Even after being out of touch for a decade and with half our faces hidden, Simba and I recognise each other instantly on the almost-empty pavement in the city centre. With our masked smiles evident in the crinkling of our eyes at the corners, we do the elbow bump in what would've been considered a half-cracked greeting a few moons ago. Normally, the interlocking of hands would precede the soft collision of deltoids and a few pats on the back. My man!
We've known each other since we were toddlers but there is a mutual appreciation of the circumstances that require us to be cautious in each other's presence. This brief encounter causes me to have an epiphany about the culture shift I've gone through since the coronavirus outbreak.
Later, after the unexpected reunion I plunge into quiet introspection, navigating through the timeline of the pandemic with a keen memory. It's only in the beginning of January 2020 when I believed COVID-19 was endemic to China before its rapid spread across the globe cured me of ignorance. Its exponential spread renewed my interest in ‘the six degrees of separation' theory.
On 23 March 2020 when the first COVID-19 related death in Zimbabwe was confirmed, a smog consisting of palpable fear, sadness and uncertainty engulfed me. The country was subsequently placed under the historical hard lockdown.
During the early stages of the implementation of COVID-19 regulations after the total lockdown, I often forgot my mask at home, subconsciously breached social distancing in queues and public spaces or extended my hand for a good ol’ handshake. More regrettably, I thought I had to follow the guidelines and legal restrictions only for the appeasement of the authorities. At times I'd keep my mask under my chin, only to lift it above my nose at the sight of a police officer.
Fast forward to February 2021. “The date for the lobola ceremony has been confirmed. Let's do this cuz!”. After receiving the WhatsApp message alerting me to his traditional marriage ceremony, I immediately called my cousin Thamu to ask about the attendance numbers, the programme and the precautions in place - a flurry of questions that spoke to my awareness to safety, health and environment issues. As usual, we exchanged friendly fire, “Ho! Ho! Hold it right there cuz.”, he interrupted me before continuing, “I'm the one getting married here. Relax, COVID-19 has been top concern for both families"
The ceremony was held at Thamu's fiancée’s homestead. Evidence of the ‘new normal’ was everywhere. Sanitiser dispensers, washing basins and additional ablution facilities were set up - a hygienic set up for a social gathering that I think should be kept in the post-pandemic world. In fact, it should be the whole culture of preventive and precautionary behaviour. There was also the fashion side; stylish masks that matched the dazzling outfits! I must also say, for a people not known for keeping time (our 10am is in fact 2pm!), there was an uncharacteristic, nonetheless pleasant punctuality and adherence to the schedule because of the curfew.
During the ceremony, I had a conversation around the pandemic with one of my new relatives. He seemed quite happy with online learning for his master’s programme, “Online learning is cheaper and more flexible.” As for working from home, he said, “I enjoy it but if the arrangement becomes permanent, companies have to provide more than data because of increasing food, electricity, and water bills."
In the past fifteen to twenty months, the pandemic has constantly thrust me into a transformative journey of awareness of myself and my surroundings, from doubt to reluctance to complacence to meticulousness. The emergence of new variants and the third wave have obviously tested my resolve, at times plunging me into bouts of depression, but hope triumphs all the time. And oh, I’ve now found a rewarding hobby of trying out different recipes for making hand soap at home. It's also quite fulfilling to know that my general behaviour is positively contributing to the sum effort in the fight against COVID-19.