The year is 2034 “Kids, remember to thoroughly wash your hands before you eat.” I pronounce to my triplets Karimi, Wanjiru, and Liz. They do so before racing to the dining table. It’s their time for dinner. Liz being the curious one among them asks me, “Dad, why do you emphasize so much on us washing our hands? By the way Dad, you promised to help us with our school work on the history of the year 2020.” “Hahahaha. I promise to explain it all to you after you take your supper and clear the table. In fact, the two are somehow related.” I say.
They all take their dinner, clear the table and gather around the living room. Karimi comes up to me as I read a newspaper and tells me, “We are done. Time to keep your promise.” I proceed to that strategic seat belonging to the man of the house. Wanjiru walks up to the television set and switches it off. I can see the eagerness on their faces before I commence.
‘Sunday 15th March 2020 at around 3 p.m. the then President of the Republic of Kenya Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation and made a declaration that all Primary and Secondary schools would be closed indefinitely with immediate effect.’ I start. ‘What do you mean by primary and secondary schools?’ Liz asks as her face shows confusion. Before I even answer, I hear a voice ‘A primary school is what you now call Elementary school and a secondary school is what is now known as a High School.’ Their mother, my wife answers as she comes into the living room.
‘Colleges and other tertiary were to close within one week from the 15th of March. By this time, your mother and I were still students and we received a memo from the school on the suspension of lectures in line with the President’s directive. Take a pause at this point.’ I continue. ‘So you and Mum were in the same school then?’ Liz asks. I just look at my wife and we laugh as we try to avoid that question. She quickly answers, ‘Story for another day.’
Quickly, I go on. ‘Two days earlier, which was on Friday 13th March 2020, Mr. Mutahi Kagwe was the then Cabinet Secretary in charge of health. He said that the country had confirmed the first Colona Virus case in Kenya.’ Wanjiru quickly asks, ‘Was it Corona or Colona?’ Again, their mother and I look at each other and laugh. Wanjiru is now confused. ‘It was Corona only that the CS pronounced it as Colona,’ their mother answers and we now all laugh. ‘Again, hold that thought.’ I say.
‘Let me take you back to late 2019. Sometime in December 2019, it was reported that there had been an outbreak of a strange virus somewhere in Wuhan China. Allegedly, the virus had originated from a bat and had spread to humans after consumption of the bats. We were not alarmed by then because we thought that it would be something small that would be managed and controlled. The disease caused by the virus was named COVID-19. When schools were closed, in my mind, I thought that the closure would only last for a period of one month or thereabout. The Government also banned all social gatherings including weddings, funerals among others. Places of worship were also shut down. Only a maximum number of 15 people would be allowed during a burial ceremony. Places of worship were to remain closed.
Every day the Ministry of health gave us updates on the number of new infections, deaths if any, and number of those who had recovered from the virus. The Government also created an awareness campaign encouraging us to thoroughly wash our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer in cases where there was no soap and water. Social distance was also encouraged.’ “What is social distancing?” Karimi interrupts. ‘Social distancing basically entailed not being so close to another person. We were advised to maintain a distance of at least 1.5 meters from one another.’ my wife answers. ‘I now understand what our golf trainer means by telling us to social distance from boys.’ Liz innocently says and we all have a hearty laugh. She continues ‘With social distancing, how were you greeting each other?’
‘This reminds me, there was no hugging, no handshakes. We would either bump our elbows or something. Everyone was creative in their own way in terms of greetings. As days went on, more measures were put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Public transport vehicles had to carry fewer passengers, everyone had to wear a mask whenever they went out in public…’ I say. ‘How bad was that? It doesn’t sound so bad.’ Wanjiru interrupts.
I clear my throat, look at their mother who looks at me and we smile before I proceed. ‘The President imposed a curfew! It was…’ Wanjiru interrupts again and asks sarcastically, ‘Wait, do you mean a curfew, like the one Mum enforces on us that we should be in the house by 5:45p.m?’ We all laugh before their mother quickly answers, ‘Sweetie, as your parents we Love you so much and we have to do everything in our power to protect you.’
I then come in and say, ‘Something like that Shee. We were to be in our homes by 7p.m!’ “7p.m? Masaa ya kuku? What would happen if you were found outside? Mum will usually use a slipper on any one of us who comes in after 5:45 p.m. At times, she uses one of your belts. Dad, please adjust that time, 5:45 is too early…” I laugh before my wife replies, ‘It’s called discipline. Even the Bible places a responsibility on us to instill discipline in you. We have to bring you up well.’
I nod my head in agreement before continuing, ‘Very true. Discipline is very important. About the time, we’ll see about it. Now, if you were found outside during curfew time, the police would really descend on you with their batons. It was horrible. At times, you would be taken to an isolation center for a period not less than 14 days at your own cost. As time went by, the government imposed a lockdown!’ Wanjiru quickly interrupts, ‘You mean the whole country was locked down as in no movement at all?’
“Something of the sort but not exactly. Some few counties were locked down in that there was no movement in and out of the locked counties except for essential service providers such as Doctors, Agricultural produce transporters and others who had to have a special license.” I answer. ‘Dad, I read that there is a difference between a lockdown and a restriction of movement. What was imposed was a restriction of movement.’ The ever curious Liz says as a matter of fact. ‘Hahaha, I can see someone has done their homework. Yes, thank you for that correction. Movement was highly restricted. However, at some point, the President relaxed the restriction of movement.’
Liz cheekily comments, ‘I can guess that due to that restriction, you couldn’t take out Mum for dates.’ We all laugh but honestly, her statement has an element of truth in it and I delve in to answer her, ‘Hahaha, Liz, Liz, Liz. Remember how I had told you that I thought schools would only be closed for a period of around 1 month, the then Cabinet Secretary for Education announced that the academic year 2020 was null and that schools would resume in 2021. However, colleges, universities and other tertiary institutions were allowed to conduct online classes. Online classes were simply a pandemic within a pandemic!” ‘How now Dad? I prefer online classes, only that we can’t have horse riding virtually. If I had an option, I would have all my classes virtually.’ Karimi says.
Wanjiru quickly comments, ‘That must have been a really tough time!’ “You can say that again!” my wife replies. I add, ‘The virus disrupted our normal way of life in every known way. It slowed down the economy. Companies closed and people lost their jobs. It was really bad. Airports and airstrips were closed.’ “So, what happened when it was declared that the country was virus-free?” Wanjiru asks. I look up, shake my head, close my eyes, and say, ‘We gathered in groups and threw up our masks the way graduates throw their caps on their graduation day. We were so happy. We felt as if we had been born again, literally.’
Anyway, by the time we get to the year 2034, I will have a good story to narrate to my kids, nieces and nephews. So now, let me go out and look for their mother.