Lockdown Diary: The 67-Year-Old Surviving On N5,000

April 19, 2020

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 67-year-old woman who lives alone in Lagos. She doesn’t have a job or enough food and money to see her through a lockdown extension.

 

Day 1, Sunday 29th of March, 2020.  

It is on the radio that I hear news of the lockdown. Faaji FM. It is on that same station that I have been hearing news of the disease too. They say it is from China, that anybody can contract it, that we should wash our hands. When I hear it, I pray that it does not come near me or my children. I wonder if it’s a rich people disease. After all, they are the ones travelling up and down. They are the ones with all the money. Why will they implicate those of us who are God’s poor people?

But everyday, they repeat it on the news. They say someone in Lagos has it, that it is already in Lagos. In my area, everybody is wearing masks to cover their faces and rubber gloves on their hands. When the government announces that there is a lockdown in the evening, saying that we should all stay at home and not go out, the first thing I worry about is my children. There are two of them, but I have grandchildren who are adults and who don’t live close by. One of them is in *Ilorin. I call them, my children and grandchildren, but their numbers are unreachable. All of them. I go to bed. Before I fall asleep, I pray that God keeps them safe. Even without the lockdown, it is the same thing I do. I mention all their names and pray to God that he will keep them safe. When your children all leave home and you cannot be where they are, the one thing you can send is prayers, and I do this every night.

Day 3: Tuesday, 31st of March, 2020.

Today, I call one of my grandsons who is my first child’s son. He is the one in Ilorin. I ask him if he will come home for Easter. I have missed him; before he traveled, we used to sit together at home. He is like a friend to me. Each time he is at home with me, we talk. He tells me about his friends; sometimes, he lets me speak to some of them on the phone. I tell him about my friends too, about my days as a younger woman back when Lagos was still Lagos and I was working on the Island. He usually puts a movie on his phone for me to watch, and in the evening, he will read a part of the Bible to me in Yoruba. I repeat it after him, and then we pray together.

He has been gone since February. He planned to come back to get some things, but with this lockdown, he can’t. When I phone to ask him if he will come home, his reply is that he does not know yet. Everywhere is closed, no one can go out or come in. I tell him that I understand. I pray for God to  keep him safe. I tell him that it’s okay if he does not come home now, after all, we will see each other again.

Day 4: Wednesday, 1st of April, 2020.

We have been hearing that the government will share something for those of us at home, maybe food or money. If it is money, then I don’t know how I will collect my own, because I don’t have a bank account. I cannot read and write, how will I operate a bank account? If they give us food, it might help. I will have something to eat, at least before my children send me money. I can no longer work because of my blood pressure, and the pain in my leg. I used to run a beer parlour and make enough money then. I went to all the parties where good musicians were, ate good food. But life changes. When I moved to Igando, business declined, so I started selling local gin. But a lot of people here want to sell the same thing that you are selling, so they all took over the business and it became hard to make profit. Not that I was making that much profit anyway. How much can you make on gin and ten-ten naira cigarettes? I managed until there was nothing anymore. Now, I have become the kind of woman who has to depend on her children before she can feed. Now, I am waiting for government food. If anything, I am happy that I built this house I live in. Because how else would I cope?

It is food they share. But it is so annoying when I see it. One De Rica of beans, one De Rica of rice, and four slices of bread per house. Just that. How long can we survive on that? Besides, what should we cook it with? Should we just soak it in water and start drinking it? I tell them to keep their food. They can give it to other people, but they should not bring it near my house. I don’t want it.

Sanwo-Olu: 'We'll be bringing food to you, Lagosians, just stay at ...

Day 6: Thursday, 2nd of April, 2020.

Before the lockdown, my granddaughter sent me money through someone who lives on our street. 3,000 naira. I did not know that there would be something called lockdown where nobody will be able to go out. If I had known, I would have spent the money on food. Instead, I used it to repair a door frame in the house and I bought some drugs. By the time they said we should stay inside, I did not have any more money on me. It is this lack of money that wakes me up from sleep this morning.

The food seller in front of my house sells food for me and lets me pay for it anytime I want, so maybe food is not so much of a problem. It can be embarrassing to buy food on credit, so I sometimes stay without eating. I don’t eat so much anyway. Sometimes I just pour powder milk inside water and I go the whole day with it.

But I need money to buy medicine. My health is failing. I have trouble sleeping, and I think a lot. They say I have to lose weight, and reduce my blood sugar, but I have tried all I can and it is not helping. I don’t eat a lot, so I know that it is not food that has made me this way. My father was like this before he passed on. I must have gotten it from him. I think about the time when I used to have a lot, I think about how my children barely visit and instead focus on their own family. I think of how they don’t have so much too. I have worked hard to raise them, this time, I should sit back and enjoy the fruit of my labour. But it is nearly impossible.

The first one rides a motorcycle. Not that it makes me happy, but at least it is better than nothing. Long before the lockdown, he would come with foodstuff to visit me. Sometimes, he gives me money. But one day, the governor of Lagos said he does not want to see motorcycles on the road, so my son can no longer work. He tries to do other things, but I don’t think he gets enough money. He does not come to see me anymore because he believes he does not have money to give me. But sometimes, everything is not money. Sometimes seeing him is enough. I am thinking about this when someone comes to give me money. 5,000 naira from my grandson, Mayowa, the one who is out of Lagos. I don’t know why, but I am crying. I didn’t expect that he would send me something.

Day 8: Saturday, 4th of April, 2020.

Thieves are a major trouble with this lockdown. Today, we hear that they are in our street, and everybody should come out for vigilante. They don’t bother me. They know I am old. All through the day, area boys walk up and down, getting high. They smoke, they gather at a joint to drink. They say they are ready to face any thief that comes into our street.

Nighttime is like daytime even though we don’t have light. From my place on the bed, I hear their voices: loud and angry. I turn up the volume of my radio and adjust it by my pillow. I listen to these voices until I fall asleep.

Day 10: Monday, 5th of April, 2020.

Today is Monday. We still cannot go out, but that is just the government saying their own. People are moving about. They are hungry, they need to eat. They are going out. How can you ask people to stay at home without giving them something to eat? Is it one De Rica of rice and beans that will feed a whole family? How long will it last?

With the money I have received, I go to the woman selling food stuff beside my house and ask her to give me yam, yam flour, rice and wheat. I will manage it till they send me money again. We still don’t have light. No light, no food, no money. When the barbing salon across the road opens, I send someone to help me charge my phone. It has been dead for nearly a day.

When I get the phone back, I call my grandson. I pray for him. Again, I ask him when he can come home. He says everywhere is still locked down. He says they have extended the lockdown again. I sigh. I pray for God to keep him safe. He asks me about my next birthday, December, I tell him. Will he be home by then? He says that he will. I hope he comes home so we can celebrate the birthday.

I will dress up, wear make-up, get my hair done and ask them to bake a cake for me. Me and my family, we will sit together and take pictures. I will ask them to enlarge it and frame it for me so I can always look at it and remember that we survived.


This interview was done in Yoruba and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

NB: Image used for illustrative purposes.

Here’s last week’s story: Lockdown Diary: Coronavirus Made Us Postpone Our Wedding


Check back every Sunday by 1 pm for new stories in the Lockdown Diary column. If you have an experience to share and would like to appear on this series, kindly reach out to me: kunle@bigcabal.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kunle Ologunro

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