Community Amid Chaos
Oluwatobi Tijani on the importance of community during challenging times.
As a young bibliophile, one of my favorite genres to read was post-apocalyptic fiction. My interest began as a morbid childhood fascination with the book of Revelations and exploded after reading the Hunger Games series.
One sub-genre that has always intrigued me, perhaps because of my scientific background, is the pandemic story: a virus or bacteria decimates the global population—or turns its victims into flesh-eating zombies—and a ragtag band of survivors search for a mythical safe haven or race against time to discover a cure. These stories are full of suspense and existential dread, an exploration of the depths of human tenacity. Best of all is the satisfying conclusion that comes after three hundred or so pages. Safety is reached; a cure is found. The end.
The Introvert Handbook doesn’t prepare you for the insidiousness of loneliness.
Never could I have imagined that, a decade later, I would become a character in a real-life pandemic scenario. I was in school in Canada when news of the pandemic broke. I watched with trepidation as it spread out from Wuhan, China, to the rest of the world, like a mushroom making wind, its spores riding the air unhindered and taking root in fertile ground. As the weeks went by, unease became horror as whole cities shut down to try to curb the virus' spread, as hospitals became overwhelmed, and as thousands of deaths were recorded worldwide—a number that has now surpassed one million and continues to rise. By mid-March, my school had shut down, and Toronto went on lockdown soon after. We were confined to our homes for the foreseeable future, only allowed to go out for the essentials.
The Introvert Handbook doesn’t prepare you for the insidiousness of loneliness. I usually have no problem being on my own, but as the days and nights bled into each other, I sunk further into myself, only leaving my room every fortnight to make the arduous journey to the store with my face mask on and hand sanitizer in my bag—like the spunky post-apocalyptic protagonist that has to venture out of their hiding spot looking for resources while avoiding the infected, other survivors, and desperate scavengers—just to meet empty shelves that had been raided by faster fingers.
Those novels I buried my face in as a child always highlighted the importance of family, of sticking together to overcome the odds.
Meanwhile, I still had to juggle online classes and assignments, which felt extraneous in the face of a potential societal breakdown. Every cough or sneeze, or even the slightest sensation of a headache, was met with the same persistent fear: "Could this be covid?" Social media provided little solace with its increasingly morbid headlines. At some point, I turned to exercise; Emi Wong, Chloe Ting and I became close. Then, finally, I realised the real issue: I craved the company of my friends, who I couldn't physically see because of the lockdown, and missed my family, who were thousands of miles away in Nigeria. WhatsApp video calls were inadequate, like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole.
Those novels I buried my face in as a child always highlighted the importance of family, of sticking together to overcome the odds. It makes sense, now that the pandemic has become our collective reality. Perhaps that is why, as I held on to my parents, who I hadn't seen in over a year, at the Abuja airport in Nigeria’s capital, I was filled with a profound sense of appreciation for what I had.
Our shared tragedy and trauma have truly brought us together in unprecedented ways, igniting united defiance and resilience
The pandemic has taken so much from so many, and much damage has been done to our pillars of community; shutting down schools, offices, and religious centers, cancelling festivals and concerts, bringing well-loved businesses to ruin, and dividing nations over issues of public health policy. It has also influenced collective movements against oppressions and inequalities that, pre-pandemic, went ignored in the face of daily life; brought together the smartest minds from all over the world in search of a vaccine; and sparked innovation in the ways that we connect with one other (gotta love Zoom!). Our shared tragedy and trauma have truly brought us together in unprecedented ways, igniting united defiance and resilience against an "invisible" foe, which I see in the way my siblings battle with poor internet connection and intermittent power supply to do their school-work.
Even with multiple covid vaccines on the horizon, it's impossible to predict the future. Unlike in a novel, real life rarely has clear-cut conclusions. Lives will still have been lost or irrevocably altered, jobs will still have been lost, and businesses will still have failed. Yet, there is comfort in the strength we can draw from each other, in the fact that we will always have our community. Hopefully no longer six feet apart.