Lockdown Diary is a limited Zikoko series that highlights the lives and experiences of Nigerians (and Africans) currently self-isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The subject of today’s Lockdown Diary is a school teacher whose neighbour tested positive for COVID-19, thereby putting the whole apartment at risk.
Tuesday, 24th of March, 2020
I teach at the secondary wing of a primary and secondary school in Lagos. Everyday, I wake up as early as 5:30am. I do my ablution and say my prayers, get the kids ready, cook their breakfast all before 7am when we leave for school. I have two children. The first one is 4 years old, and the second is 14 months old. I drop the little one at creche and take the first one with me to the primary wing of my school where he is a student. By 4:30pm, the school closes and I return home with my children.
Today though, I do not do all of that. The school I work in has shut down its doors because of COVID-19, and all teachers and students have to stay at home. When I wake up today, I feel a sense of relief. Relief that I don’t have to do my daily routine, and the relief that my children are safe.
When news of the virus became confirmed in Nigeria, my first instinct was to worry. When you are a mother with two young children and a horde of other children to teach, your default reaction to difficult situations is almost always to worry. What comes next is that you try to fathom a solution, no matter how temporary, to the problem at hand.
At the school, the solution we adopted was to take precautions and conduct orientation for the students. We bought more hand wash and monitor the kids to wash their hands every hour. We ensured that they sat apart from each other as possible. We told them to sneeze into their elbows, to not touch their faces with bare hands. We turned back sick students; even an illness as small as a headache was turned back at the gate. But all this was not enough. The government gave directives for schools to shut down, and the school director had no other option but to adhere. We were paid our salaries for the month and told to stay at home.
It is why I am at home today, waking up late and feeling a sense of relief that my children are safe.
Thursday, 2nd of April, 2020.
Staying at home is good. There is no rush again. And it is a great bonding experience for the entire family. My husband works with schools on the Island between Tuesdays to Saturdays. He is only free on Mondays and Sundays. He coaches Scrabble as an extra-curricular activity in some schools. It is more or less a contract job. He has two schools he works directly for, and he also works through some other consultant for some other big schools. So they pay him on a weekly basis and according to the number of hours he works for.
But now that schools have shut down and salaries are not forthcoming, my husband and I are practically jobless. Still, we don’t bother so much. There is love and there is laughter, and even though these things do not fill the belly, they go a long way to keep the family together. I do not allow myself to worry about what will happen if things continue for long. I allow myself to seize the day.
In this condition, worry is almost inevitable. There are news of robberies in Lagos and Ogun state. Everyday, updates from NCDC show a continuous rise in the number of infected victims. The government does not seem to have a clue on what is next. Everything looks like it is arranged to upset you. And this is why I make a conscious choice not to worry. I simply focus on getting through the day.
Wednesday, 15th of April, 2020.
We hear the sounds around 11pm. Loud banging against surfaces, loud noise. People outside are trying to get our attention. We soon find out why: there is a robbery going on in the street next to ours, and the people affected are the occupants of the house that links to our streets. I have evaded worry long enough. This time, fear jumps into my heart and takes a seat.
People are shouting. “Off your generator! Lock up, lock up. Lock your doors!” I know what to do, and then I don’t. I run into the room. I run out again. I grab a long hijab and jeans trousers and put them on in a hurry. I check on the children; they are fast asleep. My husband puts off the generator, locks everywhere and returns to the sofa to continue pressing his phone. I cannot believe that he is doing that. The whole area is panicking and he is calm enough to sit and press his phone?
Soon, the gunshots fill the air. I start to mutter prayers. We leave the sitting room and join the children in the bedroom. I sit close to them and continue to pray. I realise that I am shivering, but I am unable to stop myself. Later, we hear that the gunshots are from the area vigilante who are trying to scare the robbers. It is too late though; the robbers are done with their business and have long disappeared.
When I get the confirmation that we are now safe, I turn to my husband. I am angry. How can he be cool in the face of what happened? He laughs.
Thursday, 16th of April, 2020.
We are all still shaken from yesterday’s incident, but we are holding up well. Today, my husband starts to make jest of me. I laugh. Laughter is easy now. Finally, he admits that he was scared too.
“So your calmness was just fronting?” I ask and start to laugh at him.
One of our neighbour tells us that she fell down on her way to the kitchen door, the only door left for them to lock in their flat.
Now that we have seen that nobody is really safe, the entire street starts to make arrangements on how to secure our area. The price to pay for an external vigilante is too high; our salaries have taken a hit and we cannot afford to cut them further. We decide then that residents of each houses will take on vigilante duty. Some people drop money for whistles, torchlights and other things they consider essential to the business of being a watchman.
Nights after that and our men would step out to guard the street. Torchlight in hand, whistles to let everyone know that there are people on guard. We know it is not entirely effective, but little efforts are better than nothing. Night after night, I pray for safety. The night my husband joins them, I stay up, unable to fall asleep.
Monday, 20th of April, 2020.
Today, the NCDC officials visit our house. One of our neighbours tested positive for COVID-19 and suddenly all of us are to be placed under watch.
This neighbour lives in the flat next to ours. He is a father of two, an easy going man. Because of his health issues, he travels occasionally for surgery. This time though, no one knew when he left. The pandemic and the robbery incident are enough to make us not notice his absence. When we eventually asked his wife, she informed us that he went for another surgery. On his return, he immediately went for a COVID-19 test as a responsible citizen that he is. When the results came back, our man tested positive.
I peep from the window to watch the whole drama. The NCDC officials request to meet with him and his wife and the neighbours as well. My husband goes out. They all look calm, the NCDC officials. From time to time, they smile. I am not deceived by this.
“Daddy So-so has COVID-19,” my husband says when he comes back inside.
From that moment on, we are put on watch. NCDC requests our data and we are all given thermometers. The accompanying instructions are simple: For the next 14 days, we are to send or temperature readings to them. We all comply.
Still, my confusion remains. I become scared for my children. As soon as we are alone, I tell my husband to get black seed oil and powder. I begin to check on supply of cough syrup and Vitamin C. I don’t know what they are supposed to do, if they are supposed to do anything. I simply bank on them as my emergency remedy, in case things get out of hand.
Friday, 25th of April, 2020
We all stay at home as advised by the NCDC officials. It is a lockdown within a lockdown. But it is for our greater safety. By Day 5, we are used to it. We send our readings everyday and wait for signs of the virus in our body systems. Nothing happens.
We turn our gaze to the neighbour then. We wait for new of showing visible signs of illness, but there is nothing. He remains stable, even with his underlying health issues. I doubt the presence of the virus, but it is a brief feeling.
Monday, 4th of May, 2020
Our self-isolation ends today. We have all managed to maintain a normal temperature all through the 14 days. The neighbour’s wife tests negative too. A happy reunion is underway.
The NCDC officials dash our hopes. They insist that our neighbour’s immune system readings are too low. They insist on keeping him there. We do what little we can to make our displeasure known, but in the end, it is him and his wife who have to do most of the work. All of us in the compound put in more work to stay safe and clean now. We disinfect surfaces and wash our hands frequently. The days pass. Still, the neighbour does not return.
One day in May, the gate clangs open and our neighbour steps in with his wife. We are all happy. But even then, we are cautious. We avoid physical contact as much as we can, and we keep our distance.
“Welcome, welcome,” we say. Later, he will tell us that he fought tooth and nail to be allowed to come home. We will say “Ehya,” but deep down, we will be glad that we did not lose him to the virus.