a one-month contract to be a staff writer, so I have been busy as hell if I’m being honest.

Got it! So what’s the plan after the lockdown is lifted and your Masters is done and dusted? 

You know, if you had asked me this when I first landed South Africa, I’d have told you how I plan to return to Nigeria. That answer doesn’t apply anymore! Nigeria is in my rearview mirror, good day, good bye!

Wow, wow. What a betrayed!

Yeah, now I’m looking for opportunities for a post-brexit UK or something in Australia. But Nigeria? No, God forbid. (His literal words)

Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.

Boyin Plumptre

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