The new reality

The new reality

Shakeman Mugari

MASERU-THERE was a time when we had no time to do everything. Now we have time aplenty but nothing to do.

We have been robbed of the routines and chores that swallow our time. We plan until there is nothing to plan. The uncertainty of the times doesn’t allow for much of that anyway.

Free time, the luxury we always yearned for, is now in abundance but we cannot stand it.

Time is no longer an excuse for not doing something. We lack what to do with the time.

We miss the offices we dreaded.

Stories of irritating bosses and colleagues are gone.

Our political drama is only funny when it comes in dribs and drabs punctuating serious business, not when it’s all that you read and hear.

Social media, the notorious thief of time, is no longer a diversion. You imbibe real news, fake news and gossip until both mind and fingers are numb.

Friends, if they can be called that, don’t post much pictures anymore. Caged, they have no beautiful places to steal for backgrounds to their selfies.

As for original thought…well they never had much of that anyway. They were always purveyors of stolen ideas. And when you spend too much time on social media, as we are doing now, you are likely to stumble onto some of the sources of the ideas they passed off as theirs.

Yet even if they do have things to post, data doesn’t come cheap and by now it has slid further down the shopping list. 

We used to clamour for time with spouses and the little ones. Now we wish for a little time away from them. You rescind into your thoughts, meditate and daydream. A prayer here and there. Some music.

A walk in the garden.

The shrieking and whinnying little ones remind you it’s only day 10 of 21. Their homework questions remind you how long ago you left their grade. You fumble for answers and wince before reluctantly pulling out the phone to ask ‘professor’ Google who always obliges.

You don’t want to show them your ignorance but they are young, not foolish.

This is your new reality.

Now we miss the very things that used to pinch our time. We were never made to have too much time on our hands. Perhaps it is the lack of time that gave us both the urgency and purpose in life.

And so we talk until there is nothing to talk about. The gossip about Aunty Rorisang’s recent escapades can’t fill the whole day. The tickling tales of that notorious uncle won’t munch even a morsel of the 21 days no matter how many versions of it you can conjure.

Read and reread. What is pleasure when you have all the time for it? After all, the essence of leisure is the idea that you are doing it at the expense of the rigours of life. Surely it cannot be a holiday if your whole life is an imposed vacation.

How times have changed: staying at home is now a vocation. Only that we earn nothing from it apart from keeping a marauding virus at bay.

That alone should tell us that in the broader scheme of things nothing matters more than our wellbeing as individuals, families, villages and a nation. 

Fingers crossed, we soldier on in our homes.

We are hoping that when three weeks pass the enemy bent on wiping out the entire human race, has sickened more than a million others and felled tens of thousands, would have left our streets.

We are not certain that 21 days is enough but ours is a somewhat educated guess informed by the little we know about the virus and its ilk.

Homo Sapiens that conquered other civilisations and species through brute force, ingenuity, inventions and a little bit of domestication, face a new enemy and are making up strategies as they go.

Humans, by nature, like to blame someone or something for their troubles.

Before our knowledge of science had advanced, it was gods and ancestors, the creatures we had never seen, that took the fall for our sufferings.

Famines, plagues, storms and death were of their making. It was either we had angered them or they were just displeased with something. In many ways we accused ourselves of courting their wrath through our disobedience. Off to the sorcerers or oracles we trooped for answers.

We have long moved from that time and we know better now. We can forecast droughts, storms and earthquakes with a modicum of sureness. We still get sick but we have managed to minimise or delay death.

Our understanding of science has helped us conquer flu, measles, polio, TB and typhoid. Malaria is still a menace in other parts of the world but it cannot be said that we are losing that battle. HIV and Aids are no longer as terrifying.

Until a few weeks ago we thought our biggest enemy was no longer diseases but us. Hindsight proves that we were wrong.

But at that time it was foresight based on what was happening and our obliviousness to what nature had in store for us.

Not that we were not warned that nature was capable of unleashing such a noxious virus on us. That, we knew already. Only that we thought the danger didn’t look imminent.

The worry and the problem at hand was people bombing other people in senseless wars.

Our industries and cars spewing toxic gases to make the world dirty, the air poisonous and the earth hotter.

Apart from the stubborn few we agreed that it was our actions causing the climate to change for the worse. We knew it was us, not the gods or ancestors, delaying the rains or banishing them altogether.

We wanted to do something about it but consensus on what to do and how to do it was elusive. At times it appeared that the long debates and blame games were contrived to delay hard and inevitable actions. Someone on the table was buying time, playing politics or just feigning ignorance for expedience.

The same applies to the wars in the Middle East and parts of Africa. We know they are vain but never settle on how to end them. It is within our ability to end the vulgar poverty and inequality that are teeming in the world.

If only we could share a little bit, the world would be a better place for us all. Only if those who have a lot could tame their greed will very few of their fellow humans sleep on empty bellies. It is an indictment on humans that thousands die of hunger every day.

We know the solution but choose to look the other way or blame the economic system. A system we can change to make fairer. Instead those who have the means keep amassing more.

The few who have joined the feeding trough want to eat alone. They say those wallowing in poverty are not hard-working and innovative. Never mind that the poorest of the world work the hardest. They have to because they don’t have the capital to spur them on. The system has been rigged for centuries.

We blame the governments for corruption, mismanagement and misrule but we have solutions for those too. We know how to mitigate the impact of slavery and colonialism yet we just don’t do it.

Look how quickly some governments have found shelter for the homeless. Hospitals have been built in record time. In other places hotels, stadia and car parks are now hospitals.

The point is that we have answers to most of our problems but choose to do nothing.

Why?  Because until now we never really faced an enemy threatening to end our entire race.

Wars are territorial incidents whose carnages we read from a distance. They have appalled us but not to the point of taking collective action. That they keep recurring speaks to our dismal failure to learn anything about their ruinous nature. 

But that will be an exaggeration for we have not witnessed any war at the same scale and inclusiveness like the last two. The world is largely peaceful.

Of course people are dying in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and other places. That they are restricted to certain countries and regions is precisely why the entire world is not rising to stop them. We may be furious at the pictures of dying babies but it remains trouble for ‘those areas’ and ‘those people’, not ‘our area’ and ‘us’.

We remain aloof because no one is bombing our homes and killing our families.

Then came Covid-19, a different global problem altogether. Suddenly, it’s no longer about ‘us’ and ‘them’.

This enemy doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor. Indeed, nothing disarms a rich person more than the realisation that no amount of money can save them.

The same is true for those who wield power. It’s not a black, white and brown thing anymore. No longer can we hide in our money, skin colour, nationality, religion or geography. 

Rich countries that lauded the prowess of their scientists, the efficiencies of their health systems and the might of their economic muscle are grappling with the virus. For the first time it’s about ‘us’. All of us eight billion who inhabit earth.

Our science has come up short against the virus, an enemy we cannot tame, beat into submission, simply ignore or drag into negotiations. There is no one to blame. As such we retreat into our homes and wait for the nemesis to pass.

Yet if there is anything to be learned from this crisis, it is that there should never have been ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the first place. In fact it is that dubious and short-sighted distinction that got us into this mess in the first place.

Countries across the world are kicking themselves for responding late when the virus started in China four months ago. They are missing the point because it was never about how each country had prepared for the virus. That route would have been a continuation of the same fatal ‘us’ and ‘them’ canard.

There is no doubt we would have fared better if we had viewed this virus as a global problem in January or February or much earlier. We were told of its coming years ago but ineptly thought it would be a problem for other areas and other people.

It is telling that until a few weeks ago Donald Trump was calling it a “Chinese virus”. The ferocity and indiscriminate nature of the virus has proven him wrong.

What remains are bouts of denials and bungling informed by his stubbornness rather than ignorance. Reality dictates that he cannot afford obstinacy any longer. Nor does he still have any leeway to embellish matters as he is wont to do.

Trump was suffering from the same indifference that afflicts all of us when a problem is not on our doorstep. It’s the ‘them’ and not ‘us’ illusion whose inanity has since been exposed.

It is the same delusion that made our leaders ignore warnings that such a virus will come and then remain deliberately oblivious when it came because it was not in their backyard.

Perhaps African leaders who have flagrantly neglected their own hospitals thought they would still be air-lifted for treatment in other countries. Again it was ‘us’ and ‘them’.

That ill-gotten insurance has vanished as each country battles to save its own. 

The world has never been so utterly unprepared for a crisis. Never so powerless.

This is a fight the world knows it is not winning at all. It’s a sign of tacit surrender that scientists and doctors are saying there will come a time when the curve will flatten.

They are waiting for the virus to loosen its hold on the world.

In the meantime they try what they can with the little resources they have. More like bringing an Okapi knife to a gun fight. A vaccine is probably a year away. A cure or something close to it is not coming fast enough.

Until then home and keeping social distance is the only solution.

That is because we are fighting an unseen and largely unknown enemy. It spreads easily and fast. Worse, those who don’t look or feel ill despite being infected are spreading it. There is no telling who has it.

It goes down to the very natural reflexes and etiquettes we have always taken for granted. The cough is no longer just the cough. Handshaking is gone and so are hugs.

A beer or tea with friends is no longer permissible. Outdoors is dangerous, so is travel. Even the mundane act of grocery shopping can be risky.

No longer can we mourn our death or celebrate matrimonial rituals in numbers. Churches are empty, malls deserted and bars closed.

But it has also reminded us of the importance of simple manners. The washing of hands and the covering of a cough has suddenly become crucial. Who would have thought those simple manners imbued in us by our mothers would save the world?

Still you will be wrong to think we have binned the habit of always finding someone or something to blame for our misery. We thrive on making sense of things by analysing cause and effect. Someone or something must have caused this virus, some are saying.

So we have conspiracy theories about the virus being manufactured and spread by mobile network technology. Long fingers are being pointed at China.

After weeks of numbness and conspicuous absence some so-called prophets have come armed to the teeth with outlandish conspiracy theories.

At the core of these theories are fear and ignorance, both of which humans have in abundance. To successfully peddle a conspiracy theory you must do two things.

You can simplify it so much that it’s so believable that anyone who denies it looks like fool.

To do that you weave a fictitious connection between the things people use every day. Hence the cell phone, the gadget that has become like one of our organs, is conveniently dragged in.

You can also make it so opaque that it becomes incomprehensible. You lump unconnected things and events together to draw a perplexing scenario.

Those who don’t understand, and rightly so because it is tosh, are then labelled the ignorant ones who cannot make out ‘simple logic’.

The so-called prophets have unleashed their convoluted theories into the market, starting with their captive audiences. Their believers see this as some form of revelation but it is just a conglomeration of the same discredited notions we have seen before.

It will be a bit tolerable if this was out of ignorance. But this is just willful deceit that will endanger more lives. It’s unhelpful because it doesn’t stop the virus from spreading and people dying.

You ‘find’ a bogeyman and then what? 

Such unfounded, contorted and concocted theories should not bother us for we have a bigger battle to fight. Believe what your mum told you: stay at home. This too shall pass.

The question however is whether we have learned that the world is better when we stand as ‘us’. 

Time will tell but one thing is for sure: Covid-19 has changed the world as we know it.

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